Hungarian Heroes: Géza Péch

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  • 2018. August 16.

He never held a gun, but volunteered to be an ambulance driver in order to help those in need during the revolution. After its fall he acted as a liaison for the resistance, for which he was arrested and sentenced to death. Géza Péch was a courageous man, he was a Hungarian hero.

The Revolutionary Workers’-Peasants’ Government of Hungary put in power by the support of Soviet bayonets was threatened by anyone who inspired trust and respect by their actions and behaviour during the days of the revolution and war of independence and was able to inspire others to strive for a common goal.

Géza Péch, a volunteer ambulance driver and underground freedom fighter was one of those people.

Péch was born on 7 May in Budapest with the name Géza Eckhardt. He lost his parents as a young child, so he was brought up by his sister and her husband, Zoltán Péch, a secondary school teacher. He studied at the evening classes of the University of Technology, and at the time of the revolution in 1956 he was working as a skilled plant engineer at the Ikarus Bodywork and Vehicle Factory. He started a family, but his marriage went sideways: the constant fighting resulted in divorce and he could not come to terms with losing his child who stayed with the mother. The young father was putting all his energy in his work and studies, and the revolution found him in that situation.

After the first shots were fired on 23 October 1956 and Péch saw how people were trying to find shelters from the tanks in doorways, and the bitter memories of the Soviet occupation after the First World War came rushing back to him. The next they he volunteered to be an ambulance driver in the Péterfy Sándor Street Hospital in District 7, in order to be able to help his fellow men. There was a desperate need for the heroic and coordinated work of doctors, nurses and paramedics in October, but even more so after the Soviet attack on 4 November. The Péterfy Hospital was one of the most modern ones, and the basement tunnels were being equipped at the time to ease the shortage of beds, and the newly formed workers’ council in the hospital initiated the setup of a voluntary paramedic team. They received cars from nearby garages in order to replace the useless, bullet-riddled ambulances. Although the paramedic work was not without danger, the drivers and orderlies were recruited from the street.

Géza Páth never held a gun; his actions were guided by good will and benevolence. His gentle attitude and courage is remembered today: “He was carrying the wounded relentlessly with no consideration of himself. There were countless bullet holes on his hurriedly equipped car with a Red Cross banner on it. One time he was shot, too. He was hit on one of his arms by a succession of shots from a Soviet tank. He steered the car with one hand and took the wounded to the hospital. At one of the entrances [...] he told the orderlies: take the wounded out! He himself did not make a move. A bit later he asked them to take him out of the car as well. The orderlies thought he was joking”  József Schimmer recalls.

The Péterfy Hospital was considered to be the “hospital of the revolution”, but after the fall of the armed resistance, the underground paper ‘Élünk’ [We Are Alive] started from here. Moreover, the silent protest on 23 November was initiated by young people gathering in the hospital as well as another peaceful protest with hundreds of women on 4 December. All these initiatives demonstrate a surviving political resistance with considerable power in opposition of the Kádár-government, which responded more and more aggressively and severely to any hostile activity. Although Géza Péch did not get involved in the fights using weapons, he did have very clear ideas about what was going on around him and why he was participating the way he did: like so many others, he hoped for some sequel and that some of the rightful demands could be realized. Some groups of resistants were organized throughout the country  in Debrecen, Pécs, Sopron and Székesfehérvár, moreover, organizations of immigrants and revolutionists were mushrooming in Vienna, who firmly believed that the resistance in Hungary could be reunited. The messengers were sent home in order to make connections and they found Péch as well. He made a hard decision after a couple of discussions: he himself fled to Vienna, so that the groups of resistance at home and abroad could harmonize their goals and possibilities  however, there were huge gaps between expectations and reality.

Péch was arrested on 10 February 1957 at the quay of Gönyű, as he was going home. Under the poor conditions of the detention on remand he was trying to make his and his associates’ actions appear as insignificant as possible. His defence strategy was soon destroyed by a “friend” (an undercover agent) who was put next to him as a cell mate. This man was Zoltán Harangi, who was thought to be a “state security spy” by the freedom fighters in Péterfy Hospital and whose life was saved by Péch, because he convinced the others that Harangi was a political prisoner and was only confused due to shell shock. It is one of life’s ironies that Harangi had been one of the most efficient informers of the political police under the alias “Kecskeméti” for decades. Géza Péch was a primary suspect and he was found guilty in the charges of conspiracy and mutiny: he was made to appear as the leader of a particularly dangerous movement, financed and managed by a western secret service and he was sentenced to death. He was executed on 22 April 1958 with three of his associates. Their case is an example of retaliation for the persistence and opposition to the reinstated communist establishment, rather than for their participation in the revolution.

The serial is made with the contribution of the Committee of National Remembrance.