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Escapes from behind the Iron Curtain
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Escapes from behind the Iron Curtain
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Escapes from behind the Iron Curtain by Zoltan Bartok
Published: January 17, 2011
The author was jailed at age 17 in communist Hungary just for getting too close to the Yugoslav border. His desire to be free intensified when, at the age of 20, he was forced to serve in a labor camp in lieu of regular military service. Stamped as an enemy of the state, he was to be broken in, brainwashed, converted to be a sheep, to be an obedient slave of the system. At age 23, his request for a passport was not only rejected, he was banned from submitting a new passport application for 5 years. When man was already walking on the Moon, he was robbed of his most basic human rights. He just could not take it any longer. His incredible adventure that eventually takes him to America is a amazing story.
Approximate Pages: 251 and Words: 72,703
About the Author
I was born in 1949 in communist Hungary. My father, a forest ranger, was already 46 years old at that time. My mother, 14 years younger than my father, had always been “just” a mother and housewife. My 2 brothers were born 9 and 12 years before me. Both my grandfathers had lived in the USA in the early 1900s. No, they were not diplomats or businessmen. They were simple folks, peasants, who did not even have enough money to buy the tickets for the boats that took them to the New World – they had to earn their fare by shoveling coal into the steam engines. My father did not like the communist regime so he joined the revolution of 1956. After Russian tanks crushed the revolt, he was not allowed to continue working in his profession. He had to accept the only job offered to him at the power plant nearby, operating turbines in a gas filled chamber. The salary he earned was barely enough for our family to survive. Since my father’s “crime” was added to my record as well, I had no future in Hungary. When I first attempted to escape to the West with a classmate of mine at age 17, we were caught at the border and put in jail. As this also showed on my record, it was obvious that I was drafted to serve in a labor camp instead of regular military service. I consider it the greatest miracle of my life that only a couple of years later, in 1973, I was able to brake free from the communist bloc. Of course, when I reached the Italian shore, swimming from Yugoslavia on that August night, my quest for freedom was just beginning. Today, almost 40 years later, I often wonder what difference it would have meant if I was born in America, if I was free growing up, having English as my real mother tongue, and being prepared for a meaningful life from early childhood. Not that I don’t appreciate all those realizations and discoveries that resulted from my struggles… but never having anyone to give me advise, always searching for directions alone, not even knowing what the possibilities were, it’s amazing that I found direction at all. And it had taken a very long time to catch up with myself. I am only now beginning to feel that finally I am ready to start my life as an American. Well, perhaps better late than never. While learning the language of my new country after I landed in New York in 1974, I did all kinds of odd jobs. I worked in a factory, painted houses, served as a doorman, drove a taxi cab, and sold ice cream from a "Good Humor" truck. When I got my first new car, a Datsun B210, in 1978, I immediately packed my luggage and drove 5 days to arrive in Los Angeles, California. There, I spent the first night in my car. Next day, I found a furnished studio apartment in Hollywood (for $195 a month!), and another day later I convinced the Manager of the Beverly Hills branch of Great Western Savings and Loan that he should employ me as a teller. In 1980, I moved to Ventura, about an hour drive north of LA, where I got "lucky". I applied for and got the job I never even knew existed: I became a copier salesman. The company, Savin Corporation, provided full training. I worked very hard and managed to keep my job in this high turn-over business. Working in sales helped my English improve rapidly. Of course, I had to use the full capacity of my brain to perform as expected by management... and in a couple years I was totally burned out. It was again time for me to "escape". Since I missed Europe, I booked a flight and landed in Zurich, Switzerland. I found some chess player friends at the Lugano International Master Tournament who advised me to move to Basel and try to find work there at one of the 3 pharmaceutical companies, as my degree from Hungary was in Chemistry. In Basel, I rented a small furnished apartment and worked illegally for a few months with a moving company. Eventually, I was able to obtain a work permit and started teaching English at the Orsini Sprachschule (Orsini Language School). In 1984, I was back at Savin Corporation in California. Before returning to Orsini in 1987, I spent almost a full year in Germany, teaching English at the Idioma Sprachschule in Karlsruhe. In 1989, I returned to the USA again, back to selling copiers in California. Of course, every change I made brought new adventures. In my desperate search, I made some irresponsible and risky steps that could have resulted in disasters... but, miraculously, I always survived. I must conclude that Higher Powers watched over me. My first attempt at writing was influenced by science fiction movies I had seen. My curiosity and my imagination have always made me wonder about the unknown, and my urge to create my own story grew stronger. Finally, in 2000, I was able to make the time to write "Reign of the Chroms" in which I indirectly speculate about the hick-ups of human evolution. Another 10 years later, after much encouragement by friends who knew about my adventures, I sat down to write the story of my escapes from the Soviet bloc. Escapes, indeed, as in 1976, believing that the amnesty the Hungarian government issued was credible, I returned to my homeland. How I managed to free myself again and survive the torture I had to endure when caught on the Yugoslav-Italian border in the fall of 1977 is described in my second book, Escapes from behind the Iron Curtain.
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