© 2002 Kalman Feher
In memory of those whose numbers are probably exponential of the official count..........................
A Virtual Memorial (under construction)
Courage in the lap of EVIL
We awoke on a sunny autumn morning to the sound of the national anthem playing on the radio. Then we awoke for real upon discovering that it was the only thing playing, over and over again. Something big was coming down, we could feel it in the air, not knowing what. It would take another while before an announcement was made and when it was, it was big all right, and it was coming down all over the country. Everywhere the huge red stars of communism, erected atop every public building to keep the nation terrorized, were now crashing in pieces to the streets below. That day was in late October of 1956 and the point in space where the hour-hand of history had thus overtaken our poor and miserable lives was a small mining town called Komlo nestled in the hills of southwestern Hungary.
My first discovery of practical significance was that there would be no school that day. There wouldn't be anything else either, and not for just one day. People were wandering about in the parks and in the streets, talking here and there. They seemed dazed as people would in the wake of some cataclysmic disaster, except that they were all grinning and smiling and were more alive than I had ever seen them before. Little did I know on that pivotal morning that all things normal would next be replaced by almost a year's worth of the most turbulent and definitive events of my life. Crowds of some 200,000 strong had lit up the capital city of Budapest the night before, all night long. Up there so far away where the bugle call of freedom had first sounded, it was already for ever muted in the ears of the first layers of sacrificed bodies littering the streets. Mothers, workers and students in unarmed protest had been fired upon by the uniformed goons of state, the much hated AVH, and this atrocity had sparked an entire nation into unimaginable fury while I had been sleeping.
The news spread as occasional reports of ongoing battles between runs of our anthem were made. Soon the outlying regions would light up in turn and the flame front also ignited my sleepy little town of always black-nosed, exploited, oppressed and enslaved miners. But they were a physical and intrepid lot by trade so things would not hang in suspense for long. Our local version of an opening act in the form of an equally unarmed protest soon shaped itself in the town square in front of the town hall exactly on the opposite end of town from the church. That's where the detested state elite, always armed in witness of their popularity, were now being challenged. These thugs had been bleeding the poor people for more than a decade and now the cup had run over. The crowd was anything but modest in size considering the population. The demonstrators were carrying only a few of those hastily improvised signs, civilized substitutes for more universal arm gestures or for more explicit (and loaded) instruments of bottom-line democracy. Nor was the crowd all that noisy, because between them and the town hall a row of green uniforms was lying in a grass-bed behind their machine guns aimed at the people. Suddenly a smaller group of maybe a dozen darker uniforms sprung out of the building, marching quickly as they fired on the step at shoulder height into the main body of protesters. They were aiming for head-shots or not much lower. It seemed that the greens lying in the grass had either refused to fire or had not heard any order to open up. Instantly, deafening gunfire was shattering the sanctity of this Sunday like autumn day and it did things even worse than rape in my soul. The entire scene directly annihilated in my budding world-view everything that adults, those trustworthy giants on two legs, had ever taught me about humanity. Almost 50 years later I can still hear and see that crowd splitting in every direction. Strangely enough, although I have kept vague notions of coats jerking on the ground with people in them, I have never since been able to clearly visualize the end of this first scene even though I was there and had seen the shooting. I do however clearly remember large pools of blood which seemed to be the only color in the mostly gray coal dust covering the larger grounds. The post traumatic effect lasted a long time ebbing away and would perhaps have been differently curved had I been older. My hunch is that I got the better part of the deal. This was a much bigger school than that other one, the one I wasn't really missing. War is the school of peace, and on this day my first chapter had been a lesson in why the human eye is so sensitive to the color red. I had never imagined that I would ever see such horror and brutality. A minute earlier I had been only 12 years old. Within days I would be conscripted by the rebels with all the pomp and ceremony of "hey you, make some Molotov cocktails over here", and the following weeks would rob me of life as a normal teenager for ever.
Throughout the country scenes of retribution like those in Budapest were playing out their inevitable script typically revolving around plutonian elements of speed and a merciless whack. The bullies of the past decade were now looking for holes in the ground and were dispatched exactly there to accompany earlier victims of their reign of terror. Like a swarm of angered bees, the people erupted from under brutal tyranny as they passed the boiling point of no return, a distinctive marker beyond which one's own life becomes a useless chip in the hands of intimidators because it is already of no value to its owner. Many of the uniformed or civilian condoms of the elitist nightmare were killed without formalities, sometimes piecemeal, and with surprising ease. In retrospect it seems ironic that in my mostly Christian country one of Islam's teachings should ring so clear: that oppression and subjugation are worse crimes than murder because they destroy the soul and leave an empty shell to exist meaninglessly.
In a few cases regrettable incidents involved those unfortunate conscripts who, like most of the occupying Soviet grunts, had no choice or say in the unfolding violence nor in the communist abuses that had paved every road to it. Firefights against Soviet tanks and troops were few compared to history's major armor engagements but fierce and embittered. As the 1st Duke of Wellington had said after Waterloo, "the saddest sight, next to a battlefield lost, is a battlefield won". Regular forces sometimes cannot afford to take prisoners (D-day was such when the allies didn't either) and students never trained in the art of war (or once trained but since become abused and tormented workers) also dispense few final civilities. A people rising in anger against oppression is past being suicidal and does not have the discipline for the technicalities of justice in the heat of battle. There exists nothing except harsh punishment by embittered and desperate victims of harsh crimes committed by harsh individuals on behalf of their bestial masters. The fate of state thugs and goons became double-sealed, they had to also pay for having turned otherwise peaceful citizens into their own image: destruction. Were it not for regular army groups siding with the rebels and bringing with them at least pinches of guidance and restraint it would have been worse. Sometimes innocent blood ran being just as red as the star on the uniform.
*N.B. The drawing serving as link at the top of the page was found on the net, may credit go where credit is due, I do not know who the author might be.
Having more or less buried it all, I hardly ever thought of 1956 again in any detail until my younger son asked me to tell the story to his classmates as part of a history exercise around 2002. It was to that end that the above was first written as an aide-memoire for my short lecture. I had then composed it based on recall, only later to learn much that I had not known before. It contains some possible errors that I have decided to leave untouched (to preserve the original) but will instead clarify when and as required.
Send suggested corrections (or
any info about Komlo events) to