Hungarian Uprising by Paris-Match, 1956

The November 10, 1956 issue of Paris Match covering Hungarian Uprising opened with a spread on a young couple, ‘The Heros of Budapest’. A young boy had a machine gun too large for him crossed over his shoulder. The girl had a fresh bandaged wound on her face, a red-cross armband and the first aid bag. They were half bohemian, half proletarian, in shabby, worn clothes. The tension was provided by a figure approaching from behind, a man walking up to the camera holding a revolver, as if he had just taken it out or hadn’t had time to put it away yet. The readers could immediately feel the seriousness of the events.

The headline read: “From inside the capital of the revolt our special correspondents risk their lives to bear witness to the Hungarian people’s fight for freedom”. The caption under the couple’s photo read: “In the eyes of this couple, our reporters on the street saw the soul of the uprising. He took his gun from an army depot. She, wounded, turned her schoolbag into a first-aid kit. Behind them, a passer-by with a pistol”.

This photo was commonly attributed to Jean-Pierre Pedrazzini, a young French photographer who was lethally wounded on 30 October 1956 during the protests at Köztársaság teŕ (Republic Square). To honor its photographer ‘Pedra’, Paris-Match sought to create a story around him. Even now Paris-Match’s archives attribute the report on Budapest to two people: Pedrazzini and Franz Goèss, an Austrian photographer.

The real photographer was the American-born Russ Melcher, who was then working as a freelancer. He allowed Paris-Match to credit the late Pedrazzini with the picture. As he put it, it was an homage to a fallen colleague and he would also benefit from increased the circulation of the picture. “Because if a photographer has been killed in action and this is one of his last pictures, every paper wants to publish it.” Only in 1999, when Paris-Match put together an exhibition to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, Russ Melcher claimed the authorship of the photo, which was chosen as one of the magazine’s ‘100 Best Pictures’. On that occasion Melcher reflected that he could now admit that he took the photo “because Pedrazzini had been gone for a long time.”

In the West, the photo symbolized the idealism of a dedicated young couple determined to free their native Hungary. ‘Romantic gavroches,’ they were referred to by the press, alluding to the heroic street urchin in Hugo’s Les Miserables. In the Communist bloc, however, the photo — especially the man with the pistol — was the evidence that shadowy figures (counterrevolutionaries funded by the West) ­had recruited chil­dren to overthrow the legitimate ­government.

Melcher took the photo on at 8 a.m. on 30 October. A few hours later, the word started to spread among the insurgents that they should not let photographs be taken of their faces. In the next issue, dated 17 November, Paris-Match would cover the faces of “Marianne of Budapest” shown on the cover and other revolutionaries with thick lines as a precaution. Even then, the Communist authorities would later use photos of young fighters that appeared in magazines as conclusive proof of treason during later trials, and at least one young woman was hanged.

The Italian photographer for Epoca, Mario De Biasi, after leaving in Budapest, ran into a girl at a refugee home in Eisenstadt, Austria, on 9 November 1956 (ten days later). He recognized her from Melcher’s photos and asked her for a photo.

Two days later, the photo appeared in Epoca, titled Yutka la guerigliera di Budapest (Jutka, the Guerilla Fighter of Budapest). The article mentioned her first name (Jutka) as well as that of the armed boy (Gyuri), and provided a detailed account of a resistance group of 200 boys and girls fighting.

Eszter Balázs, a historian, and Phil Casoar, a journalist, tried to trace the couple down for the fiftieth anniversary of the revolution. György Berki’s fate was unknown but some said he died 2 hours after the picture was made. Júlia Sponga escaped to Austria, where she was photographed by Mario De Biasi with the Paris-Match spread. She was listed in Hungarian records as a “prohibited person” until 1989 and died a year later, in exile. The passerby was nev­er identified.

Elsewhere in the magazine, “Les Heros de Budapest” issue of the magazine included John Sadovy’s photos for LIFE. LIFE permitted the use of Sadovy’s photos in exchange for photos of Paris Match. Another famous picture showed the red star (the Seal of Moscow, the magazine called it) being taken down from a public building, with the help of the fire department, revealing the extent of popular support for the revolutionaries.

The issue went to press during that brief but exhilarating moment of victory while partisans remained in control of Budapest before Soviet tanks retook the city on 4 November. The ‘heroes’ of the title were both the Hungarian rebels and Paris Match’s own team of writers and photographers (10 November 1956 issue, with photographs by Russ Melcher, Berretty, Franz Goezs, Erich Lessing, Paul Matthias, Jean-Pierre Pedrazzini, John Sadovy, Jean-François Tourtet and Vick Vance).

The Suez crisis pushed the Hungarian events from the front cover that week but the following week, the magazine chose the photo of the “Budapest Marianne” as its cover.

“She embodies the martyred Hungary. This photo, which symbolizes the heroic Hungarian resistance, was taken by our photojournalist Jean-Pierre Pedrazzini, who died this week from injuries sustained in Budapest during the street battles. He had been machine-gunned by a Soviet tank. We have concealed the face of the ‘Marseillaise of Budapest’ to protect her from any risk of reprisals.”

– Cover of Paris Match No. 397, dated November 17, 1956.

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