From Budapest To The Big Sky: Two Hungarian Immigrants' Experiences Of The Hungarian Revolt Of 1956 And Its Effects
When I first heard of the Hungarian students who came to Carroll College, I was already developing an interest in the Cold War and the Soviet Union. The Cold War’s effects were felt everywhere, even during my childhood in Fairbanks, Alaska. Growing up, I remember seeing recently outdated maps ofthe world, including a vast and enigmatic nation called the “U.S.S.R.” I found out as I grew older that my hometown was heavily impacted by the Cold War and United States-Soviet relations. Even before the Cold War began, a strong connection in World War II between the United States and the Soviet Union was visible in that northern city. At that time, Fairbanks was a vital point in the United States-Soviet lend-lease program in which U.S. aircraft were flown to Alaska, given to Soviet pilots and flown to the U.S.S.R. My father, having grown up in rural Alaska, remembered a simple tune that admonished young students to “Make like a turtle and duck and cover.” Even my parents’ alma mater, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, had traces of the fifty-year conflict: according to local legend, the Gruening building, an imposing concrete edifice in the center of campus, was designed to be a hiding point for students in the event of a Soviet ground invasion. That legend is fiction, but it shows that the Cold War was more than a battle of words between Washington, D.C., and the Kremlin; it was a nebulous conflict that reached across the world and changed the lives of millions. Above all else, I have always enjoyed a good story, and the experiences of Mr. Kintli and Mr. Kecskes are among the best I have heard in my life. When the Hungarian revolt broke out on October 23, 1956, newspapers across the world followed the ensuing events with rapt attention. The Hungarian “freedom fighters,” as the Western media called them, were seen as fighting a bold and patriotic struggle against Soviet oppression. Truly, these young Hungarians were fighting for the basic freedoms of speech, political expression, and to wrest control from the Hungarian communists. Kintli and Kecskes were both present for the revolution and saw how unpopular communism was in their homeland in the years leading up to the uprising. These two present a grounds-eye view of what happened in those dramatic years and experienced their compatriots’ euphoria when the Soviets were first repelled from Hungary and their crushed dreams when the Russians returned to stomp out the rebellion. However, the crowning feature of Kintli’s and Kecskes’ stories was what they did afterward. They both came to the United States, speaking little English and with no money or strong connections. Moreover, Kintli and Kecskes ended up in Helena and Butte, cities that housed no major Hungarian immigrant communities. Through hard work, persistence, and ambition, both Hungarians, along with their fellow expatriates, forged new lives for themselves in the United States and made a home for themselves in America. In many ways, it is the classic American story of immigrants arriving with nothing but ambition and crafting successful new lives in their adopted homeland. This paper is not only about Mr. Kintli and Mr. Kecskes. I will also discuss the lives of several other Hungarian immigrants who came to Carroll College with Kintli in 1957, as well as a few Hungarians who lived in Butte. However, I found it most interesting to concentrate specifically on Kintli and Kecskes. Although I do provide plentiful background information about Hungary and that nation’s revolt in 1956,1 concentrated this paper largely on the experiences of Kintli and Kecskes.