Remarks at the Opening of an Exhibit of Associated Press Photographs in Commemoration of the 1956 Revolution in Hungary

Remarks by Ambassador Coleen Bell

at the Opening of an Exhibit of Associated Press Photographs in Commemoration of the 1956 Revolution in Hungary

October 6, 2016

– as prepared for delivery –

Director Orsolya Kőrösi, Distinguished Representatives of the Hungarian government, Mr. László Kondor, a special guest today, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Jó nápot kivánok!  Good afternoon!

It is my great pleasure to be with you today and to welcome you to the opening of this exhibit entitled, “…And Yet I’m Here,” which was arranged by the U.S. Embassy in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the 1956 Revolution in Hungary.  These photographs from the Associated Press archives document the Revolution and its immense and devastating effects on the Hungarian people.  It is a special honor to partner with the Mai Manó House and to benefit from their knowledge and experience in presenting Hungary’s history through the works of photography legends like Mai Manó and Robert Capa.  I thank Director Orsolya Kőrösi, curator Gabriella Csizek, Vivien Boronyiak and the many talented staff here for organizing this powerful exhibit.

Ambassador Bell at the exhibition (Embassy photo by Attila Németh)
Ambassador Bell at the exhibition (Embassy photo by Attila Németh)

The 1956 Revolution grew from the democratic will of a strong people tired of oppressive Soviet rule.  Students, young people, and many others demanded the withdrawal of Soviet troops, democratization, and a government more independent from Soviet control.  Their efforts culminated in demonstrations on October 23 that the Communist Party deemed a threat and proceeded to crush violently, which resulted in the deaths of thousands, the imprisonment of thousands more, and the flight of nearly 200,000 Hungarians from their homeland.  These sacrifices demonstrated the Hungarians’ great love for their country, their thirst for freedom and democratic rule, and their determination to guarantee a free and better life for themselves and their children.

The photographs on display in this exhibition offer a glimpse into the sacrifices made by Hungarians forced to leave behind everything they knew, to become refugees, to start life anew in a foreign land in the years immediately following the Revolution.  Associated Press photographers documented their flight – from their crossing into Austria to their journey and arrival in the United States.  The United States is a country of immigrants, one that has always welcomed those fleeing violence and persecution.

Between 1956 and 1957, Congress authorized increased aid to those fleeing Hungary and implemented new legal options to admit refugees and put them on the path to permanent residence.  NGOs, churches and volunteers by the thousands offered help to expedite the successful integration of Hungarians in their new homeland.  Even Elvis Presley got involved.  This American rock ‘n’ roll star was inspired by the Hungarians’ fight for freedom.  Known for his humanitarianism, Elvis appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in January 1957 to sing his legendary song “Peace in the Valley” in support of Hungarian refugees.  With the help of the government and Hungarian-American organizations, nearly 31,000 Hungarians found a safe haven in the United States.

While 60 years have passed since 1956, today Europe is considering the questions raised by the influx of a new set of migrants as well as the challenges – both economic and social – this poses to Europe and especially to Hungary.  Like so many moments throughout history, it’s a complex question with many factors to consider.  And while this current issue should be decided within the European context and according to the European Union’s process, I encourage everyone to reflect on the wonderful achievements and contributions to the United States of those Hungarians-Americans who first arrived as refugees in 1956, many stating, as the woman pictured in this exhibit, “It’s hard to believe, and yet I’m here.”

Since 1956, those Hungarians have not only survived but thrived in the United States.  Robert Capa, the photographer, once said, “It’s not enough to have talent.  You also have to be Hungarian.”  Those Hungarians who first arrived in the United States as refugees in 1956 have added to the rich cultural diversity of American society and have contributed their talents and achieved success in so many fields, from Nobel Prize winning physicists to Oscar winning film directors.  This exhibit chronicles how in face of adversity, they drew strength from their struggle, from  their Hungarian heritage, and from their new communities.  And on the strength of that foundation, they built free and better lives.

Thank you for coming and please enjoy the exhibit.