The present refugee crisis in Europe made me recall my own experience of 1956 when the Soviet Union crushed the rebellion. As a Hungarian asylum seeker - for political reasons - I crossed the Iron Curtain. As a traumatized East-European individual I was seeking help and was hoping to receive it from the West. Austria opened its border and welcomed almost 200,000 Hungarian refugees. We, the former migrants, can never be thankful enough for their generosity.
I crossed the Iron Curtain in 1956 at Christmas time. Snow storm, icy conditions made it very difficult to proceed. Soviet tanks were again patrolling the borders. Hungarian railroad men, familiar with the territory, unselfishly directed us to the safest border crossing road. Our lives were at great risk -- as well as their existence should we have been stopped by Soviet soldiers. In spite of the danger, they behaved as first class human beings. Austrian border police with dogs were looking for refugees stranded in the snow storm. During the very dark night they were whistling and singing Austrian folk songs to call attention to the Austrian border location.
Once they rescued us, we were guided to an old school house. The room had no beds, we found only straw on the floor. But we were warmly welcomed, got hot soup and dry socks. We were exhausted and hardly could comprehend that we actually crossed the Iron Curtain and that we are free. Their generosity restored our belief in humanity. For us refugees, the school house was the safest heaven on earth. Next day we were taken by bus to refugee camps where channels for immigrants opened up. Without the welcoming human generosity of Austria our traumatized refugee status would have been much more critical. For us, the asylum seekers, Austria opened the road to freedom, it gave us hope to a better future. In a real political crisis they welcomed us and gave us temporary shelter. We were treated as human beings. We, the former Hungarian refugees, have to be thankful for all their help.
It is difficult to understand that Hungary has forgotten its sense of history so quickly. About 60 years ago it was the first country which made the Iron Curtain crumble. Today it is building a razor wire fence at its southern border to stop refugees seeking political asylum. Most of them are escaping from wars in the Middle East, have already braved sea and land routes and want to reach the European Union.
Most of the refugees supposedly do not want to stay in Hungary but plan to proceed to the north, particularly to Germany where Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government is assisting with their relocation process. But we must ask why does Hungary not provide more buses and trains? Why do they let them march on foot to the north in extreme hot summer weather? Why do smugglers take advantage of human suffering? Why does the United Nations not assist more in their relocation process? Why do human moral feelings disappear? Why do we let history repeat itself? The answer is not easy. However, a more human solution must be found.
Elizabeth Rajec has been a Manhattan resident since 1957.