Peter Fryer

Hungarian Tragedy

Preface to the 1986 reprint

Any writer whose first book is thought to be worth reprinting after 30 years, for a new generation of readers, is bound to feel a sense of pride. But my pride in the reappearance of Hungarian Tragedy does not blind me to its flaws. This little book was written in a week. Or rather, it poured itself on the page white-hot. It bears the marks of haste, emotion and disillusionment. It is not free from naivetés and purple passages. There are two errors of fact: the ‘North-East district secretary’ quoted in the Introduction was in fact the Durham area secretary; the interview with Charles Coutts took place, not on November 2, but the day before.

Yet, for all its faults, this book does tell the truth about the Hungarian uprising of 1956. To tell that truth was, I thought, my duty to the Hungarian workers who had fought and died so selflessly and whose gallant struggle, so brutally suppressed, I had witnessed.

For telling the truth in this book I was expelled from the Communist Party. Thirty years later, the problem discussed in the Postscript – the regeneration of the world communist movement – is still unresolved. This problem has proved more stubborn, and more contradictory, than anyone could have foreseen. It is the key problem of our epoch, and the future of humanity depends on its solution.

Some of the Hungarians referred to in these pages were soon to fall victim to Stalinist repression. Attila Szigeti slashed his wrists with his spectacles, then jumped to his death from his cell window. Géza Losonczy went on hunger strike. His health had been shattered in Rákosi’s jails, where he had suffered a lung haemorrhage; when his new captors carelessly pushed a feeding tube down his windpipe, he died.

Another victim was the ‘outstandingly shrewd, well-informed and intelligent Hungarian communist’ who is quoted in Chapter 3. His name was Miklós Gimes. He was a very brave man. He took his wife and child to safety in Vienna during the uprising, then went back to Budapest to face arrest. He was hanged in 1958 with Imre Nagy, Pál Maléter, and József Szilágyi, after the shameful farce of a secret trial. The whole business was finished, and the murderers were washing the blood off their hands, before the world labour movement had been given the slightest chance to protest. Gimes and his three comrades refused to compromise. They went to their deaths without confessing to ‘crimes’ they had not committed. They died as they had lived: sworn enemies of capitalism and Stalinism alike.

Though I only met him once, Gimes’s integrity and passion, his fierce love of truth and justice, made a powerful impression on the young man I then was. He represented all that was best in Hungary. I dedicate this new edition of Hungarian Tragedy to his memory.


Last updated on: 15.1.2012