Escape From Hun­gary: A Jew­ish Family’s Sto­ry of Survival

Nesanel Yoel Safran

  • Review
By – July 8, 2021

This is part of a com­bined review for Escape from Syr­ia and Escape from Bel­gium

Escape From Syr­ia intro­duces Zaki Farhi, now known as Rab­bi Isaac Farhi, a promi­nent rab­bi in New Jer­sey. Zaki, his friends, and his fam­i­ly made repeat­ed attempts to escape from Alep­po, Syr­ia, where the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty was siz­able but Jew­ish life was impos­si­ble. Zaki hoped to reach Israel, where he and his fam­i­ly would be able to live as proud, reli­gious Jews. Zak­i’s sto­ry keeps read­ers breath­less as much as any edge-of-the-seat fic­tion sto­ry; nonethe­less, it is based on fact. Fac­ing a deep riv­er with a swift cur­rent impos­si­ble to cross, haz­ardous bor­der patrols who were deter­mined to stop them, and oth­er ter­ri­fy­ing events, Zaki, his friends, and his fam­i­ly were ulti­mate­ly suc­cess­ful in their attempts to start a new life.

Escape From Hun­gary takes place before and dur­ing the Hun­gar­i­an Rev­o­lu­tion of 1956. Even in the imme­di­ate post-Holo­caust years, Hun­gary was anti­se­mit­ic and unwel­com­ing of Jews. When the Sovi­ets came to pow­er, things did not improve. Young Giyuri and his fam­i­ly attempt­ed to escape to Aus­tria, then to Israel, and even­tu­al­ly to Canada.

The for­ti­tude and strength need­ed to sur­vive in spite of per­se­cu­tion are impres­sive­ly described. The deter­mi­na­tion of Giyuri and his fam­i­ly is role-mod­el worthy.

Escape From Bel­gium is based on the mem­oir Flight to Free­dom by Renee Worch, detail­ing her family’s escape from Antwerp, Bel­gium, dur­ing Holo­caust and their even­tu­al reunion in England.

The Berkovits fam­i­ly became aware that life as they knew it in Antwerp would no longer be pos­si­ble as the Nazis began their Bel­gian inva­sion. They hoped to escape to a coun­try where they could bring up their chil­dren in safe­ty. Flee­ing among hordes of refugees, though, was both per­ilous and fright­en­ing, with no guar­an­tee of even­tu­al suc­cess. After a long jour­ney to the coast, the fam­i­ly was acci­den­tal­ly split up when most of them made it onto a car­go ship bound for Eng­land, leav­ing old­est broth­er Bru­di and his father still ashore.

The two con­tin­ued their effort to escape to free­dom with lim­it­ed food, lack of shel­ter, and Ger­man bombers swoop­ing over­head. At one point, they hid in a cel­lar, lis­ten­ing to the ter­ri­fy­ing sound of the Bat­tle of Bel­gium rag­ing. Lack of trav­el doc­u­ments, cor­rupt offi­cials, and the fear of cap­ture accom­pa­nied them con­stant­ly, but they also met with occa­sion­al kind­ness from unex­pect­ed quar­ters. Even­tu­al­ly they reached first France, then Spain, and, after a har­row­ing trip over the mountains,Portugal. Their hope was to find a haven in Eng­land where they could live in peace. Against over­whelm­ing odds, they did even­tu­al­ly reach Eng­land, reunit­ed the fam­i­ly, and lived in Man­ches­ter for many pro­duc­tive years. Their courage and for­ti­tude is evi­dent in the recount­ing of this sus­pense­ful tale.

Each book in the series con­tains valu­able edu­ca­tion­al appen­dices: a time­line of events, a glos­sary of terms, black-and-white pho­tographs, and maps. Each presents a facet of Jew­ish his­to­ry that young read­ers might find unfa­mil­iar. Togeth­er these sto­ries exem­pli­fy deter­mi­na­tion, courage, faith, and optimism.

Michal Hoschan­der Malen is the edi­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A for­mer librar­i­an, she has lec­tured on top­ics relat­ing to lit­er­a­cy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.

Discussion Questions