After the reunion, Zador and Martin rented a car and spent 10 days vagabonding incognito through the countryside. "We were just American tourists, talking to people in English, paying in dollars," Zador said. "We didn't tell anyone we were Hungarian, and people freely expressed their opinions.
"When I left, there were maybe 10 cars in Hungary. Now Budapest was wall-to-wall cars, graffiti, buildings turned gray from pollution. People didn't seem happy. There's always been someone pounding on that country. They're survivors."
Hungarian émigrés are survivors too. Why have so many prospered in strange and daunting environments, as if, in the words of journalist Kati Marton, they carry "magic in their pockets"? Another émigré writer, Arthur Koestler, suggests an answer in Hungarians' linguistic and ethnic apartness from other Europeans: "a hopeless solitude" that "feeds their creativity, their desire for achieving."
"Hungarians are romantic," Schmid Shapiro says, "or we never would have gone up against the big Russians."
Hungarian journalist Dezso Dobor, who spent years debriefing '56ers for a 2006 book and TV special called It Began As an Olympics, says their defection "wasn't so much a political choice as the attraction of the unknown. America was seen as a paradise, where the fences around houses were made of sausages and chocolate. The ones who stayed were smart and talented. They made it work."
Made it work with work, in fact. Karpati and Jeney "realized they'd have to work here, where in Hungary they had all the benefits of the state," Gerlach says. "They discovered that here, gold doesn't grow on trees. Whereas we said, 'Right, it doesn't. You've got to go earn it.'"
Lend me a hammer, please, indeed.