The whistling and crackling sound drew closer and closer. Oblivious of time and danger, running and racing, my cousin and I hurried back home after playing in the park near our apartment in Budapest, Hungary. Turning onto Vermezo street we noticed three people, brandishing something in their hands, walking slowly towards us. Suddenly a burst of gun fire with its terrifying staccato death rattle exploded up and down the street.
Realizing that we had been caught in the middle of a deadly gun battle, we ducked into the nearest doorway. Dumbfounded and terrified, huddling together, we cowered and remained motionless hoping we were invisible. The gunfire exchange continued—bullets raking the street at random, whistling by our ears. Time stood still. Taking advantage of a lull in the gunfire, sizing up the distance, we dashed to the nearest side street, taking our chances to escape—desperately trying not to attract attention.
I cannot recall the moment or the length of time it took —but we made it. Taking a long detour, our senses on high alert, panicking at the slightest sound and sprinting from street to street, house to house, door to door, we finally reached Szena square right outside our apartment building. Rounding the corner we came across a frightening scene.
An angry mob surrounded an ambulance wagon they stopped in the middle of the square, ripping its doors open. They were seizing rifles hidden in the back of the ambulance and victoriously waving them over their heads—yelling, “traitor, traitor AVO, (Hungarian Secret Police)!” Dragging the driver out— the crowd pushed him towards the wall of the apartment building where the sheer mass of the screaming mob crushed him to death.
Terrified we tried to get across the square but were blocked by the wall of protesters. We had to scamper around yet another detour just to reach the door of our apartment building. It must have been late afternoon by the time we arrived home, breathless, frightened and gasping. My uncle was standing in the open doorway waiting for us —fury etched all over his face.
“Where have you been?” he bellowed. “A Secret Service agent has just been crushed to death by the mob on the square. There are student uprisings all over the city and the police are opening fire, at will, on any one deemed to be a resistance fighter! We were worried sick about you!” Without waiting for an explanation, he whipped a hard, dizzying slap across our faces —the force and shock of which made my head spin.
The terror I felt, the horrific events I had witnessed, which took months to sink in, did not affect me as much as the seeming injustice of receiving that slap. To this day, I can still feel the burning on my cheeks and the ringing in my ears.
The date was October 23, 1956—the first day of the Hungarian Revolution.
1956 Hungarian Revolution against Soviet occupation, image found on