USC Libraries

University of Southern California

skip navigation

Archives at USC

« back to Archives at USC Search

Inventory of the Erich Lessing Hungarian Revolution photographs

Finding aid prepared by Sue Luftschein, 2012 May

Summary Information

Repository
USC Libraries Special Collections
Creator
Lessing, Erich
Title
Erich Lessing Hungarian Revolution photographs
Collection no.
6008
Date
1956, 1998, 2006
Extent
2.0 Linear feet, 1 box
Language
English
Photographs [Box]
1
Abstract
Photographs created by Austrian photographer Erich Lessing, documenting the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. The photographs were printed in 2006 for an exhibition held at USC Libraries' Doheny Memorial Library commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution.

Preferred Citation

[Box/folder# or item name], Erich Lessing Hungarian Revolution photographs, Collection no. 6008, Special Collections, USC Libraries, University of Southern California

Return to Table of Contents »


Biographical note

Erich Lessing was born in Vienna July 13, 1923, the son of a dentist and a concert pianist. Hitler's occupation of Austria in 1939 forced his emigration to Israel (then still the British Mandate Palestine), leaving behind his mother in Vienna, who eventually perished at Auschwitz. In Israel, Lessing worked on several kibbutzim, and returned to photography, a childhood hobby, working as a kindergarten photographer and later as photographer with the British Army.

In 1947 he returned to Austria, worked as a photographer for the Associated Press and, in 1951, joined Magnum Photos, the world-famous photographer's cooperative. Working chiefly for LIFE, Paris Match, Picture Post, EPOCA and Quick Magazine, he documented political events in post-war Europe, particularly in the former Communist countries. He covered the Hungarian Revolution, several summit meetings and President Charles de Gaulle's visit to Algeria.

After 1960 his focus shifted towards history in an attempt to bring historical personalities and epochs alive in what he called photographic "evocations." These evocations included the lives and times of great musicians, poets, physicists and astronomers. Erich Lessing's more than 40 books include works on the history of Austria, the travels of Ulysses, two different volumes on the Old Testament, the Italian Renaissance, the history of the Low Countries, the Travels of Saint Paul, the Greek Myths, two books on Art and Religion in Ancient Egypt, a History of France and many more.

Erich Lessing has taught photography in Arles, at the Venice Biennale, in Ahmedabad in India as a UNIDO-expert, at the Salzburg summer Academy and at the Academy of Applied Art in Vienna. He has been the recipient of many prizes over the course of his career, including the Imre Nagy-medal, bestowed by the President of the Hungarian republic for his work during the Hungarian revolution.

Erich Lessing lives in Vienna. He is married to a journalist, has three children and five grandchildren.

[Adapted from the biography available on the Lessing Photo Archive website, http://www.lessing-photo.com/biopers.asp]

Return to Table of Contents »


Historical note

Soon after the end of World War II, the Soviet Union seized power in the recently defeated countries of Eastern Europe and instituted Communist rule. On October 23, 1956, thousands of Hungarians in Budapest took to the streets to demand political reform and an end to the occupation. After a few brief skirmishes with protesters, which included students, factory workers, and Hungarian soldiers, the Soviets withdrew across the border. Jubilant citizens took to the streets celebrating their newly found freedom. However, the Soviets counterattacked shortly thereafter, crushing this nascent revolution and forcing nearly 250,000 people to flee the country. Austrian photojournalist Erich Lessing documented the dramatic events leading up to, during, and after the conflict with images that show both a people's desperate fight for freedom and the stark reality of life in Communist Europe in the middle of the twentieth century.

["Five Days of Freedom: Photographs from the Hungarian Revolution"]

Return to Table of Contents »


Scope and Content

70 photographs created by Austrian photographer Erich Lessing, documenting the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.

Return to Table of Contents »


Arrangement

The photographs are identified by Lessing's accession number (written in pencil on the reverse of each print). The scope notes for the first 50 photographs are the captions used in the 2006 exhibition; the scope notes for the remaining 20 photographs are the original descriptive captions provided by Lessing's studio.

Return to Table of Contents »


Administrative Information

Publication Information

USC Libraries Special Collections
2012 May
Doheny Memorial Library 206
3550 Trousdale Parkway
Los Angeles, California, 90089-0189
213-740-5900
specol@usc.edu

Conditions Governing Access

Advance notice required for access.

