This site may load slowly at times because of the numerous images. Please reload the page if some of the images do not appear. Thank you.

Search This Site

Russian Imperialism: The Soviet Invasion Of Hungary: 1956


The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 was a spontaneous nationwide revolt against the government of the People's Republic of Hungary and its Soviet-imposed policies, lasting from 23 October until 10 November 1956.

The revolt began as a student demonstration which attracted thousands as it marched through central Budapest to the Parliament building. A student delegation entering the radio building in an attempt to broadcast its demands was detained. When the delegation's release was demanded by the demonstrators outside, they were fired upon by the State Security Police (ÁVH) from within the building. The news spread quickly and disorder and violence erupted throughout the capital.

The revolt spread quickly across Hungary, and the government fell. Thousands organized into militias, battling the State Security Police (ÁVH) and Soviet troops. Pro-Soviet communists and ÁVH members were often executed or imprisoned, as former prisoners were released and armed. Impromptu councils wrested municipal control from the ruling Hungarian Working People's Party and demanded political changes. The new government formally disbanded the ÁVH, declared its intention to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact and pledged to re-establish free elections. By the end of October, fighting had almost stopped and a sense of normality began to return.

After announcing a willingness to negotiate a withdrawal of Soviet forces, the Politburo changed its mind and moved to crush the revolution. On 4 November, a large Soviet force invaded Budapest and other regions of the country. Hungarian resistance continued until 10 November. Over 2,500 Hungarians and 700 Soviet troops were killed in the conflict, and 200,000 Hungarians fled as refugees. Mass arrests and denunciations continued for months thereafter. By January 1957, the new Soviet-installed government had suppressed all public opposition. These Soviet actions alienated many Western Marxists, yet strengthened Soviet control over Central Europe.

Public discussion about this revolution was suppressed in Hungary for over 30 years, but since the thaw of the 1980s it has been a subject of intense study and debate. At the inauguration of the Third Hungarian Republic in 1989, October 23 was declared a national holiday.

The Some Key Hungarian Players

IMRE NAGY: The popular charismatic leader who led the Hungarians in the revolt


The Soviet invasion of Hungary came at a climax in the rebellion of the Hungarian people to what they saw as government rule run amuck. The country was suffering from food shortages, high prices, an economy in tatters and a complete disinterest in communism. The ethos of Communism was totally opposite to the Hungarian belief structure. A proud and independent people, the rule of Communism was oppressive and degrading to Hungarians. The idea of collectivism was not a welcome concept, and the Soviet ideal that people worked for the benefit of the state rather than for themselves chafed the people and pushed them to the edge. The Soviet practice of taking resources on the cheap, and then selling a finished product back to the people at over inflated prices was one premise that did not serve to endear the Soviet communistic ideology to the Hungarians. Rather, this served as the beginning of a tide of rebellion that would sweep through the country and cast a worrying climate over the Soviet hierarchy and their ability to retain their presence and stranglehold over Eastern Europe.


MATYAS RAKOSI: Hungarian discontent started brewing under his misrule

JANOS KADAR: He was Soviet Union's puppet to rule Hungary after the revolt was brutally suppressed


PAL MALETER: The most senior Hungarian army officer who crossed over to the rebels



The "de-stalinisation" process initiated by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev gave Soviet satellite countries like Poland and Hungary new hope of democratic freedom. This prompted mass anti-Soviet demonstrations in October 1956.

In Hungary the protests became a full-scale revolt. Ordinary Hungarians battled with Soviet troops and the hated state security police.

Thousands of political prisoners were freed and the Central Committee elected the popular Imre Nagy as prime minister. He began to dismantle the one-party state.

Encouraged by an apparent promise of help, Nagy appealed to the UN and Western governments for protection. But with the Suez crisis in full swing and no real appetite for fighting the USSR over a crisis in Eastern Europe, the West did not respond.

The Soviet military's response was swift and devastating. Some 30,000 people were killed in Budapest alone and about 200,000 Hungarians sought political asylum in the West.

Over the next five years, thousands were executed or imprisoned under Janos Kadar's puppet regime.

Nagy and others involved in the revolution were secretly tried and executed in June 1958.

Soviet troops finally withdrew from Hungary in 1991.

