NOTE: In the text below, the AOL software has eliminated the long Hungarian
vowels (o" and u") plus the quotation marks and left blank spaces in their
October 23 1956:
"Rian a fold, a falak dolnek, Quivers the earth, tumble the
Kek harsonakkal zeng az eg, The trump of doom echoes the sky,
S barlangjabol a dohos konek And from the stifling cave of terror,
Az ember ujra fenyre lep." Our human souls began to rise.
My sandals were soaked in the morning dew. To keep warmer, I turned up the
collar and turned in the lapel of my corduroy jacket. On the train, the
people don't seem to know about the events of last night. They are
blue-collar workers, exhausted, half asleep. This is only Tuesday, but they
look as if a whole work week was already behind them. There are no students
on the train. It is too early for them. These workers
are the backbone of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
I arrive at the university at around 7 AM. Jancsi Danner is at gate
#4. I'm 6'-2 , he must be 6'-4 or 6'-5 . He is also older then me by about 5
years. He winks at me and hands over a tri-colored arm-band: Go to gate #2
and check the identity cards of all who enter. No strangers should be allowed
in. None! Jancsi's voice is quiet, there is a faint smile in the corner of
his mouth. His tall frame is slightly stooped, as he turns to the much
shorter Ivan Szabs and asks: Ivan, could you get hold of a bullhorn? We
might need one later.
Since the Russians occupied Hungary, I have not seen an arm-band with
the national colors. The displaying of any national symbols, even the flag,
was carefully controlled: the average person could not even own one. When an
official flag was displayed, it had to be placed next to, and to the left of
the red flag. Any sign of patriotic feeling, any national symbol was taken as
opposition to the internationalist doctrine of the Communists. We got used to
this. A tri-colored arm-band was unthinkable, a provocation, a sigh of open
rebellion. And now, I have one!
I feel ten feet tall. As I am walking over to gate #2, near the
Chemistry Building, I hold my head high, I keep peeking at my own arm-band. I
feel so happy, so special and honored. As I reach the gate, the first person
who enters is Kati Sz ke, the young chemistry professor, who last night
helped us with the stencil copier. She stops, stares at my arm-band, her eyes
get shiny and as I explain, that we are screening out the strangers, who
might stir up trouble, she quietly hands me her identity card.
A little later, Gyuszi Perr arrives on his motor bike. Marika, the
little blond athlete, who witnessed my high jump yesterday, is on the back
seat. We distributed the announce ments at the factories of Csepel,
Belojannisz and also at the mines of Dorog - she says. My brother is
passing them out at the University of Gvdvll - I tell them. As time passes,
the traffic at the gate increases. Later, Marika comes back to help with the
checking. Now there is a line at the gate. People are patient. There is a
dignified pride in the air. I try to be quick, so I don't even look up, just
read one identity card after the other.
On this card the title reads: rector. I look up. There is the
president of the university, Laszls Gillemot in front of me, quietly waiting
for his card. I hand it back and in my embar rassment I make something like a
curtsy. I feel silly to be checking the papers of the rector, but then, as I
look in his eyes, I see respect, I see emotion and most of all, I see warm
reassurance. His eyes are saying: Don't worry. The young man of other ages,
were just as scared as you are, yet they changed the world. You too will
leave your mark, you too will do what the adults could not, you will mortally
wound this barbaric system.
By now there are four of us with arm-bands at the gate. The time is
7:59 AM. My mechanics class starts at 8 AM in the KA-51 lecture hall. This
lecture is given by Adam Mutnyanszky, or uncle Mutyi, as we all call him. It
is unthinkable to miss his class. So I leave the gate to the others and break
the world record between Gate #2 and the KA-51 lecture hall. Laci Zsindely
kept a chair for me in the 10th row. I slump down beside him. I know Laci
from high school. He is a well dressed, broad shouldered fellow. He is
responsible for my selecting naval architecture as my major. I picked that
major for the sole reason, that I wanted to be with him.
There are about 300 students in our junior class of mechanical
engineering. Therefore, this large lecture hall is only about half full.
Professor Mutnyanszky is down in front. He has already started to draw the
cross-section of some machine element, on one of the sliding black-boards. We
look down at him, like in a theatre as each row is above the previous. Each
chair is provided with a writing table, which we lift, when we sit down or
get up. These tables been carved with chiseled initials, engravings of loved
names and less quotable remembrances of many generations of students.
