Today's thoughts

Category: Hungry in Hungary

Retirement is not without Hassles: Hungarian Americans 9B #2500

Continued from #  Post 2497

My first long car ride was a miserable experience, as motion sickness ruined the drive from the airport to our home the day I first arrived in America. We made several “emergency” stops along the way. I can still remember cars and tanks burning on the streets of downtown Pest, so it’s a wonder why I became so attracted to them. I’m not even sure why I was interested in going to the Indianapolis 500 when we lived in Indianapolis, however, that had to have been what further stirred my interest in the sport and the cars on the track. I was naturally curious as to the automobile’s history in Hungary. 

I refer to a article that begins by explaining, “some original car production in the Hungarian part of Austro-Hungary at the beginning of the 20th century was lost. Most cars and trucks were imported from the Soviet Union and some other countries. Hungary itself produced a small number of heavy trucks (Rába). The country also specialized in the manufacture of buses (Ikarus). The Ganz Works, a long lived Hungarian company, has been manufacturing engines and wagons that are specialized for electric railway equipment.” 

The dump truck that Bela stole for the escape was probably built by Rába. The company was founded by local investor groups in Győr in 1896. 1904 marked the start of production for their first petrol engine powered trucks. Throughout the years, they have become an important provider to Hungarocamion, a publicly operated international trucking firm. As far as cars, the Rába was a Hungarian automobile manufactured from 1912 to 1914. Soon after, the company began to produce its first passenger automobiles: The RÁBA Alpha, along with cars of other licenses, including BenzPanhard, and Austro-Daimler. The diverse company also makes railroad passenger carriages, city tramcars, and agricultural vehicles like Rába tractors. Although they are no longer in the car business, they Rába has grown to be Hungary’s third largest employer.

Here are eight other cars that were designed, built, or assembled by Hungarian people:

  • Few are probably aware that József Galamb, a Hungarian engineer, helped develop the world-famous Ford Model T.

  • According to the magazine Vezess, the very first “truly” Hungarian car was named after its creator, János Csonka back in May of 1905 and tested at the University of Technology and Economics. “Its engine was a four-cylinder, four-stroke water-cooled design with a transmission attached to it.”

  • Hvg reports that the Brokernet Silver Sting was the first domestic racing car to be designed and built entirely in Hungary with the help of Hungarian experts, but only two were made, using Kevlar, titanium, carbon fiber, and composite materials.

  • The Hódmezővásárhely Agricultural Machinery Manufacturing Company is associated with the production of the electric-powered small car named ‘Puli’. The chassis made of fiberglass plastic, won awards but have since disappeared from the roads, as if there were many made to begin with.

  • The roadster Borbála, named after the daughter of the designer, lacked a door and was the star of the 1989 Hungexpo.

  • The 1995 Alma was a convertible with a refurbished Fiat 127 engine. Actually, the only part made in Hungary was the fiberglass body.

  • The Brokernet Silver Sting is powered by a 437-horsepower, 3.6-liter, six-cylinder engine that was developed from the Porsche 911 GT3 engine.

  • The Esztergom-made S-CROSS was the grand winner of “Hungarian Car of the Year 2023”.

Hungary has been a part of Formula 1 since 1986 and has seen only one driver race under the red, white, and green colors of their flag. There are very names that come to mind, although there are a number of up-and-coming Magyar men and women in the sport.

Ferenc Szisz was the first Hungarian race car driver and the winner of the first Grand Prix motor racing event on a Renault Grand Prix 90CV on June 26, 1906. More recently, Zsolt Baumgartner, who was born on January 1, 1981 in Debrecen, Hungary has a single point scored in his Formula 1 career. Zsolt began racing competitively at the age of thirteen karting in Hungary in 1994.  

Laszlo Toth who was born on June 2nd, 2000, in Telki Hungary, most recently competed for ARC Bratislava in the 2023 Asian Le Mans Series. In 2022, he drove for Charouz Racing System in the FIA Formula 3 Championship. Toth, like Baumgartner, began karting at age thirteen in 2013. In 2021 the Hungarian joined Campos Racing in Formula 3 and in seventeen attempts failed to score. He had previously competed in the Italian F4 ChampionshipADAC Formula 4 and Formula Renault Eurocup. The prior year, Toth raced for Bhaitech in Formula Renault Eurocup, still not winning but scoring some points along the way.

I’ve been to six Formula One events, Phoenix, Austin and four in Montreal, but never got back to see the Hungarian Grand Prix (Magyar Nagydíj) for the inaugural 1986 race or any subsequent years. This was the first Formula One race to take place behind the Iron Curtain, a major coup by organizer Bernie Ecclestone. The race drew 200,000 spectators despite expensive ticket prices. My cousin, Tibi, a big fan of the sport, could not afford to go. Locals made up only about ten percent of attendees, while the Finns and Germans are the majority of the crowd. The twisty, Hungaroringin Mogyoród near Budapest is the race site.

Ecclestone was also being creative when he took F1 to the flat streets of Phoenix in 1989. I was there on Safeway business and bought a ticket, thinking it was a long way from Phoenixville to Phoenix. It was my first, followed by Austin’s more challenging climbs and turns. A business associate, Joe Gunn, and I then took the “Griswold Hauler” to Montreal and stayed in a bed & breakfast. The following year, he ushered us there in style in his new BMW. The other two years, Jill arranged for tickets through Tony and Peter, the brother owners of La Campagnola Restaurant, one of several they operated. The walls of their pizza place in downtown Shamong were decorated with Formula One lithographs.

The artist turned out to be a friend of theirs, and they let Jill choose from a book of options. The signed, framed print she selected for me was of the 1989 Hungarian Grand Prix with my two favorite F1 drivers, Nigel Mansell passing Ayrton Senna for the win. It proudly hangs in my office. As it also so happened, the brothers were about to open a Canadian restaurant and planned on taking a group of 25 to Montreal for the race. I was able to buy tickets for that Formula One race two consecutive years where they provided VIP transportation and lodging.

Since we moved to Florida, I’ve been to two major tracks, and watched a fellow sports car owner race his Porche on a make-shift airport course. Some neighbors went with me to the St. Pete Indycar Grand Prix two years in a row and we drove the Miata to Sebring for a SCCA event on that famous track in conjunction with the car club. There were just too many Miata’s on the course that chilly day to make it competitive. The streets of St. Petersburg did make for some interesting racing. Mario Andretti drove the pace car and we hooked up with Bitcoin driver Conor Daly, his mother, Beth, and stepfather, Doug Boles, President of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The only thing we didn’t get to do was ride on Roger Penske’s yacht parked near the finish line.  In the near future, I’d also like to get down to Miami for the FI event. Maybe I’ll win the lottery!

Penske won in St. Pete in 2024, but I was saddled by hip surgery and my neighbor, this book’s ghost writer, was recovering from open heart surgery. The good news is that he had plenty of down time to write. We watched the race together on TV, along with a recorded replay of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. Our neighbor’s nephew, Karun Chandhok, was involved in the commentary. Ho…hum, Max Verstappen and Red Bull won again. I guess we could almost say the same thing about Penske’s Josef Newgarden, certainly Roger himself. Conor Daly was not in St. Pete but will drive for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing in Indianapolis, just another race that I’ll have to watch on TV this year. My Indycar favorites, Emerson Fittipaldi and Al Unser, Jr. are now only represented on race day by grandchildren. Let’s face it – I’m getting old.

Due to the nature of the Budapest track, narrow and often dusty because of under-use, the Hungarian Grand Prix is not particularly driver friendly, with sometimes many cars stuck behind each other, unable to pass. Qualifying position and pit strategy are crucial, although the 1989 race saw a bullish performance from Nigel Mansell in the Ferrari, who started from 12th on the grid and passed car after car, finally taking the lead when Ayrton Senna was balked by a slower runner. The circuit was modified slightly in 2003 in an attempt to allow more passing.

In 2020Lewis Hamilton won the Hungarian Grand Prix for an eighth time, equaling Michael Schumaker’s French Grand Prix record for the most times a driver had won the same Grand Prix. Max Verstappen and Red Bull, who has been recently unstoppable, won the 2022 and 2023 editions. I have until 2032 to get there, and maybe take cousin Tibi, after a recent contract extension for the race.  

Historically, back in June of 1936, the very first Grand Prix was held on a 5-kilometre (3.1-mile) track laid out in Népliget, a park in Budapest. “The Mercedes-BenzAuto Union, and the Alfa Romeo-equipped Ferrari teams all sent three cars and the event drew a very large crowd. However, politics and the ensuing war meant the end of Grand Prix motor racing in Hungary for fifty years.”

Grand Prix racing in Hungary also extends to motorcycles, dating back to between 1988 and 1990 when WorldSBK (World Super Bike) came to the Hungaroring with Fred Merkel winning four of the six races. WorldSBK’s planned 2024 visit to Balaton Park, a newly constructed 4.115 km venue with six right-hand corners and 10 left-hand turns, will mean the circuit would become the second Hungarian track the Championship has visited. “In total, three manufacturers – Honda, Kawasaki, and Ducati – claimed victories in Hungary. Will they be able to add to that total, or will Yamaha and BMW become Hungarian winners?”

I’m, of course, partial to Bayerische Motoren Werke. My godfather’s BMW motorcycle was my very first time riding on any set of wheels. I also associate the sweets and ice cream he used to buy me after sitting in the sidecar on our adventures around Budapest. He would take me back to his machine shop and show me around. It was certainly an influence on my love of engines and everything automotive.


sides his BMW motorcycle, I personally had a 21-year love affair with my 533i automobile. The brand also achieved great success on the British racing scene, including the “Isle of Man TT Races” where they have a rich winning history dating back to 1939 and Georg “Schorsch” Meier in the saddle of a 255 Kompressor. I learned early on that the correct term for a BMW automobile is “bimmer,” while “beemer” and “beamer” actually only refer to a BMW motorcycle.

According to various sources, MotoGP has just announced a plan to bring motorcycle racing back to Hungary by 2025 at the latest. Dorna Sports and the Hungarian Mobility Development Agency (HUMDA) are working together to certify two venues that could soon host some of the most thrilling racing in the world of motorsports.”

Hungarian Heritage:

Unlike the conditions of 1956 under Communist rule, Hungary today is considered to be a middle power on the global stage. They joined NATO in 1999, becoming a formal ally of the United States, and also agreed to be one of ten new states to join the EU in 2004. The country has a high-income economy, and its citizens enjoy free secondary education and access to universal healthcare. “The Hungarian social security system offers protection from sickness, maternity, old-age, invalidity, occupational disease and injury, accidents at work, survivorship, children’s education, and unemployment. All persons who are gainfully employed and those of equivalent status are insured against all risks.” Being “Hungry in Hungary,” is no longer about food but rather about being competitive and getting ahead.

Because I’m so proud of my heritage, please allow me to list some of the more famous Hungarians, who can call themselves Magyar. In my opinion, “the statue committee” should consider more champions on this list other than just Count Béla Lugosi and Imre Nagy.  Once again, thanks to Wikipedia for help in compiling and dividing this list into categories:

Hungarian Musicians:

Béla Bartók, considered the greatest Hungarian composer of all time.

Eugene Ormandy, renowned conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra who developed the “Philadelphia Sound.”

Franz Lehár, musician and composer most well-known for his opera “The Merry Widow.”

Franz Liszt, renowned pianist and composer of more than 700 compositions including The Hungarian Rhapsody.

