Frances R. Schmidt

Hungarian Freedom Fighters Move In

Two Hungarian brothers, twenty-eight year old Zoltan and twenty-nine year old Lazlo Popp, moved into my building in 1965. It was eight years after they immigrated to Buffalo, NY from Kabesca, a city in The Communist Hungary, a year after the Hungarian Revolution ended.  As protesters and fighters in their home country, to fleeing as refugees, they eventually found their way to freedom in the United States.

When they first arrived, they lived with their deceased father’s older brother, their Uncle Istvan (Stephan) Popp and his family, who were already settled in the U.S. Istvan had previously come under The Displaced Persons Act of 1948, which allowed certain people displaced by World War II, to qualify for Permanent Residence.

The day the brothers moved into my building, I thought they were flying up the stairs to their new living quarters! I didn’t know it right then, but it was a momentous time in their lives. How proud Zoltan and Laszlo were to be able to afford their own apartment together. The reason this was possible, is because they were both hired at The Mentholatum Company located at 1360 Niagara St., only a short distance away. The Mentholatum Company was an 80,000 sq. ft. factory built in 1919 that manufactured a product of menthol, camphor and petrolatum, used to alleviate muscle aches and to relieve congestion. Zoltan and Laszlo felt lucky to be hired as two of the seventy-five employees. When you read their full story in my book, Fred: Building of Dreams, you’ll learn more about how Mentholatum was made.

The brothers flight to freedom is an unbelievable tale. Thousands of Hungarians were killed, but the young men were fortunate enough to be among the youngest group of about 40,000 refugees who arrived in America with the help of the Hungarian Freedom Fund. There’s not enough time to share more details now, but their story will touch your heart and shows the power of hope, survival, and freedom.

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