The Tale of My Father’s Escape From Communist Hungary

My father was 6 years old when the Russian tanks rolled into his village.  The year was 1956, and the Hungarian Revolution was underway.  The Hungarian Revolution or Uprising of 1956 was a spontaneous nationwide revolt against the government of the People’s Republic of Hungary and its Soviet-imposed policies, lasting from 23 October until 10 November 1956.

The revolt began as a student demonstration which attracted thousands as it marched through central Budapest to the Parliament.  The demonstration ended with the state police firing on the demonstrators, which lead to a full scale revolt by the public against the Hungarian state.  (The Hungarian state was a proxy state of the Soviet Union, and was supported by the Soviet military.)

The revolutionaries managed to overthrow the government and negotiate a withdrawal of Soviet forces, but then the Soviet state changed its mind.   On the 4th of November, a large Soviet force invaded Budapest and other regions of the country. Hungarian resistance continued until 10 November. Over 2,500 Hungarians and 700 Soviet troops were killed in the conflict, and 200,000 Hungarians fled as refugees. Mass arrests and denunciations continued for months thereafter. By January 1957, the new Soviet-installed government had suppressed all public opposition.  Public discussion about this revolution was suppressed in Hungary for over 30 years, but since the thaw of the 1980s it has been a subject of intense study and debate.

My father knew several young people (12-15 year olds) whose parents sent them to refuge camps in Austria; most the parents stayed behind.  When the Soviet tanks rolled into his village, the communist soldiers took everything for the state.   However, my grandparents had a small piece of land outside of town which wasn’t any good for farming, so the communists let my dad’s family keep the land.  They said, “See how nice we are?  We didn’t take everything.”  Years later, after my father came to America, he became friends again with some of the people from his village who left in 1956.

Given that no one was allowed to control their own property or put it to productive use, my father grew up in extreme poverty.  The state maintained total control over all means of production, including family farms.  The family maintained one cow and several pigs.  The communists mandated that the family was allowed to butcher one pig per year to feed the entire family.  There were five children in his family.  The communists would come to the farm routinely and inspect the livestock to make sure the family hadn’t butchered “more than their fair share” of the livestock.  The remainder of the pigs were taken by the “security” forces for themselves.

My grandfather worked from sunup to sundown in another village, so my father was charged with maintaining much of the farm from an early age.  Eventually my father found his way into a trade school for masons, where he learned to work with concrete and stucco.

While walking to and from work, soldiers would routinely check his “papers.”   At the checkpoints, one soldier would hold a gun to his head while another reviewed his documents.  He lived close to the Austrian boarder, so the border patrol would routinely check everyone, even if they knew the people and saw them everyday.  No one was allowed to leave the country, since the people were also property of the state.   The border was heavily mined, fenced in, and secured by roving armed patrols.

My father’s escape occurred in 1969 when he was 19 years old.  Him and a friend were planning to go to a soccer game on a Sunday afternoon; however, when they tried to get the travel papers necessary to go to the game in the next village, they were denied.  Obviously this was quite infuriating.  Imagine if you had to get permission to travel to another city here in the states, and were denied permission for no particular reason.  As a result of this, him and his friend ended up at a pub and started planning on how they could escape.

They decided to make plans for next Sunday.  It was very important to trust each other because if the state found out, my father would have been arrested and most likely executed.  My father couldn’t tell his family or even say goodbye.  His mother didn’t know what happened until he didn’t show up for work the next day.

My father and his friend rode their bikes to the edge of the border and hid them in a ditch.  It then took them about eight hours to move one mile.  In order to escape, they first had to traverse a long stretch of land that was mined with trip flares.  One inadvertent move would send a flare up into the sky, alerting the border patrol to their presence.  The border patrol was authorized to shoot-on-sight anyone trying to escape.  To get around the flares, my father rolled up his sleeves and dangled his arms near the ground so he could feel the trip wires on his skin.

After the trip flares came another long stretch of land that was laced with deadly explosive mines.  My father had watched the security forces lay down the many of the mines over the years, so he knew a good deal about the minefields themselves.  He knew that the mines were laid down in a checkerboard pattern, and he knew that since most of the mines had been placed in the field for some time, the elements had exposed many of the mine tops.  This allowed him to feel for the tops of a mine, and make a guess as to where he could move to next in order to get out.  He did this all under the constant vigilance of roving border patrols.

After the mines came the barb wire fence with the “V” shape barb wire on top.  My father threw his jacket over the top to protect his hands, then climbed the fence which tore his clothes apart in the process.  Right after the fence came a raked sandpit, which allowed the border patrol to see footprints of people trying to escape.  They walked backwards through the sandpit, in the hopes that the border patrol would think that someone was trying to smuggle things into the country.  He knew that any strangers in the village would immediately be questioned if the patrols found such footprints.

From there, they had to swim across a river that separated the Austrian-Hungarian border.  Once across the river, they had to jump yet another barbed wire fence on the Austrian side.   After jumping the fence, they walked to a farm house and were able to stay there until the authorities came and sent them to a refugee camp.

My father was able to contact his aunt, who had previously fled to the U.S. and was residing in Wisconsin at the time.  She was able to sponsor him so he could get his visa and a plane ticket.  This took about nine months, and in the meantime, my father had found a job and made some new friends.  He actually thought about staying in Austria, but then realized that this was his only chance to come to America so he better take it.   From his perspective as a communist peasant, he thought all American’s were rich.

When he got here, his aunt sent him to English classes and he got a job at a factory through his aunt’s stepson.  He was in the U.S. less than a year before Army drafted him.  This was in 1970 and the Vietnam war was still going on.  The Army promised not to send him overseas and help him get his citizenship.

