Monday, July 27, 2009

Bela Kiraly

Bela Kiraly


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Béla Király (14 April 1912 - 4 July 2009)

Király, who became the general who commanded the revolutionary forces in the Hungarian uprising of 1956, died at the age of 97. He had been emeritus professor of history at Brooklyn Collage, having taught there from 1964 to 1982.

Major General Király in his various obituaries is not cited as a member of any of the organized religions.

On 23 July 2009, he was buried with military honors in Budapest. Speaking at a ceremony prior to the burial Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai said that Kiraly endorsed clear and fair principles he had followed throughout nine decades and had served the Hungarian cause while living in emigration after the revolution.

Kiraly graduated from the Budapest Military Academy in 1942, and fought in the Second World War. Promoted to general in 1950, he became commander of the Military Academy. A year later, however, he was sentenced to death, later mitigated to life imprisonment, under a trumped-up charge of conspiracy against the state.

After the 1956 uprising he fled to Austria and later emigrated to the United States, where he lectured at universities. He worked as a military historian and wrote several volumes during the decades of emigration.

In 1989 Kiraly returned to Hungary and to become one of the speakers at the reburial ceremony of Imre Nagy, prime minister in 1956, and his associates executed in 1958.

From 1990 to 1994 Kiraly was an independent member of Hungary's first freely elected post-communist Parliament.


Upon his death, the former major general who was considered a folk hero in Hungary received recognition in various worldwide obituaries:

Associated Press

The Economist

The Guardian

The Independent

JTA, Global News Service of the Jewish People

The New York Times

Osa Archivum

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

San Francisco Chronicle

The Telegraph


Students' Comments

Dennis Middlebrooks, Brooklyn, New York

Fellow members of the Civil War forum may have read of the recent passing of Bela Kiraly at age 97 in Hungary. He was the general in command of the Hungarian forces in Budapest during the 1956 uprising against the Soviets. After he fled under a death sentence, he came to the USA, earned his Ph. D. at Columbia University, and taught a course in military history at Brooklyn College for many years before returning to Hungary after the collapse of communism. He was a prominent figure in the Hungarian government right up until his death.
I had the privilege of taking Kiraly's course as an undergraduate at Brooklyn College back in 1972 and as I recall, he was a strong admirer of Lee and Jackson. He used the battle of Chancellorsville as one of his examples of brilliant tactics, and had a map of the battlefield with troop movements hung on the blackboard. Best history course I ever took.

Norm Scott describes a memorable evening with his former history teacher at Brooklyn College

Kiraly's hero was Imre Nagy, the Hungarian leader, who was executed not long after the revolution, and his eyes misted just a bit when talking about Nagy. Kiraly swore he would not set foot in Hungary again until Nagy was given an honored place of burial and so it was done.
I asked him what he thought of the current demos, from what I read, expecting he might offer them some support since the party in power they were criticizing had communist influences. "They are right wing agitators," he said, "not trying to make the situation more democratic. Democracy is what is important." And that was the essence of Bela Kiraly. Neither pro or anti communist, but pro-democracy.

Marvin L. Sussman, Brooklyn College '68

As a science major, history had been a required course for me. Professor Kiraly made history come alive. After I graduated, we remained in contact for many years. Bela Kiraly has had many careers, soldier, general, commander, teacher, writer, and statesman - who better to teach world history of the 20th Century than someone who literally wrote it?

1 comment:

Zitlife said...

Your story about knowing, studying with and then remeeting Bela Kiraly so many decades later is one of the MOST affecting pieces that has ever appeared on Ed Notes.

How beautifully and touchingly you conveyed your relationship with this great man and Twentieth century Icon for Democracy and War Hero.

Bela Kiraly comes from a long line of bigger than life heroes I no longer see in this world. I also could speak of some of the great Heroes I was privileged to study under and know well, on an intimate basis over the past decades. But those stories should be reserved for another time and place.

For the immediate "now" Bela Kiraly, courageous General, Humanitarian, member of the "Righteous Among Nations" at Yad Vashem, and Friend to you and so many tens of thousands of others for almost a full Century- this is the time to honor and remember this remarkable Human Being.