Obituary: Sandor Racz, activist and leading figure during Hungary’s 1956 anti-Soviet Revolution

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Born: 17 March, 1933, near the city of Hodmezovasarhely, Hungary. Died: 30 April, 2013, in Budapest, aged 80.

Sandor Racz was a labour activist and leading figure during Hungary’s anti-Soviet Revolution of 1956,.

The World Federation of Hungarians, of which Racz was honorary president, confirmed that he died while receiving treatment for an undisclosed illness at the National Institute of Oncology in Budapest.

The 1956 uprising broke out on 23 October and was crushed by the Soviet army in early November. But as president of the Budapest central workers’ council, Racz and other labour leaders pressed ahead with the objectives of the movement for several more weeks, negotiating with pro-Soviet prime minister Janos Kadar and top Soviet military officers.

“For me, the revolution was so unambiguous, that I could not even imagine a Hungarian who does not feel that the Hungarian people are 1,000 per cent right when they want to free themselves from an unacceptable foreign, murderous and pillaging system,” Racz wrote in his memoirs, published in 2005. Even as the crackdown on those who took part in the revolution was under way – at least 225 people would be executed by 1958 – the workers’ councils held two nationwide strikes in November and December.

Racz, then a 23-year-old toolmaker at an electronics factory, was arrested on 11 December, 1956, after being lured to parliament with the excuse of holding talks with Kadar, who ruled Hungary until a few years before the end of the communist regime in 1990. Racz was sentenced to life in prison in 1958, but released under a 1963 general amnesty.

After his release, he returned to work as a toolmaker and participated in secret meetings with students, telling them about the events of 1956. He retired due to poor health in 1987 and spent the rest of his life keeping alive the memory of the 1956 events.

“The workers’ councils were very important, but they tend to be forgotten because most of the attention is given to the armed aspects of the revolution,” said Bob Dent, the British author of a book about the revolution. “The councils were unofficial trade unions representing workers during and after the uprising.”

Racz was born on 17 March, 1933 near the city of Hodmezovasarhely in south-east Hungary. He is survived by his wife, Aniko Damasdi, and two children.