Ernö Pongratz

The 1956 Hungarian Revolution

by Christine Pongratz

My Grandfather, Erno Pongratz


         Although I never had the privilege of meeting my grandfather, I have grown up influenced by his Hungarian heritage. I have had the pleasure of experiencing his background and many traditions of the Hungarian culture, and have had a childhood of recognizing my grandfather as a hero in a country very different from my own. I have had many wonderful opportunities to experience some of this Hungarian culture,with my father's side of the family. My father taught me to count to ten in Hungarian even before I learned it in my native language of English. I am blessed to have had a grandfather who participated in an important revolution that ultimately shook the foundation of communism, and he escaped from the communists keeping his family and my father safe to start life over in a completely new world. I am thrilled to have this unique background knowing that I am half Hungarian and that my last name is very well known when mentioned in the context of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution for what my grandfather and his brothers did for their country. I was very fortunate to be able to interview my father for much of this information contained in this web-site.


Pre-Hungarian Revolution

    By 1945, World War II had finally come to a close and the triumphant Soviet Union did not withdraw from parts of Central and Eastern Europe that they had occupied, including all of Hungary. The Russians continued to rule over many of these countries, which came to be known as the eastern European satellite countries, and brought strong communist rule and dictatorship to all those governments. Borders made with barbed wire and land mines were put up between communist and democratic nations. In Budapest, Hungary, signs of the communist government started to become apparent as statues of Stalin were placed in many squares in the city, churches were closed down, and the Soviets began to dictate the news and broadcast media with propaganda emphasizing the importance and superiority of a communist government. Factories, farmland, and all types of private property were soon taken away from individuals without any type of compensation. Soon, many were deported to forced labor camps without a trial, regardless of whether were true opponents to the Soviet Union or not. From then on citizens of Hungary never felt safe as they never knew when secret police could arrive at their house to harass or arrest them. At the time Mátyás Rakosi was head of the parliament in Hungary, operating a puppet government under the Soviet Union control set up by Joseph Stalin and continued by his successor Georgy Malenkov, in Moscow. The Soviets treated Hungary as an imperialized country diverting food and thriving industries away from Hungary and using it to the benefit of the Russians. The idea of rationing food and every day commodities set in and life in Hungary for ordinary citizens became almost intolerable.

            In 1953, upon Stalin's death life in the Soviet Union slowly began to improve. Stalin's successor, Georgy Malenkov, intended to replace the Hungarian minister Rakosi, who was very much despised by the Hungarians, with Imre Nagy, a more liberal and moderate communist who many citizens of Hungary favored. Unfortunately these planned political changes never occurred because Nikita Khrushchev soon became the new ruler of the Soviets in Moscow, and instead an intense communist prime minister came to rule in Hungary named Ernő Gero. Stalinist ideas soon filled Hungary again and citizens, desperate not to return to those horrible times, started to react, beginning to form anti-government groups who then lead the first uprising against the controlling, communist regime.

  October 23rd, 1956
  October 23rd 1956 was the first official day of the Hungarian Revolution. On this day protests and demonstrations were held on the streets of Budapest. Gero was to be out of the city at the time and anti-government students decided to hold a public protest outside the Parliament building. Symbols of communism throughout the city were torn down, the 16 demands were proposed to Nagy in the parliament building and also broadcasted over the Hungarian news radio, the communist symbol was cut out of the Hungarian flag and on that day Hungarians from all over the country began to feel that someday freedom may be restored in Hungary. Among these demonstrators and freedom loving people, who were protesting in the streets, tearing down the symbols of communism (statues of Stalin), presenting the 16 demands and cutting the communist symbol out of the Hungarian flag, was my grandfather along with five of his brothers.
destruction in the streets

sixteen points 

16 points

The Pongratz Family

My Grandfather Ernö Pongratz was born in the city of Gherla, at the time located in  Hungary and is now in the bordering country of Romania. He was raised by his mother  and father Simon and Anna Pongratz, both well educated. Simon had his doctorate in government and Anna had her doctorate in music. At that time of the revolution my grandfather was just finishing law school at the law university in Budapest. He was  married to Magdolna Pongratz and had two 2 young children, one almost 2 years old, also  named Ernö Pongratz, and the other, my father, Simon Pongratz, was five months old. My  grandfather was among the college students protesting in front of the Parliament building.  Along with many of his college peers my grandfather contributed to the making of the  significant document called The 16 Points. This document contained 16 demands outlining  the freedoms that the people desired and the principles that would allow the country to  grow. These demands included freedom of speech and of the press, the removal of all communist symbols, the end of Soviet domination of Hungary, the removal of all traces of Stalin including his harsh dictatorship ideas, the idea of an open democratic nation  allowing all citizens the right to vote, and it demanded that Gero leave and Nagy take over  the parliament. 