Gene Simmons, KISS rock-and-roll icon Simmons later changed his name to Eugene Klein, taking his Hungarian mother’s maiden name.

Alanis Morrisette, vocalist, her Hungarian mother’s family was forced to leave the country after the 1956 revolution.

Michael Balzary, better known as Red Hot Chili Peppers’ guitarist Flea.

Hungarian Performers:

Béla Lugosi, actor who will be forever remembered and identified as Count Dracula.

Harry Houdini (born Erich Weisz), world famous magician, illusionist and escape artist.

Michael Curtiz, Hollywood director of “Casablanca.”

Peter Lorre, character actor best known for his roles in “Casablanca” and “Maltese Falcon.”

Zoltán Latinovits, the male lead in over 50 films and countless stage roles.

Katalin Karády, a leading actress in Hungarian movies made between 1939–1945.

Pál Jávor, the country’s first male movie star.

Mari Törőcsik, stage and film actress, appearing in more than 170 films from 1956 to 2020. 

Imre Soós, Hungarian actor, mostly known for his roles in communist propaganda films during the 1950s. 

 Zsa Zsa, Eva and Magda Gabor, Hollywood actresses and socialites who collectively were married 19 times.

Louis C.K., famous comedian, his father’s ancestry is rooted in Mexico and Hungary.

Peter Falk, Columbo, one of TV’s most recognizable detectives.

 Goldie Hawn and Kate Hudson, daughter and granddaughter of Jews who escaped Hungary during World War II.

Drew Barrymore, her mother, Ildiko Makó, was born to Hungarian parents in a German refugee camp during WWII.

Tony Curtis, the actor was born Bernard Schwartz

 Hungarian Inventors, Designers, & Scientists:

Béla Berenyl, designer of the Volkswagen Beetle.

David Gestetner, inventor of the Gestetner stencil duplicator or mimeograph machine.

Edward Teller, father of the hydrogen bomb.

Ernő Rubik, creator of the Rubik’s cube.

János Irinyi, inventor of the noiseless match.

Imre Bródy, inventor of the krypton electric bulb.

Laszlo Biro, inventor of the ballpoint pen

Calvin Klein, fashion designer whose father, Leo, was actually born in Hungary to Hungarian and Czechoslovakian immigrants.

Paul Erdős, brilliant Hungarian mathematician whose parents were also mathematicians.

Albert Szent-Györgyi, discovered Vitamin C and won the 1937 Nobel Prize.

Sándor Just and Imre Bródy, created the tungsten lamp.

Hungarian Politicians, Leaders, Monarchs and Kings:

Nicolas Sarkozy, the former president of France of Hungarian descent on his father’s side.

Matthias Corvinus, Matthias the Just, the monarch who wandered among his subjects in disguise, he remains a popular hero of Hungarian and Slovak folk tales.

Louis II, King of Hungary, Croatia and Bohemia from 1516 to 1526. 

Stephen I, also known as King Saint Stephen. 

Miklós Horthy, admiral and statesman who served as the regent of the Kingdom of Hungary during the interwar period and most of World War II.

Imre Nagy, communist politician who served as Chairman of the Council of Ministers (de facto Prime Minister) of the Hungarian People’s Republic from 1953 to 1955. 

Gaiseric, also known as Geiseric or Genseric was king of the Vandals and Alans from 428 to 477.

Louis I, also Louis the Great was King of Hungary and Croatia from 1342 and King of Poland from 1370. 

Jadwiga, also known as Hedvig was the first woman to be crowned as monarch of the Kingdom of Poland. 

Árpád, was the head of the confederation of the Magyar tribes at the turn of the 9th and 10th centuries. 

Andrew II, also known as Andrew of Jerusalem, was King of Hungary and Croatia between 1205 and 1235.

Hungarian Olympians:

Hungary first competed in athletics at the inaugural 1896 Olympic Games, with 3 athletes competing in 5 events and winning a silver and two bronze medals. The nation’s first gold medal in the sport came in 1900, with Rudolf Bauer‘s victory in the discus throw.

Hungarian athletes have won a total of 511 medals at the Summer Games and 10 medals at the Winter Games, with fencing being the top medal-producing sport. They also love being in the water and expect to win in competitions like swimming, water polo, kayaking, and canoeing.

Aladár Gerevich, a Hungarian fencer, regarded as “the greatest Olympic swordsman ever”. He won seven gold medals in saber at six different Olympic Games.

Iboyla Csák, winner of the women’s high jump at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

Rezső Ignác Boldizsár “Rudolf” Bauer, winner of the gold medal in the men’s discus throw at the 1900 Summer Olympics.

Gyula Kellner, competed at the 1896 Summer Olympics in Athens and was one of 17 athletes to start the first ever marathon race. His time was 3:06.35.

Nándor János Dáni, 1896 Olympic runner who won a silver medal.

Dénes Kemény, president of the men’s national water polo team from 1997 to 2012. His teams medaled in 24 of its 29 major tournaments, including three Olympic golds in a row between 2000 and 2008, making him one of the most successful water polo coaches in Olympic history.

Imre Földi, weightlifter, competing at a record five Olympic Games, winning gold in 1972 and silver in 1964 and 1968.

Gyula Zsivótzky, hammer thrower who won a gold medal at the 1968 Olympics, silvers in 1960 and 1964, and finished fifth in 1972. He was also twice elected as Hungarian Sportsman of the Year.

Olga Gyarmati, all-round track and field athlete who competed at three Olympic Games in four different events. Her greatest success was winning the inaugural Olympic Women’s Long Jump competition in London in 1948.

Éva Székely, gold medalist at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki and silver medalist at the 1956 Summer Olympics.

András Balczó, pentathlete who competed at the 1960, 1968 and 1972 Olympics in the individual and team events, winning three gold and two silver medals.

Alfréd Hajós, first modern Olympic swimming champion and part of the first National European football/soccer team.

Krisztina Egerszegi, first female swimmer to win five individual Olympic gold medals.

Laszlo Papp, first boxer in Olympic history to win 3 consecutive gold medals.

Zsolt Erdei, bronze medalist in the middleweight division at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.

Bela and Martha Karolyi, gymnastics coaches who have coached Olympic medalists including Nadya Comaneci.

Ekaterina Szabo, born in Romania of Hungarian descent. Winner of 4 Olympic gold and 1 silver medal, member of the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame.

Elvis Stojko, 3-time World Figure Skating Champion, 7-time Canadian National Champion and winner of 2 Olympic silver medals.

Mark Spitz, Indiana University and Olympic swimming legend who won 7 gold medals at the 1972 Games in Munich.

Krisztina Egerszegi, youngest athlete ever to win an Olympic gold medal for swimming, 5-time gold medal winner in individual events.

Karch Kiraly, American volleyball player who is the only person ever to have won Olympic medals (both gold) in both indoor and beach volleyball.

Gergely Kiss, water polo player who first came to prominence helping the Hungarian team win gold during the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

Hungarian athletes have participated in all Winter Olympic Games, but it wasn’t until 2018 in Pyeong Chang, South Korea that the country claimed their first ever gold in the men’s short track speed skating 5000 meter relay. Shaoang Liu followed this achievement with the first ever individual gold for speed skating at 500 meters in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. He also took the bronze at 1000 meters.

The country has participated in all but two Summer Olympic games. The exceptions were Antwerp 1920 because of the war and Los Angeles 1984 due to the boycott.

Other Hungarian Athletes:

These athletes made their mark in different sports, but they all shared Hungarian ancestry:

Ferenc Puskás, footballer and manager, regarded as one of the greatest players of all time.

Kornél Dávid, one of two Hungarians to play in the NBA.

Al Hrabosky, known as the “Mad Hungarian”, relief pitcher known for his blazing fastball.

Mickey Hargitay, body builder and actor, a member of Mae West’s stage show and Jayne Mansfield’s ex-husband.

George “Papa Bear” Halas, legendary Pro Football Hall of Fame coach, called the “father of the NFL.”

Larry Csonka, former running back and Super Bowl VIII MVP, currently a television host.

Don Shula, winningest coach in NFL history.

Joe Namath, New York Jets quarterback and Super Bowl MVP, affectionately known as “Broadway Joe.”

Lou “The Toe” Groza, kicker for the Cleveland Browns, Hall of Famer and 6-time All Pro.

Julius Boros, golfing legend and member of the PGA Hall of Fame and World Golf Hall of Fame.

Joseph “Bronco” Horvath, played for 6 NHL teams but is best remembered for his time with the Boston Bruins centering the “Uke Line” with Johnny Bucyk and Vic Stasiuk.

Kincsem, the most successful thoroughbred race horse ever, who won all 54 of her starts.

Ferenc Puskás, considered to be one of the greatest soccer player in history, played 84 games with the Hungarian National Team and scored a world record 83 goals.

Sándor Kocsis, known as the “Man with the Golden Head”, he scored 75 goals in 68 internationals, including a record 7 hat-tricks.

Hungarian Authors and Poets:

Culture Trip’s Adam Barnes identified eight Hungarian titles that “you should read before you die.” These include “The Door” by Magda Szabó, “Fatelessness” by Imre Kertész, “The Paul Street Boys” by Ferenc Molnár, “The Man With The Golden Touch” by Mór Jókai, “The Case Worker” by György Konrád, “Satantango” by László Krasznahorkai, “Journey By Moonlight” by Antal Szerb, and “Embers” by Sándor Márai.

Since many Hungarian writers unfortunately never had their work translated, these authors are recognized to be the new wave of internationally accessible writers:

Mór Jókai, often compared to Charles Dickens by the press.

Antal Szerb, considered to be one of the major Hungarian writers of the 20th century.

Imre Kertész, writer, poet, and journalist.

Sándor Márai, recipient of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Magda Szabó, she is the most translated Hungarian author.

Sándor Petőfi, poet and liberal revolutionary. Author of the National Song.

Joseph Székelys, journalist, author, and archivist.

Of all these notable Hungarians, probably the most recognizable name for any of us is Harry Houdini. However, his escapes were nothing compared to my mom and dad.

The End.

Author’s note: This is the short, un-edited version of this story. The book itself will be much more detailed and proofread. Sorry for any errors or omissions in this version. 



Retirement is not without Hassles: Hungarian Americans Part 9A #2497

Continued from Post #2493 with a reminder that this story is not about me but rather a neighbor whose family escaped from Communist Hungary in 1956. 

“With the support of the American Hungarian Federation, more than 35,000 refugees arrived in the United States during 1957. Many of these were professionals who were able to find employment quite easily, and quite a few settled in Cleveland, Ohio, bringing new life to many of the organizations, especially the Hungarian Scouting movement.” 

I just celebrated my seventy-first birthday this year, amid my recovery from hip surgery. Two years ago, on May 19, 2022, I organized, with the great help of neighbor and friends Diane and Steve Byard, a 70th surprise birthday party for my wife, Jill, at Made in Italy in our current hometown of Venice, Florida. Caregiver, Inna Piper, and her current husband Nick made the trip along with former Jersey neighbors, Mary and Mark Goehring. Our current Islandwalk community neighbors filled the tables. Made in Hungary was not a location option. 

Our two children, Adam and Neil, were born on American soil, and Neil has three children, so the successful escape has led to two more generations of the Ambrus family. Other Hungarian families that experienced a similar plight in their exodus from the homeland have experienced similar miracles. 

