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….