Bela Kiraly, 1912 - 2009
Long considered a folk hero in Hungary, Bela Kiraly is the kind of man I admire. A general in the Hungarian army, he was sentenced to death four different times for sedition, spending 4 years on death row. Paroled in 1956, he led Hungarian freedom fighters against the Soviet invasion, escaping into exile with some of his forces when they were overwhelmed.
Aside from all of his accomplishments, which include earning a Ph.D. in history from Columbia University, here is what I like about the man, and what makes him a hero to me.
He was a man of honor who stood for the honorable treatment of people. During World War Two his unit was assigned several hundred Jewish slave laborers. With the Nazis in power, rather than hand them over for transportation, he put them in uniform and made them part of his troops, saving them from certain death in the camps. He was later honored by Israel for it. Arrested by the Soviets at the war’s end and sent to Siberia with his men, he and a number of them escaped and hiked back into Hungary.
During Hungary’s attempted break-away from the Soviet bloc in 1956, he was made commanding general of the rebels while still in hospital recovering from 5 years of prison for “sedition”.
In 2006, learning that one of the Russian generals who led the 1956 invasion was still alive, he invited him to Budapest to join the 50th anniversary celebrations. When the general declined the invitation, fearing that he might be arrested, 94 year old Kiraly flew to Moscow and spent a weekend reminiscing with his former enemy.
“He will be remembered not merely as a warrior,” writes Nina Khrushcheva, “but as a humanist, the conciliator who called for no reprisals after 1989,” a liberal model for Hungarians, and for the rest of us.
We need more heroes like Bela Kiraly.
All for this post,