These are fellow Hungarians that have settled all over these United States. They have raised families that are now considered native Americans. “It’s interesting to note that the largest concentration of Hungarians is in the Greater Cleveland Metropolitan Area in northeast Ohio. At one time, the presence of Hungarians within Cleveland proper was so great that the city was known as the ‘American Debrecen,’ with one of the highest concentrations of Hungarians in the world.” 

The Buckeye state currently identifies 172,974 people as Hungarian, which represents 1.47% of the total population. New Jersey, our home for many years, and Pennsylvania have the second and third largest Hungarian populations, respectively. My RV Travel Trailer allows us to visit our family and friends, scattered from New York to the Jersey shore. We just recently purchased a new 2024 Forest River Vibe model to continue our adventures. 

The country of Hungary is relatively small, about the size of the state of Indiana, but rich in diverse, beautiful landscapes and natural resources. It’s well-known for its wealth of thermal and mineral sources, often called “the land of waters.” The thermal lakes and baths attract thousands of tourists to the country throughout the whole year. Although landlocked, the nation boasts Lake Balaton, a freshwater “rift lake” in the Transdanubian Region, an Inner Sea that covers almost 600 square kilometers. Hungarians nicknamed it the “Hungarian Sea.” Two distinctive lake settlements, Balatonfüred, the largest lake in central Europe, and Hévíz, one of the largest thermal lakes in the world, have long been a playground for past aristocracy, with many Austrians and Germans currently flooding to the area for summer vacations. 

The mountainous region of the north shore is recognized for both its historic character and as a major wine producer, of 22 in the country, while the flatter southern shores gave rise to the resorts. Tokaji Aszu (Tokay), known as the ‘King of wines’, is the most famous sweet wine in Hungary, rivaling Saternes as the finest in the world. You can find this dessert wine in most traditional restaurants, classified according to ‘puttonyos,’ referring to the sugar content.” A red wine, Bull’s Blood of Eger (Egri Bikavér) is also quite popular to drink. 

As part of the 1981 visit, Jill and I did an overnight with my dad in Eger and visited several of the wine cellars. The wine was served in oversized pitchers on picnic tables, and although it was a hot day on the streets, it was cool in these underground surroundings. When it comes to cool, subterranean, underground settings, the Kőbánya district of Budapest, “Beer City” is known for its tunnels, limestone quarries, and yes – sör. Hungary’s hunger for beer began with the nomadic Magyars, well over a thousand years ago, who likely learned hops, barley, and malt brewing techniques from the Slavs. 

Dreher Antal and his father Franz are credited with creating their Viennese lager-style beer in 1841, and for this they were called “the beer kings.” An 1840 law had made it possible again for anyone to brew, sell, and import beer. By 1845, the first commercial brewery was built in Pest by a brewer named Peter Schmidt. He stored this beer in the Kőbánya neighborhood in the tenth district. 

Historically, Kőbánya was a vast limestone quarry that supplied the stone used to build many of Budapest’s buildings. “The massive cellar system in the neighborhood was ideal for fermenting and storing beer because of the steady, cool temperatures. Brewers also discovered high-quality water under the old quarries. 

Limestone mining was stopped in Budapest in 1890. Winegrowers and brewers then used the galleries for the storage or fermentation of their beverages, and it is estimated that all the chambers now used for diving were dug by the latter to extract fresh water. 

During the Second World War, parts of this amazing underground network were used as shelter by thousands of Budapestois during the bombings, a covert aircraft engine assembly plant, and it was also at this time that three churches, one of Gothic style, were carved into the limestone walls. 

You can enjoy the best of Hungarian and international beers at these annual festivals – just don’t offer “Cheers”: 

Budapest Beer Week (BPBW)

Főzdefeszt (Budapest Craft Beer Festival) 

Buda Castle Beer Festival 

Belgian Beer Festival love of international flavors

Pálinka & Sör Fesztivál (Brandy & Beer Festival)

Hungarians, like most consumers, often associate food and drink with tobacco. Recent statistics show that over 28 percent of the population over 15 are regular smokers. It was probably much higher in times of war and revolution. They were certainly ideal for bribing guards. The three big tobacco companies in Hungary have producing facilities in the country: Róna Dohányfeldolgozó Kft., Pécsi Dohánygyár, and Continental Dohányipari Zrt. My parents and their friends were into the American brand, Winston. “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.” I’m confident the Hungarian Club was not smoke free! 

With regard to topography, Kekes is the highest elevation point at 1,014 meters (3,327 feet), while the lowest point is the Tisza River at 78 meters (256 feet). The vast lowland area is known as the Great Hungarian Plain is the heart of the agricultural region. The country has four chief geographic regions: Transdanubia (Dunantul), the Great Plain (Alfold), the Little Plain (Kisalfold), and the Northern Mountains. In the middle of it all, flows the Danube River for nearly 1,800 miles or 2,900 kilometers. It eventually ends at the Dead Sea, after passing through ten nations. 

“By the turn of the 20th century, Balaton had become a center of research by Hungarian biologists, geologists, hydrologists, and other scientists, leading to the country’s first biological research institute being built on its shore in 1927. During the 1960s and 1970s, Balaton became a major tourist destination due to focused government efforts, including the construction of a railroad, causing the number of overnight guests in local hotels and campsites to nearly triple in numbers.” 

Buried beneath all the attractions and beauty of my country are the ugly scars of Communism. It drove my family out of Hungary, and we are so much better off because of my parent’s bold decision to leave. The Dump Truck remains a symbol of our freedom. Whenever I see one on the streets or at a construction site, I think of Bela, who probably stole nothing else in his life. As coined by Hippocrates, “desperate times call for desperate measures.” 

It all wants to make me wave the national flag of Hungary (Magyarország zászlaja), a horizontal Tricolor of red, white and green. In this format, it has remained the official flag of Hungary since May 23, 1957, just after The Revolution, but dates back to 1790 and the coronation of Leopold II, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Hungary, Croatia, and Bohemia, Arch Duke of Austria, and the Grand Duke of Tuscany. He was also Queen Marie Antoinette’s brother. This was all long before the rise of Communism, the Iron Curtain, and my parents’ great escape in 1956. 

The Hungarian Communist Party (Magyar Kommunista Párt, or MKP) existed during the interwar period and briefly after World War II. It took on various disguises, as outlined by Wikipedia: “Party of Communists in Hungary (1918–1919; 1922–1943), Socialist Party of Hungary (1919), Party of Socialist Communist Workers in Hungary (1919), Peace Party (1943–1944), and Hungarian Communist Party (1944–1948). In 1948, the party merged with the social democrats to form the Hungarian Working People’s Party which became the next ruling party of Hungary. It was also a member of Comintern (Communist International) and its successor Cominform.” 

With the onset of Communist rule in, a new coat of arms featuring a Communist red star was placed on the flag as the badge. During the anti-Soviet uprising in 1956, revolutionaries cut out the Hammer, Sickle, and Wheat emblem and used the resulting tricolor with a hole in the middle. The three colors represent three virtues: red is for strength, white is for faithfulness, and green is for hope. Hungary currently has a parliamentary republic government. 

Without getting into the country’s whole political structure that you can find on, I will point out that on March 10, 2022, the Hungarian Parliament elected a new President of the Republic in the person of Ms. Katalin Novák, the first female President of Hungary. Women voted for the first time in the 1922 elections. By 1990, women still only made up 7% of elected members, up to 12.6% in 2018. Viktor Mihály Orbán has been Prime Minister since 2010, previously holding the office from 1998 to 2002. He has led the Fidesz political party, Hungarian Civic Alliance, since 1993, with a break between 2000 and 2003. 

Budapest is the capital city, and seat for the Orbán Prime Ministry at the Sándor Palace, but if you’re looking for other unique places to visit in the country, the village of Hollóko is one of the most charming. It’s hidden in the north eastern hills where they live like it was 100 years ago. Also, Herend, a village west of the Danube, is home to 185 years of handmade porcelain manufacturing. Wazes, cups and statues are made here, attracting famous people from around the world. No serious porcelain collection is complete without a Herend! 

I remain curious about the country I left behind and continue to study the culture and history. Delving into the past is important to Hungarians – it was important to me. This is why I’ve included so much history and tradition in this story of escape. As you can imagine, it was difficult to appreciate life in Pest as a child when surrounded by violence and discontent. As I get older, I want to learn more about the Hungarian people and their passions. This is why I decided to write this story and have tried to include even the trivial facts that have shaped the evolution of my homeland. 

Hungarians respectfully like paying homage to their former kings, poets, authors, martyrs, freedom fighters, and other national heroes. There are at least 1,173 statues on just the streets of Budapest, let alone the rest of the country. There are also nearly 30 miniature statues displayed throughout the city by Mihajlo Kolodko, a Ukrainian artist with Hungarian roots. In addition, since 1993, Memento Park has been home to Hungary’s fallen and toppled communist-era statues, “a graveyard to dictators that provides a place to teach and remember, but not to idealize.” Here you will find the boots from the Stalin statue torn down in the 1956 Revolution. 

The most revered is probably The Liberty Statue or Freedom Statue, a monument on the Gellért Hill in Budapest. “It commemorates those who sacrificed their lives for the independence, freedom, and prosperity of Hungary.” I found a dozen more that caught my attention, like those of Béla Lugosi at Vajdahunyad Castle, Columbo, Ronald Reagan in Liberty Square, the Zero Kilometer Stone at the geographical center of Budapest, Steve Jobs Memorial, Imre Nagy, William Shakespeare, Empress Sissi Statue, The Fat Policeman whose copper belly is rubbed for luck on St. Stephen’s Basilica, politician Anna Kéthly, and Satoshi Nakamoto, a tribute to the builder(s) of Bitcoin. Some of these heroes preserved in stone were not necessarily Hungarian but had historical influence. I’ll leave this up to your curiosity.

They should have built a statue of Elvis, as celebrities around the world came to the aid of Hungarians during the turbulent Revolution times. “Elvis, the King of Rock and Roll, was such a friend. “In 1957, he played tribute to the anti-Soviet uprising with a performance of ‘Peace in the Valley.’ He was awarded posthumous Hungarian citizenship in 2011 as recognition for this support.” “The King of Pop,” Michael Jackson doesn’t have a statue but during his tour stays in Budapest, he often stayed at the Kempinski Hotel. In the corner of the adjacent park is a tree dedicated to his memory with pictures, flowers, letters, and homemade tributes stapled into the bark. Other Americans, like Columbo, Ronald Regan, and Steve Jobs were cut in stone. 

With further regard to Magyar history, “Hungary’s national symbol appears to be an eagle or falcon of some kind, but it’s actually an entirely fictional mythological bird of prey know as a ‘Turul.’” The “Turul” originates in an ancient Hungarian legend, a folk tale dating back to the 8th century where Emese, the mother of the Magyar royal dynasty and all ethnic Hungarians, was impregnated by a Turul bird. The winged beast appeared to her in a dream and was interpreted to mean that she would give birth to a son who would lead his people out of their home in Levedia. As with most ancient stories, there are several variations depending on how many beers you’ve had. Prince Álmos, in at least one version, is protected from harm by the “Turul” and his ancestors, most notably his son Árpád became the future rulers of the Kingdom of Hungary. 

The Álmos dynasty coat of arms is still displayed. They ruled the Carpathian Basin for four hundred years, including the coronation of King Saint Stephen in AD 1000 and the death of King Andrew III in 1301. By 1500, the Kingdom of Hungary came under the rule of the Ottoman Empire for more than 150 years. Under this regime, the country was divided into three parts. Hungarians know their past and they are tired of being divided and conquered. 