So in less than three years, my father had obtained his citizenship through a special program for foreigners who agree to serve in the military.  The judge said at my father’s swearing in ceremony that he got his citizenship faster than anyone he had ever known.

My father and mother met while he was in the Army, and home on leave visiting his friends.  They invited her to go out for dinner with them.  His friends were an older couple, whose names were Gertie and Ray.  My mother worked with Gertie and my dad worked with Ray.  I guess you could say there were match makers ;)  The rest is history.

My father ended up going back one time in 1985, which I can still remember.  This was right before the Iron Curtain came down.  His father had died in April of that year, so he did not get to see him again before he died, but he did get to see the rest of the family.  His mother ended up dying in December of that same year.

My father’s oldest sister is still living and has three girls.  His next oldest brother died at 47 from a major heart attack.  His wife is still living and they had two boys.  My dad, the middle child, had three boys with my mother, they are still together.  His younger brother is still living, but his wife died of breast cancer.  He has one girl and two boys.  His youngest brother died of complications from diabetes, which my father also has.  He divorced his wife, who is still alive.  They had one boy and one girl.

When my father decided to go back to Hungary in 1985, my parents had some concerns because my father had broken the law by leaving, even though he was a U.S. citizen.  They did some checking and were told that there wouldn’t be any problems.  So he flew into Austria and rented a car, then drove across the border.  He figured that if he had problems, at least he would be on the free side of the border.

When he got to the border, the soldiers checked his visa and asked him how he manged to escape.  My father responded by pointing to the fence and saying, “See that fence over there?  I climbed over it.”  They let him through with no problems.  He returned as the “rich American.”

The Hungarian money at the time was 52:1 U.S. dollars.  He had a fist full of money and was so happy he was able to take everyone out to dinner for $32.  Hungary had undergone ultra hyperinflation during WWII.  Wiki notes that on 18 August 1946, 400,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 or 4×1029 (four hundred quadrilliard on the long scale used in Hungary; four hundred octillion on short scale) pengő became 1 forint.  So you can imagine the state of the economy around the time my father was born.  My mother remembers watching the news on T.V. later that year and seeing the government take down the fences.

My mother provides another anecdote concerning the oppression he faced:

 When Dad escaped the government knew he had left when he didn’t show up for work.  The soldiers immediately went to his parents and sister’s home to question them. He did not tell them he was leaving he never said good bye ( as a mother, I know your Grandma must have been worried sick) this was intentional as he knew that the police would lock anyone up who may have tried to help him.

As it was the police for many weeks would come in the middle of the night drag your grandfather and Uncles down to the police station and questioned them. They wre harassed for a long time.  The letters your Dad wrote were opened and sentences blacked out that the communist government did not want the peple to know about (such as the good things about the US).  Your dad said the government would tell everyone that the US was poor and the Americans only had bread to eat.

Also Dad sent money home with every letter so his mother would have postage money to write a letter back to him.  Sometimes the money would be missing but most of the time there was a note inside the letter that only gave a few days to turn in the money at the bank.  The US money was more valuable on the back market so on occasion the letter would get through without being opened and your Grandma would hide the US dollars so she could send the money with others who would go to another country and shop. I remember one time she wrote that she got new curtains for the house.

———

So that’s the story of one peasant’s escape from the clutches of communism.  Unfortunately, what my father escaped from is reappearing once again.  Only this time, it’s happening here in America.

  • Watch a pastor confront an East German checkpoint here in America.  He ends up in a bloody pulp, after he refuses to cooperate with a trumped up “drug dog alert” warrantless search of his vehicle.
  • Here’s the same pastor confronting three different checkpoints in just a few hours drive.
  • Here’s the expansion of the U.S. base money supply.
  • The story of a man being arrested for shingling his own home.
  • The story of a man being arrested for distributing pamphlets.
  • The story of aid workers being arrested for feeding the homeless without a permit.
  • The story of activists being arrested for dancing in public.
  • and a whole lot more.

Let me be crystal clear, just in case it hasn’t sunk in yet.  The state is not your friend.  The state is not your protector.  The state does not offer you any more security than you could provide yourself with a good firearm.  The state does not take care of YOU first, the state takes care of itself first.  You get the scraps.

Violence cannot solve complex social problems.  Holding a gun to people’s heads and taking their property so that your favorite politician can hand it out to his favored political groups, which you are probably a part of, does not result in a more prosperous and free society.   Supporting the use of violence to redistribute wealth is the true definition of greed.  Corporate greed doesn’t even come close to your own greed if you support the violent redistribution of wealth.  Only the most greedy would support such a system of robbery in the name of “equality.”

Watch this lecture by economist David Friedman to gain a better understanding of what a civilized society should look like:

 

My father was born in Szakonyfalu, Hungary.  He escaped from the same place.  He was placed in the Traiskirchen Lager communist refugee camp, Austria.

A few images of Szakonyfalu:

Image 2

Image 3

A few of Traiskirchen Lager:

Image 2

Image 3

 

 

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  • ggh

    Very powerful. Your father sounds like he was a brave (and lucky) man. The saddest part of these stories is that in order to escape, people like your father have to leave their families behind. Thankfully his family was not persecuted for his actions – I know that in North Korea, for example, families are basically held as hostage in case someone should escape.

  • bc

    Thank you for posting this. Thank you especially for drawing parallels to the present day.

  • Txgal

    Really compelling story! People who have grown up under tyranny understand the value of freedom and how easy it is to lose it.