047:336 Refugee

We’re all from someplace else.

I currently live in Virginia but I was born and raised in California.

Thankfully, it was my choice to make that move. If I go back far enough in my ancestry, I can find stories of those who came before me who did not have that luxury of choice when opting to pull up stakes and get out of Dodge.

One one side of my heritage, my great-grandfather (my paternal grandmother’s father), in 1904, departed Vladivostok, Russia with his wife and (at the time) two children bound for the United States. War had broken out between the country of his birth and Japan and he could see the writing on the wall. As a male in his twenties, he was a prime candidate to be drafted into the service of the Tsar and defend his homeland. As a Jew, he was expendable cannon fodder. So, he pulled up stakes and got out of Dodge. This makes me the descendant of a conflict refugee.

On another side of my family, it is my great(x7)-grandfather who made the trip from England to Virginia after being awarded a land grant of about 170 acres in October 1691. He arrived in his new land, with four indentured servants, a few years later. There is no record as to why he left, but I can hazard the guess that the New World offered opportunities that Mother England did not. This makes me the descendant of an economic refugee.

We’re all from someplace else.

It’s not where you’re from that defines you, it’s your actions that do that.

Being a refugee does not make you one way or another. For every story of those who perpetrated the Bowling Green Massacre, there are stories like Andras Istvan Grof.

This is his story.


The Red Army had been streaming into the city for a month, brutalizing Hungary’s October revolution. The foggy nights, filled all fall with the sounds of ecstatic students, were now split with the jostle of machinery–10 divisions of Soviet tanks–and the uneven light of Molotov cocktails thrown through the rain. Fear blossomed in the dampness. The Premier vanished.

The boy–lean, strikingly handsome–hoped the tumult would pass. During the day he buried himself in schoolwork. Nights he passed at home. But over his books, across his strong Hungarian coffee, he heard rumors: the Russians were rounding up students. Children were disappearing. Trains were leaving for the frontier.

He longed to ignore the stories. He had already lived through the horror of the Nazis, outsmarting the SS, avoiding Budapest’s brownshirts. One day his mother had bundled him into the house of a “courageous acquaintance,” where they sweated out the pogroms of 1944. He saw his father return from the labor camps on the Eastern front, a proud, garrulous man shriveled by typhoid fever and chilled by pneumonia. Boys at school mocked him: before the war as a Jew, after the war because his father was a businessman (a dairyman, but that was enough). In his government file the boy was already an “enemy of the classes.” He wasn’t going to wait for the Soviets.

So he ran. With his best school friend he hopped a train westward, as close to the Austrian border as they dared. Twenty miles out they were tipped about police checkpoints ahead. The news was grim: the Russians were storming through the countryside, arresting everyone they could. The two would have to race the Red Army to the border. And since no one would guide them, they gathered the last of their money, the last of their courage, and bought directions from a hunchbacked smuggler who spoke of secret byways the Russians hadn’t yet discovered.

And so, hours later, he found himself facedown in a muddy field somewhere near the Austrian border–but how near? Soldiers marched by, dogs barked, flares lit the night. Then a voice cried out, in Hungarian, the words paralyzing him with fear: “Who is there?” Even 40 years later, as he laughs at the memory, his eyes harden; he shifts his neck under his collar. Had the smuggler betrayed him? “We thought, ‘Shit, this is it.'” The man shouted again. Now at the limits of his courage, the boy finally answered: “Where are we?” “Austria,” came the reply. The relief poured cool as the rain. Andras Grof, a name he would later Americanize to Andrew Grove, stood up and picked his way toward the future.

That’s his story.

The above tale was taken from Joshua Cooper Ramo’s December 29, 1997 article in TIME honoring Andrew Grove, the Hungarian engineer who would become one of the founders (and later CEO) of Intel, as Man of the Year for 1997.

This post is dedicated to Mr. Grove, who passed away on this day (March 21) one year ago.

P.S. The people who came before me run the gamut from those who fled from war to those who rushed to serve. All had honor, but those are stories for another day.


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