“Part” of Saint Stephen still has a role in Hungarian tradition. His mummified hand known as the “Holy Right” resides in an ornate golden reliquary in the Basilica of St. Stephen. “Drawn into a tight fist and clutching precious jewels, the hand—now shrunken and yellowed—still manages an air of righteous defiance.” It takes “part” in an annual parade every August 20th to commemorate Saint Stephen’s Day and the founding of the Hungarian nation. His father was Géza of Hungary, “mummy,” Sarolt and wife, Gisela. He survived his two sons, Otto and Emeric, and lived to be 62 or 63. His fist is one of two mummified Hungarian tourist attractions, along with the Mummies of Vác. I apologize for any “mummy” jokes that I’ve used in describing them. 

Back in 1867, Hungary became an equal partner in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and remained as such until 1918 when it was broken up at the end of WW I. It was a military and diplomatic alliance under a single monarch titled both Austrian emperor and King of Hungary. Franz Joseph I ruled from 1867 – 1916 and Heinrich Lammasch from 1916-1918, serving as one of Europe’s major powers at that time. 

They resent the Treaty of Trianon that reestablished borders following WW I, and shudder over the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy when two-thirds of its territory was ceded to neighboring nations. Relatives and neighbors of Hungarian families were relegated to the other side of the border. 

It seems that every country has a flag, coat of arms, bird, tree, song, anthem, religious symbol, and/or flower that are uniquely representative of their heritage. Two of these I’ve yet to cover. The tulip, native to The Netherlands is also the national flower of Hungary, as established by the sultan. The Holy Crown is both a symbol of Hungarian Royalty and an important national relic. In simplified form, there’s an upper part that “consists of four arched gold bands welded together into a cupola-like shape, with inscriptions accompanying its illustrations. The lower part is the Greek Crown. It was originally worn by Hungary’s rulers on the occasion of their being crowned.” No one can agree on where it should be housed. 

Where did the name “Hungary” come from? It’s adapted from Hungaria, the Medieval Latin term describing the (H)ungari or (H)ungri people. Hungarians call their country Magyarország, derived from the words Magyar or Megyar. From March 1, 1920 until February 1, 1946 the official name of the territory was Magyar Kiralysag (Kingdom of Hungary, Regnum Hungariae, Königreich Ungarn).” Considering the first syllable being “Hun,” I thought there might be a connection with the nomadic Huns and their infamous leader, Atilla. Scholars dismiss this but legends still exist, according to author Jolan Mann in “The Essential Guide to Being Hungarian.” 

“Hunor and Magor, forefathers of the Huns and Magyars, the two sons of the ardent hunter, Menrot, are led by a white stag they are chasing to a new homeland, Meotisz, which is rich in fish and game and is on the northern shore of the Black Sea. The pagan Magyars believed in the tree of life, which, from its roots to its trunk on upward to its crown has branches that resemble a stag’s antlers. In Hun legends, after the death of Atilla, the crown Prince Csaba wished to unite with the Magyars to reoccupy Atilla’s inheritance. The mythical falcon, Turul, national bird of Hungary and just introduced a few pages ago, led the Huns towards the Carpathian Valley and later provided the same service for their rightful heirs the Magyars.” Hungarians love a good folk tale or folk legend. 

Much has been explored throughout this book about the Revolution of 1956, but there was a revolutionary forerunner that transpired just over one hundred years before. Although it failed, it is still remembered as one of the most significant events in Hungary’s modern history.  In 1848, then known as the Kingdom of Hungry, countrymen sought independence from the Austrian Empire. Poet Sándor Petőfi wrote a tribute which is said to have inspired the fighting, Nemzeti dal (National Song). He reportedly died in the Battle of Segesvár, one of the last battles of the war. It is celebrated every March 15th, one of Hungary’s three national holidays. The lyrics are at the conclusion of the first chapter. Another Petőfi work ends Chapter seven. 

Hungary has adapted remarkedly through the years. A housing shortage defined the 1950s, so my grandma and I were probably fortunate to have and retain our own apartment rather than be put on the streets. This was due to the demands of industrialization, forcing thousands to move to Budapest where I was born. Supply and demand were raising prices. My grandmother was initially part of this migration, leaving the familiar forest where she lived for years with my grandfather and relocating to the city. Fortunately, it was prior to this crunch and subsequent Revolution. 

I’m a car guy, who had to include every car I ever owned in this story of my life. I was only 8-years old when I left the country and never even owned a toy car that I can remember. My godfather would drive me through the streets of Budapest on his BMW two-seater, my first experience with wheels and speed. I don’t ever recall riding with him in a car, although I know he later owned a few. Maybe Bela drove the dump truck by our apartment after work in Pest and let me sit in the cab, but I was only four when he and my dad left. 

To Be Continued…..

Retirement is not without Hassles Part 8 #2493

Continued from Post #2491

Hungarian is one of the most difficult languages to learn, so it only seems logical that Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies, especially No.2 in C-sharp minor, are some of the most difficult piano pieces to perform. They are based on Hungarian folk themes and composed between 1846-1853, one hundred years before The Revolution and later between 1882 and 1885. Magyar rapszódiák are a set of 19 piano solos adapted to orchestral arrangements and have enjoyed widespread popularity in cartoons, most famously in Tom and Jerry’s Academy Award winning short, “The Cat Concerto, and Bugs Bunny’s “Rhapsody Rabbit.” 

“Hungarian Rhapsody” is also a concert film of the British Rock Group, Queen, and their performance at the Nepstadion in Budapest on July 27, 1986, part of the band’s final tour with Freddy Mercury. He sang the Hungarian folk song Tavaszi Szél Vizet Áraszt (Spring Wind Floods Water) to the audience – in Hungarian, sited “as the first song that Hungarians learn and continue to cherish, as part of our culture and identity.” The concert title is a play on the Hungarian Rhapsodies and one of Queen’s most celebrated hits, “Bohemian Rhapsody.” 

Hungary like Austria has a rich tradition of classical music. Franz Liszt was a virtuoso pianist, conductor, composer, and teacher. He’s regarded as one of the greatest pianists of his times (1811-1886), born in the village of Doborján in Sopron County, Kingdom of Hungry, Austrian Empire. He weaved together the themes he had heard in native western Hungary, believed to be folk music at the tempo of verbunkos, gypsy dance, into his compositions. He died in Bayreuth, Kingdom of Bavaria, German Empire. 

“Two other of Hungary’s famous composers, Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály, are known for using folk themes in their music. The Busójárás carnival in Mohács is a major folk music event in Hungary, formerly featuring the long-established and well-regarded Bogyiszló orchestra. Instruments traditionally used in Hungarian folk music include the citera, cimbalom, cobza, doromb, duda, kanászkürt, tárogató, tambura, tekero and ütőgardon.” 

During the era of Communist rule in Hungary (1949–1989) a Song Committee scoured and censored popular music for traces of subversion and ideological impurity. Since then, however, the Hungarian music industry has begun to recover, producing successful performers in the fields of jazz such as trumpeter Rudolf Tomsits, pianist-composer Károly Binder and, in a modernized form of Hungarian folk, Ferenc Sebő and Márta Sebestyén. The three giants of Hungarian rock: Illés, Metró, and Omega, remain very popular. 

“One of the most significant musical genres in Hungary is Romani music, with a historical presence dating back many centuries. Hungarian Romani music is an integral part of the national culture, and it has become increasingly popular throughout the country.” The Sziget festival on the Obudai Island is one of the largest music and cultural festivals in Europe. More than 1,000 performances take place each year.” 

When it comes to popular songs, let’s logically start with the National Anthem, “Himnusz.” is the national anthem of Hungary. The refrain is from 1823 poet, Ferenc Kölcsey’s prayer, beginning with the words Isten, áldd meg a magyart, “God, bless the Hungarians.” The lyrics were written by Ferenc, a nationally renowned poet, in 1823, and the music by romantic composer Ferenc Erkel in 1844. Since there are 8-verses, I will not elaborate.  

The anthem has experienced its share of politics, beginning just after the First World War when Hungary’s Minister of Culture issued a decree stating that “according to the prayerful nature of the anthem, it can only be given on serious occasions.” Thus, the anthem was banned from being played at sporting events. If it weren’t for sports in the U.S., we would hardly ever hear our anthem. During the communist regime, the anthem was played without text, and a movement began to adopt a new one with non-religious verbiage and a more optimistic message. However, “God Bless the Hungarians,’ somehow survived to be officially adopted as the song of the Third Hungarian Republic in 1989. 

Hungarian pop is the pop music scene of Hungary, and often associated with Rezső Seress’s song, “Gloomy Sunday,” which was covered by numerous artists. The most notable artists include Zsuzsa Koncz, Locomotiv GT, Omega, Karthago, Zsuzsa Cserháti, Kati Kovács, Judit Szűcs, Péter Máté, Neoton Família, and Jimmy Zámbó.  

I also found a website,, that identified 50 tunes, in no particular order, believed to be what an overwhelming majority of the Hungarian population could hum the words along if forced to remember. I had them translated into English, but they are just as foreign to me:

  • “Even they say it does not fit”
  • “They load the fire, yet it goes out”
  • “Crispy cherries ripen”
  • “My boots are new, they are hung on the nail”
  • “Once upon a time a prince”
  • “Stars, stars, shine beautifully”
  • “I went to the fair”
  • “Gerencséri Street”
  • “Plums fall from the tree”
  • “The grapes ripen, bend the cane”
  • “Hej The wind blows from the Danube”
  • “Graze from the wind”
  • “Under the shore”
  • “The world burns at a wedge of flowers”
  • “Bered lad, load your cart well”
  • “Little girl from Komárom”
  • “A little piglet volley, volley, vole”
  • “Spring wind floods water”
  • “Hej Vargan, cooking cabbage”
  • “Come with me Anna Molnár”
  • “Forest, forest, forest, round forest of Marosszék”
  • “Two sprigs of peonies, bent out onto the road”
  • “Who does not act at the same time”
  • “Chain, chain, lathe chain”
  • “Marry cricket”
  • “Paul, Kate, Peter”
  • “Small ducks bathe”
  • “Trench jumped by mosquito”
  • “I lost my handkerchief”
  • “Hide-and-seek green branch”
  • “There is a witch”
  • “Hosted by, Alphabet”
  • “For the good cavalry soldier”
  • “Bridge horse end”
  • “My baby is ploughed”
  • “Madárka, madárka” (emigration song)
  • “Hope Julian, Hope Mariska”
  • “The present hussar is doing well”
  • “The two girls went to pick up a mirage”
  • “By I would go, I on the Tisza ladik”
  • “Hey rozmaring, rozmaring”
  • I’m leaving, I’m going”
  • “Oh, but I’m sick”
  • “Lajos Kossuth said:”
  • “Bride, groom, but beautiful both”
  • “May the Lord God grant to this farmer”
  • “I’m a poor lad”
  • “Deep forest violet blossom”
  • “Dry lake on wet shore”
  • “Where are you going, little rabbit”


Although we weren’t a family of talented musicians, it wasn’t from the lack of opportunity. My parents bought a used piano in West Windsor, New Jersey, and I took lessons for about four years. The piano was eventually passed along to Jill and I when we moved to Shamong. Both Adam and Neil took lessons and still play today. We gave the piano to Neil after he bought a home in Southampton, New Jersey, so that all three grandchildren could continue the tradition. My parents did like to sing and dance, as I’m sure they did in the comfortable setting of the Hungarian Club and in the comfort of their friends’ homes. They enjoyed listening to music and would gather together with friends to sing some of the familiar Hungarian favorites. 