Mutnyanszky is a remnant of the old, pre-Communist school of
professors, a born teacher, one who educated generations of engineers,
inventors, even some Nobel Prize winners. His knowledge is surpassed only by
his dedication and love of teaching. He enjoys opening up young minds,
passing on his own devotion to science and his faith in knowledge, to the
next generation. You could hear a pin drop in the lecture hall. This is,
because uncle Mutyi does not use a microphone and we don't want to miss a
single word he says.
His lecture is like celebrating mass. He is the high priest of
science. He is assisted by a teaching assistant and a school-porter. The
professor does not use a text book. He draws his lines without a ruler, yet
they are as straight as a bowstring. He never runs out of board space, and he
certainly never makes a mistake. When done, he nods to his second in command
(not the teaching aid, but the old school-porter), who takes his big sponge
and bucket of water and while uncle Mutyi works on an other board, he washes
and dries the used one until it is clean as a new pin.
This board was already old when von Karman's generation studied here
at the turn of the century, it got older by the time of von Neumann
generation in 1925, after the dismemberment of the Kingdom, and still older
when he, together with Teller, Wigner, Szilard and the others left to escape
the nazis. It is old, but it is still pitch black, Mutnyan szky's white lines
are sharp and visible even is the back. The professor and the porter are the
same kind of people, they get along, because they both take pride in what
they do and because, they respect each other.
This morning Mutnyanszky is in bad form. He can not concentrate, he
seems to have lost his chain of thought, he stops, he coughs, he looks at us,
then back at the board, starts and stops again. He is humming and hawing, he
is clearing his throat, while the class is watching and waiting. Finally he
puts down the chalk, wipes his hands, turns away from the board and slowly
walks back to his desk. For a while he plays with his glasses, then lifts his
eyes, looks at us for a few long seconds and with a choke in his voice, says:
Go my sons, go! This is not a day for mechanics. You have a higher duty
today. Make this a proud day in the history of our poor nation.
As Mutnyanszky leaves, we hold a brief meeting with the class. We
tell them about last night's meeting and about the demonstration planned for
this afternoon. We agree that we will march, using the same formation, which
we use during military training. This way we will all know the persons on our
left and right and therefore, no strangers can infiltrate our group. We will
march with ten in each row, arm in arm, silent. We will carry no signs, we
will give no reason for the police to interfere. We agree that Gyuri Egry
(the Men ) will lead the class and I will be the contact person with colonel
At around 9 AM the class left to rehearse the formation in front of
the Chemistry building and I went to find colonel Marian and the other
organizers. As I am walking toward the Military Department, I see Ivan
Sandor, the editor of our paper, The Future Engineer. He has just arrived
from the printer, and is bringing the new edition. He must have some 2,000
copies. The ink is still wet, our demands are printed on the front page. I
grab some 50 copies, give about half to my class and decide to take the rest
to the universities on the Pest side of the Danube.
As I jump on the streetcar with my tri-colored arm-band and with the
papers under my arm, all eyes turn towards me. Now, an older lady gets up and
stand next to me, like if she wanted to protect me. Then a mailman comes over
and whispers in my ear: I heard it from my daughter, I know everything. Be
careful! While he is talking, he keeps looking around to see if he can
expect any reprisal for his daring act. It is about 9:30 AM. The capital is
still oblivious to what is happening at the universities.
I visit three universities. Meetings are in progress at each. I read
our demands, announce the march planned for the afternoon, leave a couple of
copies of our paper and go on to the next one. At the Marxism-Leninism
university, the DISZ penguins seem to be still in control. At the Academy of
Dramatic Arts, somebody affixes a Polish emblem to my lapel. As I am going on
to Evtvvs University, a tall women stops me on the street, hugs me, kisses
the insignia and starts talking in Polish. I smile at her, point at my arm-
band and since I have nothing else to give, I hand her a copy of The Future
By 10 AM, when I am approaching Evtvvs University, Radio Budapest has
already announced the plans for our solidarity march. Now the city knows. As
I walk from the tram to the university, people are staring at me, some stop
and watch, an old man crosses himself, as if he has seen a miracle. In the
meeting hall the table is covered with red felt. I finish my short speech by
pointing at the table and asking: Don't you have a more appropriate cover?
It takes only a few minutes to push my way through the crowd, but by the
time I reach the door, the table is covered by the Hungarian tricolor.
