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The Tale of My Father’s Escape From Communist Hungary

Libertarian News – by Michael Suede My father was 6 years old when the Russian tanks rolled into his village. The year was 1956, and the Hungarian Revolution was underway. Wiki provides us with a good brief overview of the revolution, which I want to share with you in order to provide some context for the story:

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 building called out on the streets via “Radio Free Europe” and a van with loudspeakers on the roof. A student delegation entering the radio building in an attempt to broadcast its demands was detained. When the delegation’s release was demanded by the demonstrators outside, they were fired upon by the State Security Police (ÁVH) from within the building. The news spread quickly and disorder and violence erupted throughout the capital.

The revolt spread quickly across Hungary, and the government fell. Thousands organized into militias, battling the State Security Police (ÁVH) and Soviet troops. Pro-Soviet communists and ÁVH members were often executed or imprisoned, as former prisoners were released and armed. Impromptu councils wrested municipal control from the ruling Hungarian Working People’s Party and demanded political changes. The new government formally disbanded the ÁVH, declared its intention to withdraw from theWarsaw Pact and pledged to re-establish free elections. By the end of October, fighting had almost stopped and a sense of normality began to return.

After announcing a willingness to negotiate a withdrawal of Soviet forces, the Politburo changed its mind and moved to crush the revolution. 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. These Soviet actions alienated many Western Marxists, yet strengthened Soviet control over Central Europe.

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. At the inauguration of the Third Hungarian Republic in 1989, October 23 was declared a national holiday.

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.

(Note, this is not a plagiarized story. This version of the story comes from my mother, and was posted by my brother.)


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.

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.”

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

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