INTERVIEW WITH DR BELA KIRALY
INTERVIEWER: Interview on the first of June, nineteen ninety six with Dr Bela Kiraly, member, or should I say, Commander of the Hungarian National Guard during the Hungarian Revolution of October/November nineteen fifty six. Can I first start by asking you, how did you get to hear that there was a revolution?
DR BELA KIRALY: Well, since Yeltsin visited Hungary, and made an apological speech at the Hungarian Parliament, simultaneously he gave over a suitcase full of documents, of Soviet documents on the Hungarian Revolution contemporary documents which very speedily was translated and published under the title, 'Yeltsin Dossier'. And in which some three documents dealt with me, and one was a Soviet demand for the Hungarian government that five people must be executed. And I had the privilege to be one of them. Which now translated into an answer to your question is that had I remained in Hungary, we would not meet here today. In other words, I left Hungary because I was absolutely sure that while the first death sentence passed in nineteen fifty was not carried out, this one would have been carried out, and while there are situations particularly for a soldier that he have to do his duty up to sacrificing his life if necessary, with a big poetry, on the other hand, if they want to kill you, and no tangible result would come out if you should not ... run this risk, so then I left Hungary, came to America, started a new life in the academic world. I acquired a Ph.D, became a Professor at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, and when I ... enough money, I bought this house twenty two years ago, so that my last year's teaching I was only residing here, and commuting there, and after my retired is my number one home.
INT: Taking you back to around the twenty third of October nineteen fifty-six, you're in hospital, or you're about to leave hospital fairly soon, obviously you were hearing sounds of fighting in the city. How was this explained to you? What, did you know what was happening in the city at the time?
BK: Er, first of all I had, I was for a week in the hospital, and I was just operated on, on the twenty second.In other words, I was not due to leave yet. But every day, several friends of mine who were involved in the reform movement, you know ... visited me 'till I was absolutely completely thoroughly briefed so to say, about the event, events. But, when the reform movement demonstrations for freedom etcetera were turned into a bloody affair, that, that I knew out of the sounds, you know. And the next day again people came and there was the primary source of information for all of Hungary was Radio Budapest, which assumed the name, ... Free Radio of Budapest. On the ninth ... ... ... four, the radio was taken over by the ... ... and twenty four hours a day it was on the air, and that was the true and quite correct source of information, in addition to the boom boom, you know, the ... sound of the guns and artillery of the Soviet troops.
INT: Was there any expectation that the Soviet troops would be driven out of the city, that you could win?
BK: Not for a moment. First of all, I would ... say we didn't expect the Soviet to interfere, because in ... October twenty third it was a purely domestic affair that it, demonstration of youth for certain things, for the programme, one of the key programme of all campuses in groups was the return of Imre Nagy to power to become again the Prime Minister of Hungary in other words, but all of these were on paper, on voice, or demonstration peaceful, completely peaceful, the beautiful spring in October, you know. It became bloody, not by the decision and the will of the reformers, it became bloody I think by a mistake of the police, a few shots, and, ... still might have been smoothed off and arranged, and the thing might have been pacified, but, but when, in the morning of October the twenty fourth, Soviet tanks began to invade Hungary. Now that turned the tide, against them, now it was not … there was no prepared strategy to drive the Russian out, because no one expected such a absolutely unjustified, unreasonable act. In other words there was no contra-measure produced. A spontaneous, a kind of outbreak of rage against this abnormality put weapons and put Molotov cocktails in the hand of youngsters and old people because the over, the over-emphasis that youngster were fighting for the freedoms and not quite accurate. Photographers of course pick mostly these small boys and girls with weapons, but that is not the real essence of the nature and composition of the freedom fighter group.
The freedom fighter groups were a beautiful amalgam of the nation, old and young, intellectuals and labourers, it was a unity of the Hungarian nation in these little freedom fighter groups, including the two young people also with arms. We did not expect the Soviet aggression, we did not prepare a repulsion of it, we defended ourselves as we could.
INT: What was the Hungarian army doing at this stage.
BK: Mostly the Hungarian army remained in the barracks. There was only one well documented case around the Parliament on the fifth or sixth, I don't remember exactly, where a, supposedly Stalinist minded officers could persuade the troops to shoot and it was a bloodbath. They, they covered, were taken in ... of truck, truck-load of dead body after dead body. That was the only thing, it was an absolute exception. Another case was, on the evening of October the twenty third, before that massacre, when army troops were lined up near to the National Museum, where the Holy Crown is now, you most probably visited it, and which is very near to the radio station, well the troops really did not obey the orders. The very first day there was a general who wanted to use arms, not quite clear to shoot, or just with bayonet, but there were, ... ... ...parts of these troops ... simple disengaged themselves from this and gave the weapons to the demonstrations. Anyway the first effort to use the army failed. There was one famous case, a general who was a so-called workers' ... who came, who was a peasant somewhere, ... ... rose on the rank of the Party established order and became a general, he could bring his regiment into the city in defence of the old regime. He kept this regiment together all time, but without the fight, but that he brought a regiment into the city with the intention to hold up the old regime. But the test was, he was not put to test before he would have been able to do something, the armistice came on the twenty eighth. So, to sum up the whole thing, in a very very great majority, the army stayed in the barracks. Individuals, little groups, a single tank joined the freedom fighter ... ... the fighting part of the revolution was killed off by militia units, National Guard units, not army units.