After less than three weeks, it was all over. Well, mostly over. The punishment was still to come.
The Hungarian Revolution began on October 23, 1956 with demonstrations and the toppling of a statue of Stalin. In response, Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest. At a peaceful demonstration on October 25, soldiers shot and killed some 800 people. The fighting had begun. After retreating and regrouping, the Soviets returned with a huge force on November 4. They shot at civilians and revolutionaries alike. The Hungarians had few weapons but fought bravely until the 10th of November. When it was over, the 31,500 Soviet soldiers with their 1,130 tanks had losses of 722 killed or missing, and 1,540 wounded. The Hungarian losses were far greater, with estimates of 2,500 to 3,000 civilians dead and 13,000 wounded. When the revolution was crushed, some 200,000 Hungarians fled the country. For those who remained, various punishments including imprisonment, deportation to the Soviet Union, and death were to follow.
In the village of Pornóapáti in Western Hungary, very near the border of Austria, a family prepared to walk to their freedom in the middle of the night. My parents and their three children, ranging in age from six to three, had to leave or die. I have been told that my father was a revolutionary and the Soviets were going to kill him and his whole family. During the night they walked across the bridge on the Pinka River and sneaked across the border past a guard post manned by armed soldiers. Eventually, with the sponsorship of relatives already living in the USA, they left Europe and began a new life in Chicago, where I was born.
Their home was razed by the soldiers they had eluded. The family that they left behind continued to live with the constant presence of soldiers. They dealt with years of hunger and abuses. The city of Budapest still bears the scars of the revolution. Many of the beautiful old buildings in the city are still riddled with bullet holes from the Soviet guns and tanks. When the Soviets were gone and the borders were free and open, those who had lived through the occupation carried their own internal scars. Many years later, my Aunt Lizi walked with us to the Austrian border, but she was unable to step across. The ingrained fear of being on the other side of the border without her papers was too much to fight. To honor her, Liz and I both remained on the Hungarian side.
We are approaching the sixtieth anniversary of my family's arrival in the United States. I'm not sure of the exact date, but I think it was in December of 1956. I am forever grateful to my family for their bravery. They risked their lives to make the move to freedom and a new home. I also love the family that remains in Hungary. I am proud to be related to people who managed to survive through such challenging times and under such difficult conditions. May they long live happy and free.
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