The American Dream Series #5 – Escaping to Freedom

Stories of immigrants who came to the USA legally, became naturalized Citizens and achieved their own "American Dreams."

by Georgette Hadvina

This is the fifth of a series of articles on immigrants who came to the USA legally, became naturalized Citizens and achieved their own “American Dreams.”

 

Immigration Story

The sky was bright and clear on that late fall day of November, 1957.  We must wait for a landing clearance, the pilot announced. We began circling the city of New York. The view was breathtaking….the skyline of Manhattan, the simmering water of the Hudson River. The plane made a turn again, more of the city appeared, and then….. I spotted her, there she stood, tall and proud in the middle of the ocean, and I immediately recognized her.    She was the Statue of Lady Liberty, the symbolism of freedom. I choked up. My whole body and soul filled up with the emotion of gratitude!  My impossible dream miraculously became a reality; we arrived to the land of freedom. We arrived home.  

Our flight from Vienna to New York took 36 hours.  A  WWII prop military plane converted into a passenger plane carried 65 Hungarian refugees to their new home. It had to make several stops along the way.  I looked over to the next isle where my father and my little brother were sitting.  I wondered if my father felt as excited as I was.  His face was full of apprehension. He must be worried. We were destitute. We had only $40 in our pocket, and I knew he was stressed about not speaking a word of English.  How is he going to get a job and provide for his growing family of two teenage children and a wife?   He had a tough life, this would be his fourth country where he had to begin a new life all over again.  

My thoughts rushed back to the night when we escaped from our dire country with only our clothes on our back leaving everything we owned behind. How lucky we were that the years of struggles and harships living under Nazism were left to fade in the past. The scary nights we spent during the bombings of Budapest in WWII. The nightmare years when we lived under the Stalin regime when we had to endure starvation, slave wages, and loss of freedom to have individual thoughts and ideas. We were not even free to choose where we wanted to live.  

By 1956, communist tyranny in Hungary somewhat eased after dictator Stalin died. Students began to have courage to demand our basic human rights of free speech and free democratic elections. They were willing to fight the communist totalitarian government for our freedoms in the Revolution. The Soviet communist response was to send in 150,000 soldiers to keep our country occupied in bondage.  

My family decided that we did not want to live under communist tyranny anymore.   Our desperation caused us to have enough courage to risk our lives and to escape.   Crossing the forbidden Iron Curtain was the most dangerous journey in our life.   We knew the odds were against us as this was our second escape attempt. But this time we had nothing to lose; we were already doomed. We were waiting to be sentenced severely for our first failed attempt. 

There we stood on the edge of the dark field, the free Austria was only several miles away ahead of us, but so were the obstacles to get there.  We clearly saw the tall search-towers with their strong flood lights turning around slowly scanning for any movements on the fields.  This time we must succeed. Our lives depended on it. Our guide worked for the railroad and knew the territory well.  We gave him everything we owned to help us.  He carefully instructed us of what we had to do and when we had to lie down on the ground and become still.  Our journey was agonizingly slow and harsh, but 3 am, after hours of crawling and walking through the muddy fields in that cold night, we had reached Austria.  Finally we were free.   

The Austrians placed us in a refugee camp. We shared a large room sleeping with 100s of people. We were homeless, penniless, but very happy to have our freedom.  The world welcomed the Hungarian refugees with open arms. We received many invitations to immigrate to 

My only picture with my parents growing up, I am 3 years old

many different countries. But for us, there was only one country we dreamed to go to, it was the USA, the best country in the world with the most opportunities, and we also had a family there.  My uncle was waiting for his only sister and her family with open arms.  

However, immigrating to the U.S. was not easy.  Even as refugees, with special quotas, the procedure was lengthy and difficult. My uncle had to sign an affidavit to take full financial responsibility for us. We also signed a pledge that we wouldn’t take any government support.     Our rigorous vetting process lasted for 11 months. We went through several interviews. We were interrogated if we had any role in the communist party, or criminal past, and we had complete medical examinations.  We understood and welcomed all of it, as we were well aware there were plenty of criminals and communist spies who wanted to enter the U.S.  We also knew we truly were lucky.  The regular waiting period to immigrate to the U.S. was 10-12 years.   Finally, our necessary papers arrived. We were privileged and lucky to become eligible to enter the most prestigious, wonderful country in the world.   All those horrors were behind us. In a few hours we would hug our beloved family we had not seen for decades and we can start our new life.  

 Did we find freedom in the U.S? Yes, and more, we found paradise. Dad got a job right away in a Hungarian firm. He loved this country.  I am constantly am amazed and thankful to live here, and be an American Citizen.  I am now free to live or work anyplace, free to express my opinions anytime.

 Never will I take it for granted that I do live in the land of plenty. The very first time my aunt took me to a supermarket in the U.S, I could not believe my eyes.  There were hundreds of kinds of food to choose from, a meat counter a mile long, fruit and vegetables piled up high in the winter, and everything was affordable.  In communism, the exact opposite was true.  The stores were empty.  When some food arrived, we had to endure waiting in long lines just to be able to buy a couple pounds of very expensive, rationed potatoes.   This is a blessed country. I wish people who live here would appreciate how good they have it. Our free enterprise system and our constitution in this country lifted out more people from poverty than any other system in the history of human-kind.    God Bless America!

Extended family

The Citizens Journal American Dream Series

  1. Mr. Rolando Chinea- AMERICAN from Cuba
  2. Ms. Lisa Vartanian- AMERICAN from USSR/Armenia
  3. Ms. Maria Vallejo- AMERICAN from Cuba
  4. Ms. Lennie Reisch- AMERICAN from Cuba
  5. Ms. Georgette Hadvina- AMERICAN from Hungary
  6. Ms. Jolin Crofts- AMERICAN from Iran
  7. Mr. Vadim Manzhos- AMERICAN from USSR/Ukraine

This series was organized by Gloria Massey-Chinea, retired resident of Oxnard, originally from Puerto Rico.

 

Georgette Hadvina immigrated to the U.S. with her parents in 1957, after escaping communist Hungary. She finished High school in Detroit Michigan, attended Wayne State University, SMCC, and LACC. She worked over 20 years as a Commercial RE Broker. In 2001 Georgette started her own business in Camarillo named Citron Garden. After semi retiring she wrote a book, which was published in 2016 titled By Dawn We’ll Be Free. She became a widow after 45 years of marriage. She raised three successful children with her husband, and has four grandchildren. She lives in Camarillo and still works as a free lance interior designer.


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