The Great Escape

The Texas Story Project.

The year was 1956 and many Hungarians had revolted against the government and its Soviet-imposed policies. It was a dark and cold November night. Stars shone brightly over the city of Sopron, Hungary.

Three figures rushed past dimly-lit buildings and alleyways. The tallest, John, checked around the corner of the building where the group had stopped. Seeing no one, he motioned for the others to follow him. They had reached the edge of the town and were now facing a dark forest.

The shortest of the group, Andrea, felt a shudder of fear run down her back. She had never liked the forest in the day time, and it seemed scarier in the dark.

The woman, who held the small child Andrew (about a year and a half old), whispered softly to the child, “The people we are running from are much scarier than the forest ahead.”

She was right. The Russian tanks had come just one month earlier. They had sealed up the borders and patrols kept people from coming in or leaving. The small family of four had to escape to avoid imprisonment or even death.

They all looked at the forest, both excitement and fear rushing through their veins. John and the woman, Elizabeth, looked at each other and started their trek through the forest.

With nothing but the clothes on their backs and a small diaper bag with some food, the Alpar family raced through tall trees and bushes. There were multiple times when the Russian troops passed their way; but they remained silent, for they knew that if they were found, they would most definitely be imprisoned.

After many hours of silence and many miles walked, the family came to the Austrian border. Tiny flags were placed discreetly to indicate safety.

The Alpars got up to try crossing, but just as they were about to come out of their hiding spot, a patrol group walked past. After the Russians passed, they made a dash for the border. They had made it into Austria! They were there for a few days before they had to figure out where to go. Elizabeth’s brother, Carl, had moved to the United States just a few years earlier.

The family boarded a TWA plane and flew to the U.S. They landed in New Jersey and were processed at Camp Kilmer. After just twenty-four hours in New Jersey, Carl drove them to Delaware, where they stayed for a while.

While redoing his residency, John met a man named Doctor Howl. After talking a while, the two realized that they had the same occupation, optometry. Dr. Howl offered John to become business partners. Howl had recently bought a building in Amarillo, Texas and was planning to start his business there. John happily agreed to the partnership. The family moved to Amarillo and John has been working with Dr. Howl ever since.


Eva Alpar is a student at St. Mary's University. She is studying music education (voice) and wants to be an opera singer. This story of her grandparents (John and Elizabeth) is one of great struggle. They left their entire lives behind in Hungary; but they created a beautiful new life here in Texas.

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