Two paths to freedom after the revolution

Following the overthrow of the 1956 Revolution and to use a familiar expression, it was said that 200 thousand people “voted with their feet” against the communist regime and left Hungary for the West in search of democracy. In addition to the casualties from the violence, this left a significant mark on Hungary’s demographics because these 200 thousand people and their descendants, with the exception of the relative few who later returned, are still missing from the population to this day. Up until early 1957, it was relatively easy to escape the country, since the border was not well-guarded along its entire length. An extremely fortunate stroke of fate was that the landmines that had been placed along the Austro-Hungarian border had been cleared in early 1956, leaving just a fence between the two nations. One can only imagine how differently things would have turned out had they not been removed.

Among those who fled to the West, many were those who had reasons to fear retribution because they had actively participated in the revolution in some capacity. My uncle belongs among them. Today, he lives in New York and during the Kádár regime only came home to visit once, and even then only in the 1980s. The police searched far and wide for my uncle, and he was even summoned to court, but by that time he was long gone. My father went to court in his place, where he announced that he did not know where his older brother was. He spoke the truth, since he really did not know. In order to spare their loved ones from having to lie to the authorities, many who left abroad simply left without saying goodbye, with word of their successful escape only reaching their families months later. My uncle’s great “sin” in the eye of the Kádár regime was that he had “liberated” the communist red star from the roof of the council building in Sárbogárd, and he had been somewhat of an opinion leader during the revolution. The point is that anyone who was only mildly more active in the revolution than the average person could count on a prison sentence.

My uncle had an adventurous route to freedom across the Austrian border by climbing onto a freight train and hiding among the goods. He was lucky since in November 1956 the freight trains at the rail crossing were rarely searched, so that he made it to Austria without any significant obstacles. His future wife, who he first met in the States, lived at the time in Szombathely near the border, and the proximity of the border and the opportunity to live in a freer world beckoned to her. Consequently, she asked an acquaintance who had a passport valid for travel to the West (a rarity in those days) to place her between the motor and the hood of his Volkswagen Beetle. Since she was quite thin, this didn’t seem impossible, especially since she would only have to be there for a short time. The idea worked, and my uncle’s wife made it across, but she suffered third-degree burns in the process and immediately had to be hospitalized immediately.

People were desperate enough to try just about anything to escape communism for the free world.

Bence Csatári