1956-os Intézet - Oral History Archívum
A small group of devoted researchers began to do interviews in 1981 with people who had been active in the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. The aim of people who did the interviews was to reveal, by giving people chances to share personal memories, the real story of this decisive set of events, which were taboo under the Kádár regime, which had violently suppressed the revolution and which was eager to make up for its lack legitimacy in the eyes of the population by spreading false propaganda. These early interviews later served as the core collection of the Oral History Archives, which was founded in Budapest in 1985.
Budapest Dohány utca 74, Hungary 1074
- 1956-os Intézet - Oral History Archívum
The Oral History Archives (OHA) of the 1956 Research Institute, Budapest preserves today in its holdings some 1,200 historical interviews. In 1981, András Hegedűs B. and Gyula Kozák began to do interviews with prominent participants in or witnesses to the 1956 Hungarian revolution. They initiated a series of roundtable talks on 1956 which were recorded (sound recordings were made only, not video recordings) and which went on for several months in 1981–1982 with the following participants: economist and politician Ferenc Donáth, writer and translator Árpád Göncz, educator Alíz Halda, economist and sociologist András Hegedűs B., historian György Litván, engineer Imre Mécs, psychologist Ferenc Mérei, toolmaker Sándor Rácz, press historian and politician Miklós Vásárhelyi, all of whom had been participants in the 1956 Hungarian revolution. Participants also included writer and sociographer Zsolt Csalog, sociologist Gyula Kozák, and historian Miklós Szabó as interviewers. At the same time, individual life interviews also began to be made not only with one-time revolutionary activists, but also with prominent individuals of the previous period in Hungary or abroad (i.e. in the neighboring countries or in countries in the West to which they had emigrated).
Aid materials for a sociological research project on leaders ran by the Economic Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 1981–1985 constitute a special group of interviews. The interviewees included people who at the time were middle-level managers in the country’s economic sphere. There were also many who previously had held important positions either as politicians or as technical and business managers following 1956. As a result of this research project, which was four years long, a total of 156 life interviews were completed under the guidance of András Hegedűs B. and Gyula Kozák. The team of interviewers was recruited mostly from among young economists who focused their inquiry mainly on leaders’ experiences of the 1968 management reforms and the subsequent trends in the state socialist economies, but they were nevertheless interested in the family backgrounds or the personal career ambitions of the interviewees.
Interviews covering someone’s whole life were preferred from the outset by OHA. The average duration of the conversations recorded by sound recorders was 8–12 hours long and took 3 or 4 sessions to be completed. Interviewers were chosen from among those who were well acquainted with the main subject matter and actors covered in the interview to be made. OHA beforehand always provides the interviewers with basic sociological as well as methodological guidelines on how to conduct the conversations. The course of questions and answers along the interview follows chronological order. It is always the discretional right of the interviewee to decide on the availability of his or her interview. (Closed to the public–researchable–free to be published, etc.) The contract is signed by all partners (the interviewee, the interviewer, and OHA) as a basic legal document which must include these conditions properly.
The structure of OHA-interviews in most cases consists of three major parts: covering biographical as well as public events before, during, and after the 1956 Hungarian revolution. Thus, the main thematics of personal memoirs include family histories, childhood histories, socialization, the early stage of one’s professional career, then–as detailed as possible–the experiences of 1956 and the post-revolutionary period up until the present day: reprisals, prison years, emigration, changes in family life, restart of professional career, 1989, etc.
In the archival holding of OHA the transcribed interviews are bound in folders of different colors: red, yellow, or green, indicating different levels of accessibility: “closed to the public”–“for research use only”–“free to be published.” The transcribed versions of the sound recordings are added by a registration page containing the most important data of the interview, a copy of the contract with the conditions of research use, and publicity together with an index of names and attachments (personal documents, photos, etc). The list of all OHA interviews with annotations is also available online.
OHA, though it did not declare this before 1989, preferred to do oral history interviews with active participants in the 1956 revolution from the outset. However, as far as the staff was concerned, 1956 was only one event—if perhaps the most decisive—in a much broader historical period which began in 1945 and ended in 1990. Therefore, in time the OHA staff wished to enlarge the circles of interviewees beyond the revolutionary actors and the victims of reprisals to include, when the chance came along, people who were or had been in power too. This resulted in a broad and complex archival holding of interviews with many different groups: the active participants in the 1956 Revolution, communist leaders and intellectuals who revolted against the Stalinist dictatorship, volunteer freedom fights, teenage boys, soldiers who sided with the revolutionaries, former members of the workers’ councils and other revolutionary bodies, local leaders, students, and intellectuals of the resistance movement, prominent writers and journalists who had remained in Hungary and who were often harrassed or who had been imprisoned for years, emigrants who had fled to the West, etc.After 1990, interviews continued to be done in OHA as a part and a special holding of the 1956 Research Institute, which pursued ever newer lines of research and increasingly varied and subtle research projects. The scope of interviewees was enlarged with new groups, such as the Transylvanian Hungarians, who, as peaceful demonstrators who had expressed their support of the 1956 revolution, suffered massive imprisonment in Romania until 1964. Another characteristic example of new research projects is the series of interviews conducted in the period between 1994and 1998 with the children of revolutionaries (“The Second Generation of ’56-ers”), which finally resulted in 43 completed oral history interviews.
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- Huhák, Heléna
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