“I bet you don’t remember” is something I am told by almost everyone who hears my story of how we escaped from Hungary—to escape the brutality of Russian soldiers, tanks, and Communism. I thank God every day that my parents chose freedom. I thank God every day that they fled, leaving behind everything they ever knew, to arrive in Canada with one suitcase, two small kids, and paternal grandparents. But not without consequences . . .
My heart breaks for the Ukrainians who have to flee everything they have ever known. They were living normal lives just like you and me until bombs began falling all around them, when their normal, happy lives were instantly turned into hell on earth.
I was four when the ‘56 Hungarian Revolution broke out, fleeing on top of my father’s shoulders, feeling my parents’ terror as we ran for our lives. I remember my father grabbing a heavy suitcase from my grandfather’s hands that he was dragging behind because it was weighing him down and we had to run!
I remember turning my head only to watch our family photographs fly away in the cold December wind, proof that we had a history simply fluttering away in the wind. My grandpa had tried to bring his life with him. No wonder I was so obsessive about taking photos of every little milestone when my own kids were growing up. We had so little proof of our lives before ‘56.
I remember well.
The nightmares ended when I was fifteen, but every single night for eleven long years I would wake up in a cold sweat reliving trauma—real or otherwise—of my father being shot repeatedly by Russian soldiers and my mother and grandmother being forced at gunpoint to do horrible things. Running in the cold winter night, dodging bullets and searchlights, away from everything that was my security, everything I ever knew. Leaving our home, our customs, habits, my favorite grandparents, and my doll, Sari Baba.
I watched my mother cry every night from frustration of having to speak a new language in her new job. Every single night, my grandmother, with tears running down her face, made me recite Petofi Sandor’s freedom fighting poem. I watched the neighborhood kids stone my brother who thought he was weird because he spoke another language.
Don’t get me wrong. I am forever grateful that we escaped Communism for freedom. We were so grateful to Canada and are so thankful today. As a result of being immigrants, my children and grandchild have the privilege of being raised in a democracy where opportunities are endless. But uprooting one’s life has scars that last a lifetime.
I learned that nothing is safe. I learned that everything in life is transitory. I learned that my abandonment issues had everything to do with this early childhood trauma. Childhood should be filled with security and innocence, not with terror.
Over 5.8 million Ukrainians have had to flee their country. The physical horror is one thing, but the psychological effects are there for a lifetime. I know.
I, too, am an immigrant.
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