Saturday, December 6, 2008

Day 169: Remarkable passage

Refugees crossing the Austrian border in 1956, image: European Tribune

Last night over the course of a 5 hour dinner our friend Madga Lewis shared her personal oral history of fleeing war torn Hungary with her family, at the age of 8. The Hungarian Revolution was the cause of their exodus. I knew little about this revolution and America was indeed looking the other way at the time. Magda's journey was far from simple, it was riddled with drama, fear, bravery and often not knowing where they would sleep or eat each day. Her parents, both tailors, took many risks to make this passage possible. At the time, it was not common to attempt the route with children, but her father insisted that they do it together or not at all, so that is what they did. With vivid detail Magda recalled waking to frost ferns on the window the morning that they left, and their last meal in Budapest, a feast of canned fruits that would have been the food that lasted them all winter. This morning was the one time that they could eat all that they wanted, and cherries were her favorite. She remembered the secret police with shiny lacquered shoes combing the train stations, the farmers who secretly attempted to turn them in, and the amazing few who helped make their passage into Austria, at high noon, possible. She recalled the last look back at Hungary that her family shared the afternoon they crossed the border. They then headed into a series of camps across Europe and eventually landed in Canada where she lives today. Magda is an amazing story teller and it was gift that she took the time and made the effort to extend this history to us. It is incredibly timely, as the passage between borders around the world have often not become more welcoming or gentle several decades later. It is incredible how quickly we can forget, or how often we can choose look away from those in search something different -and the risks that they will take for those opportunities.

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