  • The basic cause of the Hungarian revolution was that the Hungarians hated Russian communism:
  • Hungarians were poor, yet much of the food and industrial goods they produced was sent to Russia.
  • The Hungarians were very patriotic, and they hated Russian control – which included censorship, the vicious secret police (called the AVH after 1948) and Russian control of what the schools taught.
  • The Hungarians were religious, but the Communist Party had banned religion, and put the leader of the Catholic Church in prison.
  • Hungarians thought that the United Nations or the new US president, Eisenhower, would help them.
  • When the Communist Party tried to destalinise Hungary, things got out of control. The Hungarian leader Rakosi asked for permission to arrest 400 trouble-makers, but Khrushchev would not let him. 
Source: JohndClare

Demolishing all that was Soviet


On 23 October, there were riots of students, workers and soldiers. They smashed up the statue of Stalin, and attacked the AVH and Russian soldiers.

On 24 October, Imre Nagy took over as Prime Minister. He asked Khrushchev to take out the Russian troops.

On 28 October, Khrushchev agreed, and the Russian army pulled out of Budapest.

29 October – 3 November: The new Hungarian government introduced democracy, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion (the leader of the Catholic Church was freed from prison). Nagy also announced that Hungary was going to leave the Warsaw Pact.

On 4 November, at dawn, 1000 Russian tanks rolled into Budapest. By 8.10 am they had destroyed the Hungarian army and captured Hungarian Radio – its last words broadcast were ‘Help! Help! Help”!’ Hungarian people – even children – fought them with machine guns. Some 4000 Hungarians killed fighting the Russians.

Khrushchev put in Janos Kadar, a supporter of Russia, as Prime Minister.

We are quiet, not afraid. Send the news to the world and say it should condemn the Russians. The fighting is very close now and we haven’t enough guns.

What is the United Nations doing? Give us a little help. We will hold out to our last drop of blood. The tanks are firing now. . .

The last message – a telex from a newspaper journalist – from Hungary. 


Numbers are notoriously hard for historians. Western textbooks published before 1989 said that the Russians killed 30,000 Hungarian people. Since the end of the Cold War in 1989, Russian and Hungarian documents have come to light which have led historians to revise the figure to 4000 Hungarians killed fighting the Russians, and up to 300 executed afterwards.

Burning Stalin's picture


1. Nagy’s decision to leave the Warsaw Pact – Russia was determined to keep its ‘buffer’ of states.

2. China asked Russia to act to stop Communism being damaged.

3. Nagy had obviously lost control; Hungary was not destalinising – it was turning capitalist.

4. Hard-liners in Russia forced Khrushchev to act.

5. Khrushchev thought, correctly, that the West would not help Hungary.


1. Britain and France were involved in the Suez crisis in Egypt.

2. Eisenhower did not think Hungary worth a world war.

Lenin too was not spared


Joseph Stalin set about creating a 'buffer' zone, which was to become better known as the Iron Curtain, and of which many Eastern European states were a major part. This zone would serve as a cushion between the Western world and the vast holdings of Communism and the Stalinist way of thinking. In essence, the countries of Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary, the so-called satellite nations, among others, were part of the Soviet Union's defence strategy to protect the Motherland from the enemy (Germany), which had destroyed much of the Soviet Union's population centres during the war. It was this threat, and the possibility of capitalistic invasion from the Western world that Stalin perceived was of the most danger for the Soviet Union and Communism.

These countries were part of the vast Soviet machine in terms of ideology and dogma but remained independent of the Soviet Union itself. The British did not hinder Stalin in his actions either by the Americans or, as it was determined that allowing Stalin his 'buffer' countries would keep him and the threat of communism out of the way. Stalin was not worried about taking over the Western countries; he was preoccupied by taking over the whole of Eastern Europe, under the noses of the Americans and the British. Stalin's actions gave the Hungarians a vehement dislike of Soviet style government and their inclusion into the Soviet system of control. In 1945, the Hungarians held free elections, and the Communist part received less than one fifth of the vote. This enraged Stalin and he set about forcing a reshuffle of the elected government and giving many of the key positions to Communists who were sympathetic to or in line with the Soviet policy. Elections were again held in 1947 and this time Stalin took no chance of the Communist party facing any sort of defeat. He rigged the election to make sure that the Communist party was in power. From that point onward until 1953, the Hungarian nation was treated as a criminal who needed to be handled in the harshest manner, so that they always remembered who was in control of their destiny.

A tank captured by the rebels

Stalin did not live to see his dreams come to complete fruition, dying in 1953. However, the remains and effects of his ruthless regime on Eastern Europe in general, and the Hungarian nation in particular was of extreme importance in understanding the dissatisfaction and disharmony felt by the general populace. Under Stalin's rule, many changes had taken place in Hungary. The economy and religion were two areas, which underwent significant changes under Stalin guise of Communistic reform. People opposed to the new regime were brutalized, heads of the Church were imprisoned, and priests and nuns who were opposed to the new regime were arrested. Industry was nationalised, the people were forced to give up their land to the collective farms, and many people were sent to labour camps because they spoke out against the measure Stalin had implemented. It was these changes that enraged the Hungarian people, and began to ferment the anger and rebellious attitudes that were to lead the Soviet regime to the extraordinary events leading to the invasion in late 1956.


