Hungary, 1956 — John Sadovy

Photojournalism’s most memorable images were crafted by the right men at the right moment. John Sadovy was one of those. One of few photojournalists who got into Hungary during its tumultuous revolution in 1956, the Czechoslovakian-born Life magazine photographer duped the Communist border guards by disguising himself as an ice-cream salesman.

The Hungarian Uprising began as a student cafe movement; viewing it as an economic and social struggle rather than an ideological one, the authorities both in Budapest and Moscow dismissed it until it was too late. A group of freedom fighters attacked the headquarters of AVH — the hated secret police — and marched their erstwhile oppressors out and executed them at point blank range.

Sadovy was there and his Capa-award winning photos captured fury, revenge, and terror — eloquent outbursts of an emotive revolution. In Life, he wrote an editorial which ran alongside his pictures: “I could see the impact of bullets on a man’s clothes.” The man who served as company photographer with the British Army during the Second World War recalled that these were the quickest killings he had ever seen, and there was “nothing to compare with the horror of this…. the tears kept running down my face and I had to keep wiping them away.”

As the photos suggested, covering the revolution was extremely dangerous. Sadovy was wounded on the hand, and Jean-Pierre Pedrazinni of Paris Match — who along with Sadovy was one of the first Western journalists to arrive in Budapest — got a machine gun burst in his stomach and leg before he could get many pictures and died.

The peaceful student revolt was usurped by radical elements and Moscow finally sent in tanks. While Sadovy’s photos were testaments to atrocities committed by both sides, in White Book, the official Communist version of the events of 1956, they became part of propaganda campaigns to discredit the revolution, and were used as the primary evidence to persecute and exile student leaders. Meanwhile, Correio de Manha, the daily in Rio de Janeiro, gave permission to the Delamerikai Magyar Hirlap (South American-Hungarian Herald), a right-wing Hungarian diaspora paper, to publish the photos, which they did under the headline, “This Is How The Russians Kill”.

More photos here.

The Stalin Monument Toppled

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Built as the birthday present to Stalin on his 70th birthday (December 21st 1949), the Stalin Monument in Budapest has became the iconic scene of the Hungarian Uprising in 1956.

The 25-meter, Socialist realism statue was torn down in October 1956 at the onset of the uprising. On October 23rd, Hungarians broadcasted sixteen demands over the radio, one of them being the dismantling of Stalin’s statue. A hundred thousand Hungarian revolutionaries demolished the Stalin statue, leaving only his boots, in which they planted a Hungarian flag. The bronze inscription, saying Stalin was the Hungarians’ leader, teacher and “best friend”, was ripped off from the pedestal. Before the toppling of the statue–an hour public spectacle involving steel ropes, oxygen cylinders and metal cutting blowpipes–someone had placed a sign over Stalin’s mouth that read “RUSSIANS, WHEN YOU RUN AWAY DON’T LEAVE ME BEHIND!” The revolutionaries chanted “Russia go home!” while pulling down the statue. Insulting remarks were scrawled over the fragmented parts of the statue.

Although the Uprising was quickly crushed by the Soviet authorities, the images of the toppled statues became a haunting precursor to what would happen all over the Eastern Bloc thirty years later.

Images of a smaller Stalin destruction in Budapest:

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