Around 200 Hungarian immigrants found refuge in Blackpool after fleeing their home country during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, in which civilians rose up against Soviet Union soldiers who had occupied the country since the Second World War. Civilians formed militias to fight against the Red Army, and held out for six months until Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest.
In a show of gratitude to the town, many of the Hungarians gave a spectacular performance of theatre, music and opera in the Winter Gardens in 1957, raising money for the Mayor of Blackpool’s charity fund.
Today, they returned to the Winter Gardens to unveil a plaque commemorating Blackpool's place in Hungarian history, serving as a permanent reminder of the friendships formed during those difficult years.
Speaking at the event was Andrew Zsigmond, 86, who arrived in Blackpool in 1957 after escaping to Bosnia and being recruited there to work as a coal miner in England.
He said: "As a 21-year-old I wanted to do two things in my life. One was to become a doctor nd the other one was to sing opera. This might be a bit controverisl how can you do bpoth but i was doing well i was halfway throughmy medical course and at the same time I was singing for semi-professional opera companies. But 65 years ago a miracle happened, when a small nation took arms against the mightiest grand power in the world, and by jove we gave them an uppercut which we have never forgotten to this day.
"But you can imagine the immense power we had to fight. Sadly, before long, we were overwhelmed. Some of us were lucky because because we were able to leave. After three days of marching through mud and slush and snow, on Janurary 4 1957 we arrived in Bosnia, where we were put in a refugee camp. Here in the refugee camp a miracle happened. A London double decker bus arrived and on the sign where normally the adverts are, there was a sign: 'come and be a coal miner in Britain'.
"It took us three days to muster up the courage to change from opera and medicine to become a coal miner, but three days was enough to convince us and we signed on the dotted line. And my God, things moved fast. We were taken by bus to Austria, to Vienna, where we were put on a train and then onto a boat, and we arrived in London on January 13 1957. We spent the night in London and the next day there was a special train waiting for us to take us to Blackpool.
"From that carnage we left just a few days before, we arrived in this paradise. We were sent into various boarding houses; I stayed at 18 Albert road where I spent last night in the same room where I slept that day.
"Our first weekly wages, we decided to spend it on the female population of Blackpool, and we ended up in the ballroom where we danced with the band. It was a culture shock, as you can imagine."
Mr Zsigmond remained in Blackpool for two months before going to work in the mines in Barnsley, Yorkshire. A former medical student, he soon gained a place at Liverpool University, and fulfilled his dream of becoming a doctor in 1961. He was later made an 'honorary scouser' in recognition of his contribution to the city.
He added: "Thank you very much, Blackpool, for having us for two and a half months. We were welcomed, we were celebrated and we tried to give back something with a concert in the end."
The plaque, located in the Winter Gardens' main corridor, was unveiled by Dr. Csaba Balogh, Hungary's State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. He said: “We are here to express our deepest appreciation to you, the town of Blackpool and the United Kingdom for accommodating more than twenty thousand Hungarians, who had to emigrate after the 1956 revolution was crushed. Hundreds of them were given shelter and opportunity here in Blackpool and as a special expression of their gratitude, they gave a spectacular variety show supporting the Mayor of Blackpool’s charity fund.
"We are here today to reinforce that special 'thank you' on the 100-year anniversary of the establishment of the diplomatic relations between Hungary and the UK.”
Blackpool Mayor coun Amy Cross said: “As Mayor of Blackpool, I’m delighted to be able to host this unveiling and welcome guests, including State Secretary Balogh, to Blackpool to remember this historic act of friendship.
"As the Chair of the Winters Gardens board, who operate the Winter Gardens for the Council, I’m also delighted that we can commemorate and shine a light on a special moment for both Blackpool and the Winter Gardens itself."