Reporter weeps at "murder of a people" in Hungary

By RUSSELL JONES   |   November 15, 1956
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BUDAPEST, Nov. 15, 1956 (UP) - Life as the only American correspondent left in shattered Budapest is sometimes frightening, sometimes amusing. But mostly it is a continuous feeling of inadequacy both as an American and as a reporter who helplessly watched the murder of a people.

For the first time since I was a boy I wept.

I saw a former British soldier break down completely. The situation was worse than the Warsaw uprising into which he parachuted in 1944.

None of us are Hemingways and it needs a Hemingway to tell this story adequately.

Since a convoy of other newsmen left Budapest under Russian guard last weekend there have been five Western journalists left to tell the world what happens here. There are two British reporters, a Frenchman, a stateless person, and myself.

Except for the stateless person, who has continued to live in the shelter of the British legation, all of us are gathered in the Duna Hotel on the east bank of the Danube.

In the last few days our life has settled down to a routine struggle - checking with Western diplomats for their reports on the situation, futile attempts to interview the puppet regime of Janos Kadar, endless wandering through the city to find out what is going on, and hours-long struggles for telephone connections to the outside world.

Our average day: Sleeping in hotel rooms - unheated in near freezing weather - then rushing for a bath before the hot-water supply is cut off at 9 a.m. Then down to the hotel lobby where everyone is sitting family-style at two long tables. The dining room itself is unusable, since Russian shells have knocked out two of the huge windows.

The food - bread and bad coffee for breakfast - comes from the basement, as the kitchen was destroyed by a Soviet attack.

After a check of the situation we start our morning struggle to telephone. Sometimes we find ourselves with a story written but no telephone, and other times with a connection but no news.

Our tours of the town are punctuated by frequent checks by Soviet soldiers or Hungarian AVO - secret police.

Treatment at the checkpoints can vary from a polite salute and waving hands to the suspicious examination of all papers by an AVO man apparently unable to read. As the evening curfew at 7 p.m. local time nears, the checks become more rigorous - and more frightening. One correspondent was killed and three others wounded in the early stages of the revolt, and none of us is anxious to join the casualty list.

Walking through the city is made more difficult by masses of Hungarians streaming along in their search for food and wandering aimlessly through the wreckage, determined to continue their general strike until the Russians leave. They have nothing else to do.

Our meals are shared by a handful of prostitutes, elderly "class enemies" who returned from deportation after the revolt, a Swiss Red Cross man, a Czech businessman whose faith in Communism has been shaken, and a few ordinary Hungarians bombed out of their homes.

A strange multilingual community has been established, with the Hungarians watching for news, the prostitutes washing the correspondents' laundry, and the correspondents completing less eagerly the normal work of the newsman.

One of the bright spots in the city is the Grand Hotel on Margaret Island, isolated from the rest of the city by the Danube River. The Island might be a thousand miles away from the scene of death and destruction.

Yesterday I lunched there with Mrs. Tanya Rahmann, wife of the Indian charge d'affaires in Budapest, and rarely have I had a more pleasant meal. But it was a brief interlude.

On leaving, as on entering the Island, I made a sharp right turn literally under the guns of a huge Soviet tank, which stood at a Soviet checkpoint on Margaret Island, and drove back to the tangle of fallen street-car wires, piles of rubble, and crowds of hopeless, desperate people.

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(Russell Jones was awarded the 1957 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting for his reports from Hungary).

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