BUDAPEST: DECEMBER 1956.
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.