Lajos Kossuth Ter (Square) and the Kossuth Ter Massacre Memorial
Part 2: The Kossuth Ter Massacre Memorial
Another Chapter in Budapest’s Tumultuous History
This massacre was part of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, aka the 1956 Uprising
The first time Rod and I visited Budapest in 2009, the thing we vividly remembered from outside the Parliament Building was a Hungarian flag with a hole in it. This time, with Nath and Sonya, the flag was not there and we wondered why—weather deterioration? Vandalism?
But no, it now has a new home in a special Memorial exhibit on the Kossuth Ter Massacre (October 25, 1956) that is beneath the square. The Hungarian flag with a hole cut in the center has a central position in the exhibit. It’s at one end of the exhibit, hanging over a grave, with the circular wall covered in small plaques with names of known victims. This flag commemorates the 1956 Uprising, when protesters removed the communist seal the Soviets had added to their flag.
This memorial to the victims of the 25 October 1956 Massacre at Kossuth Tér was created in the southern ventilation tunnel as part of the 2012-2014 reconstruction of the square. One enters the Memorial down steps in the center of the square, marked by a sign with the torn Hungarian flag, and the railings have 1-9-5-6 cut in them.
October 25 was the worst massacre day but actually the uprising lasted from October 23 to November 10, 1956, when the Russians gained total control again.
It’s not a large exhibit, but every single item in it is bone-chilling, and gives us another look into what terrible things the Hungarian people went through in that period of their history. We know some Hungarian people whose families left at that time—they don’t really want to talk about those events, and now we can better understand why.
In 1953 Nagy Imre was appointed the leader of Hungary by the Soviets. He declared a new, more liberal government program, which promised a better standard of living and help for farmers. A review of the cases of those illegally condemned began and people felt that with Nagy Imre a positive change in the politics had started.
But, members of the previous leadership feared for their privileges and worried they would be held accountable for their unjust deeds. They stood behind Rákosi, the previous leader, who convinced the Russian party leaders that Nagy’s program endangered the socialist-communist system. The Russians ordered Nagy to withdrew his government program, but he refused to cooperate. Imre Nagy was removed from his post and excluded from the party. András Hegedűs, one of Rákosi’s henchmen became the prime minister and conducted more and more show trials.
Meanwhile, sensing the winds of change, university students, writers, poets, and other Hungarian intellectuals started to come together and demanded even more radical changes.
The revolt that became a revolution was the first major threat to Soviet control since the USSR’s forces drove out Nazi Germany from its territory at the end of World War II and broke into Central and Eastern Europe. The revolt began as a student demonstration, which attracted thousands as they marched through central Budapest to the Parliament Building, calling out on the streets using a van with loudspeakers via Radio Free Europe. A student delegation entered the radio building to try to broadcast the students’ demands but was detained. When the demonstrators outside demanded the delegation’s release, they were fired on by the State Security Police (ÁVH) from within the building. One student died and was wrapped in a flag and held above the crowd.
This was the start of the revolution. As the news spread, disorder and violence erupted throughout the capital, and the revolt spread quickly across Hungary
Two days into that revolt, on October 25, the AVH and Soviet troops on the rooftop above (perhaps the Ministry of Agriculture Building) opened fire on huge numbers of demonstrators gathered in Kossuth Square and sent in tanks—massacring many and leaving no doubt that Moscow would not tolerate dissent.
The memorial commemorates these unarmed victims who gathered on this “Bloody Thursday” as part of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution by using videos, photos, newspaper headlines, candles, and memorabilia of the era. Information is in Hungarian and English. Live videos capture part of the horror, and videos of family members of the victims tell a chilling story. World headlines blazed the news and some of the confusing events were documented. Hundreds of Hungarians were dead, and 200,000 fled to the West, fleeing expected Soviet reprisals. Nagy was arrested, given a sham trial and executed in 1958.
However, little information is certain about this massacre, from who fired the first shot and why, to how the protesters were led to gather in that location on that day, to the death toll of the event on that actual day. Sources cite as few as 22 shot dead up to as many as 1,000. British officials cite the number as being between 300 and 800. It’s almost certain that up to 2,500 Hungarians were killed in the 1956 Revolution (not just on the Thursday).
We leave, wondering, and with many questions still unanswered. Why was it so brutal? Why did the West do virtually nothing? The memorial asks anyone with information on the massacre to report it to officials to help complete the story.
October 23 is a public holiday in Hungary as the Hungarian revolution of 1956 is one of the most significant events of the country’s 20th century history.
If anyone wants more detailed information here is a pretty good analysis: