Refugee Child: My Memories of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution


223 pages
Contains Photos, Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7787-2760-2
DDC j943.905'2092




Reviewed by Kathy E. Zimon

Kathy E. Zimon is a fine arts librarian (emerita) at the University of
Calgary. She is the author of Alberta Society of Artists: The First 70
Years and co-editor of Art Documentation Bulletin of the Art Libraries
Society of North America.


In October 1956, the unyielding Iron Curtain that locked Hungary within
the orbit of the Soviet Union was briefly pried open. Bobbie Kalman,
whose family lived in a small town near the Czech and Austrian borders,
provides a nine-year-old’s perspective, informed by hindsight, on this
historic event.

Life in Communist Hungary was hard: fuel, medicines, consumer goods,
and information from abroad were lacking, while the ever-present secret
police influenced all public and private behaviour. Children were
trained not to reveal dangerous family secrets, such as listening to
Radio Free Europe. As the revolution spread beyond Budapest, daily
routines of walking to school, playing with classmates, or visiting
grandparents were supplanted by new, exciting or frightening
experiences: singing the forbidden Hungarian national anthem in class;
encountering the wounded on the streets after the secret police fired on
a crowd; making furtive plans to flee during the chaos; saying tearful
goodbyes to extended family; and arriving in Austria on a harrowing,
second attempt at flight. Then, enjoying the kindness of Austrians, good
food in Vienna, and the novelties of the ocean liner during the Atlantic
crossing; finally, docking at Pier 21 in Halifax and starting a new life
in Canada.

Kalman’s story is enhanced with telling detail, illustrations, maps,
photographs, and notes on Hungarian history, language, and pronunciation
of names. Refugee Child is recommended for both young and older readers
as an informative and gentle introduction to this cataclysm in
20th-century Hungarian history.


Kalman, Bobbie., “Refugee Child: My Memories of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 21, 2024,