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Hungarian refugees arriving in Austria, where they are received by the Red Cross, 1956. Photo: Red Cross / the Danish Refugee Council.

HUNGARIAN REFUGEES

1,400 Hungarians were given a welcome marked with orchestra, Danish pastry and flowers when they arrived in Denmark after the uprising against the communist regime in 1956. They were the first official refugees and perhaps the best received refugees in the history of Denmark.

The Hungarian refugees came to Denmark after the Hungary uprising that started in October 1956. Hungarian workers and students protested against the Communist Party’s tough policy and the Soviet Union’s influence in the country.

On the 4th of November the Soviet Union sent 2,500 tanks into the streets of the capital Budapest, and the opposition was brutally suppressed. About 2,000 Hungarians were killed and about 200.000, sought to the borders of Austria and Yugoslavia. 1,400 of them came to Denmark where there had previously been large protest demonstrations against the repression.

Only a few refugees had been personally persecuted and they were thus not eligible for residence permits but the Hungarians had fled from the communist Eastern bloc and were, therefore, seen as heroic freedom fighters. The Hungarian refugees were also the first major refugee population in Europe after the Second World War.

WHO WANTS TO GO TO DENMARK?

The Hungarian refugees were the first refugees officially received by Denmark. In 1954, Denmark had signed the UN Convention on Refugees’ Rights and the Danish government decided to accept 1,000 refugees from Hungary. As a result of public pressure, the number was later raised to 1,400.

The embassy in Vienna was set to ensure that the refugees came to Denmark. It quickly turned out that it was difficult to find enough refugees who wanted to go to Denmark. Most knew nothing about Denmark and many had thought of going to the United States. Only fifty volunteered.

In the loud speakers in the refugee camps, a little was read out about Denmark, including the Danish climate and the refugees were promised that in Denmark they could get a job within their profession and that they would quickly be able to travel to other countries.

RECEIVED WITH DANISH PASTRY AND MUSIC

On the night of the 30th November, “the Danica Express”, with 986 refugees on board, travelled through Europe towards the German-Danish border. In the Danish border-town of Padborg, both the Hungarian and the Danish national anthem were played as the train rolled into the platform.

A journalist from the newspaper Politiken, who stood on the platform, described the reception in the newspaper:
“Danish state railway people, policemen, customs officers and others ran forward with outstretched hands to the compartment windows to shake hands with the refugees and to offer them an honest, heartfelt welcome in Danish. A good many Danish and Hungarians let the tears flow freely.”

Elsewhere, the refugees were welcomed with flowers and cakes.

DIFFICULTIES IN LIVING UP TO THE PROMISES

Most of the Hungary refugees were young men and efforts were made to ensure that the refugees were not left unemployed. The children attended the Danish schools, the unions made special arrangements for the refugees and several daily newspapers joined forces and released the Hungarian-language newspaper Magyar Ujság, the Hungary-mail.

But Denmark in the 1950’s was a society with high unemployment and housing shortages and the Danish authorities quickly found it difficult living up to the promises of jobs and housing, which they had given the Hungarians before their departure.

Some of the 1,400 refugees chose to settle in Denmark. Many of these married Danes and settled in Copenhagen where they could be near other Hungarians. A third of the Hungary refugees travelled to other countries, particularly the U.S., and a smaller proportion returned to Hungary.

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