7: Hungary: The First Six Days
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Hungary: The First Six Days(1)
LESLIE B. BAIN
The first people who found themselves in the field against the Communist regime in
Hungary were those whom that regime had pampered the most: writers, journalists,
engineers, athletes, students, artists, and the like. Nine-tenths of those who started the
demonstrations were students whose tuition and living expenses were paid by the government
and who had been picked from the families of workers, peasants, and Communist Party
officials. Yet they marched into the open to make their demands and then, when these were
refused, stayed in the streets to fight. The first blood on the fateful evening of October
23 was shed by men of this kind.
DOWN WITH STALIN!
After the first demonstration that Tuesday in Parliament Square, half of the two
hundred thousand demonstrators went home. The other half broke into several groups and
marched through the streets. One of these went to Kossuth Radio House to broadcast its
demands. These had been published earlier in leaflets; and while each university group had
a slightly different set, which varied to include specific grievances at different
schools, the main political demands were the same as those that had been drawn up two days
earlier during a mass meeting of students at Szeged. They included the extradition and
punishment of Matyas Rakosi, the dismissal of Erno Gero, the appointment of Imre Nagy as
Premier, the removal of Soviet shields to be replaced by Kossuth shields as Hungary's
emblem, and the adjustment of taxes, wages, and working hours.
A deputation of three students followed by thousands more arrived at the radio station,
which had been heavily occupied by the AVH, the hated and dreaded security police. The AVH
ordered the demonstrators to disband, then brought out tear gas and fire hoses to halt the
masses of students pouring in from all sides.
The students attacked with pots and pans and pieces of coal they had picked up at a
nearby restaurant. The AVH began firing -first into the air, later into the surging
students. Another group of students raced to an arms plant, where more shooting developed.
A third group of students went to the Stalin Memorial, and there a detachment of police
joined forces with them. Stalin's statue came toppling down before a happy, dancing crowd.
But at the broadcasting station the situation rapidly deteriorated. A Hungarian Army
detachment arrived and demanded a cease-fire. The students obeyed but the AVH refused to
evacuate the building. When two army officers were shot, the army retaliated instantly,
and so began the first pitched battle between the army and the AVH, New army detachments
arrived and began distributing weapons to the students. By eleven o'clock, several
thousand students had arms, and the first round of the battle was won. The army received
orders to withdraw.
During the night more guns were acquired by the students, who had by now developed a
taste for fighting. The city police either joined them or gave up their arms willingly.
Even so, the students were not much of a fighting force.
It was 4 A.M. when the first Soviet tanks and armored cars arrived in the city.
Overnight another series of events had occurred. Workers in the suburbs had held meetings
and drawn up demands generally in line with those of the students. To these had been added
several specific points about factory-management councils and general increases in wages.
At dawn the workers began marching in-to the city. Only about fifteen hundred of them were
armed. All the rest had nothing but their bare hands and flags. No one was in command.
Whoever spoke the loudest or made the most sense was obeyed. Impromptu committees and
delegations formed, but the general impression was of huge convergent masses chanting
slogans such as "Down with Gero!" "Punish the murderers!" "We
want Nagy!" Later in the morning, another cry was taken up that was heard all through
the subsequent days: "Out with the Russkies!"
All through this second day furious battles raged. On one side were seventy Soviet
tanks, fifty armored cars, and small arms and automatic weapons. On the other were
twenty-five thousand students and nearly two hundred thousand workers steadily pouring in
from outlying districts. The rebels had at this time about four thousand small arms. To
escape the wildly shooting Soviets and AVH men, the insurgents broke into small groups and
occupied strategic corner buildings. Some entrenched themselves in military barracks. But
still there was no central command, and each rebel unit operated on its own. This lack of
organization contributed largely to the heavy casualties. No one plotted this revolt. It
The second night brought great changes in the situation. Nagy became Prime Minister.
The rebel groups disbanded. Only a few remained manning the barricades. The night was
At this point it did not seem likely that the revolt would continue. It probably would
not have gone on but for the tragic events that occurred between ten and eleven the next
morning. A peaceful and unarmed demonstration arrived before the Parliament Building to
shout [20/21] for another set of resolutions. There were Russian tanks in the square, but
the drivers were smiling and friendly. Seeing a crowd numbering ten thousand arriving, the
Hungarian security forces opened fire. The Russians also started shooting. More than a
hundred persons died within ten minutes.