Nikita Khrushchev took over after Stalin's death, and his agenda was seemingly a complete opposite to that of Stalin. Stalin was a hardliner Communist, whereas Khrushchev took a softer approach. He allowed Hungary and the other countries more latitude in conducting their politics. Certain political prisoners were released and the government closed the interment camps that had been a favoured form of punishment of those who opposed Stalin and his policies. At this point in time, the Soviet Bloc was still a tight group, and to this end, Hungary joined with the other Eastern European communist nations to create the Warsaw Pact, and to become more active in the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance. Even though Soviet policy was taking a lighter approach to the nations in the Soviet Bloc, the Hungarian people were overwhelmed by the desire to be free of Soviet rule and to chart their own destiny. All the satellite nations had become immersed in the quest for freedom, and in these countries, the citizens generated a series of strikes and protests, which spread like wildfire throughout the region.

Hungary seemed possessed to drive their quest much harder than her companion nations, and in the first few years after Stalin's death, the Hungarian nation became a hotbed of rebellious activity by students, intellectuals and the workforce. Khrushchev was tolerant of many things, but the reforms that the Hungarians wanted angered him and this placed the Hungarians in a rather precarious position. The Hungarians were observing what was happening to the rest of the satellite nations and within the Soviet regime itself, and this was giving them some hope that the horrors of the Stalin years would be erased to some degree. Khrushchev was critical of Stalin and his policies, and when Poland became somewhat anti-Soviet in their political views, Khrushchev did not retaliate to this with a show of force, but chose to compromise with the Poles to allow a certain leniency toward policy reform. These events were looked upon as a stepping-stone for the Hungarians to be given their independence and freedom from Soviet rule and tyranny.

The Hungarians began to envisage moving away from Soviet rule and embracing neutrality, and to Khrushchev, the idea of Hungary leaving the Warsaw Pact was tantamount to the complete breakdown of the buffer zone painstakingly created by Stalin. This was something that could never be accepted, let alone allowed

The Hungarian people put up a valiant fight to oppose the Communists. There were thousands of men; women and children who stood in the streets, in defiant protest, to stop the advance the army.The Soviets did not hesitate to kill Hungarians civilians who stood in their way, but also their own troops. The story of the tank commander who refused to run down women and children protesters with his tank and was murdered by his fellow troops, While Budapest fell quickly, there were isolated pockets of resistance that continue with the effort, and retained control for a time, but is was to no avail, the troops and the overwhelming firepower of the Soviet army were too much and the rebellion was left in tatters. However, even within the Soviet army there were dissidents in the ranks. demonstrates that the Soviet regime was willing to go to any length, to take any measure, to completely neutralise the rebellion and anyone who would not turn to the side of the Communist forces.

Burning everything communist

While on the surface the Hungarian revolution was an overwhelming victory for the Soviets and Communist party, it can be viewed instead with contempt for an ideology and dogma that could only be achieved by the complete control and domination of a nation that was unable to fight back. It was only with the threat of death or imprisonment, the complete abolition of rights and privilege, and the total control over what the people said and thought, which would allow the mantle of Communism to be effective. The façade of Communism that was shown to the Western world, while appearing to be solid and impregnable, was in reality, a precariously balanced hypocrisy, bent on satisfying the dictatorial festering of a despotic regime.

Communists were shot at sight

At 4:15 a.m. on November 4, 1956, Soviet forces launched a major attack on Hungary aimed at crushing, once and for all, the spontaneous national uprising that had begun 12 days earlier. At 5:20 a.m., Hungarian Prime Minister Imre Nagy announced the invasion to the nation in a grim, 35-second broadcast, declaring: "Our troops are fighting. The Government is in its place." However, within hours Nagy himself would seek asylum at the Yugoslav Embassy in Budapest while his former colleague and imminent replacement, János Kádár, who had been flown secretly from Moscow to the city of Szolnok, 60 miles southeast of the capital, prepared to take power with Moscow's backing. On November 22, after receiving assurances of safe passage from Kádár and the Soviets, Nagy finally agreed to leave the Yugoslav Embassy. But he was immediately arrested by Soviet security officers and flown to a secret location in Romania. By then, the fighting had mostly ended, the Hungarian resistance had essentially been destroyed, and Kádár was entering the next phase of his strategy to neutralize dissent for the long term.

