What happened to your family during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956?
My father was a lawyer and my grandfather was a judge before the war, but my father was disbarred and my grandfather was forcibly retired for political reasons. As a result, we had to move from Budapest to a small town in 1950. My father had about ten different jobs between 1950 and 1956, including physical labor, because he was considered to be politically unreliable. In 1956, workers’ councils were elected at each company, and my father was the workers’ council’s president at his company in Stalin City [now Dunaújváros]. After the revolution, the workers’ council members were arrested and imprisoned. To avoid my father’s imprisonment, we escaped to Austria on Dec. 15.
The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 officially erupted as an expression of solidarity with the reforms in Poland, historically Hungary’s closest ally, and to demand greater political freedoms. Do you think, however, that the Hungarian revolutionaries thought that they could ultimately have thrown off the shackles of Moscow?
The goal of the revolution was also to regain Hungary’s independence. The nation was united, and the Hungarians believed they could regain their freedom and sovereignty. In fact, they prevailed for 12 days, as the Soviet troops began to withdraw. The Soviet Union apparently waited to see the West’s reaction, and when there was no response, the Soviets invaded on November 4 to suppress the revolt.
If there were no Soviet invasion and Khrushchev would have allowed the Hungarians to settle their internal affairs by themselves, do you think that the Revolution of 1956 could have transformed into a massive movement like Solidarity in Poland in the 1980s that could have destabilized the entire Soviet Bloc?
I think the revolution could have had a domino effect in other Eastern Bloc countries, especially Poland, where there already had been demonstrations precipitating the student march in Budapest. In Hungary, it would have likely led to free multi-party elections, freedom of the press, and the other demands framed by the students on October 22.
Many intellectuals in the West who were privileged to not experience communism firsthand lost their faith in the Soviet empire after the invasion of Hungary. Albert Camus was a famous example. Do you think that 1956 shook the world’s conscience and ended Westerners’ illusions about communism?
Absolutely. The so-called Western intellectuals and communists had their faith in the communist system shaken by the events. Furthermore, the Soviet Union and the Soviets’ communist puppet governments showed that they were brutal occupiers and dictators. The revolutionaries included all walks of life and most importantly, workers in the “workers’ paradise”.
Hungarian emigre scholar Charles Gati, a participant in the events of 1956, has argued in his book Failed Illusions: Moscow, Washington, Budapest and the 1956 Hungarian Revolt that the United States had no intention of bringing real aid to the Hungarian revolutionaries and that Washington intended to make support for Hungary solely symbolic. Do you agree with this assessment?
I have not researched the topic, so I cannot opine about the United States government’s intentions. However, statements from US officials at the time did not indicate any such intention [of bringing real aid to the Hungarian revolutionaries]. Military aid to Hungary would have been difficult to realize and basically confined to air support.
When your family escaped to the United States, how did Americans react to you? Did they treat you as heroes? Was there a lot of sympathy and admiration?
Our American sponsor and other volunteers treated us very well and generously. I think they admired the Hungarian people in general for their courage and determination. Some wanted to compensate for the fact that the West did not help during the Revolution and there was among many a sense of embarrassment and guilt, because of their inaction.
Born in 1945 in Hungary, Eugene Megyesy escaped Hungary for the United States with his family in 1956. He served during the Vietnam War and was awarded a Bronze Star for his bravery. Since 2010, Mr. Megyesy has served as a senior legal advisor to the Hungarian government on foreign policy, the Hungarian diaspora, and investment issues. A graduate of the University of Denver’s Law School, he has more than four decades of experience as an environmental lawyer and once worked as Assistant Attorney General in the Colorado Attorney General’s Office. In 1994-2011, Mr. Megyesy served as the Republic of Hungary’s Honorary Consul General for Colorado and Wyoming.
Filip Mazurczak is a Polish and American journalist and translator. He holds degrees in History and Spanish and Hispanic Studies from Creighton University and in International Relations from the George Washington University.