Girl Left Behind

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The Story

 

At age five, I was living with my  parents and brother in a small town near Hungary’s southern border. Unlike most, our family had comforts: a roomy apartment, a television, even a vacation home. What more could anyone want? But for my father, a doctor and a survivor of the Holocaust, living among the people who stood by as his family was taken to their deaths in cattle cars had become untenable.

 

It took him many years to make the decision to leave; doing so meant leaving behind every material possession, what family he had left, and possibly one of his two children.  He knew that tourist visas could be had to get across the East-West border, but they were not available for entire  families. This is how the Hungary's communist government ensured that its citizens--especially physicians like my parents--stayed put. He never told me or anyone what finally pushed him over the edge, but by 1969, he made up his mind. 

He told my mother he was going with or without her. 

On a summer night in 1969, they  packed the car for what was supposed to be a vacation to Vienna. Taking my 12-year-old brother, they left me at my grandmother's house near Hungary's Lake Balaton.

 

Girl Left Behind takes off from here with "Juditka's" story, growing up in a small Hungarian village not knowing why her family left in the first place, or whether she would see them again.

Written in a child's voice, this is a story both heartbreaking and heart warming. You will meet an eccentric set of characters from Juditka's 
'babushka" grandmother with holes in her only pair of shoes, a chain-smoking uncle who calls her father a "stinking Jew,"  her aunt, who seems to care more about the stony statues in the local church than the child in front of her craving love and attention, and the "fairy godparents" who just might come to her rescue.   

You will experience village life in Communist Hungary near Hungary's extraordinarily beautiful Lake Balaton, bright and promising in summer, and dark and dreary when the tourists all go home. You will meet people just trying to survive under an authoritarian government dictating their daily lives. You will meet a little girl both sad and resilient trying to make sense of her absurd new reality and why she, the girl, was left behind.

 

 

WHY IT MATTERS

Girl Left Behind captures at a human scale some of the most relevant issues of our time and of our recent history. Here we see come together the profound loss and trauma of the Holocaust, the horror of  totalitarian government, and the huge personal cost of immigration policies that still put politics above people. 

 

Families fleeing persecution and violence are still flooding to America's borders in search of a better future, often sending their children alone, or leaving them behind. Policies that separate families is a political tragedy that should have ended long ago.