Hungary '56 Reunion and Conference Bard
Hungary '56 Reunion and Conference



February 15-17, 2007

Bard Celebrates the More Than 300 Student Refugee Freedom Fighters from the 1956 Hungarian Revolution Who Found a Haven in Annandale

From Thursday, February 15, through Saturday, February 17, 2007, Bard College celebrates the more than 300 Hungarian freedom fighter refugees who arrived on the Annandale-on-Hudson campus beginning in December 1956, fresh from the Hungarian Revolution. To commemorate their fight for freedom and determination to become productive members of their new homeland, Bard is hosting an alumni/ae reunion for these students, their families, and faculty members. In conjunction with the reunion, Bard is presenting an international conference, "The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and After: Impact and Contributions."

"We will look at the events of 1956 in a wide perspective—not just who shot whom and when—but will deal with the aftermath of the revolution, among other aspects," explains László Bitó '60, orientation program alumnus and chairman of the reunion organizing committee. "The fate of the almost 200,000 Hungarian refugees is another subject that will be examined. We will take a look at the various countries we went to, what those countries did for us, and what we did for our adopted homes. We would like to assess the contributions that this unique group made, without forgetting about expressing our thanks to those who helped get us started." Bitó was a Hungarian freedom fighter and refugee student who, after the Language and Orientation Course at Bard, received a Bard scholarship and stayed on as a premed science major, graduating with the class of 1960.

"Bard became a way station for many young people fleeing Hungary, who wished to enter the American university system," says Leon Botstein, President of Bard College. "Bard's initiative was unusual, if not extraordinary. It coheres with what we have continued to do and reflects our current commitments in the area of human rights."

On December 22, 1956, during Bard's Winter Field Period, the first of the Hungarian freedom fighter refugees arrived in Annandale, while the Bard students were mostly absent from campus. The freedom fighters had to flee Hungary when their Revolution against Communist dictatorship was crushed in November 1956. The College provided orientation to the United States for the Hungarian freedom fighters as well as English language instruction.

The refugee students used their time well at Bard to begin to adapt to what, for most, would become their new country. James Case, then President of Bard College, was quoted in a January 1957 article in the New York Times, saying, "They are a magnificent group. You have to hear them sing and watch them in the classrooms to appreciate this. They are eager to learn . . . [and] have forced us to pick up the pace." The students ranged in age from 15 to 35 and were taught by 15 Bard faculty members.

Fifty years later, Bard is inviting all the alumni/ae of the program to campus for a reunion. The College seeks to celebrate their time here and to provide an opportunity for them to share their memories of the events of the Revolution and their earliest memories in the United States with each other and with current students, and faculty, as well as with members of the Hudson Valley community who helped them in many ways during their stay at Bard.

Coinciding with the reunion, Bard is holding an international conference, "The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and After: Impact and Contributions." The conference reconsiders the Hungarian revolution, its impact on the world and on the freedom fighters' future lives. The two-and-a-half-day event includes lectures, panel discussions, films, concerts, and informal discussions with faculty and students.

Speakers include Jonathan Becker, director of Global and International Studies Program and associate professor of political studies at Bard, author of Soviet and Russian Press Coverage of the United States: Press, Politics, and Identity in Transition; Csaba Békés, author of The 1956 Hungarian Revolution and World Politics and Cold War, Détente and the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and visiting scholar of history at New York University; László Bitó, author and professor of ocular physiology at Columbia University, who developed Xalatan, an innovative drug for the treatment of glaucoma; Leon Botstein, President of Bard College; Malcolm Bilson '56, musician at the forefront of the period-instrument movement for more than 30 years and Frederick J. Whiton Professor of Music, Emeritus, at Cornell University; Ian Buruma, Henry R. Luce Professor of Human Rights and Journalism at Bard, and author of Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo Van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance and Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of its Enemies; Tibor Frank, professor of history at the Department of American Studies and director of the School of English and American Studies at Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary; Miklós Haraszti, Hungarian poet, songmaker, essayist, editor, journalist, writer, and one of the founders of the Hungarian Democratic Opposition Movement; Peter Kenez, author of Hungary from the Nazis to the Soviets: The Establishment of the Communist Regime in Hungary, 1944–1948 and A History of the Soviet Union from the Beginning to the End, and professor of history, University of California, Santa Cruz; David Kettler, research professor in social studies, Bard College; Erwin Levold, chief archivist, Rockefeller Archive Center; Béla G. Lipták, world-renowned for his work in compiling comprehensive technical information and editor of Instrument Engineers Handbook; Norman Manea, Francis Flournoy Professor of European Studies and Culture and writer in residence at Bard, author of more than 14 volumes of fiction and essays including The Hooligan's Return; István Rév, author of Retroactive Justice, Prehistories of Postcommunism, and Economic and Social History of Hungary in the Period of "Socialism," history professor at Central European University and director of Open Society Archives.

For further information and to register for the reunion and conference, contact the organizers at

The conference is free and open to the public.