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As the Hungarian community in greater Cleveland gathers this Sunday afternoon to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Revolution in Hungary in 1956 against Soviet Bolshevik rule, it is a befitting opportunity for us 56-ers to formally express our heartfelt thank you to the citizens of this wonderful city.

Soon, it will be sixty years that my family and I arrived in this city sometime at the end of January 1957. From that fateful day of October 23, 1956   in Hungary to the time of our arrival in Cleveland, I felt that I went through a time-warp, an acceleration in time and space, which exposed me to those human experiences that transformed me into a much older individual than I really was at the age of twelve when our train pulled into the station under Cleveland’s Terminal Tower. We felt dislocated; we were anxious, restless, fearful, and uncertain. From the perspective of a twelve year old, we were in need of a warm home, not merely a place to live but a place where we could feel safe, a place where people were kind, gracious, and responsive to our needs. And this was the exact time when the American people, the clevelanders stepped in welcoming us with open arms.

Over the many decades as a Cleveland resident, fond memories of kindheartedness and compassion keep coming back to me, and over the years I find myself telling the same stories that depict how wonderful the people of this city were to us. I am not referring to social organizations, church groups, and city officials, but to our very neighbors who responded according to the golden rule. Over the many years people on both sides of the ocean would ask me how I was treated by the American public. So I tell them about those heartening episodes that touched us, those episodes that inspired me in my adult life to give back to the very community that treated us like family.

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A favorite story that I tell is about the mom and pop shoe shop on Lorain avenue. My father took my brother Peter and I shoe shopping, as we were growing ever so fast. The shop owner, who himself spoke with a heavy German accent, inquired where are we from, detecting a foreign language conversation among us. So we told him that we are Hungarians, Hungarian refugees fleeing from communism. As the old man that my brother and I nicknamed Mr. Wasisdas started to wrap up the merchandise, my father reached for his wallet asking how much do we owe for the two pairs.  The old proprietor’s answer was, “No, you do not pay anything this time, but please come back next time and then you can pay. Auf wiedersehen, he waved us good-bye with a wide smile.

At another time, we went to purchase scout uniforms and camping supplies at May Company; they had a dedicated Boy Scout shop on one of the floors. Not really knowing the value of money, American dollars that is, my brother and I really went on a shopping spree buying everything from uniforms to canteens and bowie knives. The tally, of course, came to a hefty sum.  Again came the same question, “What language do you speak?”  We are Hungarians came the answer and we told the clerk that we need all this because we joined the Hungarian Scouts. Mulling things over, the clerk signaled over to the manager and after whispering a few words between themselves, the clerk announced that this purchase is on the house, courtesy of May Company.

Then my mother would tell the story of how a neighbor came over after finding out that my mom needed a heavier coat. The lady said that she has this old winter coat that she was just about to take over to Goodwill or a second-hand store, but if it fits my mom, she’d rather give it to her. So my mother thanked her and gladly accepted the coat. It was almost a year after this incident that my mother discovered that the coat was brand new when she found its exact replica at Fries & Schuele’s. As it turned out my mom and this lady became life-long friends.

Now, I am sure all of you can imagine how bad our English was in school and how bewildered we behaved in class. The teachers were gracious enough to pass us at the end of the first year. In subsequent years , however, we struggled and worked very hard. It’s noteworthy that I never felt that I was made fun of; no one ever ridiculed me or used a derogatory word, at least not one that I would have understood. Yes, Clevelanders treated us as if we were one of them. They displayed a genuine interest in our homeland and our customs.  I found them to be truly compassionate and gracious.  It was at that time that I realized that true graciousness is the aroma of friendliness which emanates from a love-saturated soul.

Over the continuing years and decades as I became actively involved in philanthropic organizations, I came to realize that there is in fact no enmity between peoples, but only between political and dogmatic religious groups of different peoples! It is the political groups and tribal altruists who, without consideration for loss, incite people against each other, only in order to reach their goals in terms of power-politics. People and their governments are not one and the same.

So our hats off to you, Clevelanders! Over the years we became one of you. We have taught our offspring the example you set before us. Since we have received so abundantly from you so should they be also inspired to assist people in need.

I would like to close this note of thanks with a quote from the founder of the Department of Sociology at Harvard University, the great Pitirim A. Sorokin: “When every human being is actually treated by every other human being as an end value; when no truly harmful action is committed by anybody against anybody; when one’s joy and sorrow become everybody’s joy and sorrow; when everyone is responsible for everyone; when everybody is spontaneously prompted to help, within his capacity; when everyone who needs help, in brief, when everyone behaves as dear brother or sister to everybody: then, and only then, altruistic love is extended over the whole of  humanity.”

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