Remains of  Budapest Communist fighters

The defeat of the Hungarian revolution was one of the darkest moments of the Cold War. At certain points since its outbreak on October 23 the revolt looked like it was on the verge of an amazing triumph. The entire nation appeared to have taken up arms against the regime. Rebels, often armed with nothing more than kitchen implements and gasoline, were disabling Soviet tanks and achieving other -- sometimes small but meaningful -- victories throughout the country. On October 31, the tide seemed to turn overwhelmingly in the revolution's favor when Pravda published a declaration promising greater equality in relations between the USSR and its East European satellites. One sentence was of particular interest. It read: "[T]he Soviet Government is prepared to enter into the appropriate negotiations with the government of the Hungarian People's Republic and other members of the Warsaw Treaty on the question of the presence of Soviet troops on the territory of Hungary." To outside observers, the Kremlin statement came as a total surprise. CIA Director Allen Dulles called it a "miracle." The crisis seemed on the verge of being resolved in a way no-one in Hungary or the West had dared to hope.

But tragically, and unbeknownst to anyone outside the Kremlin, the very day the declaration appeared in Pravda the Soviet leadership completely reversed itself and decided to put a final, violent end to the rebellion. From declassified documents, it is now clear that several factors influenced their decision, including: the belief that the rebellion directly threatened Communist rule in Hungary (unlike the challenge posed by Wladyslaw Gomulka and the Polish Communists just days before, which had targeted Kremlin rule but not the Communist system); that the West would see a lack of response by Moscow as a sign of weakness, especially after the British, French and Israeli strike against Suez that had begun on October 29; that the spread of anti-Communist feelings in Hungary threatened the rule of neighboring satellite leaders; and that members of the Soviet party would not understand a failure to respond with force in Hungary.

The Hungarians really hated the communists


Developments within the Hungarian leadership also undoubtedly played a part in Moscow's decision. Imre Nagy, who had suddently been thrust into the leadership role after it became clear that the old Stalinist leaders had been completely discredited, had stumbled at first. He failed to connect with the crowds that had massed in front of the Parliament building beginning on October 23 and seemed himself to be on the verge of being swept aside by popular currents that were entirely beyond the authorities' control. But over the course of the next week, Nagy apparently underwent a remarkable transformation, from a more or less dutiful pro-Moscow Communist to a politician willing to sanction unprecedented political, economic and social reform, including the establishment of a multi-party state in Hungary, and insistent on the withdrawal of all Soviet forces from the country. By November 1, Nagy took the dramatic step of declaring Hungary's rejection of the Warsaw Pact and appealing to the United Nations for help in establishing the country's neutrality.


Meanwhile, in Washington, U.S. officials observed the tidal wave of events with shock and no small degree of ambivalence as to how to respond. The main line of President Eisenhower's policy was to promote the independence of the so-called captive nations, but only over the longer-term. There is little doubt that he was deeply upset by the crushing of the revolt, and he was not deaf to public pressure or the emotional lobbying of activists within his own administration. But he had also determined, and internal studies backed him up, that there was little the United States could do short of risking global war to help the rebels. And he was not prepared to go that far, nor even, for that matter, to jeopardize the atmosphere of improving relations with Moscow that had characterized the previous period.

Yet Washington's role in the Hungarian revolution soon became mired in controversy. One of the most successful weapons in the East-West battle for the hearts and minds of Eastern Europe was the CIA-administered Radio Free Europe. But in the wake of the uprising, RFE's broadcasts into Hungary sometimes took on a much more aggressive tone, encouraging the rebels to believe that Western support was imminent, and even giving tactical advice on how to fight the Soviets. The hopes that were raised, then dashed, by these broadcasts cast an even darker shadow over the Hungarian tragedy that leaves many Hungarians embittered to this day.


A Hungarian woman spits on a dead communist

Pro-communist soldiers before being shot

Being shot

This woman hates the stooges of Moscow

It reads "Death To KGB"

Imre Nagy the leader of the revolutionary Hungary. He was later executed by the Russians

This one-legged man seems full of the fighting spirit

This lovely revolutionary adorned the first pages of many Western publications. For obvious reasons.

The tank unit goes over to the side of the revolutionaries

The man squatting on the left is an American. The Hungarian rebels waited in vain for American help. America did not want a war with Russia then. Just 11 years had passed since the second world war had ended.

Boy soldier of the Hungarian revolt

This spitfire has taken to arms too. One wonders what her motivation must have been.

This is how TIME saw it all

The rebels were in control of the country and it seemed that Russia under Krushchev would not interfere. This was wishful thinking. Russia could never have allowed Hungary to secede.


