On this day in 1956, a group of students in Soviet-occupied Hungary took a list of demands they had written out the previous night and met at the statue of a national hero in Budapest.
By the end of the day, 200,000 people had joined the demonstration, which in the following days would spiral into violence and devastation. The protestors called for the immediate withdrawal of Soviet troops, shouting, "Russians go home!" while simultaneously condemning the State Protection Agency, Hungary's secret police working in cahoots with the Soviets.
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Within hours, Erno Gero, Hungary's Stalinist leader, sent troops in to quell the demonstration, kicking off a full-scale, violent revolution. An article in the Nov. 12, 1956 issue of LIFE magazine described the uprising in detail:
Rebel patriots stormed recklessly toward freedom, Communist henchmen reaped the frightful wrath they had sowed. The most hotly hated of the rebels’ targets were the Soviet-controlled Hungarian secret police. These were cut down as ruthlessly as they themselves had murdered countless anti-communists. Soviet occupation troops felt the national fury. Daredevil teenagers burned up their tanks with “Molotov cocktails” until Soviet columns evacuated Budapest, leaving their dead behind them. Most of the Hungarian army, siding with the rebels, stood off Soviet troops throughout the country. Workers not engaged in the fighting went out on a general strike against Communism.
Yet as swiftly and forcefully as the revolution began, so it ended after a mere three weeks. Despite fledgling success, the rebels quickly found themselves confronted by a fierce counter-insurgence, and by Nov. 10 the Soviets had overcome the rebels and regained control. Close to 3,000 Hungarians lost their lives in the violence; nearly 200,000 fled the country. Nonetheless, the revolution had kicked off what would become a worldwide, four-decade-long struggle against the Iron Curtain, ultimately ending on Nov. 9, 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Captured by photojournalist Michael Rougier these photos tell the harrowing story of a people who "will never be slaves" and whose efforts would create ripples for decades to come. Read more and see the full gallery at LIFE.com.