Sixty Years Since the Hungarian Revolution

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I stand for God, for the Church and for Hungary. This responsibility has been imposed upon me by the fate of the nation which stands alone, an orphan in the whole world. Compared with the sufferings of my people, my own fate is of no importance.

József  Cardinal Mindszenty, Primate of Hungary, 1948

The Hungarian Revolt of 1956 was an extremely important turning point in the Cold War.  It demonstrated to the world that Eastern Europe was not, and never would be, Communist but rather merely territory held down by the force of the Red Army.  This spirit of resistance lived on in each of the countries in the Warsaw Pact from the first imposition of Communist governments at the end of the World War II to the fall of the Communist states at the end of the eighties.  It was a magnificent struggle that is too little celebrated in the West.

The heart and soul of the struggle in Hungary was one of the great men of the 20th Century:  József  Cardinal Mindszenty, primate of Hungary.  Imprisoned by the pro-Nazi government in Hungary during World War II, he was imprisoned, tortured and condemned in a show trial by the puppet Communist regime after World War II.  Freed by Hungarian patriots during the Hungarian revolt, he quickly joined the revolt.  After it was crushed he took refuge in the American embassy in Budapest where he stayed for 15 years, a symbol of the unconquerable spirit of his beloved Hungary.  Shamefully, in my view, the Vatican compromised with the Communist regime, annulling the excommunication imposed by Pius XII on all involved with the trial of Mindszenty, and calling him “a victim of history” rather than “a victim of Communism”.  Mindszenty  traveled to Vienna rather than Rome, upset at the suggestion of the Vatican that he should retire and live in Rome.  He was stripped of his titles by Pope Paul VI in 1973, although the Pope did not fill the primacy until after the Cardinal died in 1975.  The Church in Hungary has launched a strong effort to have the Cardinal proclaimed a saint, and I pray that it is soon crowned with deserved success.

Below is the public domain movie Guilty of Treason 1949, which tells the story of the trial of  Mindszenty  by the Communists.  There was also the 1956 movie The Prisoner starring Alec Guinness, a heavily fictionalized account of his trial, which the Cardinal intensely disliked.

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  1. These history lessons are very important, Donald. However, they sadly demonstrate that clerics even as highly placed as the Pope have all too often been weak and ingratiating towards the enemy. It is a miracle the Church survives – a testament to Jesus’ declaration that the gates of hell will not prevail.

  2. Weakness is part and parcel of the fallen human condition LQC. What continuously surprises me, and gladdens me, in my non-stop look at human history is how much courage against the odds is displayed, as in the Hungarian Revolution.

  3. It is so inspiring to hear about those princes of the Church who know what the red hat actually signifies. Thank you Donald.

  4. I remember Sister Mary Theresa* trying to explain the plight of Cardinal Mindszenty to a class of second graders. I was one of the second graders.

    * After so many years, I am no longer certain of her name but I think this is close.

  5. I was 14 years old and boarding at Sacred Heart College in Auckland at that time. I remember this well – if only because this guy turned up at the college during our Barracks Week in early 1957. ( In those days in NZ, CMT – Compulsory Military Training was still in force where when boys reached the age 18 years, they has to spend 16 weeks in the Military – sad that they stopped in in 1959, under a Labour Govt – say no more) Barracks Week was that first week back at school after the Christmas holidays – a 6 week break during our summer – when all boys colleges spent the first week teaching boys about the military, how to strip and clean a rifle (Lee Enfield mk.III .303 cal.), learn how to march and drill in platoons and companys etc.
    He claimed to be someone who was involved in the revolution and had escaped, and made his way to NZ – he had a great story. Turns out, one of my classmates recognised him as a bloke from his home town who had spent a couple of years in clink for misrepresentation – and he was at it again. He gave a stirring address to all us boys (complete with fake accent) and the Marist Brothers (who ran the college at that time) gave him a good hearing and welcomed him, and gave him accomodation and meals etc., but when Nick Walker told the Principal that he knew him and told them of his past, he was rapidly escorted by the Principal out to the waiting Paddy Wagon to be chauffered off by the cops. 🙂

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