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13: Inside Hungary - Witness to Red Revenge

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Inside Hungary - Witness to Red Revenge(1)


Shortly before dawn on Monday, Nov. 4, a gray-green Hungarian staff car careened wildly through the streets of shell battered Budapest. At a check point where ragged revolutionaries stood beside the weapons with which they had driven the Russian army out of the capital, the driver shouted hoarsely: "The Reds are coming back!"

It was the first certain warning Hungary had that the Red army was intent on revenge. But, alas, it came too late. By five a.m., Soviet Panzers had broken through the northern defenses and were in possession of Parliament Square.

The Red return was a piece of treachery comparable in infamy with Pearl Harbor. But treachery had its reward. The brave city rose again -boys of twelve and old men of sixty; and this time they were armed from factories of industrial Csepel. Revolutionary committeemen poured onto the streets with burp guns. Barricades which Red tanks smashed barely a week before were hastily rebuilt with street car tracks and stones. Machine gun nests sprouted in the rambling old citadel overlooking the Danube. When a Russian tank company moved up to Kilian barracks shooting sentries without warning, Hungarian soldiers opened up with automatics and the Red advance guard was mowed down.

By six a.m. the Russians were heavily engaged at scores of different points throughout the city. There was no organized front, only groups of desperate patriots flinging themselves at the hated Panzers whenever they appeared. Showers of Molotov cocktails left dozens of Red tanks in flames near Lenin Boulevard. At Peoples Park soldiers and workers fought back fiercely. From lines of trenches in the suburb of Kobanya, Hungarian artillery men waged a gun duel with the Reds that lasted seventy hours.

The rebels' one advantage was that tanks were helpless in the city's narrow streets. After a dozen or more were knocked out, the Reds switched to artillery. Heavy propelled guns occupied the top of Gellert Hill and flung hundreds of rounds into the citadel. Soviet planes strafed patriots holding out in railroad stations, heavy mortars pounded Csepel.

As the battle's fury rose, Western correspondents sought refuge with their diplomatic missions. Then, that night British correspondents and I were the first newsmen to go out and see for ourselves. Beneath a sky that was a patchwork of smoke spirals stitched with tracers, the conflict had resolved itself into four main areas of battle. We headed toward the fiercest.


For eighteen hours Soviet guns had plastered Killian's walls. Now tanks were trying again supported by a creeping barrage of heavy mortars. We crept along streets that in places were inches deep in broken glass and plaster. A heavy machine-gun clatters along the street . . . for seconds we stand petrified. In the background, like a surf along the Atlantic shore, mortars fire without pause, tanks crash out their salvos. But from Kilian only tommyguns answer back.

It proves impossible to get close to the barracks for gun battles are raging at almost every street corner where the gunmen of Budapest are defending their [52/53] homes. All around is echoing confusion -yet here and there little points of order project themselves into the chaos.

A solitary traffic light that no one has bothered to turn off winks from the end of the boulevard. As we crouch in a bullet-seamed doorway, a radio disseminates the Oxford accent of the BBC.

Kilian fought all night and most of the next day. Hundreds of Hungarian soldiers died under falling masonry, but when the Russians demanded surrender the defenders replied with bullets. The next morning a group of officers went out under a truce flag to give themselves up to the Russians. The bitter men in Kilian waited until the Soviets stepped forward to receive the surrender, then shot them all down. On Thursday, Russian tanks broke into Kilian. One small group of Hungarians managed to escape in the direction of a nearby children's clinic. Promptly the Russian guns opened up on the clinic. Over the telephone to a Western legation came the agonized voice of a doctor: "There are 300 children here. They are panicking in the flames."


Across the river, Hadik barracks holds out with Hungarian tanks. It's pounded from Gellert Hill, but seven Soviet Panzers are knocked out in first twelve hours. North of Moscow square, mustachioed revolutionary chieftain Janos Szabo is holed up in a police building.

When the Russians returned, Szabo and a hundred young men -most of them high school students- pledged to fight to the death. Szabo embraced each in turn, his comic uptilted moustache tickling their ears as he hugged them. When the first Soviet tank charged forward, Szena Ter was ready. From windows rained cascades of Molotov cocktails mixed in Slivowitz bottles. The first tank was set on fire but managed to withdraw after blowing a couple of houses to pieces. The second tank which roared up the incline leading to the police building burst into flames when a barrel of diesel fuel rolled downhill toward it, and exploded under its belly. The turret opened and three Red tank men scrambled out. Szabo motioned his boys to leave them to him. Then, squinting along a burp gun, he picked them off like flies.

