//Ad libs: From the uprising to the United States

Thursday, October 05, 2006

From the uprising to the United States

Anyone who spends .57 of a second on my blog knows I’m interested in everything Hungarian. I used to live in Budapest (and went through a phase of signing my name "Majdnem Magyar").

So I fell all over myself to cover the
Hoover exhibit on the 1956 Hungarian revolution for the Weekly. In the process, I met a few 56ers through watching the documentary "Starting Over in America," which was made by Sally Gati and is shown in the exhibit.

For a historic event that seems so far away in space and time, it’s fascinating to find so many California connections. Laszlo and Paulette Fono, who own the
Bravo Fono and Babbo’s restaurants in Stanford Shopping Center, are 56ers. Laszlo was also the U.S. National Ski Champion in 1958.

Tibor Landsmann, who helped Red Cross workers during the uprising, now owns a jewelry store in San Francisco. And Vilmos Zsigmond was a student who documented the revolution on 35mm film. Here in the States, he became a cinematographer, nabbing an Oscar for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and working on a bazillion other movies.

Gati spends a lot of time -- justifiably so -- on the story of her husband,
Frank. He was at university in eastern Hungary when the uprising began, but came to Budapest to fight alongside the other students and workers. At first, the feeling of breaking away from Soviet domination was exhilarating, he recounts in the film.

"It was like a longtime dream coming true ... as opposed to running scared," he says. "More like becoming an adult, as far as a nation was concerned."

After the Soviet tanks rolled in to crush the revolution, Gati walked through Western Hungary with his best friend George for five days. They escaped over the Austrian border and ended up on a ship for the United States. Gati became a computer analyst for Bank of America.

For the most part, America treated these 56ers well. They're shown in the film saying: "I was so lucky to get out of there" and "I was born American. I was born in the wrong place."

But a period of transition can be inescapable. I was very moved by these comments of Tibor Landsmann: "In Hungary...I didn't have to worry about dentists or doctors; everything was taken care of by the government. I realized it was not my decision -- it was the government's -- and here you have to think as an independent human being. ... It took me about four, five years to assimilate myself to the American lifestyle."