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Passing on the legacy of 1956

A barricade of cobblestones set up by Hungarian residents to block Soviet tanks during the Hungarian Revolution.

At the age of 13, my mother was a freedom fighter in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, when the people of Hungary rose up against Soviet oppression at a time when no one else dared. Though she was young and unarmed, she and her sister played a small but important role in carrying messages, delivering food, and even gathering supplies to make Molotov cocktails.

My grandmother set up a makeshift emergency room in her pharmacy to tend to the wounded. My grandfather worked with neighbors to make barricades of cobblestones to block the Soviet tanks.

I am extremely proud of my family's story and am already finding ways to pass it on to my three-year-old son. This is part of his legacy after all, and part of mine.

An Emory University study found that "a sense of family history is linked to self-esteem and resiliency in kids," and "stories of grappling with sad or difficult events may give children the wisdom and perspective they need to thrive." The study recommends that we put aside the rose-colored glasses and share our real family history -- warts and all -- with our children.

So, I won't leave out the part of the story when the Soviets returned to brutally crush the Revolution or when my grandparents made the difficult decision to flee their homeland and seek a better life for their children. After a harrowing escape to Austria and time spent in refugee camps, they settled in Maryland, where my grandmother, a trained pharmacist, took a job washing bottles at a medical laboratory. My grandfather, who held an advanced law degree, sold lamps at Sears. Following this difficult initial transition to life in the United States., they lived the true American Dream and found ways to thrive in their new country.

As I've learned more about 1956 and how it influenced my family's life, I began to see how their life lessons from the Revolution also had a profound effect on my life.

I now recognize many things in my childhood that made my family different. For example, we were always required to clean our plates, not because of the common refrain "there are starving children in Africa," but because my mother knew what it was like to exist on bread, lard, and cream of wheat for weeks at a time. My grandparents were adamant that we finish not just college, but have advanced degrees, because they knew the power and freedom an education could provide throughout one's life. And it was understood that voting was a sacred duty, because they knew what it was like when your vote made no difference at all. All of these lessons became so ingrained in me that they now form the cornerstones of my belief system, of who I am.

While living in Budapest in 1991, I attended the second ever, free commemoration of October 23, the day the Revolution began. I remember vividly the large tricolor flag with a gaping hole cut out (the symbol of the Revolution) draped across the Parliament steps, the hundreds of candles people lit, and the small flags they held. I remember hearing bits of stories being told as I passed through the crowd. And I remember an elderly gentleman sitting on the steps with his grandson in his lap, quietly telling him the story of 1956 with tears streaming down his face.

I felt such a sense of deep pride at being Hungarian, of what Hungarians stood for, and the role my family played in the 1956 events. At that moment, I promised myself that I would do my part to make sure this story was never forgotten. Now, on the 50th anniversary of this amazing time in history, I am partnering with my mother and her nonprofit organization to add to the historical record of 1956 by gathering personal testimonials through www.FreedomFighter56.com. I believe it is my destiny to pass on the very spirit of the Revolution to my son and to all future generations.

Andrea Lauer Rice graduated from Lehigh in 1990 with a B.A. in journalism and later received her M.B.A. from the Goizueta Business School at Emory University. She is the founder and CEO of Lauer Learning, a multimedia educational company.

Lehigh Alumni Bulletin
Fall 2006

Posted on Wednesday, November 08, 2006

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