When Papa stopped at the border, it
was still dark. To everyone’s relief, the tired inspectors gave their visas and
suitcases a fast look. Finding nothing suspicious, they let them pass.
By sunup they were well into
Yugoslavia. Papa located the farm they’d been told about, and they quickly
settled into their temporary home.
Everyone worked in different
sections of the farm. That way, if the government swooped in for an arrest, the
others would be safe. The farm’s owner, Tivadar, and his family were kind, but
harvesting crops was hard work. By the end of the day, all of Marika’s muscles
“Look, I’m getting calluses on my
hands!” she complained one night. “I don’t like being a farmhand.”
“I know!” Ilona agreed. “I get so sweaty and
dusty. And my hair stinks!”
Even so, they were glad to be far
from the Hungarian police. And their hosts spoke Hungarian, so the two families
enjoyed visiting in the evenings.
About 10 days later their fake
Yugoslavian passports arrived. Tivadar loaned Papa a Yugoslavian license plate
too, for the trip across the Austrian border. On the night they planned to
leave, Tivadar explained how the crossing would work.
“We’ll use two vehicles, yours and
mine,” he said. “With the license plates and passports switched, the border
authorities will think you’re
Yugoslavian. But before we cross, I want your family to split up; it will look
less suspicious that way. We’ll stop about a mile before the border; I’ll leave
my van to drive yours, Mr. Kovács, with your wife and Marika. You and your two
younger daughters, Ilona and Erzsébet, will move into my van to ride with my
When it was time, Papa switched the
plates, hiding the Hungarian plate under the van’s carpeting, along with their
Hungarian passports and exit visas. He kept only the fake Yugoslavian papers
out in the open to show at the border.
The trip took several hours. When
they finally stopped to switch places, Papa asked everyone to pray for God’s
protection and guidance. Minutes later they approached the gate. To avoid
problems, Mama and Marika pretended to rest with their heads down to hide the
fact that their passport photos were of other people, not them. The inspector
asked Mama to wake Marika for a better look, but they suspected nothing and
soon waved both vehicles through.
They didn’t stop again until the
sun came up over the Austrian countryside. Papa then switched the plates back
again, and returned the Yugoslavian plate and passports to the men.
“Thank you for everything,
Tivadar,” he said. “We owe you our freedom.”
“Be safe,” Tivadar replied,
climbing in with Sven.
After the men drove away, Papa
gathered the family close.
“We must thank God for our safe
passage,” he said.
So they knelt on the safe,
non-Communist Austrian soil and praised God for all He had done in their lives.
After that, they took their time
driving the final three hours into Vienna, where they stopped at a store for a
snack. Papa treated them to bananas, because they were so hard to find in
Hungary. Then they fearlessly asked a police officer for directions to the
American-run refugee camp, where they would live until it was time to go to the
The purpose of the camp was to help
refugees relocate to other countries of their choice, and to give the Austrian
government time to make sure that they weren’t harboring murderers, political
troublemakers, or any other bad people. If a Communist refugee was found
unworthy of their protection, the Austrian government would send them back,
where they’d face imprisonment.
Despite such possibilities, the
large camp was full of people, with new refugees arriving every day. Marika was
especially happy with their modest apartment because she got to sleep in a real
bed for the first time ever.
To earn money for the trip to
America, they all got jobs; Marika’s job was working in a bookbinding factory.
In the evenings, she and Ilona attended a class to learn English from
instructors who taught in German.
One night, the two sisters decided
to break their routine and go on an evening outing with Miklós, a Hungarian boy
staying at the camp.
“Don’t forget the camp curfew,”
Papa warned. “You know people have been kidnapped late at night from the
streets, and sent back to Hungary. You don’t want to end up in prison after
coming this far, do you?”
“No, Papa,” they agreed.
But the evening was so much fun
that they quickly lost track of time. Instead of hurrying to beat the curfew,
they stopped for ice cream and laughed and talked until it got very late. When
they finally made it back, the camp gate was locked.
“What should we do?” Marika asked
“We’ll have to climb over the
fence,” Miklós said.
“Come on—we can make it!” Ilona
It took forever for the girls to
get up and over without ruining their dresses. Once inside, Mama gave them a
scolding, warning them again of the dangers.
After nine months they finally had
all their paperwork in order. The American government lent them the money for
their plane tickets, and a Hungarian Seventh-day Adventist pastor in New York
promised to sponsor them, as insurance to the government that they wouldn’t be
a burden to their new homeland.
By May of that year, the family had
arrived safely in America. But good jobs were harder to find then they’d
expected. After a few weeks of trying different places, they went to New
Jersey. There, a chance encounter with Tamás, a Hungarian man, finally led them
to a permanent home.
“I’ll lend you money for an
apartment,” Tamás told Papa. “And I know where you can all get jobs.”
So they moved into a two-bedroom
apartment, and soon everyone except Erzsébet, who was still too young to work
full-time, had jobs in a nearby factory. At night Marika and Ilona continued to
learn English at a local class.
Adjusting to life in a new country
was difficult, especially for Mama and Papa. They both knew very little
English, and had to rely on Marika and Ilona to translate almost everything for
them. But they all appreciated their freedom, especially the ability to worship
and speak as they pleased without the fear of being imprisoned.
With everyone pooling their money
for a common cause, the family’s hard work eventually paid off. They were able
to pay back the rent money to Tamás and the borrowed airfare from the American
government. In time, they even saved enough to buy a home of their own.
Later on Uncle Oszkár did find a
way to get their belongings to America, including the family photo album. But
back in Hungary life continued on for their relatives and friends much the same
as it had for decades (until Communism fell in 1989).
As for Marika, Illona, and the
entire family, running to freedom had been hard, but well worth the effort.