Eleanor Roosevelt and the refugees of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956

On October 23, Hungarians commemorate the Revolution of 1956. The uprising was an unplanned nationwide upheaval against the harsh Stalinist government of the People’s Republic of Hungary. It lasted from 23 October until 10 November 1956.

Over 2,500 Hungarian citizens and 700 Soviet troops were killed in the hostilities and close to 200,000 Hungarians fled as refugees. About half of them ended up in North-America.

Eleanor Roosevelt, the widow of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt visited Salzburg, Austria in May 1957 to listen the pleas of Hungarian refugees. Her visit was a humanitarian gesture; she was the highest-profile American politician supporting the Hungarians and her visit focused media attention on the suffering of the refugees.

Eleanor Roosevelt visiting a Hungarian refugee camp in Salzburg, Austria.

Eleanor was born to a wealthy and privileged family as Anna Eleanor but she preferred her middle name. Orphaned at age 8 she was raised by her maternal grandmother. As a young girl Eleanor loved field hockey and as an adult had her pilots license.

On her wedding day, then-President Teddy Roosevelt walked her down the aisle. “I am as fond of Eleanor as if she were my daughter,” he wrote of his niece. Eleanor wrote newspaper columns, fought for the civil rights of blacks and was the driving force behind the UN Declaration of Human Rights. She even appeared in a 1959 margarine commercial to raise $35,000 to buy food packages for impoverished families.

Her husband President Franklin Delano Roosevelt helped to crush fascism in Europe. Several times he warned pro-Hitler ruler Miklós Horthy to stop atrocities and mass-killings in Hungary. In July 1944 the Americans bombed Budapest. (Read more here.)

Today the Orbán government considers President Franklin Delano Roosevelt an “enemy” and in 2011 despite the protest of many Americans, including Roosevelt’s granddaughter, the Orbán government shamefully removed his name from one of Budapest’s most attractive squares.

Roosevelt’s name was removed in Budapest in 2011.

György Lázár

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