The First Rip in the Iron Curtain

 Hungarian Freedom Fighters in 1956

Today is the anniversary of the start of the 1956 Hungarian Uprising..

In contrast to David’s previous discussion about young European women abandoning Western civilization, in Hungary that year women were fighting for freedom and to be part of the West.

In Budapest last week . . . the Russian masters and their desperate Hungarian puppets faced a new and formidable foe. The city’s women, some of whom had fought earlier at the side of their men and then had bitterly buried the men who had fallen, suddenly banded together in a series of fresh demonstrations of defiance.

“Only women are wanted this time,” they shouted as they joined up in the streets. Then, ignoring the ominous presence of security police and Russian tanks, they marched with flowers and flags to a service commemorating their dead. The men doffed their hats in tribute as the women paraded past and joined with them in the stirring words of a forbidden song—“We shall never be slaves.”

Despite the fact that the uprising was crushed by Soviet tanks in the following weeks and months, the oppression eventually eased to the point where Hungary came to become one of the “Happiest Barracks” of the Soviet sphere. Thanks to those brave young men and women, freedom eventually found its way through to the rest of Eastern Europe.

18 thoughts on “The First Rip in the Iron Curtain”

  1. Looks like the woman in the center of the photo is holding one of my favorite firearms, the ppsh-41 with 100 round optional cylinder. That is a lot of lead. That was a ww2 era weapon. I imagine there were millions of firearms rattling around Europe after ww2.

  2. The rate of fire was pretty impressive. A great weapon

    Apparently when student protestors were fired on by the secret police, soldiers in the army handed over their rifles to the rebels.
    Unfortunately, that girl didn’t make it. She joined the uprising as a nurse, but died in a firefight in the streets.

  3. I remember thinking that the cold war was over, and we had won, when I read numerous stories in the 1970’s about the way the younger soviet generation had fallen in love with blue jeans and rock n roll and all the other trappings of western culture.

    Still, I was stunned by the speed and totality of the fall of the communist parties, and the vehemence with which the old ideas and old guard were hated.

    For so many years, we had been told that these soviet governments were legitimate, independent, and that the various Marxist revolutionary movements around the world were all spontaneous and independent of Moscow’s control.

    Soon after the Wall fell, and the governments with it, these so-called indigenous revolutionary movements started falling apart also.

    It was all a sham. All of it.

    Read a book called, “The Cold War” recently. It was based, partly, on the archives being opened in the former soviet countries, esp. the Kremlin’s.

    Almost everything we were told about the soviets, their allies, their ideas, their policies, all of it, in the media and academically, was BS. It’s as if Duranty was not an aberration, but a model.

    And maybe he was, and is, except now it’s called post-modernism, or critical theory or some other phony euphemism.

  4. IIRC Hungary was one of the first to open their border with Austria when the wall started getting cracks in 1989.

    Didn’t Eisenhower promise them aid in 1956 and then it never came?

  5. “Didn’t Eisenhower promise them aid in 1956 and then it never came?”

    Yes, but the Hungarians had the rotten luck to rebel the same week that the British and French decided (with the Israelis) to take the Suez Canal. The Hungarian revolution was swamped by the international horror at the Brits and French trying to take back their property that Nasser had nationalized.

    There is a story that Foster Dulles, on his deathbed, told a British former minister, “Why did you let us ?” stop the invasion. It was the worst foreign policy failure of the Eisenhower administration.

  6. A sailing friend of mine, an engineer and Hungarian refugee, went back to Hungary to look up his family after the Berlin Wall fell. I saw him a couple of years ago on a trip back to California. They live there (in Hungary) most of the time now.

  7. I am not trying to diminish the Hungarians heroism, but there was an uprising in East Germany in 1953

    This from memory, and I have not researched the issue of East European rebellions against Soviet domination.

    The East German uprising produced one of my favorite poems by Bertolt Brecht, who was usually a staunch supporter of the regime.

    Die Lösung
    Bertolt Brecht

    Nach dem Aufstand des 17, Juni
    Ließ der Sekretär des Schriftstellerverbands
    In der Stalinallee Flugblätter verteilen
    Auf denen zu lesen war, daß das Volk
    Das Vertrauen der Regierung verscherzt habe
    Und es nur durch verdoppelte Arbeit
    Zurückerobern könne. Wäre es da
    Nicht doch einfacher, die Regierung
    Löste das Volk auf und
    Wählte ein anderes?