The Russian reply was a mortar barrage, then an onrush of armored cars. Heavy machinegun bullets from infantrymen in cars tore great gaps in the defenders and took off the lower half of Szabo's left arm. Thirteen defenders plunged into the rubble where they were safe from everything but infantry (which the Russians refused to commit). But food and ammunition soon ran short in what was left of the police building. Only a few dozen Molotov cocktails and a score of men to throw them were left for the tank onslaught as it came in. A blond boy running amok charged out from the rubble to try to toss a grenade into the tank slits. He was shot down before he had run twenty paces and the tank driver deliberately swerved to mangle the blond boy's body.

Szabo got one more tank before the position fell. The last three barrels of diesel oil hit simultaneously, setting fire to the tank's left track. Rushing out to tick off the tankers, three more Szabo boys were cut down by machinegun fire. They fell in a heap that caught fire from sputtering oil.

Szabo shouted to his boys to break away if they could. Fourteen made the try, leaving medics to tend four wounded. Twelve out of fourteen, including Szabo actually got away. But next morning a medic left this message at my hotel: Szabo -todt (dead in German).


Budapest government offices are grouped together in a long imposing row leading off Parliament Square.

The Russians made a bee-line for them on entering the city, but in most cases the Hungarians were there first. Point-blank shelling from 50 heavy tanks reduced Budapest's Pennsylvania Avenue to a brick and mortar ruin. But, as happened at Stalingrad, the ruins simply provided the defenders with better shelter. The Russians lost much of their dead in attacks on Pennsylvania Avenue. They finally wore the resistance down but took almost no prisoners.

The London Daily Express correspondent and I were the first outsiders to see the results of the fighting in and around Parliament Square. We called -impudently- on the Russian High Commander to ask for an interview with Premier Kadar. Forty-four Russian tanks were on guard in front of headquarters. Alongside were armored cars, anti-tank guns and wicked-looking wheeled machine guns -all guarding the government which the Communist radio says is the free choice of Hungarian people! Our gambit was to walk up boldly as if we had business with the general. It worked (though our knees were weak) until we banged on the front door and found ourselves staring into the barrel of a submachine gun in the hands of a mean-looking Mongol. Rough hands gave me the most thorough frisking I have ever experienced. A dozen MVD men materialized from thin air and we were bombarded with questions in Russian. Fortunately we knew none and they no English. In German we asked for an interview with the Minister President, only to find that none of our captors had ever heard of the man they installed as ruler of Hungary. Perhaps it was the mystery or perhaps our pompous bearing that finally persuaded the Russians to let us go.


By the fourth day of fighting, the Russians had the upper hand. Resistance in Budapest had been smashed by concentrated artillery fire, Kilian had fallen, the Hungarian Army was dead. But though their soldiers were defeated, the people were fighting mad. For two days and nights I watched them pit their puny small arms against the best the Red Army could throw at them in the narrow triangle of streets bordered by Rakoczi Avenue and Lenin Boulevard.

Thus it was that Budapest died the death that the Red Army has brought to so many of Europe's fine cities. Thousands of its men and women gave their lives to throw the Russians out; an equal number died last week in a tragic effort to stop them from coming back. The estimate of the dead ran as high as 65,000.

Elsewhere in Hungary there still was no peace. Nineteen days after the start of the revolution, and seven days after the Soviet attack, Hungary's people were still battling 200,000 Russians and 4,600 tanks for their freedom.

With their arms ineffective, the Russians turned to hunger as a weapon. Budapest and areas of resistance in the country were denied food. Hungary was paralyzed by a general strike.

This week, Premier Kadar met with Imre Nagy, the man he betrayed, in a desperate bid for popular support. The Reds might yet be forced to do what Nagy had attempted: Liberalize the government and grant concessions to the valiant rebels. [53]

1. Eldon Griffiths, "Inside Hungary-Witness to Red Revenge," Newsweek, XLVIII (November 19, 1956), 52-53. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

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