Weary Travelers: A Different Look at The Hungarian Revolution of 1956
September 22, 2014

My parents, Elmer and Elizabeth Szabo.

I have had the pleasure and privilege of meeting so many wonderful people who came to the United States as a direct result of the Hungarian Revolution. Many are incredibly hard working and educated people who came with nothing in their pockets and, due to language limitations, were often not able to work in their field. Many came as young men and women did whatever necessary to learn the language and move forward in this new land. My brother often mentions there is an amazing work ethic that comes with a “56-er”–they work like no one else because they had nothing when they came, and so they just keep doing what needs to be done until they make it. While they are to be commended and celebrated, I also think about the effort and sacrifices made here, in the U.S. and Canada, and other countries  on behalf of and to welcome and make provisions for this special group of refugees.

Have you ever considered that those who came to the U.S.A. from Hungary much earlier and maintained Hungarian in their home were instrumental in providing a passageway for those who came later?

One set of my great grandparents saw opportunity in the U.S.A. and they came over in the early 1900’s with my grandmother in tow. Sadly, I don’t know anything about their travels. I know they came here, they learned English, and they made their way through life in the U.S. My paternal grandmother, Clara, spoke both Hungarian and English. Clara’s husband, Stephen, was also bilingual and they raised their kids to speak both Hungarian and English.

My maternal grandfather came to the U.S. as a young boy and was fluent in Hungarian and learned English. His wife was also bilingual. Their child, my mother, was fluent in Hungarian and English.

My mom and my dad, both fluent in Hungarian and English, met and in 1954 they married.

In October 1956, the Hungarian Revolution happened.

I can only imagine the stories–many too painful to hear, let alone live through. My parents were very involved in helping Hungarian refugee families get settled in the Northeast Ohio area. My dad traveled to Camp Kilmer to ferry refugees to Youngstown and Cleveland. I know they worked tirelessly with sponsoring churches, gathering donations, finding jobs, making connections, and helping pave the way to the U.S. by being friendly faces and fluent in the only language some of these weary travelers knew.

In the midst of the unknowns and painful memories, can you imagine being welcomed into a community and cared for by those who spoke your language? I don’t believe there was a hint of a revolution when my grandmother came over in the early 1900‘s and yet it appears there were some things in place. I don’t think it was coincidence–I think God made preparations through His people and they got involved.

Countless individuals, businesses, families, and churches sponsored these weary travelers and worked to get them settled in their new country. I have heard from many people who clearly remember refugees coming to their communities and classrooms and how their lives were enriched as they supported them and learned their stories. There are so many, many stories.

I don’t know that there will be another Hungarian Revolution that we need to be preparing for, but I do know that there is always an opportunity to care for the downtrodden in some way. In the United States, it is very easy to be so busy with life and kids and jobs and acquiring the latest and greatest that we forget there are people who need to be welcomed into our community, connected, fed, and visited. Don’t be misled into thinking government programs are the ideal way for any of this to happen. When we are distanced from the needs and pain of real people, I think we truly lose sight of what life is about.

If you get an opportunity to visit with someone who has been impacted by the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, take time to hear their story. Encourage them to write it down.

And don’t forget to take time to be a welcoming face for weary travelers. One way or another, we have all been one….

Check out the Memory Project Visual Archive and learn all about the various experiences of the those who came to the U.S. after World War II and as a direct result of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution: CLICK HERE!

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