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Fighting in the Streets: A Lesson on Heroism, Hungarian Style

zita kisgergely

hungarian-freedom-fighter.jpg

With so much political upheaval and unrest around the world, it is easy to forget that Budapest was once in the global spotlight when in a brazen display of bravery Hungarian freedom fighters drove the Soviets from the city in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. The fighters, male and female alike, retook the city for just over two weeks until Soviet forces invaded Hungary and occupied Budapest using superior numbers and firepower. Through surviving photos we can see just how perilous the situation on the city streets was. Budapest itself became a hot-spot as soldiers moved from building to building, waging bloody battles for each bit of territory.

Though some of the events of that time have been recalled in different ways by different sources, it is mostly believed the uprising was initiated in the city's Republic Square when Hungarian insurgents tried to take the building of the Soviet-controlled Budapest Committee of the ruling Hungarian Workers’ Party. The soldiers fired on the insurgents, killing many, after which they called in tanks for for re-enforcement. When the tanks arrived, however, it is believed that instead of protecting the ruling party, the Hungarian-manned tanks sided with the insurgents. The insurgents eventually took the building, and a revolution began.

 

Later, after the soviets occupied Budapest again, the citizenry endured some of the bloodiest fighting the city has ever seen, with over 2,000 Hungarians killed, and countless more detained and tortured. It would be more than thirty years until the Soviets relinquished grip on Hungary, this time peacefully.

These days a memorial to those who died in the fighting stands by the Hungarian Parliament–  in the form of bullet-holes filled in with bronze. For a dramatization of the revolution, have a look at the film Szabadság, Szerelem (Children of Glory) from 2006 in which a team of Hungarian water polo players live through the 1956 Revolution to take on to beat the Soviet water polo team in that year’s Melbourne Olympic Games.

A stroll in almost any direction in downtown Budapest will reveal pock-marks on the edifices of older buildings left by gun-fire, evidence of an embattled past. Over the centuries, Budapest has been occupied my many foreign armies, including Russians, Turks, and Germans. But none came without fierce fighting and resistance. Though many of the bullet marks are today being filled in as downtown apartment houses are renovated, there are still plenty of paces where Budapest’s difficult history is evident.