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The Great Escape

Leah Tisser

I grew up in Hungary. When I was 16 I left my family, my home, my country — everything I knew — to build a new life where I would be able to live freely as a Jew.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Eastern Europe had been occupied by the Soviets since 1945 when the USSR “liberated” us from the Nazis, imposing a Communist dictatorship on all the occupied countries.

Everything was nationalized; no private enterprise or ownership was allowed. Organized religion was outlawed. We struggled just to keep Shabbos. It was a dreary existence, yet we were not allowed to leave, held captive behind the Iron Curtain. Then came October 1956, when the Hungarians revolted against Soviet occupation. At first the rebels were successful, but they were ultimately crushed by the mighty Red Army.

During the chaos that followed, a great opportunity arose. Many border guards had abandoned their posts, and the borders were mostly open and unguarded. The Iron Curtain had been torn. Not knowing how long this would last, we had to act quickly. The frum Jewish community began fleeing the country in droves. Families literally disappeared overnight. Every morning my father came home from shul and reported who else was missing.

Most people who fled made it over the border, but even those caught and brought back, tried again. No one was even jailed because the law of the land hadn’t yet returned. Chaos and confusion reigned.

My family couldn’t escape. My frail grandmother couldn’t undertake such a hazardous trip, and my parents wouldn’t leave her behind. After much agonizing and contemplation it was determined that I alone would leave, with family friends. At least I would be saved.


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