May 4, 2024

A Survivor’s Lifelong Search

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by Andrew Doran, Senior Research Fellow

For Aggie Madaras Kuperman, the question of her own life’s meaning was bound up with her father.

On October 23, 1956, the Danube flowed through a city teeming with revolutionary spirit. It was an unseasonably warm day, and the Hungarian people were in the streets of Budapest in defiance of communism. Thousands swelled to hundreds of thousands as the citizens of Buda and Pest crossed the city’s famous bridges to march for freedom—students and old men, housewives and children, veterans and poets all joined the rising. Keeping pace astride them was a diminutive twelve-year-old redhead, an only child whose immediate and extended family except her mother were dead, murdered by the Nazis within months of her birth in August 1944. She knew little of their lives or deaths, only enough to realize, even at a young age, that her own life was itself improbable. So she chose to witness as much as she could.

She heard the cries of freedom in Hungarian, the only language she knew then, even if she didn’t grasp entirely the historic moment that she was witnessing. The events of that day led to her eventual flight from Hungary. Her new life would acquaint her with many new peoples and languages: German, French, English, Romanian, and eventually Hebrew—the recently resurrected language of a nation reforged in the fourth year of her life. She knew little of those tongues, much as she knew nothing of how her father had perished. But on that autumn day in 1956, before the Russians came, many things seemed possible for Hungary and the girl.