Snapshots… Growing up Behind the Iron Curtain


An interview with Eva Kende

When, at the age of 15 ½ Eva Kende snuck out of communist Hungary in 1957 with her mother and other refugees, she entered a very different world than what she had known throughout her childhood. She admits an abiding love for her adopting country, Canada, while still steeped deeply in her Hungarian culture. Almost fifty years after her emigration to Canada, Eva has decided to share the experiences of her childhood with us.

Q.: Eva, what decided you to write Snapshots?

A: This is a hard question to answer. Several factors converged. First with the communications tool of the internet, I made an effort and united the members of my father’s family spread around the world. We started to reminisce. Our frequent trips to Hungary in recent years gave me the opportunity to revisit scenes and friends of my childhood which tweaked my memory. I joined a Hungarian discussion group where we often recalled the past. A number of friends questioned me about the past and last but not least Noah, my older grandson, proved to me that he can recall, in detail, events of his life before he turned two. I started to write down some of my stories. Couple of them appeared in anthologies, another is a favourite Christmas story published on the web, and all were very well received. Especially Tale of One Refugee that appeared in Looking in…Portraits of the Canadian Soul , brought a lot of feed back. Someone even used it as resource material in a social studies curriculum.

Q: When did you start writing Snapshots?

A: I started to try to organize all this material about five years ago. It’s been a long journey to get it to the point of publication. Next year will be the 50th anniversary of the revolution, so it’s an appropriate time to publish this material.

Q: Some of these memories must be painful for you. Why did you feel it necessary to put these memories to paper?

A: Those of us who escaped after the 1956 revolution call ourselves ’56-ers to distinguish ourselves from the various immigration waves of Hungarians to North America that came before us and some that came later.

Talking to a number of descendants of ’56-ers, I felt that there was a need to talk about the details of everyday life as we lived it. Many of the ’56-ers either don’t want to talk about their past or do not have the communications skills to express what they have lived through, so their children don’t even know what to ask. I hope that this book will open a dialogue in a lot of homes and bring the generations closer.

Watching the orders rolling in, I am pleased to find that a lot of non-’56-ers and non-Hungarians are very interested in this subject. I think with recent political events, freedom and its meaning is on a lot of people’s mind. They want to better understand what people in other political systems experienced.

Q: Tell us a bit about your life in Canada since you arrived in 1957.

A: At first I was put into a mixed school, grades 5 to 12 to learn rudimentary English. From there they placed me into grade 6 in a regular school, but in the fall of 1957, I took my rightful place in grade ten. My mother remarried in 1957. Thanks to my new family, considerate teachers and a lot of sensitive school chums, I integrated into Canadian society rapidly.

With all that help, I was accepted into Science at the University of Manitoba and earned my degree in 1963. During the summers I was a research assistant in Botany and worked in research at the Geological Survey in Ottawa in the summer break of 1962. After graduation I moved to Toronto, working as a research assistant in hospitals and at the University. I met and married my husband, also a ’56-er, in Toronto. His career moves took us back to Winnipeg for a while, where my son Leslie was born and where I worked as a research assistant at the University of Manitoba Medical School. Our next move was to Edmonton, then to Calgary. I continued doing research.

In 1984, I wrote and published Eva’s Hungarian Kitchen, a cookbook that still has a dedicated following. When my son graduated from High School and went to Queen’s in 1986, I retired to Canmore in the Alberta Rocky Mountains. In 1998 I completed another cookbook, Eva’s Kitchen Confidence, to help beginners be flexible in their kitchen art. It was published by DiskUs Publishing.

I am always busy with community work, tole painting, crocheting, genealogy and travel. We want to see as much of the world as possible before we become too crotchety to enjoy it.

Q: What do you think of the political situation in Hungary today?

A: Hungary and its people are having a hard time. To go from a state-controlled economy (ownership, health care, pensions and price control) to a market-driven one with all its insecurities in 15 short years is difficult, especially for the older people. Exercising the right to democratic process with multi-party elections has to be learned from experience. The learning curve is steep.

Q: You say that many of your father’s family are still in Hungary. How have they fared since you left?

A: I have only one cousin and his family living in Hungary. The others escaped in 1956. One lives in Vienna and one in Chicago. Our eldest cousin passed away a few years ago, but we keep in touch with her daughter in Los Angeles. The cousin in Budapest is doing well. He seemed to have moved easily from the government-controlled publishing industry to private enterprise. He is well respected as editor of the complex website news magazine of the main Internet provider and is the proud grandfather of two lovely boys. I drew on his experience in layout and cover art in preparing Snapshots for printing. His daughter and son-in-law are both teachers, experiencing the frustrations of financial restraints that most young people have to face anywhere.

Q: What is your favourite memory of Hungary?

A: It’s difficult to choose one of the many peppered thoughout Snapshots. The summers in Miscolc-Tapolca, theatre productions and of course that Sunday in Szentendre, stand out.

Q: What do you see in your future? Any other similar writing?

A: I want to take some time off, but everyone who knows me laughs when I say that. I have several short pieces in various stages of completion, mostly about my grandchildren. I should polish them and submit them to an appropriate magazine.

Q: Where can we buy Snapshots?

A: For the time being it can be ordered through my website for direct shipping. Soon I will also make the ebook version available too. I am just beginning to approach independent bookstores and one of them promised to put it on Amazon as well.

Thanks, Eva. I hope many Hungarian friends and expatriates, as well as their children, will find answers in your book, and that those interested in history, regardless of their nationalities, enjoy Snapshots: Growing up behind the Iron Curtain.

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