Conditions Governing Use

All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Manuscripts Librarian. Permission for publication is given on behalf of Special Collections as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained.

Acquisition

Purchased from Erich Lessing, 2006.

Return to Table of Contents »


Controlled Access Headings

Geographic Name(s)

  • Hungary--History--Revolution, 1956--Photographs

Personal Name(s)

  • Lessing, Erich -- Photograph collections

Return to Table of Contents »


General note

Purchased for the exhibition "Five Days of Freedom: Photographs from the Hungarian Revolution," on display in Doheny memorial Library, September 17-December 17, 2006.

Return to Table of Contents »


Collection Inventory

 56051518 

Scope and Content

Following World War II, Hungary fell under the control of the Soviet Union, which imposed communist rule and quickly established a strong military presence in the country. By 1956, the disastrous collectivization of the Hungarian economy drove people to seek political reform. Here a young couple strolls past a giant monument to former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin on Budapest’s Felvonulási (Parade) Square. The statue, a symbol of the repressive conditions under which people lived, was torn down on the first day of the revolution--October 23, 1956.

 56051423 1956 May 31 

Scope and Content

Protestants, Catholics, and Jews faced considerable restrictions in the exercise of their religion under communism. Some church leaders, such as Cardinal Mindszenty, were imprisoned for subversion. The young girls in white carry baskets with rose petals during the Corpus Christi procession in Kalocsa on May 31, 1956.

 56040215A 1956 June 27 

Scope and Content

The Petöfi Circle, named after the hero-poet of the 1848 Hungarian revolution, was a gathering of intellectuals critical of the communist party. A fiery meeting on June 27, 1956, sparked the events in October. In the foreground is Emil Horn, a student at the time. The group met in several places; this gathering took place in the hall of the Budapest Officers’ Club. While six hundred were expected to attend, six thousand angry citizens showed up to take part in the discussions.

 56050209A 

Scope and Content

Most Hungarians detested the conditions imposed on them that made the country economically subservient to the USSR. They were deeply opposed to Soviet ideological control of the schools, limitations on their civil liberties, and broad censorship of the media. In the meanwhile, people tried their best to go about their daily life, as seen here by the men and women frequenting a Budapest coffeehouse.

 56054708 

Scope and Content

The Sztálinváros (now Dunapentele) steel plant was the pride of Hungarian industry under communism. However, labor unrest and periodic strikes occurred among the steel workers in the months before the outbreak of the 1956 revolution. Workers like these joined the student-led demonstration in Budapest on October 23, pushing for such demands as the withdrawal of Soviet troops from the country, free general elections with multiple parties, and the reinstallment of Imre Nagy as prime minister. This photograph shows a production meeting in the early summer of 1956.

 56050626A 

Scope and Content

The Sztálinváros steel plant.

 56052702 

Scope and Content

Farms were turned into large agricultural cooperatives under communist rule. The tractor station shown here was state property and served several farms.

 56040521 1956 June 27 

Scope and Content

Sándor Nógrádi, a member of the Central Committee of the communist party, defends the government in a meeting of the Petöfi Circle on June 27, 1956. Despite Nikita Khruschev's policy of "de-Stalinization," hard-line communist regimes remained in place in Eastern European countries. In a reflection of national pride, reformers in both Hungary and Poland held reformist sentiments that challenged Soviet hegemony. A large demonstration of Polish workers in June 1956 emboldened the Hungarians to confront their own communist government a few months later.

 56051811 

Scope and Content

Sculptor István Kiss shows his model for a monument entitled "György Dózsa," a tribute to the peasant revolt of 1514. The work symbolized the long, proud history of the Hungarian people, from the Magyar tribes who settled in the area of present-day Hungary to the modern farmers and industrial workers. Patriotism proved to be an important element in the revolution of 1956. This monument was eventually erected below the Castle Hill in Budapest.

 56054125 

Scope and Content

Imre Nagy, seen here in his house on Orsó Street, was Prime Minister of Hungary from 1953 to 1955. His adoption of a liberal reform agenda angered Soviet loyalists like Mátyás Rákosi, who forced him to resign in 1955. Nagy was elevated again to Prime Minister at the start of the revolution. His declaration on October 31, 1956, that Hungary would secede from the Warsaw Pact greatly alarmed Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev and led to the invasion that crushed the nascent revolution. Nagy was tried by the Soviet-backed communist regime of János Kádár and executed in June 1958. Nagy’s ceremonial reburial in 1989 by a democratic Hungarian government reinforced his image as a freedom fighter in the minds of the people.

