INTERVIEW WITH INTERVIEW WITH GERGELY PONGRACZ - 17/6/96
INTERVIEWER: Could you first tell me, what was life like in People's Hungary before 1956?
GERGELY PONGRACZ: Please let me quote Lenin. Lenin said that you cannot organise, you cannot prepare a revolution: revolution breaks out when the people awakes that they cannot live like that anymore. Now, I think I gave you the answer. Life was... that the people realised that they cannot live like that anymore. That's why the revolution came.
INT: Was there anything specific in your own experience at that time that made you want to rise up and fight?
GP: I was agricultural engineer, and I saw what that system is doing, not only with the farmers, with the peasants, but with the workers. It was a saying at that time; it was like a joke: it's only three kind of people in Hungary: who was in jail, who is in jail, and who will be in jail, for political reasons. So... that's why the revolution came.
INT: What did people feel towards the Soviet Union?
GP: It wasn't the Soviet people or the Russian people we were against. We were against the system, the communist system. A lot of Russian soldiers, they were sympathising with us during the revolution, and we had no problem - in fact we had quite a few who died in our side, Russian soldiers. They knew what we were fighting for, and we really didn't wanted anything else but a free and independent Hungary. We wanted Hungary to be for the Hungarians. (Pause) If you look four years ago - we don't want that to be repeated. We left the Warsaw Pact; we don't need the NATO now. Where is the independence? Now the tanks left, the banks are coming in and dictating for the Hungarian people what to do, how to live. We don't need that. The Russian advisers left; now it's coming Glantosz from the United States to tell to the Hungarian Government and (show us) with the money what to do and how to do it. We don't need that. This is not [what] we were fighting for.
INT: How did you become a fighter - could you tell me about that?
GP: We were seven brothers and two sisters, nine children in the family, and I was working as agricultural engineer far away from Budapest. And when I heard what was going on in Budapest, I knew my brothers, they're going to be involved, and I felt that my place is beside my brothers. I came to Budapest and I joined the revolution right away, because my brothers, they really were involved very deeply.
INT: One of them knew Imre Nagy quite well. Were you devoted in any shape or form to Nagy at that stage?
GP: At that time, no, in no way or form. I considered him at that time as a communist, even though he was a reformer - I knew that, from 1953, what he did. But the whole revolution was against the communist system. But the 28 of October, we had a big meeting in the Korvin; many high officers and from the Government people involved. And I made a compromise: I said, "All right, we accept Imre Nagy to be the Prime Minister until the elections. And if the Hungarian people will elect Imre Nagy, we accept him."
INT: Tell me about the Korvin Passage.
GP: The Korvin Passage... one of my brother(s), when he was a student, he went to the school of the Prater Street. In the basement was a mess hall, and he was going over there to have lunch every day. The Prater School is just behind the Korvin, and he knew that vicinity. It was in a good strategical point, in the intersection of Uleut and Korut, and it was an action over there the 24th, in the morning. A Russian armoured car was destroyed, and my brother knew that the Russians, they're going to concentrate on this intersection. So they were looking around, where to find a place where it's easily defendable and we can defend it. And that was the Korvin Passage. It had another big advantage: right behind the movie theatre, it was a gas station, a gasoline station, so we have gasoline over there for the... motors. And when they broke down the lock, some people said over there, who they were around, that "Boys, there's going to be trouble." And my brother told him that "It's coming, the trouble - the trouble is here." So that's how... The very first time, in the beginning, they were over there only 30-35 kids with guns. I wasn't there at that time, because I joined the revolution the 25th, around 3-4 o'clock in the morning.
INT: Who were the fighters?
GP: Hah! Kids. The average age didn't reach 18, but we had over there 12-13-14-year-old kids. Many times I sent them home, and they didn't wanted to leave. And you know something interesting? Some people said that only because they can shoot, and only because they have a gun, only for... that was the reason they were over there. I accept that, until a few people doesn't get killed or wounded around them. But when this happens, those 13-14-year-old kids are thinking that "maybe the next bullet is going to be mine"; and who thinks that, they leave. Who stays, the patriotism keeps them over there, the ideals keep them over there, because they want a free Hungary. That's why they stayed with us, and it was impossible to send them home.
Q: You also had older fighters there. Where had they learnt their experience?
A: We had a few older fighters, (Coughs) but... later on, it was maybe a dozen who was older than I was. I was 24 years old, but all the rest was younger than I was. And the experience ... the interesting thing that I still have no explanation [for] - I was in the service before that, for two and a quarter years. I didn't had any military experience except that my duty years; I didn't have any political experience, and they elected me to be the commander-in-chief of the Korvin. Now... again, Kádár and that regime said that the revolution was organised and prepared by the CIA, etc. Again, a revolution cannot be organised and prepared, as I said in the beginning, and that's the other proof that it wasn't organised and prepared, because if [it] would have been, I wouldn't be the commander-in-chief of the Korvin; [I] would be a politician, a high military officer, or something like that, not an agricultural engineer.