Testament of the Revolution

Angol nyelven is leirtam szabadságharcunk eseményeit, a fent emlitett 35 nap történetét az alábbi könyvben. (I also wrote a book in English about 1956 titled: “A Testament of Revolution”)


Könyvkritikák a Wall Street Journalban és a New York Timesben

(Reviews by Michael Korda and Mike Kaufmann)

When There Was Tyranny,

And They Took It On


How we see — and more to the point — how we remember history is a hotly debated issue just now. Does “Pearl Harbor” capture the event? Does it parallel the memories of those who were there? For that matter, did “Saving Private Ryan” present a believable version of D-Day?

Somehow both movies, at any rate to me, failed to deliver that combination of grittiness, discomfort and fear that marks the personal participation in great historical moments — let alone the mix of ideology, political belief and rationalization taking place in the heads of those involved.

I have to admit that I wasn’t present at Pearl Harbor.

Nor was I at D-Day, although having edited Cornelius Ryan’s “The Longest Day” and accompanied my father when he did the art direction for Darryl F. Zanuck’s motion picture of the book, I feel as if I was.

But I was present at the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, from first to last. I drove to Budapest at its outset to deliver medical supplies and stayed to do my bit in the David vs. Goliath struggle of the Hungarian Freedom Fighters (as they soon came to be called) against the Soviet armed forces and their Hungarian communist allies.

Winston Churchill once said that nothing is more exhilarating to a young man than the sound of bullets whistling past his ears. If true — and I fear it is — I cannot complain. I heard enough bullets whistling past my ears in the streets of Budapest to last me a lifetime, and not a few larger projectiles too. So, apparently, did Bela Liptak, who recounts his own remarkable experience in “A Testament of Revolution” (Texas A&M, 206 pages, $29.95).

Now that Budapest can once again be seen as Central Europe’s attempt to duplicate the glories of 19th-century Paris on the Danube, the Hungarian Revolution feels truly distant. It is almost impossible to remember, even for those who witnessed it, the combination of naked force, ideology and twisted idealism that communism represented. Schoolroom instruction in Marxism-Leninism, collective farms, Stakhanovism: All of it was once intensely real. Then there was the notion — held not only by true believers but by fearful Americans and Europeans — that communism would eventually triumph over capitalism and democracy.

And, of course, it did triumph, in Eastern Europe at any rate, for nearly 45 years. And when the Eastern Europeans finally rose up against their Soviet masters — exactly as Conservatives in Britain and Republicans in the U.S. had predicted they would do one day — the Western world looked the other way and let the Soviet Union reconquer a part of its empire that almost slipped from its grasp.

The opportunity of disabling, even dismantling, Soviet power was there in October and November of 1956. But the spectacle of schoolboys and factory workers building barricades and blowing up Soviet tanks in the streets of Budapest, far from encouraging the West to confront the Soviets, made everybody run for cover, including John Foster Dulles, the bellicose U.S. secretary of state. So the world had to wait three decades for the Soviet Union to die peacefully of its own inefficiency and contradictions.

Mr. Liptak’s book helps us to revisit that moment in 1956 when we missed our chance. He describes the full dramatic arc: from the exhilarating beginning, as the giant statue of Stalin was pulled down; through the bitter and unequal street fighting and the grim succession of political betrayals by which the Soviet Union eventually prevailed; to the escape across the border into Austria that sent so many Hungarians — the lucky ones, since a harsher fate awaited many of those who stayed — into a long exile in Western Europe, Canada and the U.S.

“A Testament of Revolution” is fortunately not one of those journalistic attempts to provide a complete “human” picture, nor is it an academic history. Mr. Liptak wrote down his experience in a refugee camp in December 1956, while the events were still fresh in his mind, and what he describes still has the ring of truth to it. For the reader unfamiliar with the history of Hungary, he has added a brief and reasonably objective account of his country’s travails, which go back more than 1,000 years. Of course he tends to see his country’s history through rose-colored glasses — but then, who does not?

Otherwise Mr. Liptak writes with marvelous precision, sticking to the events as he witnessed them, without romantic gloss. Among the figures in his story, most striking by far are the people who found the courage to rise up against their oppressors and to confront tanks with homemade Molotov cocktails. Mr. Liptak was one of them, and his account fills one with admiration, not only for his courage but also for his calm objectivity, achieved only a month or so after the revolution had been put down with brutal, overwhelming force.

Unlike recent movies of historical events, Mr. Liptak’s book is painstakingly truthful, describing events as they were, not as one might have wished them to be. “A Testament of Revolution” will leave no doubt in any reader’s mind that the communist puppet governments of Eastern Europe were tyrannical and thuggish and that the Hungarians, whatever their other defects and problems as a nation, deserve full credit for their courage in taking on Goliath while the rest of the world stood by.

Perhaps more than anybody else, the Hungarian Freedom Fighters demonstrated that Goliath had feet of clay. It was a lesson that came too late for them but that set the stage for the long decline into confusion, self-doubt and irrelevance that would eventually bring the hapless Mikhail Gorbachev to abandon the Soviet Empire in Central Europe and with it any hope of preserving communism in Russia itself.

Mr. Korda, editor in chief of Simon & Schuster, is the author, most recently, of “Country Matters.”

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RE: „A Testament of Revolution” by  Béla Lipták

By  Michael T. Kaufman, New York Times:

Lipták’s A Testament of Revolution peels away more than four decades of intervening history to give readers a vivid, firsthand look at the brief, doomed struggle of Hungarian freedom fighters against Russian oppressors.

Written in 1956 in an Austrian refugee camp, where the author had fled to escape reprisals for his role in the short-lived rebellion, Lipták’s memoir sketches the conflict between university students, factory workers, and Hungarian nationalists on one side and the hated Hungarian secret police and Russian army troops on the other.

With an engineer’s eye for detail, Lipták draws the reader hour-by-hour into events, relating verbatim dialogue still fresh in his mind. Strikes in nearby Poland sparked the formation of an independent union of university students in Hungary that October. Matters escalated as factory workers joined Hungarian students to express solidarity with Poland.

What began as a bid for greater freedom of speech and more participation in the national government quickly developed into insurrection and armed repression.

Hungarian secret police and Russian troops moved together to suppress the students. Readers will bear witness as armed but untrained citizens pledge to follow the lead of any student wearing a nationalist tricolor armband–and they will recoil in horror as many of these revolutionaries fall in undeclared street battles.

In a memoir that is both history and a saga of his coming of age, Lipták relates his transformation from carefree university student to impromptu revolutionary leader. His story unfolds with unsparing honesty as he lays bare his conflicts, faults, failures of judgment and courage, and struggles with the enemy and with himself.

A Testament of Revolution  is the story of one man and Every Man caught up in events beyond his control, as waves of individual integrity and patriotism foundered on the rocky shoals of oppression and international politics.

The spirit of that time, the growing crescendo of boldness, the solidarity of struggle, the rapture of apparent triumph and the despair of defeat and flight are all brought movingly to life.

Michael T. Kaufman, New York Times

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