On my way out, I see a telephone. I dial Agnes. Her half sister,
Judit picks up the phone. I heard on the radio - she says. Will she
forgive me? - I ask. When there is only silence on the line, I beg her:
Tell her that this is real important, but no, not more important than her!
Nothing is. Just very, very important.
On my way back to the university, the atmosphere on has streetcar has
changed. Now the people know the meaning of my arm-band. I feel an outpouring
of love, respect and encouragement. It is a strange experience. It is like,
if overnight you have become somebody important, somebody whom everybody
thrusts. While they look up to me, I feel like telling them, that I am only a
kid, that they should not expect miracles from me, but then the role takes
over, I hand out the last copies of our paper and in a firm voice I say:
Come with us to the Bem statue this afternoon. This is our country, it is up
to us to make it free! Some people stare at the floor, others are reading
out aloud the demands in our paper, a lady is quietly crying and the
mustachioed conductor gives me a military salute as I jump off at the
By the time I get back, the university is like a beehive. Thousands
upon thousands are assembling within the gates. Most people are around the
library and behind the main building. New groups are arriving in a continuous
procession. There is a loud-speaker on the roof of the Machine Laboratory
where Jancsi Danner and Ivan Szabs are an nouncing and greeting the new
arrivals. Now it is the students of the Veterinary College, now the School of
Horticulture, then the School of Agricultural Engineering followed by the
uniformed cadets of the Pet fi Military Academy.
My class is still in formation, waiting in front of gate #2, near the
Chemistry Building. They have obtained an immense national flag. It will be
carried by the 6'-8 Laci Gabanyi, a member of the national basketball team.
Because gate #2 is the closest to Saint Gellirt Square, our class will lead
the march. Gabanyi's gigantic flag will give the signal to the students
gathered at the Pet fi statue, on the Pest side of the Danube, to also get
started. We are ready.
There must be 10,000, even 15,000 people assembled on the university
grounds. The gates are still guarded, but now there are trench coated people
outside the gates. They are taking photographs and take recurring trips to
the public phone to report on what they see. We know who they are. It is
because of them, that most of us use nicknames. Mine is csi (little
brother). One who does not bother with such things as using alter egos, is
Jancsi Danner. He makes no secret of who he is. His commitment is total.
It is past noon, I am very hungry, but then, I have been hungry for
most of the last decade. It is my normal state. I have been hungry since the
day of liberation , as the Communists call the end of the war, or since the
day of collapse as the nazis called it. (For the average Hungarian it was
neither. We just got out of the frying pan and into the fire.) My sandwich is
long gone and the search for crumbs in the pockets of my corduroy jacket is
unsuccessful. As I search for bread crumbs, I find the 140 forints, which I
got yesterday; two 20s and a 100. If I see a food stand, I will certainly buy
I stand in the front row of our class, Gyuri Egry (Men ) on my left,
Zoli Dese on my right. Our patience is wearing thin. At 12:53 PM there is a
radio announcement: The Minister of Interior, Laszls Piros has forbidden the
On the roof of the Machine Laboratory, Colonel Marian takes the
bullhorn and asks: Will you obey the Minister's orders? The answer thunders
in from all directions: No, No, No! I push myself through the crowds, but
by the time I reach colonel Marian, a student delegation has already left for
the Ministry of the Interior. Jancsi Danner headed the delegation. They took
a Skoda car, belonging to the university and driven by Imre Majoross.
When I get back to my class, I see that outside the gates, the people
in trench coats have multiplied. They are still taking their photographs,
still making their telephone calls. Now, for the first time, there is tension
in the air. So what did the sadist say to the masochist when he begged for a
kick? - asks Gyuri Egry, the Men , and when nobody replies, he blurts out
the answer: He said: no! Nobody laughs. So he tries again: Who is an
absolute nun? Again, silence. The nun who's mother is also a nun - he
answers, but there is no response, not even a giggle. So he gives up his
attempt to cheer us up. We wait in silence, just wait and wait.
The university grounds are becoming very crowded. Our numbers have
swollen and new contingents of demonstrators are still arriving. It is about
2:30 PM when there is some commotion on the roof of the Machine Laboratory.
We see the tall figure of Jancsi Danner with a short, dark haired police
officer. Now they hand the bullhorn to the officer: I am Sandor Kopacsi, the
police chief of Budapest. I bring you good news: you have permission to
march. He tries to say something else, but the cheering muffles his voice.
