Today is the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, a historic occasion the West marks as the collapse of communism. Months before the wall came down, Hungary had opened its own “Iron Curtain” of guard towers, mines, and electric fences that lined the border between Austria and Hungary. A family friend Lajos used to have the job of patrolling this border, and told me the story of how one day he threw off his body armor and gun, and told his fellow patrol guard and good friend that he couldn’t do it anymore. He ran for the border, and told his friend he could shoot him if he wanted. Needless to say, Lajos wasn’t shot, but he never saw his friend again.
Communism was never a natural fit for Hungary. The country’s aristocratic past, as part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, never dimmed from memory. After the 1956 uprising, Goulash Communism was instated to appease the populace. It was because of this little bit of capitalism that my mother was able to open a flower shop in Budapest. Still, the relationship with Hungary’s Communist leaders remained strained.
When the border between Austria and Hungary was opened in May 1989 (some say the Sopron Picnic in August was the official opening), many Eastern Germans used this route through Hungary to get to Austria and back to West Germany.
I thought I would throw other Eastern-European nations into the media mix today by sharing the story of my Hungarian -American exodus.