 56091025 

Scope and Content

At the Budapest headquarters of the [communist] Hungarian Workers' Party, revolutionaries burn pictures of Party Secretary and Soviet loyalist Mátyás Rákosi. His allegiance to a hard-line style of leadership made him reviled among Hungarian freedom fighters who called him Stalin’s "best pupil."

 56091415 

Scope and Content

Outside the Budapest headquarters of the Hungarian Workers' Party on Köztársaság (Republic) Square, revolutionaries unfurl a flag from which the Soviet-produced coat of arms of the People's Republic has been cut out. The tattered flag became the symbol of the revolution.

 56091626 

Scope and Content

Crowds try to catch the first edition of Függetlenség (Independence), a paper produced by the former editors of the Communist Party newspaper Szabad Nép. Once word of the revolution spread, the editors quickly joined in and supported its goals. Erich Lessing describes the event "And I discovered what it means when people finally demand 'real' facts instead of propaganda: out of the press-building windows the printers tossed the first issues of  Függetlenség. The crowd stood below, catching the pages as they fell, such was their thirst for the truth!"

 56091535 

Scope and Content

Panic broke out on Köztársaság (Republic) Square when fighting erupted between Hungarian revolutionaries and Soviet soldiers. A nurse looks for wounded people as the battle continues in the distance. Members of the AVH, the Hungarian secret police, reportedly opened fire on a large crowd who were gathered around the radio building, trying to broadcast their demands.

 56091114 

Scope and Content

Soviet flags are burned on Köztársaság (Republic) Square. The deliberate destruction by the revolutionaries of such visible symbols of the repressive government represented their outright rejection of communist ideology.

 56091325 1956 October 29 

Scope and Content

During the feigned Soviet retreat from Budapest on October 29, jubilant crowds marched through the city. For these five days of freedom at the end of October and beginning of November, many Hungarians believed they had permanently ousted the Soviet occupiers.

 56091010 

Scope and Content

Revolutionaries hoist a Hungarian flag on a captured Soviet tank in front of the New York Palace along Lenin Boulevard (today Teréz Boulevard), near Blaha Lujza Square. The spontaneous organization of thousands of students, workers, soldiers, and ordinary citizens, took the Soviets by surprise.

 56092405 1956 October 

Scope and Content

Revolutionary soldiers remove a portrait of Lenin from the council room of the Györ city hall in October 1956.

 56091803 1956 October 29 

Scope and Content

Hungary's communist coat of arms, introduced in 1949, is removed from a building on Clark Adam Square in Budapest on October 29, 1956.

 56090534A 

Scope and Content

A pair of bronze boots is all that is left of a towering monument to Stalin, destroyed on the night of October 23, 1956.

 56090122 

Scope and Content

This statue of Stalin, previously situated on Felvonulási (Parade) Square, was dragged through the streets and finally demolished near Blaha Lujza Square. A protestor encouraged further desecration of the work with their chalk message: "Go on, keep banging on it! It’s not your father." Hungarians resorted to such iconoclastic actions during the revolution as a means of denouncing their communist oppressors.

 56090808A 

Scope and Content

The Hungarian freedom fighters included both soldiers and civilians. Well-dressed women with rifles on their shoulders were a common sight in downtown Budapest during the short-lived revolution.

 56091908 

Scope and Content

Groups of revolutionaries meet on their way in and out of Budapest. Fearing harsh reprisals by the Soviet military, thousands of Hungarians evacuated the country during the uprising.

 56090523A 

Scope and Content

Hungarians citizens attempt to pry paving stones from the street to use as makeshift barricades against Soviet tanks. Revolutionaries have long used cobblestones as weapons against oppressive regimes, most notably during the French Revolution.

 56091708 

Scope and Content

Hungarian freedom fighters storm the Soviet bookstore "Horizon" on Kossuth Lajos Street, burning pictures of Joseph Stalin and other communist leaders.

 56091727 

Scope and Content

In another act of iconoclasm, Hungarian citizens burn photographs and other material printed by the communist government.