Now it is colonel Marian's turn to speak: Our silent solidarity march will
start at gate #2. We will march north on the west bank of the Danube up to
General Bem's Square, where we will take part in the commemoration of the
Writers Union. The march will start immediately.
Our class is assembled right at gate #2. Laci Gabanyi raises the
enormous national flag, the gate opens and arm in arm, shoulder to shoulder,
filled with commitment and emotion, we burst out onto Saint Gellirt Square.
We walk silently, like in a dream. My heart is in my mouth, a shiver is
running down my spine, I have never experienced anything like this.
The traffic on the square comes to a standstill. The streetcars and
buses are squeaking to a halt. There is astonishment on the faces of the
pedestrians. They freeze in place and like a wide eyed sculptural group, they
remain rooted in place. As if they were under a spell, they are watching,
they are witnessing a miracle. A sanitation worker drops her broom and
crosses herself as our flag passes in front of her and starts crying. A tall,
mustachioed man, takes off his hat and stands to attention. A young traffic
cop first reaches for his flat cap, then gets embarrassed and awkwardly
adjusts his gesture into the wiping of perspiration off his brow, but in the
process, his fist also rubs his eyes. This is a once in a life-time
experience: A humiliated and tormented nation is opening her eyes,
straightening her back, is regaining her self-respect. It is a good, a proud
feeling to be Hungarian today.
As we march through the square, we see an ocean of people behind us.
Now the students on the Pest side, the east side of the Danube, are also
starting on their northward march. They too are silent. The effect is
overpowering. The sidewalks are full of pedestrians who are marching with us
on both sides of our columns. This is more than just a demonstration by a few
thousand students. This is more like a dream, a dream that has materialized.
An entire nation is marching here. Everybody who ever loved this nation is
with us. I feel the presence, I can almost see Saint Stephen with his heavy
golden crown and Matthias Corvinus with his books, prince Rakoczi with his
kuruc fighters, there is Louis Kossuth with his bloodied, but unbowed
redcaps. Behind them, the more recently departed patriots, there is the
philosopher Imre Madach and the poet Endre Ady, behind them comes the
composer Bila Bartsk with Ferenc Molnar the playwright, and on, and on. We
are all here, our past, our history, the culture that makes us what we are,
the collective soul of all Hungarians is marching with us. Gyuri Egry, the
Men is on my right, he turns to me: This moment made life worth living. I
do not reply, I can not speak.
We pass the Freedom bridge, then the Elizabeth bridge and finally the
Szichenyi Chain Bridge, (the first such bridge in Europe.) People stare at us
in open-mouthed wonder. They just can't believe their eyes. Their hats are
off, their eyes are teary and full of amazement. They are witnessing a
miracle. People are waving from the windows. Now, in the window of the KIOSZK
building on Dvbrentei Square, a lady in a white smock, cuts out the Communist
crest from our national flag and starts waving this flag with the hole in
it's center: the future symbol of the revolution. A spontaneous cheer bursts
out and rises to the sky, For one moment we have forgotten that this is a
Now I see professor Jankovits's little Topolino parked on the
side-walk. Jancsi Danner, Ivan Szabs and others are using the roof of the car
as a desk. Gyuri Egry yells out: What are you doing? We have just
converted the 14 points into 16! - comes the answer.
As we arrive at the statue of the Polish General Bem, it is already
covered by flowers and by wreathes of laurels. The president of the Writers
Union, Piter Veres is speaking, we hear Pet fi's poem:
Up, Hungarians! Freedom forever!
Now's the moment, now or never!
Shall we be slaves? Shall we be free?
That is no choice: we must be free!
It is followed by the reading of the newly born 16 points. After the reading,
our delegation once again leaves for the Radio, hoping to broadcast the
demands. At the same time, Sandor Szill leaves with an other delegation to
deliver our demands to Imre Nagy.
At the end of the commemoration, some of the classes return to the
university. We, the junior class of Mechanical Engineering, decide to march
on to the Parliament. We felt that our work was incomplete, that we could not
go home like this. We had to obtain some result, we had to obtain some
response from the government. Our march is still silent and dignified, we are
maintaining our arm-in-arm formation, our mood is still happy and optimistic
as we reach the Saint Margaret bridge, which takes us to the Pest side, where
the Parliament is.