Last month, we lost a lion of the Cold War. It is amazing, especially in NYC, who could be just around the corner.
Gen. Bela K. Kiraly, the commander in chief of the revolutionary forces in the Hungarian uprising of 1956, who for more than half a century was considered a folk hero in Hungary, and who returned there in 1989 to serve in its post-Communist government, died Saturday in Budapest. He was 97.There is a lot more, please read it all.
story at Brooklyn College, where he taught from 1964 to 1982. Before returning to Hungary, he lived for many years in Highland Lakes, N.J.
A former major general in the Hungarian Army, General Kiraly was the senior military leader of Hungary’s short-lived revolt against Soviet forces in the autumn of 1956. As commander in chief of the Hungarian National Guard and the leader of the Budapest garrison, he commanded a force of 26,000 insurgents and 30,000 Hungarian Army troops who had joined them.
When the uprising began on Oct. 23, General Kiraly was weak, ill and exhausted; he had just been released after spending five years in prison, four of them on death row, on manufactured charges of espionage. After the uprising was put down violently by the Soviets less than two weeks later, he fled to the United States.
Bela Kalman Kiraly was born on April 14, 1912, in Kaposvar, in southwest Hungary. After graduating from the state military academy in Budapest, he served as an army officer in World War II. In later years, General Kiraly said in interviews that he had tried to join the Russian side in the war rather than serve with Hungary’s fascist forces, but was unable to do so.
During the war, Mr. Kiraly commanded a battalion of 400 Jewish slave laborers at the Ukrainian front. Disobeying orders from his superiors, as The Jerusalem Post wrote in 1993, he “put the 400 men under his command into Hungarian uniforms and treated them humanely.” For his actions, he was honored in 1993 as a Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial authority in Jerusalem.
Captured by the Russians in 1944, Mr. Kiraly was sent to Siberia. He and two dozen of his men managed to escape from the train carrying them there and walked over the Carpathian Mountains back to Hungary. Mr. Kiraly was made a general in 1950 and appointed leader of the military academy in Budapest.
In 1951, General Kiraly was arrested on charges of subversion, sedition and spying for the United States. (The charges are now widely believed to have been concocted by Hungary’s Stalinist leaders.) He was given a death sentence, later commuted to life at hard labor. In October 1956, General Kiraly was among the prisoners paroled by the Hungarian government in a futile effort to appease mounting popular unrest.
When the uprising started, General Kiraly was in a Budapest hospital. “I was skin and bones coming out of five years of imprisonment,” Agence France-Presse quoted him as saying in 2006. “I was far from being healed, so I had to slip out of the hospital because the doctors would not let me go.”
At the request of Imre Nagy, a liberal Communist who was Hungary’s prime minister from 1953 to 1955 — and who was returned to office at the start of the uprising — General Kiraly organized the loose confederation of students, workers and other insurgents into a well-oiled fighting force.
“In 24 hours, I created a professional military staff,” the general said in the Agence France-Presse interview.
But it was no match for the hundreds of Soviet tanks that rolled into Budapest on Nov. 4. Pursued by two tank divisions, General Kiraly and a small band of resistance fighters headed for Austria. As they approached the border, the general ordered his men to blow up a nearby ammunition dump. With the Soviet tanks enveloped in the resulting cloud of smoke, General Kiraly and his men slipped through the border fence.
General Kiraly made his way to the United States, where he remained for the next 33 years. In 1958, Mr. Nagy and other leaders of the uprising were executed by Hungary’s post-revolutionary government. Had General Kiraly returned, he would most likely have met the same fate.
It is men like this that make you ask; "What have I really done with the life that I have been given?"
I used to be a regular at a small restaurant that was owned by a husband and wife team. He was an officer in the Hungarian Air Force and escaped after the fall. He told me almost all of the other officers in his unit were executed immediately after capture; he kept running, made it to Austria then the USA. He still proudly kept a picture of himself in uniform with him.