VERITAS Research Institute and Archives

That the armed resistance phase of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution was slowly winding down had become increasingly apparent by mid-November. New forms of resistance were sought and found. Strikes and the production of flyers and illegal newspapers were the effective means of struggle against János Kádár, the unacceptable new leader who had come to power with Soviet help, and his policies. Among the resistance’s essential demands were the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Hungary and the resignation of Kádár and his ministers. Strikes, however, achieved no results except to inspire the wrath of the incipient new regime. It was no coincidence that at a Provisional Executive Committee meeting of the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party on November 16th, 1956, Kádár determined that “unless we are ruthless, they will sweep us away”.

These were the circumstances when the resistance organized the Asszonyok tüntetése (Women’s Demonstration) on December 4th, 1956, whose date was deliberately chosen as it marked the one-month anniversary of the start of the Soviet invasion of Hungary. The operation was the idea of József Gáli and Gyula Obersovszky, the two editors of an illegal newspaper named Élünk run out of the hospital on Péterfy Street. Only women would participate according to flyers and the pages of the newspaper that shared the details of the protest. Their appeal was read by many; by 11 AM on the day of the demonstration, a massive crowd had gathered on Heroes’ Square. Carrying black flags and Hungarian tricolors, young girls, married women and mothers with their children came face to face with the Soviet troops responsible for smashing the revolution. The sight of a mass of mourning women paying respect to the victims of the revolution proved effective; the authorities backed off and finally allowed this last significant commemoration to proceed. Two days later at the pro-Kádár demonstration at Nyugati Square, the authorities, however, had no qualms about firing into the crowd of counter-protesters that had also gathered there, thereby signaling their reluctance to tolerate any anti-regime protests on the streets in the future.

by János Rácz