The Biggest Hole in the Iron Curtain: The Batizy Story
by Levente Batizy
Outskirts Press

"With refugees fleeing their worn-torn countries, we are constantly reminded of the risk and benefits that refugees pose to the host nation."

This inspirational hybrid of memoir and family biography will please history buffs and memoir enthusiasts alike. Tracing their ancestry back to medieval nobility, the Bastizy family enjoyed prominence and relative peace in Hungary until the failed 1956 revolution against communist rule. Armed with his keen intellect and fierce determination, Gusztáv, the Batizy patriarch, fled Hungary with his second wife and thirteen of his fourteen children from two marriages to Austria, then eventually took refuge in the United States. Though faced with many obstacles, including raising a large family while working at menial jobs and attending classes to satisfy U.S. credential requirements, despite his status as a doctor in Europe—and all while frequently moving to take advantage of opportunities—Gusztáv, his wife Julianna, and his progeny display the universal courage and conviction of immigrants who pursue the American dream of freedom and upward mobility.

Told from the perspective of the author, who was just ten years old when the family fled Budapest, this passionate, compelling story is hard to put down and can be read in one long sitting. Approximately half of the book is the author’s memoir, and half is a collection of biographies written by his siblings that deepen and strengthen the narrative with their individual perspectives. Each sibling in his or her way courageously recreated their lives, adjusting to American culture after their jarring engagement with history (or in the case of the eldest daughter who remains behind, the difficulty of adjusting to life in Budapest with her mother and grandmother and without her father, stepmother, and siblings). An important highlight of the principal author’s experience is his journey with his son to Budapest in 2006 to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Hungary’s freedom from communist rule. Father and son find themselves engaged in a contemporary protest in the same locations as when the author marched with his own father for freedom in 1956.

There is little self-effacing candor in this narrative, but the positive side is that the family is truly extraordinary: “Of the 200,000 Hungarian refugees who escaped during the aftermath of the 1956 Hungarian revolution against the occupying Russian forces, the U.S. accepted only 25,000. My family defied the odds and was given a chance at achieving the American dream.” Indeed, the family was already historically known for their education and creative abilities. The Batizy family became known statewide in Tennessee as a family of swimmers, with each child performing well on school and community swim teams, and many went on to earn full university scholarships as swimmers. An extraordinary number of siblings attended medical school or aimed (successfully) for other professional positions in education and psychology.

This work is not only graced with numerous perspectives but is also amply illustrated with numerous personal photos and newspaper clippings, a treasure trove of family genealogy. In the final analysis, the book is a testament to strong families with strong ideals and standards. The Batizy family history would make a remarkable feature film or documentary.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

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