By Sharon Tazewell
NBC-17 is proud to co-sponsor the 27th International Festival at the Raleigh Convention Center and each day this week we are highlighting a different country that will be represented.
Today we spotlight Hungary. I met with several Hungarian women who proudly shared their history and their stories of survival.
“As a nomadic tribe, it was neat because we had settled in mountains for a while and then we diverted. One group went to Finland, another to Hungary, what is current day Hungary,” said Aniko Gaal. “The best way of seeing who we are as a culture is in our language, our music, in our folk dance and our wonderful food.”
But terror struck Hungary more than once. All three women I met had to flee their homeland.
“My dad was a property owner he became labeled as the enemy of the people. He ran for his life in 1948 thinking things would settle down later, it did not. He went to Austria and became what they called a displaced person,” described Lilla Khalifa. “He was labeled not just an enemy of the police, but a traitor. And that’s because he was trying to establish business ties with the west. I remember when he disappeared one night and never saw him again for 11 years.”
Eleven long years, that’s when she arrived in New York City at the age of 17.
“I still remember when most of the food was taken away because we owed the Soviet Union for liberating our country,” said Khalifa.
Judy Benedict also moved to the US from Hungary in 1957. She says she cherishes her childhood in her homeland, but it all changed when the war started.
“In 1956, October 23, the Hungarians rose against the communist regime of the Russians,” said Benedict.
Her husband paved the way for them to flee, then sent her a letter saying to leave everything behind.
“I had a two year old at t he time. We walked during the night in remote areas that were fields. We had to cross the canal. It was not an easy way to leave Hungary,” described Benedict.
Their destination was unknown. They stayed in refugee camps in Austria.
Despite political turmoil, they all have fond memories of their homeland, embrace their culture and they say laughter kept them strong.
An interesting fact about Hungary, each region has its own ethnic wear, such as different embroidery work. Also, in Hungary, they say their last names first.
The International Festival starts this Friday and runs through Sunday at the Raleigh Convention Center.