 56090206A 1956 November 

Scope and Content

After a week of triumphant street fighting, Hungarians believed that the Soviet Army had permanently fled the country. A captured Soviet armored car, a BTR-152 APC, sits on Corvin Lane around November 1, 1956. The arms of the Hungarian Republic of 1946 (the Kossuth coat of arms) have been painted on it as an act of defiance. To the left of the car is the Corvin cinema, which is still in operation today.

 56090506A 

Scope and Content

A street scene in downtown Budapest shows the scars from days of heavy fighting.

 56090507A 1956 November 

Scope and Content

A revolutionary member of the Hungarian Army stands among Soviet tanks and artillery abandoned on József Boulevard in downtown Budapest in early November 1956.

 56090207A 

Scope and Content

A young Hungarian revolutionary stands with a Soviet-made PPSh-41 machine gun slung over his shoulder.

 56090302 

Scope and Content

Bread is brought to the Corvin Lane revolutionaries, a group whose headquarters were in a private apartment opposite the Corvin cinema.

 56091301 

Scope and Content

A formation of Soviet T-54 tanks block the Pest side of the Kossuth Bridge emplacement, on their way to retake the city. Erich Lessing described the situation as follows: "I turned down an empty road, and suddenly, out of nowhere, there were Soviet tanks. They were not going east, but in my direction, towards Budapest. I doubled back, returned to the Duna Hotel and told my colleagues, 'Friends go home, it’s going from bad to worse, the Russians are coming back!'"

 56091417 

Scope and Content

Dead members of the Secret Police (AVH), ordered to protect the Budapest headquarters of the communist Hungarian Workers' Party, are lined up in front of the conquered building. The AVH, which had a large network of spies, recorded the movements of vast numbers of civilians. In the years preceding the Revolution, the AVH ruthlessly targeted thousands of individuals, condemning them to hard labor in remote camps.

 56100634A 1956 December 28 

Scope and Content

Péter Veres, chairman of the Writers' Union, speaks at a meeting on December 28, 1956. The writers discussed the bleak outlook for the country following the unsuccessful outcome of the revolution.

 56101509 

Scope and Content

A small boy carries a load of firewood home through the war torn streets of Budapest.

 56090226A 

Scope and Content

Budapest citizens on Práter Street gaze upon armored cars lying destroyed--part of the aftermath of the crushed revolt.

 56102013 

Scope and Content

A woman pulls heavy sacks through the snow during the winter of 1956-57.

 56090508A 

Scope and Content

A dead Soviet soldier lies in front of a badly damaged house on József Boulevard.

 56101224 

Scope and Content

People walk past ruined buildings in late December 1956. Public transportation was interrupted by the damage to the streets; some buildings still bear scars from the revolution.

 56100509A 

Scope and Content

Tibor Déry has the floor at a meeting of the Hungarian Writers' Union on December 28, 1956. In the foreground Gyula Háy holds his chin in hand. Several weeks after this meeting, both Déry and Háy were sentenced to prison. The union was dissolved the following month.

 56101710 

Scope and Content

In a burned-out shop a woman sells necklaces, rings, and other trinkets. As eyewitness Erich Lessing recalls, "Before Christmas, I drove to Budapest in a delivery van loaded with medicine and fruit. I photographed the ravaged city in the winter snow. Since most of the big stores had been plundered and burned to the ground, people had set up their tables amidst the ruins."

 5609094A 

Scope and Content

A Soviet tank and sentry stand guard in front of the Hungarian parliament building in early November 1956.

 56101711 

Scope and Content

A woman sells Christmas trees on the Pest side of Szabadság (Freedom) Bridge. As Erich Lessing tells it: "A little later, I went back to Hungary, by which time they had started to clean things up. Traffic police regulated the traffic in front of the ruins as normal life took over again. It was the time of so-called 'goulash communism'; it seemed as though the revolution had never happened."

 56101117A 

Scope and Content

Food was scarce during and immediately following the revolution. Here people stand in line for pretzels sold from a street cart in Budapest.

 56090128 

Scope and Content

People stand in line at a butcher's shop in Budapest.

 56092820 

Scope and Content

In November and December of 1956, nearly 155,000 refugees fled Hungary through the Austrian village of Andau. Upon arrival they were given bread, butter, and cups of hot tea.

 56092730A 

Scope and Content

Refugees sleep at the Andau reception camp.

 56101720 

Scope and Content

Life slowly returned to the snowed-under, artillery-damaged streets of Budapest during the winter of 1956-57. Here a couple are shown leaving church after their wedding.

