My parents and siblings are war refugees who escaped Hungary during a failed revolution that attempted to overthrow the communists in 1956.
I was born about 10 months after they arrived in the United States.
Since childhood, I have heard their first hand accounts about life in Hungary and the change from a cultured life, to horrific events of World War II, 13 years under communism, a subsequent revolution, their escape, and how they survived.
I ask myself, what were the contributing factors to their survival? I remember their stories of the horrors of war. But also, I remember stories of incredible kindness intertwined with these staggering events.
Could this kindness be part of the survival of individuals and the community as a whole? My answer is yes, because kindness is a giving of oneself. Kindness in the face of adversity is an affirmation of one’s own strength. It is recognition that one can give away a portion of one’s own reserves and still survive.
This kindness is not misplaced naïve actions and does not replace the strength and resolve against dangerous forces. But rather, it is recognition of others with whom you share difficulty and challenges. This commonality gives acknowledgment to a united front and strength in numbers. It feeds back to renew one’s own strength.
My grandparents had strength from kindness in spades. Before World War II, they worked to create an affluent lifestyle. Though they weren’t Jewish, some of their friends were. As Anti-Jewish sentiment increased, some of their friends went into hiding or fled. My grandparents offered to store their friend’s furs, jewelry, and the like so that these things would be available to them when the war would be over. Soldiers became aware of this and they came with cans of gasoline, spread the gasoline around the perimeter of their home, and set it on fire. My grandparents, who were in their 60’s at the time, were able to salvage only a wheelbarrow of their own possessions.
My grandparents survived this, the war, and the revolution. Though they lost their home and possessions, including a six story apartment building confiscated by the communists, they started a new. Through the years, I have wondered what gave them the strength to start again. Perhaps I am only now starting to understand how they renewed their own reserves.
The first picture I see every morning is of my grandparents on their 50th wedding anniversary, about 11 years after the end of World War II. Their smiles say everything about kindness and survival. The best thing I can give my own children is what I have been given from my parents and grandparents; that personal strength can be renewed with kindness.