    The Solution
    Bertolt Brecht

    After the uprising of the 17th June
    The Secretary of the Writer’s Union
    Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
    Stating that the people
    Had forfeited the confidence of the government
    And could win it back only
    By redoubled efforts.
    Would it not be easier
    In that case, for the government
    To dissolve the people
    And elect another?

  8. We inherited a lot of the survivors of the Hungarian Rising. In the 1980’s a place where I lived had a maintenance man who spoke with a very thick Cajun accent. In the course of talking to him one day, I found out that he had come here as a teenager after fighting in Hungary in 1956. He had ended up in New Orleans, and that was the version of English he learned.

  9. Grurray – impressive firepower indeed. The real beauty of that weapon was the extremely simple and cheap construction methods, and the ease of use. The Russians handed them out to conscripts who basically had to just point and pull the trigger. It was the right weapon at the right time, to be sure.

    I have at times looked into getting one, but the hassle of owning a smg is a factor, and I am always afraid that the dumb thing will just blow up in my hands. Not exactly a lot of gumsmiths locally that can work on something like that/make sure it is ready for fire.

  10. There’s a brilliant book called Under the Frog by Tibor Fischer set in Hungary during and before the 1956 revolution. Very Catch-22-esque.

  11. Dan, also from the videos it looks really easy to control while in full auto. Not much recoil or shaking.
    Maybe that was why so many women and teenagers were able to join the fight – because the rifle was so easy to use.

    Robert, I suppose if we want to get technical we could say that the cracks in iron curtain were first starting to show after the Berlin Airlift. Also, there were major strikes and protests in Poland earlier in 1956 which provided the spark for the events in Budapest, and there were protests in Prague too. An argument can be made that the most enduring impact of the Hungarian Revolution were the international consequences. The Cold War stalemate was cemented into place, and the only way out of it appeared to be an all out arms race in which the Soviets couldn’t keep up. The Soviets in 1956 were openly exposed as cold blooded murders (to the few previously not paying attention), and a united front in the West was initiated to engage them. No more Ike-style Realism.

    Brian, looks like a good one, another book to add to my list

  12. I agree it looks easy to control, but that is only in short bursts – and it is only a 7.62 x 25 round so there is that as well. Pistol rounds fired in a longer gun are always comfie.

    I imagine it would start climbing pretty quick when a guy with minimal training is trying to street fight and he is just spraying and praying. But then again, that is likely a lot of the Russian strategy of the day; just send conscripts up with a bunch of lead and point it in the correct direction. I should correct myself, I believe that the additional drum was “only” 75 rounds or so.

  13. Good points.
    And that huge muzzle flash probably too easily gave their position away to the tanks roaming the streets after they emptied the drum, which undoubtedly came very quick in full auto.

  14. Wiki says that drum held 71 rounds but the fire rate of the weapon was NINE HUNDRED rounds per minute. So that is 15 rounds per second, meaning you would empty the drum in 4-5 seconds. That is impressive. Of course this is assuming no jams, of which I assume there were many due to crap ammo, and poor cleaning practices.

    Good point about muzzle flash, I assume they would just rather not shoot them at all at night for this reason.

  15. My hometown had a substantial Hungarian contingent- came over in the early 1900s.One of my classmates learned Hungarian before he started picking up English when he was 4 years old.

    When I worked in Argentina, I knew 3 Argentines with Cold War links to Hungary. One was the child of a Hungarian diplomat who got stranded in Japan after the Communist regime took over. At the time, Argentina seemed a good place to immigrate to. He translated for his parents, as children pick up a new language faster. One was an aerospace engineer whom the Russians tried recruiting. When he refused to go, they put him in jail for 18 months to try to convince him. After 18 months, the Russians let him go, and he and his wife got out of Hungary ASAP. Obviously this occurred before the Commies took over Hungary. Otherwise he may have never gotten out of jail. Another fled as a teenager with his family after the failed Hungarian Revolution of 1956.

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