October 23, 1956 is the most important date in 20th century Hungarian history. On this day, a people cried as one: “enough!” Below is the recollection of István Radda in which he tells the story of how his parents put him and his two siblings into a taxi to flee the country after the Revolution was crushed by the red army.
The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 was an uprising against the Hungarian communist regime and its Soviet-imposed policies, lasting from the 23rd of October until November 10, 1956. The revolt began as a student protest but soon escalated to a nationwide revolution. It was the most serious threat to Soviet hegemony throughout the Cold War years.
“In October 1956, I was 17 years old, studying and living at the Benedictine Grammar School of Pannonhalma, looking forward to the final exams. This is where I lived through the days of our revolution and the freedom fight that started on October 23rd. Despite having to attend classes, I was able to follow events with the help of Radio Free Europe.”
photo: Fortepan/Demeter Balla, Zsolt Hegyi
István and some 60 of his (high) school mates decided to travel to Budapest to help the revolution. But after his father (who was a prefect) came after them, he managed to convince the pupils not to go through with this unwary idea. Thus, István returned to the abbey.
Given our Christian upbringing, we believed in the power of prayer, and each of us prayed for enduring success in his own way. However, Providence took a different twist in our history.”
“On November 13th, my father, Dr. Gyula Radda, came to fetch me from the abbey because my parents decided to send me to the free West together with my sister and elder brother.”
As István’s father expected retaliation to follow the oppressed revolution, to protect his children he sent them away. (Unfortunately, his guess was correct, because the Communist dictatorship sentenced him to six years in prison in 1957).
On November 16, 1956, we three siblings, set out for the Austrian border in a taxi cab but were stopped by the secret police forces at Csorna.
“They arrested us, interrogated us under stringent and armed threats, and ultimately let us return to Győr together with the taxi driver. However, we proceeded carefully towards the border, and reached it at nightfall after travelling by horse-driven cart, but mostly on foot. At the border, two Hungarian border guards took the last of the money we had, in exchange for letting us pass into Austrian territory. Feeling safe there, the reporter of Radio Free Europe, who was present there, played our message several times: ‘the three Sipis have arrived’. This was the code agreed with my parents. I spent two days in a refugee camp set up in a school gym, and then we went on to Vienna where I was offered asylum in the Benedictine House. After a few days, my sister left for Belgium, my brother, for Oxford, and I, for Innsbruck, where a Hungarian-language secondary school had been in operation since 1946.”
photo: Fortepan/Ádám Klausz
Due to the sympathy towards all Hungarians, István was accepted by an Austrian (Tyrolean) family. According to the original agreement, pupils hosted by Tyrolean families were accepted until they passed the final exams, but this temporary stage planned for a few months turned out to last a full 12 years for him.
“To my great surprise, it turned out that the grandfather in the family that took me in and my maternal grandfather both served in the same barracks as generals of the Army of the Emperor and King for years. This coincidence greatly contributed to enabling me to enjoy their generous support for several years. This was how my 60 years in Tyrol and Austria started, after overcoming the difficulties of an émigré’s life.”
The 1956 tragedy tore families apart and scattered them across the world. This is how my sister became a German citizen with a family in Germany; my brother became a UK citizen and world-famous researcher in Oxford; and myself becoming an Austrian citizen among the Tyrolean mountains.”
“However, we have retained our Hungarian identity to this day; moreover, Hungarian is the language we share with my wife, my son and my grandsons.”
(The present excerpt has been edited from My Revolution, Recollections – 1956. Budapest: Friends of Hungary, 2016.)
Featured photo via Fortepan/Demeter Balla, Zsolt Hegyi