It’s about time I write a book on my childhood adventure of escaping from communism

By John Toth / Editor and Publisher

“48 years ago yesterday, my mother and I took a train ride from Budapest to Vienna, using an altered passport and visa. I was 10 years old. We immigrated to the USA a year and a half later.”

That was the Facebook post that gave me the idea. I should have spelled out 48 at the beginning of the sentence, but, hey, this is FB. We cut corners.

In the post, I was referring to the train ride my mother and I took on March 6, 1966. We had an altered passport and a two-week visa, also altered, to Vienna, Austria.

My mother told the passport office that she wanted to go on vacation for two weeks, and they decided to issue her a passport and visa. Then, she took the documents to friends and friends of friends, who forged my information on them, and we had passports and visas for both of us.

I’ve been writing about my experience on and off in this paper, and have told family members’ stories about my boyhood adventure of escaping from a communist country, but I’ve never really tied it all together from beginning to end.

I have taken my daughter to show her where I lived after we arrived in Vienna, where I went to daycare, where my mother worked.

That is a small part of the whole story. We lived in other places also, and I went to two different schools, which we did not visit. The place where my mother worked was an empty lot. They tore that factory down a long time ago.

We made to the West with forged documents, which led up to a nervous train ride, and then relief as the train pulled into the station in Vienna. We were met by friends of friends who went out to the station just in case we were on the train. We were.

We didn’t have to dig under an electrified barbed wire fence, nor were we chased by dogs, and no border guards shot at us. A lot of Hungarians risked all of that to make it to the West, not to mention the mine fields.

Ours was a peaceful, uneventful escape of sorts.

The friends who met us at the train station helped us to find a place to stay and then led us to the Vienna offices of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a non-profit agency based in New York City.

Our lives in the West began on March 7. By the end of the day, we had a game plan and no need for the two-week fake visa. We had a temporary visa issued by the Austrian government, and we began to embark on our new lives.

A year and a half later, we landed in New York City. But the escape details are always the most interesting to people who hear the story. They are to me also, since I didn’t know anything about it until the morning of March 7.

There is a book-long story here. For decades I have ignored suggestions to start writing it. I’ve been busy with other things, and never gave it much thought.

“Hey, it was really interesting over the weekend to read a snippet of your personal history. I’d love to see some articles detailing your experiences. Some folks might think it a self-aggrandizing thing, but I wouldn’t. I believe your story is important. It would be a great example for our youngsters to follow, because you got where you are through hard work and commitment, not because someone handed everything to you.”

That was the email from a friend that made me think that a book that ties it all together might be the best way to go. I can take out a small part of the story and write a column about it to fit a specific event, but overall I think it would be best if the whole story is told.

I’ve never been much of a long story writer, making my living since graduating from college writing articles. My attention span as a writer has been focused for decades on getting the current story finished and starting on the next one.

Now, it’s probably due time to take a long look back and document how I got from there to here. My own family needs to know, anyway. Nobody knows the entire story but me. My mother died in 1986.

It’s all in my head and needs to be transferred to where whoever is interested can access it.
Will it sell? I don’t care. I have made a good living as a writer and business owner. It makes no difference to me whether the book would sell.

But, should it become a commercial success (which is very unlikely), I will donate part of the proceeds to the IRC. Don’t confuse this non-profit group with the IRS. I am already donating to them.

Now I have to get started and follow through. I’ll keep you posted in future columns about how it’s coming along. That’s the plan, anyway.