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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 May, 2004, 16:36 GMT 17:36 UK
'I was smuggled out of Hungary'

BBC News Online readers have been telling us their experiences as migrants - why they left, what they like about their new countries and what they miss from the place they left behind.

Tibor Machan has lived in the US since 1956, three years after his father arranged for him to be smuggled out of Hungary.

Tibor on the day he met his father after being smuggled out of Hungary
Back in the 1950s, Communist Hungary was terrifying - a bureaucratic nightmare with commissars hovering everywhere making life nearly impossible.

On 14 October 1953, I was smuggled out by a man sent by my father. My mother understood it was better for me to get out. I was 14 years old.

My father had left Hungary because he supported Hitler. He worked at Radio Free Europe in Munich.

We joined four adults and trekked out to Austria, through mine fields and a booby-trapped barb wire fence.

Three years later I left Bremerhaven, Germany with my father and his family on an American battleship. The journey took nine days.

We arrived at Hudson River Pier in New York, in September 1956.

Looking for a chance

After a hellish, brutal life with my father I ran away from his home on 18 March 1957, my 18th birthday, never to return.

Apart from a bit of initial help from the mother of my girlfriend, who lent me $75, I was on my own.

I was always excited about everything but not always welcomed
My knowledge of America came from reading Zane Gray, Earl Stanley Garner, Mark Twain, Max Brand, Karl May, and other novelists and some movies.

I knew these were fictionalised depictions, so I expected no panacea, just a chance to make headway in my life.

I got it.

I was, at first, very poor but got jobs as a bus boy and short order cook. I later worked as a draftsman and enlisted in the US Air Force.

I then enrolled in night school and later at Claremont Men's (now McKenna) College.

These were all done with the difficulties of being an immigrant trying to negotiate life in a new country - I was always excited about everything but not always welcomed.

Hard time

Refugees from Soviet Bloc countries didn't fare well in the Claremont Men's academy, with its dominant left wing ideology.

I do believe individuals either do, or do not help themselves, which is crucial even if they have helping hands extended to them, as I did.

Friends helped me along, but my big mouth, decrying the left-leaning politics at university, didn't help much.

Championing radical libertarianism didn't make it easy to advance in my profession as a political philosopher. At least not until after Robert Nozick from Harvard gave libertarianism currency in 1974.

I had a hard time but published much and got so-so jobs even before Nozick's book appeared.

Had I had different political views, I'd have done better but, all in all, it didn't impede my life too much.

Visiting Hungary

I married - eventually three times - and have three great children (starting with Kate, when I was 40, Thomas, a year later, whom I adopted, and Erin, when I was 45). We are extremely close.

I am now single and live in Southern California.

I teach at Chapman University. I also advise Freedom Communications by writing columns, books, papers, essays, and giving talks around the world.

I visit my mother, now 85 years old, once a year. She managed to leave Hungary in 1974 and has lived in Freilassing, southern Bavaria ever since.

I have been back to Hungary several times - in 1974, 1990, and 1997.

It is better now, but it takes a long time to recover from the kind of devastation socialism wreaks.

Tibor's memoirs: The Man Without A Hobby, Adventures of a Gregarious Egoist (Lanham, MD: Hamilton Books, 2004), will be published by Hamilton Books later this year.

Your comments:

Well, this story got me really surprised. I've always watched a lot of films about situations like that, people running away from the government, but I never thought that something like it could happen. In my opinion you are a wonderful person, who had to fight for your rights and ideas, you try to get the best of your experience. You teach us that when you have an objective, you must fight for them! I guess that you are a great example of willpower!
Gaby Vicari, Belem, Brazil

It's great story and shows us that running away sometimes can be the best solution. You had a bad relation with your father, but it was crucial for you to find courage to try a new life. Nowadays you are strong person and demonstrate an enormous capacity of independence. Although your father contributed to construct your great personality it was involuntary.
Renato de Oliveira Costa, Belém, Brazil

I have lived in Hungary for nearly 10 years and like you am trying to get out!
Andy, Budapest

Tibor, your story is typical of these incredible BBC pages. I have lived in Hungary for nearly 10 years and like you am trying to get out! The harm Socialism created, we expats thought would take 20 years to put right. However man's mortality, and a resentment of being wronged for over 50 years by the authorities, created an understandable need for immediate personal gain. This is spurred on by obvious corruption in government agencies, all to the detriment of your neighbour and fellow citizens. EU accession could not have come sooner for these former Soviet countries. They will be a money pit for years and that 20 year clock has been reset many times already.
Andy, Budapest, Hungary

This guy is a bonafide patriot and his story is all about what we, as Americans, hope we never forget.
Bill Sims, San Antonio, TX, USA

Having been an immigrant for eight years myself, I strongly agree with Tibor's principle that "individuals either do, or do not help themselves" - it is crucial even if they have helping hands extended to them. Being alone in a totally different environment with no family or friends can be devastating unless one is prepared to be totally independent and strong. A truly remarkable and inspiring account of a harsh journey.
Gaya Nadarajan, Malaysia


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