My grandfather led a delegation of students in to the Parliament building  presided over by Imre Nagy. They believed that Nagy would be the one that would listen to what the people of Hungary desired and could understand why they were gathering and protesting outside.
My Grandfather with Imre NagyIn the parliament Erno Pongratz, second row, far right, with Imre Nagy in the middle, front row 

Stalin Statue being pulled down


Along with my grandfather, several of my great uncles, my grandfather's brothers, also fought in the Hungarian Revolution. My grandfather's brother, Greg, was famous for leading an organized militia, an armed resistance, of mostly young Hungarian youth to fight against the Soviet occupation. As he organized this group, he strategized on where to set his freedom fighters so the Soviets could not enter Budapest without a fight. This area that they fought in was called the Corvin. Three of his other brother's Ödön, Bondi and Balint also fought alongside him in this militia to take down the Soviet tanks with what little weaponry they had. My grandfather's youngest brother named Andras took part in the revolution by helping to take down the statue of Stalin that was located in the center of Budapest. He was the one to place one end of a cable over the statue's head as the other end was attached to large trucks that pulled down the monumental, heavy, statue.

This revolution that began on October 23rd lasted into the early days of November. By October 31st the revolutions first phase was over and ended in triumph for the Hungarians. The Soviets backed off from Budapest with the local Soviet militia having been defeated. Citizens of Budapest and across Hungary were extremely excited, believing that they may soon have a free nation with Imre Nagy as their Prime Minster.  For a short period it appeared as though the freedom fighters were triumphant. Unfortunately this was not the case, as the Soviets were only buying time. On November 3rd, 1956, Soviet replacements rolled into Hungary but promised they would withdraw if they could negotiate terms with the revolutionaries. This however was a trick to draw in all opposing leaders that wanted the Soviets to leave. The communist secret police had the opposition leaders arrested at the negotiation table. On November 4th a massive contingent of Soviet troops invaded Hungary with over 6,000 tanks, killing anyone in their path, absolutely unstoppable for these Hungarian Freedom Fighters. As Hungarians did whatever they could to resist, the Soviet tanks soon overpowered them. Despite appeals to the U.S. and other western nations, no help came from the West.  The Hungarian uprising was soon defeated. The Soviet led communists had come back to take over the country even more dominantly than before. The communists again dominated all aspects of the Hungarian's life style, spreading propaganda by all possible means. The Soviets called them freedom fighters and revolutionaries fascists and irresponsible hooligans for what they had done. From then until 1988, Hungary remained under Communist rule.
Tank Satire

Satire of November 4th, 1956, as the Soviet tanks roll in

Hungarian Revoluion Flag

Hungarian flag with the cut out communist symbol, haning outside the parliment
As for my grandfather and grandmother, they fortunately were able to flee the country to Austria in early December of 1956, with their two young children and whatever belongings they could carry on their backs. All my relatives that participated in the Revolution along with 20,000 other Hungarian refuges were forced to flee from their homeland. During these early days in December, the borders of Hungary were not yet sealed as the Soviets had not yet invaded those areas. Freedom fighters and their families were able to flee under extremely dangerous circumstances. My grandfather later learned that within a day of having left his appartment in Budapest, the Soviet secret police had come searching for him and his family. If they did not escape when they did, any one of my grandfather's relatives could have been killed. But fortunately every one of them made it out of the country, and later settled in the U.S. In Austria my grandmother's brother, Father Clement Morian, was a teacher at a Catholic monastery in Vienna and fortunately had connections with other branches of the church including one, in Boston, MA. My grandfather, grandmother, father and his brother all stayed with Father Clement at the monastery's summer residence outside of Vienna until March of 1957, when they flew to the U.S. as refugees. They settled in the Boston area, where they were aided by the church until they were able to live on their own. My grandfather and grandmother then raised a total of four boys in Massachusetts in the towns of Cambridge, Watertown, Clinton, and finally ended up in Lexington, where my cousins still live, and my grandmother also lives very close by. My Grandfather died in February of 1978 from a heart attack, but his amazing triumphs in Hungary along with his brothers will never be forgotten. In September 2004 my grandfather along with his siblings that participated in the 1956 revolution were acknowledged by the Government of Hungary. They were all knighted and given an award from their country in honor of their bravery and heroism. The 50th anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution was recently celebrated in October of 2006 and many of my relatives and family members participated in the commemorating events in both the U.S. and in Hungary.  
           
These are the Hungarian flags dating back to the 1800’s. These flags symbolize the different time periods of Hungary, who was controlling Hungary and in power at the time. The three symbolic stripes on the standard Hungarian flag represent different qualities of the Hungarian people, red standing for strength, white for faithfulness, and Green for hope. When the Communist forces of Russia took over Hungary they changed the flag from its original state, which was just the three stripes, to the same flag with a communist symbol in the middle. This symbol was a hammer and sickle which represented the communist, also the flag with the red star represented communist rule. During the 1956 revolution while the freedom fighters protested in front of the parliament building, they soon met with Imre Nagy, who was part of the parliament’s ministry, and they gave Nagy the “16 points” and also asked for an original flag of Hungary. No original flag could be found without the communist symbol so the group of freedom fighters cut out the communist symbol and publicized the flag out of the parliament building so all could see that changes were hopefully forthcoming.

This is the order of the Hungarian flags, dating back to the 1800's


This is my father speaking in Hungarian, the translation is "Hello, my name is Simon Pongratz my father and his brothers fought in the 1956 Hungarian revolution 50 years ago."

 

This is a video made by the news cast NECN. It was made in honor of the 50th aniversary of the Hungarian Revolution, which was celebrated this past October 23rd, in 2006. My father was asked to speak for this clip, and brielfy explains his own story.
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