|László Imre Buda
|The 1956 Hungarian Revolution and Freedom Fight is the most important event of my life. I did not state "lifetime," because it occurred 10 years before I was born in Cleveland, Ohio. How could something that occurred 10 years before I was born be the most important event of my life? Had the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and Freedom Fight not taken place, my late father, László Buda, probably would not have been able to make the incredible sacrifice of leaving his homeland so that I would be born and raised in the United States and have the freedoms and opportunities that he could only dream about. Moreover, had I grown up in Hungary, I wonder if I would have had as much pride about being a Hungarian as I do having grown up in America.
To put 1956 in context, I would like to provide a brief background on my father. Born and raised in the small village of Bakonyszentkirály in Veszprém megye, my father had a difficult childhood growing up in a peasant family. He dreamed of playing the accordion but was forced by his father to give up school after 6th grade to tend to farming matters. Things became worse with the outbreak of World War II. At the age of 18, my father, his brother, and many of his friends were conscripted to join the German Army as the Germans retreated from the Eastern Front. He survived bombings in Germany, nearly starved to death in a French holding camp, and was forced to dig up Allied corpses from the D-Day invasion in Normandy, France. Despite all of these hardships, he held on to his dreams.
Passing up an opportunity to stay in the West, he returned to Bakonyszentkirály in late 1945. He decided to leave farming behind forever and moved to Budapest in 1949. He attended a technical training school where he learned to become a polisher (csiszoló). Things were looking up for my father - he was even able to pursue his dream of playing the accordion - but then on October 23, 1956 just 2 days before his 30th birthday, the Revolution broke out. Though he didn't take up arms, I consider my father a '56er, because he repeatedly risked his life to get food and water to his friends' older relatives who were shut-ins.
My father turned 30 on what became known as "Bloody Thursday" - October 25, 1956. Innocent protesters were massacred as bullets sprayed down from atop buildings nearby Parliament. Fortunately, my father chose not to be near Parliament that day.
When thousands of Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest on November 4, 1956, my father knew that his life in Hungary would soon be over. After experiencing the horrors of Nazism and fascism, he could not and would not spend the rest of his life living under Communism. Given a second chance to pursue his dream of freedom, he chose to leave Hungary and head to America. After a few weeks in Austria, my father arrived in New York City on January 7, 1957. He was processed through Camp Kilmer as part of "Operation Mercy" and then took a train to Cleveland to be with his grandfather. He arrived with a suitcase and nothing more.
My father, like thousands like him, was truly "a man in search of a new beginning." This was the title of a biographical sketch I wrote about my father when I was in high school. I concluded that piece in 1984 with the following words: "Even after he dies, I'll still remember how hard my father's life was and how lucky I've been. His struggles and victories will always give me incentive to do my best and take advantage of what I have."
Though the Soviets won the battle, the 1956 Freedom Fighters won the war. People like my father found the freedom that they dreamed of having. They further strengthened the already strong Hungarian communities around the world outside of Hungary, maintaining their cultural identity and language, and also contributing to their communities in their new home. Their bravery, heroism, and courage was the first crack in the foundation of Communism leading to its eventual fall in 1989.
When faced with various challenges in my life, from sports to academics to business, I have repeatedly reflected back on my father to draw strength. If he could risk his life to help others during the Revolution; if he could leave his homeland for another country thousands of miles away; if he could learn a new language at the age of 30; if he could start a family at the age of 40; if he could fulfill his dream of playing the accordion; if he could "make it" in America with only a 6th grade education; what would prevent me from doing ANYTHING that I set out to do?!
I participated in my first 1956 commemoration in 1989 when I moved to St. Louis after completing college. I proudly recited Gyula Stubner's moving poem called "Magyar October" and have continued this personal tradition here in Cleveland.
In 2003, I fulfilled one of my father's dreams - that of living and working in a free and democratic Hungary when I relocated there for a career opportunity. I was able to experience the October 23rd commemoration that year - something that I will never forget. Parliament was draped in giant panoramic photos of scenes from the Revolution. I joined a crowd of 75,000 people in Széna tér to commemorate the events of 1956. I never felt more proud to have Hungarian blood flowing in my veins. And I cried when I saw the commemorative plaque and large spheres representing the bullets shot at those massacred on October 25, 1956, my father's 30th birthday.
In 2004, I formally continued my father's legacy of helping those in need in Hungary by founding "Friends of United Way-Hungary" to promote and financially support United Way-Hungary, which is led by fellow Hungarian-Americans in Budapest.
As I stated to close my eulogy at my father's funeral in 2001, "My dear father, I am proud to be Hungarian, to be your only son, and to carry your name forward. Drága Édesapám, büszke vagyok, hogy magyar származásu vagyok, hogy az egyszülött fiad vagyok, és hogy a te nevedet továbbra viszem."
It is in his memory and the memory of the heroes and victims of 1956, that I personally will never forget my peasant roots, never forget my heritage, never forget how to communicate in Hungarian, and never let the Spirit of 1956 die.
László Imre Buda
Born in Cleveland in 1966, he learned Hungarian from his parents. He studied mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh (1989), continuing with a graduate degree in mechanical engineering (1992) and also an MBA (1998) at Washington University in St. Louis. He lived and worked in St. Louis, Kaposvár, and Cleveland, where he is currently a Six Sigma Black Belt (Project Manager) at Avery Dennison. He often performs public recitals of Hungarian poetry at Hungarian-American events. He is honoring the 50th anniversary of 1956 by riding his bicycle a total of 1956 miles (3148 km) by October 23, 2006 to benefit United Way-Hungary and to build awareness of 1956 in the American community.