The Phoenixville Hungarian Club, although I rarely got to go inside, had the bar downstairs and dining room on the main floor. There was a small stage and a piano in the corner, as I recall, and loud voices echoing up the stairway as the bar crowd talked over each other. My mom always liked to dress up, so this was her opportunity to let loose. Hungarians are good at that! 

My dad loved gypsy inspired music and hired an authentic band for our wedding. It was a group that he would go see when he was working in New York City. I remember our trip back to Hungary in May of 1981. Jill was five months pregnant with Adam when she met my godfather, Kalmar, for the first time. My dad got up from our restaurant table and summoned the gypsy band to play for us. He requested some old favorite Hungary songs and some Mozart in between. He was definitely in his element, as the band played on. “Can I have this dance, Jill?” 

Wikipedia research pointed out that “some well-known Gypsy music styles include Flamenco (Spain), Manouche Jazz (France) and Balkan Brass (Eastern Europe). Each style showcases the diversity and adaptability of Gypsy music, blending local traditions with the rich musical heritage of the Romani people.” 

Dad explained that most of the Gypsies in Europe are Roma (Romani), the country’s largest ethnic minority believed to have migrated from Northern India to Hungary in the 10th or 11th century. They reportedly make up about 3.2 percent of the total population. To call them “Hungarian Gypsies” is considered a racial slur. 

It’s disturbing to note that following Hungarian independence in 1919, the Hungarian government carried out a series of anti-Roma policies. In addition, tens of thousands of Hungarian Romani were murdered by the Nazis, in conjunction with the Hungarian authorities. 

My dad saw their music as magical (majiks), citing artists like Kesha, Neon Hitch, Cher Lloyd, Jerry Mason, and Django Reinhardt. Most of us associate them with tarot cards, crystal balls, fortune-telling tents, and maybe even witchcraft. From early on, the Romani have certainly been connected with singing, dancing, and acting. Literature is full of stories of their magical arts. Regardless of how magical they may be, they are very much misunderstood.

To be Continued…

Retirement is not without Hassles: Hungry in Hungary Part 7 #2491

Continued from Post # 2489

Since this was a story about bribing hungry guards with food to escape from Hungary during the height of the Revolution, it only makes sense to include a chapter about Hungarian food, drink, and spices. For the six escapees, food was their most valuable commodity. They were too poor to offer anything else, leaving their homeland with only the clothes on their back. 

Food was obviously important in my life, especially since I can vividly remember the farewell dinner with my parents of Makos Teszta, poppy seed noodles in a sweet sauce. Plus, I wasn’t quite four-years old at the time, just at the point where long-term memory develops, so I’m lucky to recall anything at all. 

I also recount the long flight to the U.S. for the reunion with my parents. A pre-arranged representative took me to and from the airport. Grandmother packed me a satchel-full of bread, cheese, and salami for the journey, knowing that I would need to spend the night alone in Amsterdam at a youth boarding facility and had never ridden on a plane. 

Only Hungarian food had ever crossed my lips apart from the Hershey’s candy kisses my parents would regularly send to our Budapest apartment with their letters, photos and some clothes, so I was leery about anything out of the ordinary that was served at the hostel or on the plane. You could also tell that someone had gone through everything that was sent. All that candy resulted in my first cavities, hopefully it put a few holes in the teeth of those Communist inspectors as they “tested” it for improprieties. Plus, everything I attempted to digest on the way back to The States was lost through motion sickness on the plane ride or during the miserable car ride from J.F.K. to Phoenixville. 

I slowly made my way through customs, after spotting my anxious parents from afar on the other side of the terminal. They had to patiently wait before our tearful reunion. They were with the familiar faces of Bela and Emmi, who had gotten them to the airport to meet me. It had been four long years since our farewell dinner in Budapest just prior to the escape. We had a lot to catch up on, as I continued to clutch my satchel of bread, salami, and cheese. Once I finally got over my sickness, they filled me with familiar Hungarian dishes.

Along these lines, I offer these tidbits about Hungarian food that I found on Wikipedia: “There is no doubt that pálinka is one of the beverages you will be first offered when arriving to Hungary. It’s like Windex to the Greeks in the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Spray it on to cure anything. Hungarian grandmothers swear by the power of pálinka. Have a headache? Pálinka. Feeling nervous? Pálinka. Feeling sleepy or uninspired? Pálinka. This beverage is a traditional fruit brandy with Hungarian origins made from fruits such as apricot, plum and apple. As the saying goes: “Pálinka in small amounts is a medicine, in large amounts a remedy.” 

“Paprika is Hungary’s most popular spice and a symbol of its cuisine. Hungarians consume more than 1.10 lbs. (500 g) of paprika each year and there are more than 40 varieties grown in Hungary.” 

“Among the different varieties of paprika, the spice is often divided into three categories—hot paprika, sweet paprika, and smoked paprika. Due to the favorable climate and geographical conditions, Hungarian paprika has a bright red color and a distinctive rich flavor that allowed Hungary to became one of the leading producers in the world. Kalocsa and Szeged in southern Hungary are the hearts of production.” 

Finally, according to several internet articles and cookbooks, these are apparently the most popular Hungarian dishes – worthy of any bribe. Makos Teszta was not one of the suggested favorites, but one of the most memorable for me.

Goulash (Gulyás) … 

Fisherman’s Soup (Halászlé) … 

Chicken Paprikash (Csirke Paprikás) … 

Meat Pancakes (Hortobagyi Palacsinta) … 

Stuffed Cabbage Leaves (Töltött Káposzta) … 

Meat Stew (Pörkölt) …

Sour Cherry Soup (Meggyleves)

Jókai Bean Soup (Jókai Bableves)

Deep-Fried Flat Bread (Lángos)

Pasta With Cottage Cheese (Túrós Csusza)

Hungarian Trifle (Somlói Galuska)

Pork Bone Soup (Orjaleves)

Pork Rice Pilaf (Bácskai Rizses Hús)

Dobosh Cake (Dobos Torta)

Ratatouille (Lechó)

Sour Cherry Strudel (Meggyes Rétes)

Sauerkraut Soup (Korhelyleves)

Hungarian Tripe Stew (Pacal Pörkölt)

Summer Squash Stew (Tökfozelék)

Chimney Cake (Kurtos Kalacs)

Spinach Stew (Spenótfozelék)

Ratatouille has become even more popular because of the Walt Disney animated movie and Disney World ride. It’s a colorful, vegetable stew, simmered in olive oil, garlic, and herbs. Most recipes call for eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers, and tomatoes, and, of course, Hungarian hot smoked sausage. I like to serve it over nokedli (Hungarian egg noodles). Originally it came from the Provence region of France, so the Disney characters are portrayed with a French accent. In Hungary it’s known as lecsó.

Traditional Hungarian dishes are primarily centered around meats, seasonal vegetables, fresh bread, dairy products, cheeses, and fruits. My grandmother was a very good cook who believed in buying fresh foods. We would go to the village market together and often come home carrying these Hungarian staples that she would transform into delicious meals. Even breakfast would typically consist of fresh bread, minced meat products like kolbász or szalámi, mixed with vegetables or jam.

Salad courses don’t exist in Hungary. Our meals were accompanied by a small plate of seasoned vegetables, usually shredded cabbage, cucumbers, beets, or tomatoes. Sometimes they were pickled (savanyúság). 

What dishes might you want to stay away from? Visitors consider these to be disgusting concoctions:

Pacalpörkölt – Tripe stew

Szalontüdő/Savanyú tüdő – Sour lungs

Hagymás vér – Blood with onions

Kocsonya – Aspic

Édes tészták – Sweet pastas 

When it’s cold outside and you need to “escape,” here’s my mom’s family recipe. She was a “pinch of that, touch of this, smidge of the other, and a smooch of love” kind of chef. My father, on the other hand, was very critical of mom’s cooking. He had a very evolved sense of smell, and tended to be very picky, especially when we would go to a restaurant. Although he rarely cooked himself, he spent an inordinate amount of time trying to teach his caregiver Inna how to cook things his way. A good example was that he thought there should be no vegetables added to Fish Soup. This is why we called him “The Master Chef.”

Manci’s Goulash Recipe 

2 lbs. Fresh Ham (or pork) cut in cubes

1 or 2 medium onions diced

2 to 4 medium peppers sliced

Cook onions and in oil while cutting meat

Place ham cubes in pot and cover with water

Add enough paprika until water is red

Cook for 20 minutes 

While cooking add:

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp salt

3 squeezes of Hungarian Goulash Paste

½ tsp Caraway Seeds 

2 tablespoons of Tomato Paste

Add the following vegetables: 




NO Parsley 

Cook until vegetables and meat are done

Add diced potatoes 

Add Chipetka (flour, egg, water, salt) 

Cook only ½ bag of small noodles and keep separate like Chicken Soup.

When sitting down at the table to eat, say your prayers and jó étvágyat.“Enjoy your meal!” Hungarians always politely say this to each other before they start devouring their meal. As far as something to wash it down, Hungarians belong to the group of consumers characterized by high alcoholic beverage consumption and is still one of the leading liver cirrhosis mortality countries in Europe and in the world. The drinking age is 18, so they get an earlier start than most Americans. The Hungarian word for “cheers” is a mouthful, “egészségedre,” but be careful how you use it. Toasting with a beer, for example, is frowned on since back in the 1848 revolution, the Austrians victoriously celebrated with a clink of the beer glass. Drinking and eating in Hungary is full of tradition, so know the rules and pace yourself. 

When is the best time to eat and drink in Hungary? There are four major holidays: Carnival Season lasts the month of February to mark the end of winter; Revolution Day is March 15 known as “Hungarian spring;” August 20 is St. Stephen’s Day in honor of Hungary’s first king; October 23 commemorates the people’s uprising against Soviet repression back in 1956. “Eat, Drink, and be Merry!”

I’ll bet you’re Hungry. Now, more about Hungary.

To Be Continued…..

Retirement is not without Hassles: Hungry in Hungary Part 6 #2489

Continued from Post #2487

Mom and dad moved to North Fort Myers in 2000 where they purchased a new house in a gated community (Herons Glen). They loved the Clubhouse, and my dad was especially fond of the heated pool. That dump truck must have seemed like a bad dream, considering all the luxuries they enjoyed in life. 

Mom had also purchased a house near Jill and I in New Jersey, a retirement community, where they would fly up for the summers, so we’d see them quite often. 

Dad was getting itchy to do business again, after 10-years of retirement and ended up buying 8 properties on intercoastal canals in Florida after the housing market collapse. He established a company and worked with a builder over the years to construct 3 homes that he sold for a profit. He also sold the rest of his property investments in later years. 

At some point dad convinced Emmi to move down to Florida. She settled about a half-hour north of us in Port Charlotte. They were both long time loyalists to the Smirnoff brand of vodka. Manci, Miki and Emmi visited each other during the course each week. They enjoyed each other’s company and had “kicsi (a little vodka), and bor (wine) here and there” when they got together to reminisce. 

Jill and I would also fly down to Florida and visit them as often as we could, Mom would always be extremely happy and in her element cooking up a storm of al the great Hungarian dishes for us. They liked to eat early, by 4pm, and if we were on the road and got back late she would be upset at us. 