Then the Russian tanks trundled in



The Soviet air force has bombed part of the Hungarian capital, Budapest, and Russian troops have poured into the city in a massive dawn offensive.

At least 1,000 Soviet tanks are reported to have entered Budapest and troops deployed throughout the country are battling with Hungarian forces for strategic positions.

The Soviet invasion is a response to the national uprising led by Prime Minister Imre Nagy, who has promised the Hungarian people independence and political freedom.

Mr Nagy's anti-Soviet policies, which include withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact, have been worrying Eastern Bloc countries and Moscow has demanded his government's capitulation.

News of the attack came at 0515 local time on Radio Budapest in an urgent appeal by Mr Nagy himself for help from the West.

Despite an apparent withdrawal only last week, Soviet troops deployed outside Budapest swept back into the capital with Russian and Romanian reinforcements between 0400 and 0800 local time.

The Times newspaper reports that artillery units pounded Budapest from the surrounding hills as Soviet MIG fighters bombarded the capital from the air.

Sources say Soviet infantry units stormed the Parliament building, a key strategic and symbolic target, early this morning.

Reports that Mr Nagy and other members of his cabinet were captured in the attack have not been confirmed.

But in an unscheduled newscast on Moscow radio shortly after 1200GMT, Russia claimed to have "crushed the forces of reactionary conspiracy against the Hungarian people".

Despite Moscow's claims, heavy fighting is reported to be continuing throughout the country for key installations such as railway stations and major bridges across the River Danube.

Moscow is now backing a new breakaway Hungarian government led by Janos Kadar, whose stated purpose is to destroy Mr Nagy's "counter-revolution".

The rebels fought bravely but were no match to the Russian army

A destroyed rebel tank

Phew! This tank blew to pieces!

Destroyed Russian tanks on the streets of Budapest

Scene of heavy fighting

Budapest destroyed

Wonder how was this managed?

Destruction in Budapest

Captured rebels

Many Hungarians fled to Austria

Imre Nagy being given the death sentence

Russians in control of Budapest

The Hungarian revolt was over. Russians in control.

Related: Soviet Invasion Of Czechoslovakia.

Share this PostPin ThisShare on TumblrShare on Google PlusEmail This


Anonymous said...

My uncle was originally sentenced to death but then served four years in prison for taking part in the Revolution.

Anatol Ursu said...

The Russian intervention in Hungary was necessary and vital to save the Hungary from fascism in 1944 as well as in 1956.

As you can see explicitly on these pictures the so called revolutionaries where against the USSR that liberated the Hungary during the second World War. It was a fascist rebellion.

Post a Comment

You Might Like These....

Search This Site

Popular Articles On This Site

More History Sites

Illustrated History

A Lousy Journalist?

A Lousy Journalist?
"Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
-- George Santayana

History Quotes

May 1945 - If hell on earth existed, than it existed in Prague after May the 5th. 1945. Old men, women and children were beaten to death and maimed. Rapes, barbaric cruelties, horror-scenarios of hellish proportions - here they had been let lose.

- Ludek Pachmann, Czech Chess-Grand Master and publicist, forty years after the fact.

Copyright Issue

All the images on this site have been uploaded from the internet. Their copyrights lie with the respective owners.

If inadvertently any copy-righted material is published on this site, the owners of the material may contact us at We will remove the relevant portion immediately


"History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are."

History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.


HISTORY, n. An account mostly false, of events mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers mostly knaves, and soldiers mostly fools.
-- Ambrose Bierce

We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.


"I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know no way of judging of the future but by the past."

"Patriotism ruins history."

Snippets from History

This short but important battle played a key role in the decision to use atomic bombs when attacking Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The battle showed just how far Japanese troops would go to defend their country.

Snippets From History

Paulus didn't give the order to 6th Army to surrender, but his troops no longer had much fight left in them. Resistance faded out over the next two days, with the last die-hards finally calling it quits. One Red Army colonel shouted at a group of prisoners, waving at the ruins all around them: "That's how Berlin is going to look!


History is Philosophy teaching by examples.


"Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it."
-- George Santayana

Points to Ponder: Why Is China Unstable?

The aim of individuals in any society is money and power. Societies that give equal chance to all its members to get them will be the most stable. That is why democracies are more stable than other systems of governance.

China after Deng's reform gave the chance to get rich but power is in the hands of an elite; the Communist Party of China. Membership to the party is at the whims of the local party bosses. This leaves out many people who crave political power dissatisfied and disgruntled. There in lies the roots of instability. The Party suppressed these demands once at Tiananmen in 1989. But force is hardly the way to deal with things like these.

READ MORE: Tiananmen Square Massacre