Sándor Bauer

* 21 February 1952, Budapest

† 23 January 1969, Budapest

To my parents: My dear mother and father.If I have ever been an ungrateful son, I ask for your forgiveness. I wish to live on, but the nation and the proletariat need my body, burnt to coal.Dear grandma, my beloved uncles and cousins, I send you all millions of kisses.Sanyi


On 20 January 1969, Sándor Bauer, a sixteen year-old student, poured petrol over himself and lit himself on fire on the steps of the National Museum in Budapest. He did it in support of Jan Palach's act and in protest to the occupation of Czechoslovakia and the presence of the Soviet army in Hungary.

Sándor Bauer was born on 21 February 1952 in, the capital of Hungary. He was named after his step-brother, who had been dragged away by the Soviet army at the end of WW2 and had never again been seen by his family. In 1956, Soviet tanks shelled the Bauer family's flat at the time. For political reasons, Sándor could not attend a specialized forestry high-school and studied in the end to be a car mechanic.   

He was an avid reader and enjoyed discussing politics with friends. According to János M. Rainer, a Hungarian historian who researched Bauer's protest in the archives, Sándor had an “unbalanced personality and a strong interest in the Hungarian nation and its independence.” Jan Palach’s self-immolation had a direct influence on his decision to imitate the act, as is known from a note addressed to his classmates. The note suggests that he considered himself a Leninist, perceiving the then Soviet regime as a twisted representation of the communist ideal. He wrote a second note to his closest relatives, asking them for forgiveness. The place he chose carried the same symbolic significance as Palach's place of self-immolation – the steps in front of the Museum in downtown Budapest.  

Police records state that, on 20 January 1969 at 1 p.m., he poured petrol over himself and lit himself on fire at the entrance of the museum, near a plaque dedicated to the Hungarian poet, Sándor Petöfi. Holding two Hungarian flags and running down the steps, he chanted various political slogans. Several passers-by, seeing a young man whose clothing was entirely on fire, chased after him and managed to put the fire out with their coats. According to an eyewitness, Bauer refused medical treatment and talked about the reasons that had immolated himself. He also mentioned “a Czech brother who did the same.” A crowd of around 200 to 300 people formed around the scene. At 1:20 p.m., an ambulance called by a policeman came.

Bauer, who had severe burns, was taken to a military hospital, where he was questioned by intelligence officers. On 22 January 1969, he declared that his act had been a protest against the Soviet occupation of Hungary and was immediately arrested in spite of still being in hospital. A day later, he died. The intelligence services forced Bauer’s parents to bury him quietly on 28 January 1969 and proceeded to carry out an intensive investigation of his friends, two of which were being prosecuted up until March 1969 for not having reported a crime. Bauer's personal possessions, diary, and suicide notes were confiscated. On 22 January 1969, the Hungarian press agency published a short press release stating that Bauer had had a psychological illness and that his act had not been related to politics. Using the agency’s information, the Czechoslovak media briefly commented on the case as well.

In Hungary, Sándor Bauer's act remained a public taboo until the end of the 1980s, by which time it had almost been forgotten. It was not until 1989 that the director, Zsolt Balogh, made a docudrama about him, in which he used the testimonies of eye-witnesses and Bauer’s friends. In 2001, a plaque was mounted on the place of his tragic protest, and in 2011, one Budapest street was named after him.

Bibliography: >>>

HRADILEK, Adam (ed.): Za vaši a naši svobodu. Torst – ÚSTR, Praha 2010.

EISLER, Jerzy: Polski rok 1968. Instytut Pamięci Narodowej – Komisja Ścigania Zbrodni przeciwko Narodowi Polskiemu, Warszawa 2006.

KAMIŃSKI, Łuskaz: První živá pochodeň ve východním bloku. Ryszard Siwiec (1909–1968), In: BLAŽEK, Petr – EICHLER, Patrik – JAREŠ, Jakub a kol: Jan Palach ´69. FF UK – ÚSTR – Togga, Praha 2009, s. 115–127.

Filmové dokumenty

1968, režie Zsolt Balogh, 1989, 85 min.

Smrt v plamenech 1969, režie Tamás Horváth, 2002, 26 min.