Hungarian Revolution, 1956
On October 23, 1956, a young boy called Gyula decided to start a diary. There’s nothing strange about that, except that the boy wanted to keep a diary about a revolution. He was close to the action, literally, because he was living at No. 10, Somogyi Béla utca, behind the Corvin Department Store and a stone’s throw from the Grand Boulevard. Meanwhile Gyula collects things. Physical mementoes go into a box marked "Revolution", and shivers of glass, leaflets, newspaper cuttings and drawings into the diary. He listened to the radio, and questioned neighbours or people he knew from other parts of town. He took great long walks with his friend Jancsi, planning them ahead on paper. Materials were collected. Everything was noted down. Meanwhile he lived the life of a Budapest kid, taking violin lessons and extra German, watching slide shows, tobogganing, helping at a pig-killing at his grandmother’s house in Rákoskeresztúr, making badges with the Kossuth arms in a relative’s workshop and spending the money he got on books by Jules Verne and Mark Twain. He and Jancsi designed a whole imaginary city, with streets named after the heroes of the revolution. His head and his diary held a mixture of Budapest boyhood, gangland lore, and the history in action around him. He was very much in the picture. He knew the famous radio speeches inside out, he collected jokes on the tram, and he sketched bombarded buildings.
Gyula’s diary has survived in its entirety. So have the pamphlets, the cuttings, the chocolate wrappers from foreign food parcels, and the city the boys drew. Although Gyula was only 12 years old, he expressed himself in a very mature way. His diary remains an exciting piece of writing to this day, as he tells the story of the revolution from his own point of view, in great detail and chronological exactitude, conjuring up again the daily life of a young Budapest boy and of Budapest residents in a special period: October 23, 1956 to March 15, 1957. The many fine drawings, the legible writing and the many cuttings and maps (allowing bombarded buildings and characteristic parts of the ruined city to be identified in archive photographs) all support the decision to publish this diary in facsimile, accompanied by an annotated transcription of it.
Complementing this facsimile publication, there is a documentary-cum-animated film being made by the ’56 Institute’s Documentary Film Studios. Directed by Sándor Silló and Boglárka Edvy, it will be released in the autumn of 2006.
Tuesday, October 23, 1956
In the morning Mum and I went to the cemetery. First we visited Grandpa Papp, then Grandpa Fabsics. Grandpa Fabsics’s grave was really dry, so we watered it. Then we came home, and I did my homework and played the violin. I had to be in school by 1 p.m. The first class—singing class—was cancelled because the teacher had something to do. I used the time to run home and get Mum to sign the tests I did in Russian class. In the classroom, István Pinke told stories. In the second class the geography compositions were handed back, and the ones with the best grades—mine was a four/five—read them out loud. In Russian class I was also called on to read my work, which got a 5. We spent all of geometry class and Hungarian class answering questions the teachers threw at us. Afterward we had a class assembly with our form-master. We arranged who sits where in the classroom. I went home at 6.15. Till then I didn’t hear or see a thing. When I got home, Kati said that people are demonstrating. I hadn’t heard a thing about all this. It was only yesterday that the radio announced that students were protesting in Szeged and that there was an uprising in Poland. Góré was reading a Free Youth flyer. I read it, too. It was about the student protest. When I went out, I saw three big trucks at the Corvin Department Store carrying university students. A boy was standing on top of the cab and along with the others was yelling: “Russkies go home! We’ve had enough of Rákosi! No more waiting even an hour, we want Imre Nagy in power!” Later I walked with Maja to chatechism class, she didn’t dare go alone. On the way home we met a crowd of demonstrators that stopped at Népszínház Street and sang the National Anthem. All the while Góré was at Radio headquarters. I went to bed at 9. From bed I heard the crowd shouting: “Let’s pull down the Stalin statue! Down with Gerő!”
Sunday, October 28, 1956Excerpts from the First Part of the Translation:
SPEECH BY IMRE NAGY
In the morning I read a lot of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Gyula walked over to Grandma’s place. A bit later in the morning I went over to Jancsi’s. There I worked on drawing the City. I went home at 10. Franci was already there. He said that around Grandma’s nothing had happened at all. Then Uncle Géza, Dad’s uncle, came by from across the Danube over in Buda. He said he’d been stopped and asked for his ID six times on his way here. Free People appeared in the morning and printed the names of the members of the new government. Gyula arrived after lunch and said that around 800 tanks and 250 trucks full of ammunition were coming toward the city. A ceasefire was called for noon, but the shooting went on all the same. The Radio tried everything that it hadn’t under Rákosi. For example, the noon Angelus bell. Mr Kolics was over at our place, and he said that yesterday a siege of the György Kilián (Mária Terézia) army barracks got underway, and that it was still going on. He also said that the buildings on Práter Street nearby were damaged, too. In the afternoon I went over to Jancsi’s, where we worked on the City again (see Box14). I named a street and a square after the Revolution. In the evening Prime Minister Imre Nagy gave a speech. In it he promised that the secret police would be disbanded and that March 15 would be a national holiday again. He also promised that, just like the youth demanded, our homeland’s coat of arms would once again be the Kossuth coat of arms and that Russian forces would begin withdrawing within 24 hours.
The Hungarian Quarterly Volume XLVI No. 182 Summer 2006