Sometime in October 1956, a little girl - more accurately, a toddler, celebrated her first birthday in the company of her mother, father, brother, family and little friends...
The moment was captured by the little girl's father, and depicted in the faded Ektachrome slide. The venue was the Focsa condominium, apartment 26L. A moment of happiness and innocence we remember here.
And on the other side of the world, exciting, happy and yet tragic events were taking place. A family in Havana was celebrating a joyful moment; Magyar families almost simultaneously were celebrating their too brief joyful moments, which would in the blink of an eye turn into despair and defeat. The heroic people of Hungary overthrew their murderous, Soviet-backed and propped, unelected regime in October 1956.
Men, women, even children; students, soldiers, workers took on the Soviet-puppet regime and threw it down - indeed, beheaded it...And the statuary head of this Georgian gangster serves as a fitting symbol of what these fearless Magyars accomplished in those heady days of October 1956.
They made clear what they wanted to their unwelcome "visitors:" "Russians Go Home!"
They freed the brave Cardinal Mindszenty, a man of courage and conviction who would not compromise with the godless, even though that had already cost him a life sentence courtesy of Stalinist thugs and despite the discomfort and displeasure this uncompromising stand caused the Vatican.
Fearless heroes, led and inspired by other fearless heroes, such as General Pal Maleter and Prime Minister Imre Nagy - both martyred, along with thousands more.
They pulled it off, and for a week purified their country from the communist cancer and breathed the air of freedom they had not enjoyed for too long. "Do not be afraid!," said the late Pope John Paul when he visited Havana not so long ago. The Hungarians showed us, 50 years ago, what decent men and women can do when they fear no evil.
Unfortunately, and despite anguished appeals to the West, which went unheeded - to the eternal shame of the Western democracies, for whom this seems an ingrained habit - the Soviet gangsters returned in early November and crushed free Hungary.
Inevitably, refugees from the terror and the unbearable loss of freedom, by the thousands, poured across borders into Austria, and other European countries. Eventually, many would go to the United States. And even to Cuba...where, tragically, the same kind of evil they had escaped would catch up with them in less than three years. Because, even as these tragic moments were taking place, seemingly so far away from Havana, other godless men were plotting and preparing to bring their communist contagion to Cuba, from the safety of their Mexican lair. And their evil seed would be planted on a little beach in Oriente province, December 2, 1956; another turning point in that agitated and fateful year.
Before continuing, credit must be given where credit is due. The photographs of the Hungarian uprising are from the Hungary 1956 portal, sponsored by The American Hungarian Federation, at www.hungary1956.com - please take the time to visit the site and learn about those fateful events. All of us could use knowing a little more about what it takes to be free and how to be fearless in the pursuit of liberty.
And here is a curious thing that happened to your author, related to these matters, although at the time, given childish innocence and naivete about the ways of the world, he could not have grasped the significance of the signs of the times to come.
One afternoon when he happily played with his friends in the gardens of the Focsa building, as he best recalls, sometime after his eigth birthday in 1958, the boy found an unusual piece of paper near the children's pool. Unfortunately, the document was almost immediately discarded, or perhaps given to some playmate who clamored to examine it; cannot say for sure. Even to that eight-year-old however, the headline with its imagery, printed on cheap, newsprint-quality paper, was disturbing.
(Partial view, gardens, Focsa Building - from Progressive Architecture, April 1957 - pg 122; I actually found the pamphlet in the area on the other side of the building, here blocked from view)
Here is a partial reconstruction, limited in accuracy perhaps by the relentless passage of time and erosion of memory...
I say "partial reconstruction," because obviously there was text - and unfortunately, not being blessed with photo-quality memory, cannot quote it verbatim; will tell you the message had to do with the terroristic, bloody strangling of the Hungarian uprising, denouncing communism and the Soviet Union, and asking the world to support the Hungarian people in their struggle against what I call nazi-communism. Because it is all the same - I saw somewhere written once, and unfortunately cannot provide attribution, that the only difference between nazis and communists was: the nazis killed you quicker.
Time has not erased what I felt when first seeing that headline in the pamphlet. The red hand image was unsettling and disturbing; a hand covered in blood. A simple graphic which said much. How many of these pamphlets were passed out in Havana, in Cuba? Did people read them? If they read them, did they understand? "It can't happen here." The headline said it all, for those who wanted to understand: "I, a Hungarian, am warning you about the bloody Red Hand."
Ah, but even as the little boy examined the disturbing, unsettling image and read the words, trying to understand what it all meant, a red hand was already starting to close its bloody fingers on Cuba.
This disturbing, unsettling image, courtesy of therealcuba.com shows the Red Hand already doing its bloody work in Cuba's Sierra Maestra mountains, around the time the young man found the mysterious pamphlet and was trying to make sense of it.
And the Red Hand came to Havana. Some who saw the signs, understood the significance, as illustrated by this anecdote from my good childhood friend and Baldor classmate Carlos B, now shared with you.
"My father had a medical laboratory in Havana. The day after castro gave his triumphal speech at Camp Columbia, the one in which the doves flew around and conveniently perched on his shoulders, one of my father's employees, a woman originally from Poland, came into his office and offered her resignation. She was a good employee. My father was shocked. 'What is wrong?,' he asked her. 'Doctor,' she said, 'last night when I watched that man speak and saw the doves land on his shoulders, I realized this was communism. I had seen that trickery before in my country, in other places. I am leaving Cuba now.' And she left right away," said Carlos B.
This wise woman knew the Red Hand...
And Cubans too, like Caribbean Hungarians, started leaving their country, to keep the fingers of the Red Hand from closing around their and their children's necks. The Quirogas joined the exodus, and now it has been 46 years.
Some point fingers and state, accusingly: "But why did you not stay and fight?" We grant you - we are not heroes. But some DID fight; there were some heroes, many actually, and what makes their courage all the more incredible is that they fought without hope of help from those who should have given them some. Did you know of the Cuban armed resistance, in effect a civil war, which began in 1959 and did not end until late 1966? You must not have heard about the Escambray fighters, men and women of extraordinary courage. Understand, the battle was not just fought in the Escambray mountains, but the Escambray became the focus of the resistance against the Red Hand.
(www.latinamericanstudies.org-"Anti Castro Guerrillas 1959-1964)
Men like these, and women too, fighting desperately with little food, few weapons, scarce ammunition. Yet they held the Red Hand at bay for seven years. As with the Hungarians, their appeals to the West, to Uncle Sam, went unheeded. They did not want others doing the fighting and dying for Cuba - it was simply a matter of Churchillian logic: "Give us the tools, and we will do the job." No one listened. And the Red Hand finally strangled their heroic and noble gesture.
Fifty years after the fateful events of October-November 1956, the Hungarian people are finally free. Some might say their freedom is not perfect. Nevertheless, they enjoy liberties undreamed of under the yoke of the Red Hand. Cuba still suffers - the grip of the bloody, dying vampire hand seems so hard to shake. Far be it for me to advocate shaking off the brutal grip with brutal and bloody violence. Cuba has seen enough of that since 1959. A peaceful solution is possible; the ruling powers in Havana should examine their souls and do the right thing. "Let my people go!" Release them from the grip of the Red Hand. Do not be afraid!