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S. Kopacsi; Key Figure in Hungarian Revolt of 1956

March 09, 2001|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

BUDAPEST, Hungary — Sandor Kopacsi, one of the leaders of the failed Hungarian revolt against Soviet domination in 1956, has died.

Kopacsi died March 2 in Toronto during a visit to his daughter, Judit, state-run radio reported. The cause of death was not revealed. Kopacsi was 78.

A longtime foe of fascism, he was also a staunch defender of Jews during World War II. As a result, he and his parents--Joseph and Ilona--later joined the ranks of the Righteous Among the Nations, a group of perhaps 5,000 Gentiles from around the world recognized by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, for having risked their lives to rescue Jews from the Nazis.

Born on March 5, 1922, in Miskolc, an industrial town in eastern Hungary, Kopacsi was the son of a Communist metalworker. An early advocate of socialist causes, Kopacsi recalled listening to Moscow Radio at the age of 5. At 15, he was an active participant in anti-fascist efforts. He was shot in the leg by fascists while distributing pamphlets attacking the local fascist party. After the Nazis occupied Hungary in 1944, Kopacsi joined the resistance.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday March 13, 2001 Home Edition Metro Part B Page 6 Metro Desk 1 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
Kopacsi obituary--Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Memorial, recognizes more than 18,000 people as righteous Gentiles for saving Jews from the Nazis. An incorrect number was reported in the March 9 obituary of Sandor Kopacsi.

As a member of the movement, he and his family sheltered seven Jews and seven political prisoners by hiding them in the cellar of a house near the forest where the Kopacsis raised pigs. The 14 remained secluded until December 1944, when Russian troops liberated the region.

After the war, a Communist regime was installed in Hungary and Kopacsi embraced it. He and other members of what had been the Mokan resistance group became the vanguard of the emerging law enforcement apparatus. Kopacsi rose steadily through the ranks to become the chief of police in Budapest by 1952.

But when the uprising against Soviet rule broke out in 1956, he sided with the rebels and turned police headquarters into one of the movement's strongholds.

"Kopacsi recognized the democratic nature of the movement and came over to the side of the forces of change," said Bela Kiraly, a retired general and one of the leaders of the revolt.

Kopacsi was arrested in November 1956 after the Soviet Union dispatched tanks to the streets of Budapest to suppress the uprising. While other leaders of the revolt were executed, Kopacsi was sentenced to life in prison. He served seven years before being released under a general amnesty in 1963.

He studied law after his release from prison, graduating with top honors, but wasn't allowed to practice. Kopacsi worked in a factory and his family was continually harassed for his activities against the Communist state. At the age of 14, his daughter tried to commit suicide.

In 1975, Kopacsi and his wife, Ibolya, were allowed to immigrate to Canada to join their daughter, who had left Hungary earlier with friends. He found work as a janitor in Toronto and seemed content with his life. Four years later, his memoir of the revolt, "In the Name of the Working Class," was published. It was translated into eight languages.

Kopacsi and his wife returned to Hungary in 1990, settling in a modest apartment. A government tribunal in the post-Communist state cleared him of all charges.

His wife and daughter survive him.

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