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Memento : Issue 30
Spring–Summer 2005 memeNto 11 after 1956 but he had no dates, no names, just the rumour and a picture. Not surprisingly, my inquiries to the Hungarian community in Melbourne drew a blank. Later we would learn that the rumour of Australia was in fact completely wrong – it was supposed to have been Austria. In light of the false rumour, the outcome of the search is even more surprising. But several more twists needed to be played out first. On 22 October 2001, the Budapest newspaper Népszabadság ran a story on the quest of Casoar and Balazs, including the famous picture. Soon after, a woman with a strong resemblance to our heroine came forward in Canada. We thought the search was over. In the end, however, she proved to be a false trail. Casoar asked me to resume the search in Australia, this time with more information. It turned out that the picture actually belonged to Russ Melcher, an American photographer who originally allowed Paris-Match to honour the late Pedrazzini with the credit. Melcher told Casoar that more pictures of the woman had appeared in the Italian magazine, Epoca, in late 1956. And there she was – named as Yutka – pictured in Austria in the 18 November edition, both alone and with a group of fellow escapees. Among the group was Katalin Sticker Havrilla who, anticipating an amnesty, was soon to return to Hungary where she was arrested, tried, then hung. At her trial, she named a Julia Sponga, aged 19, as a fellow escapee. Casoar and Balazs were convinced that Julia and Yutka were one and the same. The National Archives had previously assisted my research on Chinese cinema with its wonderful censorship records. So, I revisited the Melbourne office where a reference officer examined the photograph and took down details. She emphasised that with no Julia Sponga indexed, it was unlikely that the migration records so far classified would reveal anything. I gloomily began poring over microfilmed lists of passenger arrivals from late 1956. On 22 May 2002, the case broke. A copy of an Application for Registration by Alien Entering Australia had been located in the Archives’ collection. There was Juliana Sponga! Her birth date (29 October 1937), month of arrival In October 1956, a peak year of the Cold War, cracks were appearing behind the Russian-controlled Iron Curtain. Poland changed regimes to the displeasure of Moscow and a popular revolution erupted in Hungary. In its bloody aftermath, the Hungarian revolt collapsed under Russian tanks. Arrests, state trials and hangings followed. Many refugees fled to the West, thousands coming to Australia. On 3 December, the first batch of Hungarian refugees arrived in Sydney – there were 83 in total. Three days later, during the final week of the Olympic Games in Melbourne, punches flew between Russians and Hungarians in a water polo match (Hungary won 4–0). After the Games, 46 Hungarian Olympians remained in Australia. Throughout Europe, the photograph pictured on the opposite page became a moving emblem of the Hungarian revolution. The setting is Budapest, the date 30 October 1956, and the combatants pictured have temporarily stilled the detested secret police and Soviet troops stationed in Hungary. Credited to Jean-Pierre Pedrazzini, the photograph first appeared in Paris-Match magazine on 9 November 1956. The headline read ‘Les Héros de Budapest’. However, by the time the picture was published in November, Pedrazzini was dead and so was the revolution. Such pictures became death warrants used to identify and arrest freedom fighters. So what actually happened to the unnamed young man and woman in the foreground? Who were they? Almost half a century later, in 1999, Hungarian historian Eszter Balazs and French journalist Phil Casoar decided to find out. They were leafing through old issues of Paris-Match when they came across the photograph and resolved to track down the freedom fighters in the famous image. Unwittingly they began a search that would span three continents and last five years. The National Archives of Australia would play a pivotal role in their story. In June 2001, Casoar told me that the woman ‘perhaps’ emigrated to Australia (left) Juliana Sponga’s alien registration documents, 1961. NAA: B77, VO906400 (below) Photographer Russ Melcher eventually reclaimed the cult image of the Hungarian revolution as his. Here he is pictured holding the November 1956 issue of Paris-Match. The photograph was originally credited to Jean-Pierre Pedrazzini. Photograph by Phil Casoar