World Leaders Herald Bravery of Hungarian Revolution
Applauded by an influential social and diplomat contingent celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution, the Ambassador of Hungary to the United States, Dr. Réka Szemerkényi hosted a black-tie gala dinner to honor the bravery and the values of the young Hungarian freedom fighters of 1956.
The theme of the Sunday night event was underscored by “The October Storm of 1956,” a program of Csilla Szentpéteri, Hungarian concert pianist and composer. The concert was commissioned to commemorate the 60th anniversary. As the 10-member orchestra played onstage, large screens showed historical footage of Hungarians marching in the streets and in combat with the Russians.
“The revolution of 1956 was the expression of the Hungarian people’s desire for freedom and democracy,” said the Hungarian ambassador.
“It began and symbolized a movement in Eastern Europe, which eventually brought an end to Soviet occupation in this region and led to the fall of the Iron Curtain. Freedom and democracy are the central pillars of the U.S. and of the Hungarian-American relations rebuilt after 1990, which we deeply treasure.”
Among the 400 gala attendees were many who experienced the revolution up close or were decision-makers in the U.S. government during those times. Leaders included Washington’s governmental, diplomatic, corporate, and societal segments of the community, as well as prominent Hungarians who made an impact on American life.
Former New York State Governor George E. Pataki said that he remembers long ago watching the” heroes of the 1956” fight for freedom on a black and white television. “Today we honor you,” he said of the heroes.
The Hon. Dr. Emery Imre Tóth, who was a member of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution Government, and The Hon. Steven F. Udvar-Házy, a 1956 Hungarian Refugee, recalled the bloodshed of the students who had the bravery to stand up to the Russian military. As only a boy of 10, Udvar-Házy said all he could do was throw stones at the tanks. In America, he created a fortune through leasing aircraft. His $66 million gift made possible the Air and Space Museum's annex at Dulles Airport, named for him.
The gala, at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium, benefits the Hungarian American Cultural Association, which supports high-level Hungarian cultural events across the USA. To highlight the success of the revolution, a series of events also were held around Washington, including at the embassy, the Pentagon, National Defense University, the Capitol, and at a prominent plaza in downtown D.C.
Jeh Johnson, secretary of Homeland Security, noted the current dilemma of how to deal with the thousands of migrant refugees coming from the Middle East. In Hungary as well as in the United States, he said there must be a “balance between our security and our compassion.”
Master of ceremonies was Ari Fleischer, himself of Hungarian descent. As a young boy, Fleischer recalled with a chuckle that he would listen as his grandmother and mother spoke in Hungarian, and that sometimes the discussion was about his behavior.
As a light aside, Fleischer responded to Johnson’s earlier quip on how much he and Johnson physically look like twin brothers. “Where were you in every given day when I would have liked to send you in as press secretary,” joked Fleischer. Fleischer was press secretary for President George W. Bush.
Among those attending were Thomas Peterffy, inventor of online trading; Charles and Peter Gogolak of Washington Redskins and New York Giants place-kicking renown, respectively; and Adrienne Vittadini of her eponymous fashion empire.
Other notables included Hungarian Minister of National Development Dr. Miklós Seszták; Congressman Dennis Ross; Congresswoman Debbie Dingell; U.S. Ambassador to Hungary Colleen Bell; philanthropists Calvin Cafritz and Mary V. Mochary; songwriter Desmond Child; Chairman of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice Annette Lantos; The Hon. Aniko Gaal Schott and Nash Whitney Schott, Brigadier General (Ret.) Peter Zwack and the ambassadors of more than a dozen countries.