In 1956 he was Colonel and commander of an armoured division stationed in Budapest. He was sent to suppress the rebellion, but on making contact with the insurgents during the Hungarian Uprising he decided to join them, helping to defend the Kilian Barracks. He was the most prominent member of the Hungarian military to change sides.
As the chief military presence on the insurgents' side he came into contact with the new government, and enjoyed a rapid promotion from Colonel to General, and on 29 October was appointed Minister of Defense. On 3 November he went to Tököl, located near Budapest, to negotiate with the Soviet military forces based there. The following day during discussions, against international law, Maléter was arrested and imprisoned.
His first wife and children went to the USA in the wake of the uprising, while his second remained in Hungary: both subsequently remarried.
In June 1989, on the anniversary of their deaths, Imre Nagy, Pal Maleter, three others who had died in prison and a sixth, empty coffin symbolising all those who had died, were formally reburied with full honours.
A pine has been named after him - ironically, given Maléter's height, a dwarf variety.