We publish the letter we received unchanged below.
“I was 9 months old when we came to Canada. I have sympathy for the Ukrainian refugees and thank Hungary for helping the very few that choose Hungary. Although I can understand why more choose Poland since your government has leanings towards allegiance to Russia.
This is much to my dismay. Before W.W.II my father’s family owned the town blacksmith shop in Budaors. He got his degree from the University in Budapest. He and people like him were kept out of the war so they could help rebuild Hungary after the war. But he had a small problem, in the 1700’s German speaking people were sent to Eastern Europe to help resist incursion by the Ottoman Empire. He had some German blood in his family. When the Russians came in my dad’s family had to flee under threat of death. They left with just a few suitcases.
My mother was Romanian. She lived in Cenad. She had the same small problem – some German ancestry from the 1700’s. She and her family fled much the same as my dad’s. Except her 16 year old brother was taken back to Russia to a work camp and was never heard from again. My mother and grandmother were refugees and in the next few years they basically walked to France.
My parents met in France, got married and went to Canada because they were not welcome in Europe. They were Hungarian and Romanian, not German, not French and weren’t welcome back in their home countries. I was born in France and a Canadian citizen. I have 2 sisters born here. My father’s education in Hungary taught him the importance of higher learning. I and my sisters went to University. One sister worked in a high position in a government ministry. My other sister became a department head in a few hospitals. I became a medical physicist. My last job was to start up a new cancer clinic in the Niagara region of the country. I was the first medical physicist in the region. I hired many ethnicities for my department. The diversity made us, I felt, very adaptable. I supervised several Ph.D. physicists from various backgrounds (India, Romania, England, Germany and Jordan) and I had a technical staff that included a Russian. I hold no grudges and feel we are all just people. We worked very well together and got the clinic going in record time.
My parents took us to visit, in 1967, the relatives that managed to survive in Hungary and Romania. It was quite something to see the soldiers come on the train with machine guns to check our papers and check the train under the seats and everywhere for, I don’t know what. We smuggled blue jeans to our family there so they could sell them on the black market because they were so poor. The people in Romania were so destitute. They had no fridges or screens on their windows. Shelves in stores were virtually empty. When we ate, flies covered our food so that all meals looked black. Hungary was a bit better. But I marvelled at the bullet holes in the Budapest buildings from 1956. I and my sisters got very sick several times on the trip.
I returned to visit while on a conference in Vienna in 2014. I was looking at a new breast cancer treatment methodology which I took back to Niagara where it was the first implementation of it in Canada. I was glad to see the huge improvement in Hungary. Budaors even had an IKEA. When walking around Budapest we talked to several locals about how bad it was last time I visited. One conversation I will never forget. Some younger people in the street said the Russians took everything good from Hungary and sent it to Russia.
Most of my life people asked me why I didn’t change my name from Szabo to Sabo to anglicize it and make it easier to spell and pronounce. My reply was always that I was proud of my heritage. One time I gave a speech in front of thousands of people, surrounded by dignitaries – mayors and University presidents, about our new cancer clinic. I was so proud when they introduced Joe Szabo.
But now, with the Russians invading Ukraine, and with Hungary in NATO with Canada, Hungary will not allow weapons through to Ukraine! I am disgusted. Are all the people from 1956 dead? The people seem to be duped by the propaganda from your leader who is in bed with Putin. I am glad my father left Hungary. I would leave if I lived there now. The z in my name is now embarrassing, especially since it is a symbol of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Joe Sabo (until recently Szabo)
Niagara Falls, Canada”