Introducing the Hungarianpresence.ca website’s current intern – in her own words
By Éva Hegyi
I was born in Bonyhád, Hungary, and spent 10 years of my childhood in the village of Lengyel. In the summer of 1990, we moved with my parents and my sister to the Black Forest in the Southwest of Germany. Following High School, I spent two years working in London, England. After that, I took up my studies in translation, focusing on the languages German, English and French, at the Johannes-Gutenberg University of Mainz/Germersheim in Germany. After having completed my studies, I moved to Berlin to work as a translator and project manager at a translation agency focusing on IT translations.
Having decided to seek a new challenge and experience, I came to Ottawa in September 2009 to do a 3-month internship at the German cultural institution, the Goethe-Institut. My main tasks at the institute comprise of teaching German conversation classes at different levels and helping organize and plan various cultural events.
Besides working at the German cultural institution and trying to understand and get to know the Canadian society and way of life, I was also interested in finding out about the Hungarian community in Ottawa. The most important reason for this is that in 2006, I wrote my final thesis about the Hungarian Emigration to Canada in the Context of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. This is the German title: "Die Ungarische Auswanderung nach Kanada im Kontext des Ungarischen Volksaufstandes von 1956." I wrote it in German mainly because I wanted my parents to be able to read it as they don't speak English.
I chose this topic for personal reasons. Firstly, I wanted to write something about Hungarian history because I am very interested in the history of my ancestors. Secondly, I chose 1956 because of what happened to my grandfather at that time. Back then, he was a janitor and head of agriculture at a vocational school in the village of Lengyel in Hungary. In October 1956, he apparently recited the Szózat on the balcony of the school he worked at. It was most likely due to this incident that in the spring of 1957, he was dismissed from his work place and had to move out of the apartment he lived in with his wife and his son. He had no other choice but to stay with his pregnant wife and his 4-year-old son, my father, in one little room in the house of his sister-in-law. In the beginning, my grandfather had to bucket urine as a punishment. After about half a year, he was transferred to the crop grinder (termelékdaráló) where he had to grind farm produce for the animals. In this context, it is important to mention that he had only one arm since he had lost the other one during the Second World War. With this one arm, he had to move sacks of 50 kg in weight. Fortunately, there were always people who could lend him a helping hand. In the meantime, he was moved to the chicken farm where chickens were bred. In the early 60s, my grandfather was transferred to technical school and life became easier for him.
Finally, the reason for writing about the emigration in context of 1956 was that the paper had to do something with my studies, i.e. with an English- or French-speaking country. I chose the refugee movement to Canada because Canada was the only country accepting an unlimited number of refugees and because I had been attracted by this country for a long time.
To add a personal touch to my final thesis, I prepared questionnaires to be filled out by former refugees and sent them to Nandor F. Dreisziger, among others, who was kind enough to hand out the bilingual questionnaires to his friends and acquaintances fleeing Hungary after the 1956 Revolution. Professor Dreisziger also asked these people to fill out the questionnaires and to send them back to me. All communication with Canada happened via e-mail as I did not have the opportunity to come to Canada while writing my thesis.
Because I received so much help from the Hungarians in different parts of Canada and as I have never been able to express my gratitude in person, I offered my help to the Hungarian Community Centre of Ottawa in October 2009, during my first visit to Canada.
I received a reply to my e-mail with a request from the president of the Hungarian Community Centre asking if I would be willing to deliver a speech at the ceremony commemorating the anniversary of the 1956 Revolution. First, I hesitated a little because I wasn’t sure if I could write and deliver a speech in Hungarian as I have never done anything like this before. On the other hand, I had the feeling that I would regret it if I didn't accept the offer so I confirmed my participation in the festivities.
Needless to say, it was a great honour for me to deliver a speech on the 53rd anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. This event at the Hungarian Community Centre gave me the unique opportunity to speak with Hungarian refugees coming to Canada in 1956 and later. I was very moved by being able to personally and finally talk to those people I wrote about in my thesis, the people I only knew in theory. Back in 2006, I wouldn't have dreamt of standing on a stage in Ottawa one day and delivering a speech in Hungarian in front of former Hungarian refugees and their families.
I am very grateful for this experience and for having been able to make this small contribution to the Hungarian community in Ottawa. This is certainly one of my most pleasant and rewarding memories and one that I take back with me to Germany as I leave Ottawa at the end of my first stay in Canada.