A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
Episodes Search Site Map The Series Partners White Pine White Pine Home


Hungarian Revolution 1956

Between October 23 and November 4, 1956, Hungarian students and workers took to the streets to protest the brutal Soviet regime and the campaign of terror which Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, had first launched against the Hungarian people after World War II. The Hungarians installed a new Prime Minister, Imre Nagy. Nagy declared Hungary a 'Neutral Country' in the new cold war, which had taken hold of the world in the nuclear era. Prime Minister Nagy declared that his country should no longer be considered part of the Warsaw Pact. As street fighting raged through the capital of Hungary, Budapest and Soviet Nagy refused to allow the Hungarian army to fight the Soviet tanks, tanks entered the country on October 23 and 24.13 The reasons for this refusal have been debated by historians ever since.

The Western World was surprisingly ineffective during this period. The United States had changed its tactics towards the Communist threat, preferring containment as opposed to freedom of people under Soviet control.14 The British and French governments remained silent on Hungary. They were in the midst of the Suez Canal crisis, and in October, 1956, France and Britain jointly began to bomb the Suez area. The Hungarian Revolution was taking place at precisely the same time as the bombing of the Suez. The Western World, having already fought two World Wars in the past fifty years, were not anxious to be involved in yet another war, which could quickly become nuclear. On November 4, 1956, the Soviets crushed the Hungarian Revolution. Just hours before his arrest, which would eventually lead to his trial and eventual hanging, Imre Nagy spoke on the radio to the Hungarian fighters, urging them to get out of Hungary if they possibly could. He then added this warning for the rest of the World: "....Today it is Hungary and tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, it will be the turn of other countries, because the imperialism of Moscow does not know borders and is only trying to play for time."

Two hours after this broadcast, Nagy was arrested by the Russian armed forces. Throughout this crisis, Canada and other UN members remained largely silent. Two hundred thousand Hungarians took the opportunity of that late October revolution to leave Hungary for Austria,16 who offered asylum to any Hungarian able to cross into their territory. Of these two hundred thousand Hungarians, 37,000 would eventually end up in Canada. Most settled in Toronto. Many travelled by the 'Air Bridge to Canada', a scheme set up by the federal government to quickly bring refugees to Canada. The Hungarian community in Toronto was very active in pressuring the federal government into action. This community raised $900,000 to help the refugees.

Hungarian Canadians took many of the refugees into their home. Although they were total strangers, they were treated like family. The Hungarian - Canadian churches were used as centers to coordinate the effort to help the refugees, almost half of whom were under the age of 29. Many had university qualifications but found that their degrees were not recognized in Canada. Many of the refugees had serious problems adjusting to Canadian society. Within Canada, there remained that lingering guilt of refusing to take a stronger stand against the Soviets during the course of the revolution.

Top of page.