Hungarian Uprising by John Sadovy, 1956

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 photographer duped the Communist border guards by posing 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 much 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. For LIFE, he wrote an editorial which ran alongside his pictures:

Now the AVH men began to come out. The first to emerge from the building was an officer, alone.
It was the fastest killing I ever saw. He came out laughing and the next thing I knew he was flat on the ground. It didn’t dawn on me that this guy was shot. He just fell down, I thought.

Then the rebels brought out a good-looking officer, his face white as chalk. He got five yards, retreated, argued. Then he folded up. It was over with him.

Two AVH men next. Rifle butts pounding. Punching and kicking. Suddenly a shot. Six young officers came out, one very good-looking. Their shoulder boards were torn off.

Quick argument. Were not so bad as you think we are, give us a chance, they were saying. I was three feet from that group. Suddenly one began to fold. They must have been real close to his ribs when they fired. They all went down like corn that had been cut. Very gracefully. And when they were on the ground the rebels were still loading lead into them.

They were all officers in that building. Another came out, running. He saw his friends dead, turned, headed into the crowd. The rebels dragged him out. I had time to take one picture of him and he was down. Then my nerves went. Tears started to come down my cheeks. I had spent three years in the war, but nothing I saw then could compare with the horror of this.

I could see the impact of bullets on a man’s clothes. You could see every bullet. There wAs not much noise. They were shooting so close that the man’s body acted as a silencer. This went on for 40 minutes.
They brought out a woman and a man from the building. Her face was white. She looked left and right at the bodies that were spread all over. Suddenly a man came up and walloped her with a rifle butt. Another pulled her hair, kicked her. She half fell down. They kicked her some more. I thought that’s the end of that woman. But in a few minutes she was up, pleading. She said she was not an AVH member. Some of the rebels decided to put her in a bus which was standing nearby, though there were shouts of “No prisoners, no prisoners!”

As far as I know she is still alive.

There was still shooting inside the building. Occasionally a small group would come out. One man got as far as the park, which was a long way, but there he was finished. Two more came, one a high-ranking officer. His bleeding body was hung by his feet from a tree and women came up to spit on him. Two or three men, apparently the top officers, were hung like this.

Then came a last scuffle at the building en-trance. They brought out a little boy. They were carrying him on their shoulders. He was 3 or 3 1/2 with a sweet face, looking left and right. There were shouts. “Don’t kill him, save him!” He was the son of one of the AVH officers. To see this little face after what you’d seen a minute ago made you think you’d had a bad dream and he had wakened you.

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.

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