Hungarian Emigration after the 1956 Revolution

Sarah Saiz Class of 2010

This summer I was lucky enough to receive the Evalyn Clark Travel Fellowship from Vassar’s History Department. With the fellowship, I was able to do research for my senior history thesis at the (OSA) Open Society Archives in Budapest, Hungary for about three weeks. My original thesis topic was concerning the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 or more specifically I was planning on focusing on Radio Free Europe’s role in the revolution and whether or not the Hungarian’s who were revolting against communism believed that there was support from the US of this revolution and if there were any plans for helping the Hungarian Revolution in the United States.

I chose the Open Society Archives to research my thesis, especially for primary sources, because it which saves, processes and makes publicly available the materials of the Research Institute of the legendary “enemy” radios: Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. OSA’s collection has since expanded to become one of the largest archives on communism and the Cold War, with one of the most significant human rights materials collection in the region. On the topic of Hungary, the OSA has a special Hungarian unit that includes materials such as press clippings, news agency releases, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty research papers and background analyses, information items, index cards, samizdat and émigré publications, posters, leaflets, photo negatives and prints, and audiotapes. Also included in the Hungarian Unit are sources originating from unofficial and non-public but usually reliable sources (interviews with refugees, escapees, and dissidents). And probably the most important factor for me, seeing as how I don’t actually know any Hungarian, was that these archives include sources that were originally in English and/or that have been translated into English and is free and open to all.

Unfortunately, after I got there I realized that while the OSA archive contains the information files and investigative reports compiled by Radio Free Europe, it did not have a lot of information about the working and role of the radio station itself. That information ironically enough was located back in my home state of California at Stanford University. Although the mix-up was at first discouraging, I did not let it bring me down. Instead, I remembered what my advisor Professor Pohl had said to me before I left; that I should not be too committed to my original ideas when I got to the archive because I would most likely find something else there that would interest me greatly and that I would not have originally thought of writing about. Luckily for me, this did happen on my first day of research at the archive. I ran across an interesting informational report about flyers being posted in Hungarian consulates abroad advertising return passports for their exiled community. This one report captured my attention and became the spark that my new direction of research, to investigate about Hungarian emigration after the 1956 revolution, and more specifically what attempts were made on the part of the government to reach out to their refugees.

I am extremely grateful for the opportunity for research afforded to me by the Evalyn Clark Travel Fellowship. Without it, I would not have had the unique opportunity to research at such a great source of information as the OSA archive, that provided me with the inspiration for my topic, primary sources, and with what would have been extremely hard to find, sources and information in English. The fellowship was also able to provide me with the useful experience at doing serious research at an archive. The research I have done with the help of the Evalyn Clark Travel Fellowship, not only gave me rich and diverse sources of information for my thesis, but it allowed me to have a strong center around which I can build and understand my topic.