 98010229A 

Scope and Content

Andau Bridge spans a small canal that forms the border between Austria and Hungary. Thousands of Hungarians who fled the country in late 1956 crossed into Austria on this bridge, despite its precarious condition due to artillery damage. The bridge was reconstructed after the fall of the communist government in 1989.

 98010219A 1998 

Scope and Content

Two of the watchtowers dotting the Iron Curtain near the Austrian village of Andau are seen in a 1998 photograph. Hungarian authorities preserved them in memory of the mass exodus of their countrymen. Overall, an estimated 250,000 Hungarians fled Hungary in the months following the revolution.

 56091217 31 October 1956 

Scope and Content

Cardinal József Mindszenty, Archbishop of Esztergom, Primate of the Hungarian Catholic Church. He was arrested in 1948 and sentenced to life in prison. He was liberated on 30 October 1956 and returned to Budapest accompanied by Major Antal Pálinkás-Pallavicini. Pallavicini was sentenced to death after the end of the revolution and executed on 19 December 1956. This photo was taken on 31 October 1956 at the Primate’s Palace in the Castle of Buda after the Cardinal was freed from prison. On 4 November, he fled to the American Embassy in Budapest, where he remained until 1971, when he was allowed to leave Hungary as a result of an agreement between Hungary and the Vatican. He lived in Vienna until his death in 1975.

 56051707A 

Scope and Content

Mátyás Rákosi, First Secretary of the Hungarian Communist Party, during a meeting of the Peoples’ Front executive in Budapest. After his fall from power on 17 July 1956, he was sent into exile in the Soviet Union, where he died in 1971.

 56100934A 

Scope and Content

Long lines of shoppers stand in front of a department store on Rákóczi Street. The police only allowed small groups of people to enter the shop at a time.

 56091003 

Scope and Content

In front of the Parliament building, Hungarians read leaflets published by the revolutionaries, announcing the withdrawal of Soviet troops.

 56052222 1956 May 31 

Scope and Content

Archbishop József Grösz of Kalocsa, released from prison on 12 May celebrates an open-air mass on Corpus Christi day, 31 May 1956.

 56090325 1956 October 25 

Scope and Content

The coat of arms of Communist Hungary that was introduced in 1949 is removed from the Hungarian Ministry of Interior on 25 October 1956.

 56100913A 

Scope and Content

Bricks are being stacked in front of the Budapest headquarters of the Hungarian Workers' Party (Communist Party), damaged during heavy fighting in October 1956.

 56050425 

Scope and Content

Farmers' children at a farmers' market.

 56050405 1956 May 31 

Scope and Content

With crosses and church flags, the Corpus Christi procession gets under way in Kalocsa, 31 May 1956.

 56090221 

Scope and Content

Soviet cannon captured by revolutionaries, who have painted the arms of the Hungarian Republic of 1946 (Kossuth coat of arms) on it.

 56090801A 

Scope and Content

A Hungarian soldier, the red star on his cap replaced by the Hungarian national emblem; a lorry with black flag collecting bodies of Hungarian revolutionaries. The Hungarians buried their own, but left the Soviets where they lay.

 56052116A 

Scope and Content

View of the Lenin ironworks in Diósgyör.

 56054703 1956 Summer 

Scope and Content

Production meeting in Sztálinváros in the early summer of 1956.

 56101336 

Scope and Content

Clearing rubble in Budapest streets.

 56090335 

Scope and Content

A man directs a T-34 tank on József Boulevard.

 56030118 

Scope and Content

The Iron Curtain dividing Europe into East and West also divided Austria and Hungary. It consisted of wire fences, land-mines and watch-towers. Between May 10 and early September 1956, in a brief thaw before the Hungarian Revolution, Hungarian soldiers cleared the area of mines and took down the barbed-wire fences on the Austrian border.

 56090216A 

Scope and Content

The body of a fallen Soviet soldier on József Boulevard.

 56090238A 

Scope and Content

Corvin Lane in the days of the cease-fire: a makeshift Red Cross ambulance and a nurse, on the left-hand side a disabled grenade-launcher.

 56092713A 

Scope and Content

Sleeping refugees in Andau reception camp.

 56090313 

Scope and Content

Soviet tanks and artillery on abandoned József Boulevard as seen from Üllöi Street; a revolutionary member of the Hungarian Army.

Return to Table of Contents »