I was honored to celebrate their lives with friends and family on April 14, 2018. My son Adam, at age 36, had prepared a video, pictures set to music, of their lives. It brought back many memories of my parents, their flight to freedom, and the opportunities that they gave me. These were my closing remarks:

“Mom and dad had a wonderful and full life always appreciating the freedom and opportunities this country offered. While not without hardship, they always managed to come out stronger and move forward. We miss them both very much. Special thanks go to two very special people, particularly during the last five years of dad’s life.” 

“Inna Piper was my dad’s caregiver ever since he moved back to the house in the fall of 2013. Inna provided excellent care for a ‘tough cookie,’ like my dad. She learned how to cook many Hungarian dishes from the “Master Chief,” and faithfully escorted him to the pool, doctor appointments, and, of course, to monthly visits with the German butcher. AND…” 

“To Jill, my wonderful wife, for all her help, support and patience throughout. Most importantly, for putting up with a ‘hot headed’ Hungarian husband, at times.” 

Rest in Peace, 

MOM 3/15/2013 – 87 Years old 

DAD 7/31/2017 – 89 Years old

To Be Continued


Retirement is not without Hassles: Hungry for Hungary Part 5 #2487

Continued from Post #2483

Dad left RCA in 1968 for a VP job in NYC with a man named Norman who owned a small publishing company. I can’t remember his last name. We moved to West Windsor (15 Darvel Dr.) and dad would take the train from Princeton Junction to NYC. 

On several occasions my mom would get a call to pick my dad up in Trenton because he missed his stop. I wonder why? Could it have been the bar car or the taverns in Trenton? 

Mom through the years became a “wire woman”, who soldered components onto computer circuit boards. She took a job with Base Ten in the Trenton area and really enjoyed working there. She also helped my dad’s company solder the AW computer boards in the later years. 

I attended Princeton High School for four years, where I ran the 400-yard and 800-yard dashes and played basketball. I tried to live up to my “Speedy” nickname, but I was but an average athlete. My two sons, Adam and Neil, became great medium and distance runners thanks to their Hungarian genes and desire to escape from anyone that was chasing them. 

We continued going to Phoenixville as often as possible, especially when there were events at the Hungarian Club. The club always remained the main connection between their past and current lives. It allowed them to bond with other Hungarians, and probably was a safe place to practice their English and talk about what was going on in their native land. There were affordable meals served and a friendly bar. It was always the center of their lives. 

After graduating from high school in 1971, I went back to Hungary for the second time and visited with my godfather and other relatives, including my mom’s divorced middle sister Kati and her two sons, Tibi and Lazsi that never left Hungary. Tibi’s two sons, Peter and Gabi, now live together in London. Judzsi, the youngest sister, and her husband Miki Sr. escaped from Hungary to Toronto, Canada and raised a son, Kis Miki. 

The trip back to Budapest was a graduation gift from my parents and was planned for eight weeks so I could also see some of Europe. My best friend from high school, Bob Woodside, planned to join me on this adventure, but did not expect to find me in a Budapest hospital having my appendix removed. I was once again fortunate to have Kalmar Laszlo’s godfatherly guidance, who somehow found an English-speaking surgeon to perform my operation. He was always more like a second father to me, stepping in as the primary male figurehead, particularly when I was separated from my real father for those four long years. His first wife has passed away since I left Budapest for America, but he remarried to a woman named Elizabeth and became a stepfather to her two daughters. They were planning a trip to Dubrovnik and wondered if we wanted to join them. Regardless, he was once again there in a time of need to rescue me from a difficult situation. 

My parents of course were worried back in The States, so my father made the long flight to faithfully be by my side in recovery. He had also decided, even before this emergency, to have us share a car with his cousin, Edith, in Munich. We agreed to split the $2,000 cost of purchasing a used, red VW Beetle, so we would have a vehicle to tour Europe. The car would then stay with her when we returned home. I flew into Munich and picked up the car keys from Edith. Part of the deal was that I would come back to Munich and pick up her son, Rudy, for the last two weeks of the trip. I started to make my way to Budapest. However, on the fast-moving Autobahn, the 4-cylinder engine suddenly became three. 

After my time in Hungary, I returned with Bob, and picked up Rudy as we headed towards Venice, Italy for starters. Rudy wanted to make too many stops for food and museums, so he quickly became a hinderance. After several arguments, we gladly dropped him off at the Venice train station, never to be seen again by the two of us. Bob and I caught a ferry to Split, before driving the winding roads to Dubrovnik in search of my godfather and his wife. 

The two of us wandered from campground to youth hostel on our limited budget. We never did find my godfather. The car limped its way over the mountainous pass, and we soon realized that another slow-moving passenger car, an older Fiat, was giving us hand signals to assist in navigating our way through the truck traffic on the twisty, single-lane, highway along the coast. They were a newly-wed couple and turned out to be very friendly, so we stopped and had lunch with them in Split– their treat – a step up from the usual bread, salami, and cheese diet that provided our inexpensive, daily nutrition. We were no longer Hungry in Hungary – or in this case, Yugoslavia. 

We somehow got the VW back to the ferry stop in Venice and then back to Munich. My father’s cousin was disappointed in us for both abandoning her son Rudy and damaging the car’s engine. We flew out of Munich for home. I would be next headed to Air Defense Artillery School in El Paso, where I would train for 3-months on handheld, heat-seeking rockets. It was good to see Jill again after all this time apart. Our relationship was getting more serious. She was about to graduate from Montclair State in New Jersey with a Physical Education degree. 

I joined Army ROTC during my sophomore year at Rutgers. Junior year I spent at least six weeks at Ft. Bragg for basic training, then six more in El Paso. They tried to send me to both Turkey and Germany as an Air Defense Munitions Officer, but Jill refused to go with me. Finally, my superiors agreed to Wilkes-Barre, North Carolina. In all, I spent two years in the Service and four years in the Reserves. 

Around 1974 my dad and Chuck Welch, who I call “the technical genius,” started AW Computer Systems (Ambrus and Welch) with the help of Louis Nemeth, Sr. getting them their first project with Basco. My dad had met Chuck when they both worked at RCA in Cherry Hill, while Mr. Nemeth knew the head of Basco, a fellow Hungarian, and went so far as to arrange for AW to use the available space above their jewelry store at 818 Chestnut Street in Philadelphia for the initial offices. The Basco Showrooms thus became the market for AW’s primary product, a computer system that allowed clerks to tell a customer instantly whether the wanted item was in stock, complete the sales transaction, and send an electronic packing slip to a bank of printers in the warehouse. 

In 1975, Mom and Dad bought their dream house in Wayne, Pennsylvania. Dad always said that someday he wanted to purchase a house in this neighborhood that, if you’ll remember, was part of his surveying job when he first moved to Phoenixville. It was the perfect home for all of us, including the “In-law House” for Granny who was ready for some privacy and personal space. She particularly enjoyed the peaceful surroundings where she could do yard work and garden. The famous Valley Forge National Memorial Arch was within walking distance. Early the next year, I went on active duty with the Army, and soon moved to Wilkes-Barre, North Carolina. 

To start my computer career, I went to work part time at AW as an overnight programmer with plans to settle down. Jill Laabs and I got married on July 9, 1977. We first met at Great Gorge Mountain Ski Resort that is currently known as Mountain Creek Resort. It’s the largest ski area in New Jersey. I was in the bar with two buddies and offered to buy her a Whiskey Sour, not realizing that her boyfriend was still out on the mountain. She told me where she went to school and that she resided in Bone Hall but didn’t give me her last name. I looked up several Jills at Montclair State before I found her. Soon after, we went on a double date to a Rutgers basketball game and out for pizza. 

Within a year or two after founding AW, my dad was finding unprecedented success. He and mom had the pool and landscaping added with a heated Jacuzzi. Dad always loved the water and liked to swim. Mom liked to get her toes wet and sunbathe. I was officially released from active duty, while Jill and I rented a place in Sherwood Village, Eastampton, New Jersey. I also accepted a night Computer Operator job with Basco, my dad’s AW client, who then hired me as a programmer in 1979.

With a steady job, Jill and I bought our first house at 22 Stonegate Drive in Eastampton and began to plan a family. A son, Adam Ambrus, was born on September 5,1982, but just a year later, in the Spring of 1983, our family moved to Wembley, England, so I could assist, train, and learn from our AW client, MFI Furniture Centres, Ltd. Their School of Advanced Programming issued this report (SERIOUSLY): 









As the “Report Card” indicates, Hungarians like me are very friendly and gregarious. To know us is to love us! 

Jill, Adam, and I returned to Eastampton in the Spring of 1984. Actually, since Jill was pregnant, there were really four of us on the flight back. At last, on U.S. soil, I was able to drive on the RIGHT side, just like they do in Hungary. Neil Ambrus, our second son, was born on October 11, 1984. Another U.S. citizen! 

1982 was a tough year for AW Computer Systems. A major change in the industry had dried up business while prospects grew limited. My dad was quoted in The News stating, “For six months we didn’t make a sale to anyone. We almost couldn’t get anyone on the phone. It was a real futility around here.” The event that nearly put them out of business was the sale of the Basco chain to Best Products, Inc. However, my dad had faced adversity all his life and within a few years secured a contract with Montgomery Ward and had negotiations underway with H.H. Macy & Co and the Marshall’s Inc. division of Melville, Corp. He had once again made a great escape. 

By the mid 80’s, AW had established itself in the Point of Sale (POS) retail industry as a vendor and had grown this operation to more than 40 employees. Best Products ended up buying Basco and 36 percent of AW. Most of my dad’s time was spent growing the AW customer base as well as our product base. He retired at age 62 in 1990. 

In the late 1980s, mom and dad also bought a place in South Beach, Miami, on the 16th floor of a high rise and used it for 10 years. They enjoyed it for the great beaches, restaurants and of course the Florida weather, but it became very expensive when AW started to again have troubles. Our family of four moved to 7 Princeton Drive, Shamong, New Jersey. 

With dad’s retirement, the company was having difficulty adapting to the changes in the retail industry. Without Nicholas to “keep Chuck in check,” the company put too much focus on vision technology. In fact, experts were hired from the University of Pennsylvania. Chuck Welch’s vision was to build a self-serve check-out system, like what we see today in major retail outlets, but the idea was a few years premature. He began to experiment with the Winn-Dixie chain of 1200 stores. However, identifying products and avoiding substitution tricks by using color cameras to scan rather than weigh items to be purchased put costs out of line. In retrospect, less expensive black & white cameras would have sufficed. It’s complicated but not quite as difficult as trying to escape from Communist-occupied Hungary! 

At that time, AW was located at 9000A Commerce Parkway in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey. A brochure, identifying IBM and Microsoft as “partners” detailed what the company called “Vision Technology.” The cover page stated the following:

“The Checker Productivity Analyzer System (CPA) is a real time security system that protects supermarkets against losses due to theft and accuracy at checkout. It is designed to be in constant communication with the POS system, “listening to” register transactions as they are sent over the register loop. Scan or keyed item information is used to obtain product descriptions known to the system. Visual images of products are captured by cameras at the check stand and converted to a form that enables comparison. When the system determines there is a mismatch between the camera data and data base representations of the product descriptions, an event is alarmed.” 

Chuck was all about technology and didn’t have the business sense of my father, so AW eventually terminated operations on March 10th, 1998. Sadly, it also severed their friendship. 

