On this Day: October 23, 1956

Photo source

Today, 23 October is a national holiday in Hungary. It is the anniversary of a student led uprising against the Russians, demanding the end of their rule. What started peacefully ended in clashes between police and demonstrators with many casualties.

Those demonstrating wanted the former Prime Minister, Imre Nagy, to be returned to power and for the Russians to leave. The Polish were successful in getting their former leader back in power and the Hungarians wanted the same for their country.

A list of 16 demands were compiled  and demonstrators congregated at the Budapest radio building where they wanted to broadcast their demands. They were not allowed into the building and were detained. Crowds gathered outside the building demanding that the demonstrators be let go. This escalated and it wasn’t long before the police started firing on the gathered crowd.

Meanwhile, the First Secretary Ernő Gerő, condemned their demands. Angered by this, the demonstrators took matters into their own hands and brought down the statue of Stalin (point 13 in the previous wiki article).

stalin_statue_in_budapest__1950s Stalin Head
L: The original statue as seen in the 1950s; R: The topped head of Stalin;

Things did not get better. Over the course of the next few days, clashes between police and the public escalated. Soviet tanks were brought in and soldiers were keeping guard at key bridges and cross roads. A ceasefire was arranged on 28 October, and by 30 October most Soviet troops had withdrawn from Budapest to garrisons in the Hungarian countryside.

There was brief period of peace between 28 October and 4 November, but this did not last. In the early mornings of 4 November 1956, Soviet tanks crept into Budapest and overtook the city and government. Resistance from the Hungarians were uncoordinated. Soviet tanks roamed the streets firing indiscriminately. The end result was over 2500 Hungarians were killed and thousands injured – most of them civilians.

Check out these witness accounts of the revolution in 1956 that were collected by the BBC.