Within an hour the people's rage was beyond control, and the rebellion spread. Groups
poured from all over carrying Hungarian flags. They defied Soviet and AVH fire during the
rest of the day and the night following. Ceaseless fire broke out in all parts of the
city. This third wave of revolt included nearly everybody. Among the bravest were both
Communist and anti-Communists. There was still no command. The rebels had about five
thousand rifles and nearly two thousand automatic rifles. However, the army units (which
participated in the opening battles alongside the people but later went back to their
barracks) had a number of heavy machine guns and grenades.
Gero's removal was announced during the night. The unarmed rebels went home, and now
the fighting against the Soviet troops and the AVH was carried on solely by diehards.
On the fourth day, peace seemed near. Nagy had guaranteed amnesty. The last remnants of
the first student bands surrendered. They considered that their demands had been met. So
too, with some minor exceptions, did the workers from the suburbs. Practically all the
citizens' groups that had been engaged in the fight started preaching and practicing
Up to then, at the height of battle the Soviet forces numbered 310 tanks, half of them
heavy, 250 armored combat vehicles, and ten thousand men. What there was of the rebellion
in the provinces was confined to meetings passing resolutions that were sent to Nagy and
organizing local administration. One exception was Magyarovar, a small township between
Gyor and the Austrian border, where the local AVH opened fire and the ensuing massacre
claimed eighty-five lives.
Popular pressure exacted more and more concessions from the government, and the price
of peace continued to rise. There was still some firing by groups fighting independently
of any line of command. By Saturday, the fifth day, accurate counting was possible. The
rebel army could still count on about eight thousand fighters, while another thirty
thousand could be mobilized on short notice. Still the rebels had no leaders and not much
of a program beyond "Out with the Russkies!" and "Down with the AVH!"
THE GENTLE REBELS
It is difficult if not altogether impossible to convey any notion of these people's
fighting gallantry. Wherever the rebels were students and workers, there was not a single
case of looting. Shop windows without glass were filled with desirable goods, yet nothing
was touched. An incident I saw will illustrate this. Windows from a candy store and an
adjacent flower shop were smashed and the sidewalk was littered with candy boxes. All
these boxes were replaced in the glassless windows, but the flowers strewn about were
gathered and placed on the bodies of dead rebels.
The masses of embattled students and workers never became a mob, but from time to time
there appeared a few groups of marginal characters who gathered on street corners and
started yelling "Exterminate the Jews!" Several cases of hard liquor were freely
distributed and many people got drunk.
Nothing like this happened where either students or workers were assembled, but there
was enough anti-Semitism around during the first night as well as during subsequent days
to present a distinct danger signal in a country which only recently had gone through
several years of intense Jew hating and which had maintained an official anti-Semitic
policy since 1919. During the fifth and sixth days I saw four people attacked and beaten
because they may have been Jews. Not severely, but nevertheless their clothes were torn
and they were bleeding. The slogan was that Rakosi, Gero, and Mihaly Farkas -three Jews-
were responsible for all the misery that had descended on the country. Still, during the
first six days of the revolt these episodes could be considered both sporadic and
RISING NATIONALIST TIDE
Here and there, wherever a group started rioting, a few individuals seemed inclined to
strike a note of extreme nationalism. I even wondered at times whether these nationalist
elements had a supreme command. I did my best to find it, but I never succeeded in
obtaining any convincing evidence. Yet the nationalist tide kept rising. A close associate
of Nagy admitted on Saturday, the fifth day, that the revolt was beyond the control of
those who had started it. Nagy decided that a final bid should be made. He advanced a
program: The revolt was to be declared a national patriotic uprising and was to be handled
as such. Again, he proposed an amnesty for all rebels and dissolution of the AVH, and
promised the early withdrawal of all Soviet troops from Budapest and negotiations with
Moscow for removal of all Soviet troops from Hungarian soil. The next day he appointed
non-Communists Bela Kovacs and Zoltan Tildy to Cabinet posts. Two days later he announced
the formation of a new Cabinet ending the one-party system and promised that free
elections would be held.
The Nagy government kept floundering. The insurrection drifted. Then on Sunday,
November 4, the Russian tanks that had been ringing the city opened fire. 
1. Leslie B. Bain, "Hungary: The First Six Days," The
Reporter, XV (November 15,1956), 20-21. Reprinted by permission of the author and the
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