Without a connection to AW, I began to seek other opportunities. In January of 1998, I became System Manager for Pep Boys. The boys were in their teens, so Jill began a career in Special Education. In 2004, I began to consult as a project manager, made management stops at Bearing Point, AC Moore, and finally landed at WAWA as IT QA Lab Coordinator. As you can see, It was a steady climb up the ladder of success from AW to WAWA! I retired ten years later, with plans to continue consulting for a few more years. In 2022, we moved to the resort community, Islandwalk, in Venice, FL, while keeping our “second home on wheels” in a R,V. storage facility. 

With the help of a neighbor, I finally got around to telling this incredible story, seven years after my father passed away. It’s interesting to recount how we followed in their footsteps from Budapest to New Jersey, the surrounding states, and ultimately Florida.

To Be Continued

Retirement is not without Hassles: Hungry in Hungary Part 4 #2483

Continued from Post #2480

I’ve often tried to imagine what these six close friends and refugees, including my parents, went through in preparing for this escape. Many secretive discussions were undoubtedly held regarding the plan and what to take along. It’s difficult to envision giving up everything you own and the family that you love. These were life and death decisions that very few of us ever face. I’m sure that my mother pleaded with the others to take me along, but the risks were too great. The other two couples did not have children, but they too would leave beloved family members behind. Wills and other paperwork were hastily prepared so that apartments and possessions could be passed along to those who stayed to face the consequences of Communism. 

I will never know what they packed in the bed of that dump truck that fateful day, but it couldn’t have been much. We’ve all packed for vacations, weekend getaways, and camping trips where stew for weeks about what to take. They would be leaving essentially everything they had worked for behind. Maybe they packed an extra set of clothes, certainly food for a couple of days, and a few photos. It seems silly, but did they even bring along a toothbrush? Was cash and jewelry sewn into their clothing, as we often hear about with refugees? Maybe coats and blankets gathered? How can you possibly walk away from all your possessions in life, but as they say in death, “you can’t take it with you, unless you’re an Egyptian King.”

This was indeed similar to preparing for a suicide mission, departing with nothing but thoughts and prayers. I do not know how religious my parent’s companions were, but I’m certain that all of them sought guidance from above. This was certainly not an impromptu decision, so the stress and strain of preparation had to be gut-wrenching. My parents tried their best to stay strong in front of me, but even at age four I could feel their pain. My grandmother was my rock through this entire ordeal, but I’m sure she spent many dark nights in tears.

Couples go through separation in times of war. There is a constant sense of worry and fear, regarding each other’s welfare. Communication is limited to letters that take weeks to arrive. They may not have even had the money for a postage stamp. I find this all very unsettling when I think about their plight.

We would not be reunited for four years. I can’t recall if there was ever word that they were still alive, or if my grandmother and I discussed it. Once I finished that last meal with them, they disappeared into the night, and I was left with nothing but memories.

Christmas that year was just grandmother and I, wondering if mom and dad were safe or even alive. We tried to act like everything was normal, but it wasn’t. We were still Hungry in Hungary, while they were, at best, hungry somewhere else.

Now, here we were back together and living in an actual house, my first, in Moorestown, N.J., 4,423 miles away. There would be no more apartment living for our family. To get to the U.S., I had flown on my first airplane, stayed overnight by myself in a youth hostel in Amsterdam, got carsick on the ride to my new home because I’d never actually ridden in an automobile before, and now it seemed like every Friday, as a family, we would pack up our very own car, another first for me, and head to Phoenixville to see Bela and Emmi, along with my parents’ other close friends. Without all these modern conveniences, in a way it was just like being in Budapest, but I was now missing Granny.

My first Christmas in America was very special, and I was spoiled with many gifts under the tree, including a Lionel Train set that I remember most. Also, under the tree was a big toy tank that shot plastic projectiles from the rotating gun turret. Cats beware! We had missed the past three holidays together, so my parents were making up for lost time. On too many occasions in life, I would get gifts that were for both Christmas and my birthday since it was just 11-days later. However, this year, both were major family events. Bela and Emmi, of course, joined us for the two celebrations.

It was difficult to be an eight-year-old in a strange land where only a few spoke my language. While living in Phoenixville, I would often get dropped off with the DiSandri’s or Nemeth’s, so I could play with their kids while mom and dad would go partying with the Phoenixville gang. Lots of great times, food, dancing and of course drinking. Mr. Anthony DiSandri had a son named Tony that knew of all the area pick-up games of sport that we could join. Mr. Louis Nemeth’s two sons, Lou and Nick, were less athletic, so we would watch TV and play board games. Their father, Louis Sr., was a computer programmer and worked for the Water Company in Philadelphia. He brought the Basco chain of catalog showrooms business to my dad’s company, giving them their first computer system project and me an eventual job. His wife, Elizabeth was also an Engineer. All my parent’s friends were professionals, like the majority of Hungarians who immigrated to the U.S. at that time. They all contributed their great skills to the American economy. 

The following year, 1962, dad was transferred for one year to Indianapolis, Indiana by RCA. Grandmother finally arrived from Hungary that year and joined us there, after two years of separation from me, and what was surely a lonely life back in Budapest. She was always a loner but took good care of me. At last, we were all back together after four long years of separation.

I particularly remember living in Indianapolis because I got to go to the 1962 Indy 500. My fascination with cars and racing began here. Parnelli Jones, breaking the 150-mph barrier, held the pole but Rodger Ward won the race. The pace car was the Studebaker Lark Daytona Convertible. My favorite, Jackie Stewart, did not race at Indy until 1966 and 1967. When I returned to the track in 1976 while serving in the Army, Polesitter Johnny Rutherford drank the milk in the Winner’s Circle. He was declared the winner when rain halted the race on lap 102. The pace car was the Buick Century. 

Cars and speed were always passions of mine. My high school friend, Bob, who lived in Princeton proper, drove a used Mustang with three-on-the-floor, while his good buddy’s dad owned a modified Corvair with a mid-engine V8. My parent’s first car was a used, white, Oldsmobile convertible with a red interior from the mid-1950s. My dad’s first new car was a 1962 blue Chrysler Newport with a white top and three-on-the-floor. It was also 1962 when we moved to West Windsor, NJ. This is where I learned to drive that stick that proved handy when my dad gifted mom a shiny blue 1970 Chevy Vega, also with a manual shift. It became my job to teach her how to work the clutch. However, she would unconsciously take her eyes off the road when shifting and consequently bumped into another car in the parking lot of the grocery store. Dad then wised up and bought her an automatic 1970 Barracuda that she loved. 

I had my sole auto accident in the Newport on the way to Princeton High basketball practice, but obviously learned my lesson about safe driving. My dad, of course, was very upset that I banged up his baby. Normally I would take the bus to school, but the exception came when I had after-school activities. 

In 1963, my folks bought their first home (713 Devon Rd.) in Moorestown where we lived for 5 years, while I graduated from Baker Elementary’s 9th grade. The house had a creek out back that occupied my after-school time. I had a dog named Prince and a Siamese cat to replace the pet chickens of my childhood. 

We came a long way to get from Budapest to the northeast United States, but other than that year in Indianapolis, we really didn’t go far once we settled in the U.S. The cities of Phoenixville, Philadelphia, Moorestown, West Windsor, Princeton, and Wayne, although they may appear as distant moves, were all in the same vicinity, despite being in two different states. The beauty of living in that area was the ease of accessibility to major cities like Philly, Washington D.C. and even NYC.  Eventually, we would all move to Florida, where everything seemed so far apart. 

In 1965, at 12-years old, I got my first opportunity to return to Budapest. Four years had passed since my exodus. Another of my dad’s good friends in Phoenixville, John Knezits, who also happened to be Treasurer of the Hungarian Club, bought a new VW 1600 fastback, a two-door, four-passenger model that he would pick up at the factory in Munich, Germany. He invited my dad and I to accompany him and his daughter, Sue, on this adventure. His wife, Rose, and my mother stayed home, while the four of us jumped on a plane, picked up the car, and headed for Budapest. 

We visited several relatives along the way, all joyous reunions involving Hungarian food, conversation, and drink. I couldn’t get over the new car smell and was relieved that I didn’t get car sick again, as Sue shared the back seat with me. It was great to see my godfather again, as well as the cousins I had left behind. When the reacquainting was over, we drove the car to an awaiting ship and flew home. It was strange how home was now another place across the ocean. 

It’s also unbelievable to think about how my parents gave up everything in Budapest and just seven years later owned a home in the United States of America. It truly is the “Land of Opportunity.” There’s also a lot more to their Hungarian fairy tale story.

To Be Continued


Retirement is not without Hassles: Hungry in Hungary Part 3 #2480

Continued from Post 2477:

At no point was there likely ever a conversation between the six new refugees about going to the United States. They were convinced that they would settle somewhere near Hungary, likely Germany, and probably never return to the comforts of their homeland. Country, friends and family were reluctantly left behind by all of them, but only my parents were forced to  abandon a precious child. This had to weigh heavily on my mother. Wherever they eventually landed, this tight group would always stick together, having already gone through so much trauma, already bonded for life. They were now probably “living,” if you could call it that, in a Viennese camp in the center of Traiskirchen, the former Artillery Cadet School built in 1900 and undoubtedly huddled together with other Hungarian castaways. Their names were at the very bottom of a long waiting list of those requesting to go to Germany.

Hungarians were typically loners in the European circles because they speak a tongue that is not associated with any other European nations. After all, their alphabet consisted of 44 letters. The Hungarian language belongs to the Uralic family, most notably Finnish and Estonian. Linguistically surrounded by alien nations, Hungarians always experienced a sense of isolation through much of their history, perhaps befitting their landlocked location, bordered by Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Austria, Ukraine, and Slovakia. Their homeland was one of nine countries behind the Iron Curtain that was built in 1949. Too often, older, more established immigrant groups treated Hungarians with disdain, ridiculing their dress and Old-World ways. It made them reluctant to speak their native tongue.

They were unique, these proud Magyars, with a history dating back to the Kingdom of Hungary, while sharing a common culture, history, ancestry, and language. They were part of a group of people who originated in the Urals and migrated westward to settle in what was now Hungary back in the 9th century. My parents were two such Magyars of the some 200,000 that relocated from Hungary to Austria in that era – nearly 2% of the population. Getting out of the country and away from Soviet control was becoming a popular activity. Where would all these Magyar refugees eventually settle?

For the stranded six, the answer soon swooped down from the sky. A large U.S. Army plane landed nearby, and the pilots asked for volunteers to fly to America. There was little time to decide, and my parent’s group was still at the bottom of the list, so they all climbed aboard. Was this the first time that living in the United States was even contemplated? Their welcome to the United States did not include the Statue of Liberty or Ellis Island, but rather at least sixteen hours in a non-pressurized, crowded cabin and a rough landing at an out of the way New Jersey military base. Immigration officials met them there. Sadly, were so far from home, with no way to communicate with those left behind but grand opportunities awaited.

For Niki, Maria, Bela, and Emmi the U.S. became a permanent home. Years later, the other couple, who remain nameless, returned to Europe. The U.S. was not for everyone. They were all then transferred by bus to Camp Kilmer Barricks, Livingston, N.J., on now what is the Rutgers University campus in Piscataway. This would become meaningful to me because it’s where I ended up going to college.

What had moved so fast during that split-second decision to fly across the Atlantic suddenly stalled. U.S. Immigration laws required everyone to have a sponsor, and none of this group knew anyone or even spoke the language. Eventually, a total stranger named Dr. Chikes, who held a doctorate in theology, came to the rescue through his church. It was just another miraculous twist in this fateful plot.

The good Doctor would assume the responsibility of trying to find jobs and housing for the three dump truck couples. It seems like the church leader always comes to the rescue in these great stories of families being uprooted. Under his direction, the next stop was Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, 28-miles northwest of Philadelphia. I’m not sure of the religious affiliation of Dr. Csikes, but my mother was raised as a Roman Catholic, as was I. Dad was brought up Lutheran, but none of us have been particularly true to our faith. We do look to the heavens for our good fortunes in life.

Bela was the first of the group to get established in Phoenixville. The rest temporarily rode on his coat tails. He had a degree in Chemistry from his studies in Hungary and quickly found a good position with a local Rubber Company. My parents lived with him and Emmi for a few years. My dad worked for a nearby steel producer but quickly learned that back-breaking work was not his forte. He then took a job as a surveyor and staked out what years later would eventually become his dream home, while taking some computer classes at Ursinus College. This led to a computer position and move with Fidelity Bank to Philadelphia in 1959 where he perfected his technical and programming skills. After those first few years in Phoenixville, the original group of six was now down to four, but their close bond kept them all in touch despite the miles apart.

For four years, they desperately tried to get me out of Hungary through the Embassies, but it wasn’t until the Iron Curtain relaxed before I was finally cleared to leave in December of 1960 at age 8. Much to the relief of my parents, I was in the newspapers as one of the first children to be released by the Russians. Maybe I wasn’t such a “bad boy” after all.

In 1961, dad got a job with RCA in Cherry Hill, N.J. as a programmer, moved to Moorestown and rented a house at 106 West Central Avenue. It was the biggest place I had yet to live. I couldn’t wait for grandmother to join me.

To Be Continued

Retirement is not without Hassles: Hungry in Hungary Part 2 #2477

Continued from Post #2476:

It was December 1957 just before Christmas, and the entire country was on Soviet lockdown following the riots and military strikes. I remember a final meal of Makos Teszta, poppy seed noodles and gravy, after just turning 4-years old. It would be the last that I would see my parents for many years. The day of reckoning finally arrived after careful planning. Nicholas Ambrus and his wife Maria Toth left me in the care of my grandmother, Nagy Mama, in the apartment they were about to abandon forever. My grandfather had passed away from TB years earlier at age 40. Kalmar Laszlo, my godfather, would play a role in my parentless care.

Grandmother was an entrepreneur, who once sold cooking supplies door-to-door. She would be my sole strength in the years to come, filling me with hope that someday we would all be back together as a family. I once had a pet chicken that quickly turned into dinner. We bought the staples of bread and noodles from the local vendors.

There would be no turning back for the six departing dissidents. My folks were joined by Bela and Emmi Nagy, their closest friends, and two other brave souls, prepared for a long journey to wherever destiny would take them. Bela worked for the company that owned a dump truck that he frequently drove from Budapest on the highways leading to the Austrian border. On this day, the plan was to abandon this about to be stolen truck and somehow bribe their way into Vienna. None of them knew really what to expect.

They left that fateful day with only the clothes on their back and a satchel-full of food. Perhaps the women hid in the bed of the truck under warm blankets while the men distracted the checkpoint guards. Bela was familiar with some of them because this was part of his regular route. He was the driving force of their escape plan, and they all trusted his convincing, story-telling skills.

My mother and father fell in love at a Danube River Club where they would kayak and swim. Niki, as many called him, worked odd jobs to include being a chauffeur, although he never owned a car. Soon he and Maria were married in Budapest where she did factory work. They lived in an apartment on the “Pest” side of town. It’s the eastern, mostly flat side of Budapest, comprising about two-thirds of the city’s territory. It was separated from Buda and Obuda, the two western sections of town, by the Danube River. Buda was definitely the classier, more residential side of the city of Budapest, population of 9,854,129 back in 1956. It was about to get six people smaller.

They loaded up the dump truck and hid what they could. There were several checkpoints along the way that Bela charmed his way through, telling tales and handing out food stuff. There were also reports of mine fields to stop any illegal border crossing, so this path to freedom was also filled with explosive danger. The final obstacle was the electric fence, search lights, and machine gun towers that marked the infamous Iron Curtain, separating East from West. This is where they abandoned the truck and walked into Austria. How they did it remains a mystery, but gregarious Bela had the gift of gab and continued to lead the way.

Even common mortals are capable of super-human feats regardless of their size or strength, like lifting a car off a accident victim. Nicholas stood a slender 5’8” and Maria was 2” shorter. She was a beautiful woman. I strongly feel that escaping from life-threatening circumstances falls into that category. Weighing those possibilities takes strength and cunning. Most children, like me at the time, couldn’t possibly envision their parents in that situation when adrenaline supersedes logic. Imagine the sleepless nights before and the guts it took to go through this together. Especially having to leave me and my grandmother behind for years. That must have been heart wrenching. This is why I’m particularly proud of my mother and father. Could I have done it myself? Could you?

Secretly discussing their plans with friends and relatives required nerves of steel, knowing they would need discretion and support. The Secret Police were undoubtedly a nasty concern, as well as fear of informants. Adverse conversations about leaving Hungary had to be kept on the hush-hush. After all, they were risking the rest of their young lives stuck in a filthy gulag, separated from everyone they loved. All those dreams of freedom could quickly turn into nightmares with the wrong words to these guards.

How could they be certain that life would be better outside their native land, so far from home? After all, none of them had ever been outside of Budapest. They might be on the run for years, homeless and scared, maybe a worse situation than prison. What if they got separated? Where would they get food and water? Plus, who could they trust after finally getting on foreign soil? Soviet propaganda had kept them in line their whole lives.

It’s also quite likely the secret police found the abandoned dump truck and went back to question Bela’s employers about their role in this escape. Torture might even have been applied for answers and fines imposed. They would have been shocked by his disappearance and disloyalty to both country and company. Or, they could have even secretly applauded his rebellious actions.

In this moment, they were six scared people joined in a common quest for freedom, about to face their destiny. Would everything go as planned? Butterflies were all that filled their stomachs since food was scarce and they would need what they had to appease the greedy guards with their hands out. At last, welcome to Austria. Now what?

To Be Continued

Retirement is not without Hassles: Hungry in Hungary Part 1 #2476

I’m writing this for a neighbor and friend, because it’s a story that needs to be recorded for posterity. In today’s world, there is so much hatred, disrespect, and misunderstanding when it comes to immigration. In the United States, most of this resentment stems from the Mexican border and a fear that jobs will be taken, safety compromised, diseases spread, classrooms crowded, natural resources strained, increased terrorism threats, illegal drugs distributed, and unwanted financial obligations absorbed. The Solution: Let’s Build a Wall!

Let’s face it, most of these are selfish concerns. There are already too many walls, and not enough doorways. We are a nation of immigrants, so it’s hypocritical to exclude “outsiders.” There are so many great benefits that have come from accepting people of different races, backgrounds, religions, and cultures. I just want to tell the story of one couple and how in the long run it has positively affected thousands. I’m writing it from the perspective of Peter Ambrus, whose parents were Hungarian immigrants but became Americans as a result of numerous twists of fate. Here is his story:

I was born in Hungary in 1951. As I grew up there, history reflects that the terms “hungry” and the country “Hungary” grew synonymous, under the ugly rule of Communism. Although obviously spelled differently, the two words are often pronounced the same. “Ehes vagyok – I’m hungry. En Peter vagyok – I’m Peter.” I think that it’s ironic that hunger actually helped my family flee from Hungary. But even more so, that they did it in a garbage truck and bribed hungry Soviet guards to cross the border.  

Hungarians, like my parents, were poor, yet most of the food and industrial goods they produced during these turbulent decades were sent to Russia. As very patriotic people, this led them to resent the repressive Russian government They hated their censorship policies, and the strict Soviet control of what was taught in schools. They despised the vicious Soviet Secret Police known as the AVH (Allam vedelmi Hatosag), also called the State Protection Authority. These machine gun toting thugs ruled from 1945 to 1956, conceived as an external appendage of the KGB, in support of the Hungarian Working People’s Party, persecuting political criminals. 

As a young child, I did not understand Hungarian politics, but I’ve since learned that following the defeat of Nazi Germany, Hungary became a satellite state of the Soviet Union under the leadership of Stalinist Matyas Raksosi. The fact that the words Nazi, Stalin, and Soviet Union appear in the same sentence, to me, says it all! My parents were right in wanting to get out of this hotbed of hate. They hungered for freedom.

Dictator Raksosi de facto ruled from 1949-1956 and established the AVH. In the long run, his heavy-handed style of communist government proved counter-productive to the interests of the USSR in Hungary. “His government’s policies of militarization, industrialization, collectivization, and war compensation led to a severe decline in living standards.” During his regime, according to various accounts, approximately 350,000 officials and intellectuals were imprisoned or executed by the AVH. Freethinkers, democrats, and dignitaries were secretly arrested and interned in domestic and foreign gulags. Some 600,000 Hungarians were deported to Soviet labor camps where at least 200,000 died. Hungarian citizens like my parents lived in fear. 

As I now understand, following the death of Stalin in March of 1953, Imre Nagy, a moderate reformist, ascended to the premiership of Hungary while Raksosi was partially demoted by the Soviets to First Secretary. Nagy’s revolutionary government began to reign-in the AVH and ultimately dissolved the organization by 1956.

“Nagy promised market liberalization and political openness.” Hungary then joined the Warsaw Pact in May 1955, as societal dissatisfaction with the regime swelled.  By early 1956, Rakosi managed to discredit Nagy who was replaced by the more hardline leade, Erno Gero with expectations that protests would decrease. However, by July, Rakosi was forced to resign while people began to further complain about the repressive nature of the government and low standards of living. Following the firing on peaceful demonstrations by Soviet soldiers and secret police, and rallies throughout the country on October 23rd, protesters took to the streets in Budapest, initiating The Revolution. 

To add to the political confusion, in 1956 Imre Nagy became leader of the Hungarian Revolution against the Soviet-backed government, for which he was sentenced to death and executed two years later, following a failed attempt to flee to Yugoslavia. Approximately 3,000 Hungarians were killed, while 200,000 more fled abroad and became refugees.

On November 4, 1956, Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest to crush, once and for all, the national uprising. Vicious street fighting broke out, but the Soviets’ great power was too much to overcome, and as a result Hungary remained a communist country. As time went on, the Soviet Union weakened by the end of the 1980s, the Eastern Bloc disintegrated, and the People’s Republic of Hungary eventually transitioned in 1989 to a peaceful, democratic system. By then, we were all living in New Jersey. 

The country of Hungary was a mess in my childhood, as evidenced by these extreme shifts in leadership that spurred civil unrest. As a five-year old, I was naturally clueless as to what was going on around me. 

Surrounded by all this political disruption, paranoia, and violence, my brave parents began to plot their escape with the Garbage Truck. This is their heroic story that needs to be heard. I’m sure they never thought of themselves as courageous, fearless, or especially heroic. They were simply desperate and with desperation comes inspiration. They wanted a better life for themselves and their family and were willing to accept any of the consequences, including imprisonment and death. Because of them and the risks they took, my life is better. 

 Hungry Soviet guards were easily bribed with food and in this manner the Ambrus family members escaped the country but never lost their pride in being Hungarian. 

To Be Continued….





© 2024

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