The Post-Journal

Athletic Skill Paved Way To Freedom

Olympic Athlete Found Refuge Here

 

There are probably as many stories of how immigrants got to this country as there are immigrants. Many tell of poverty and hard work and adjusting to life in a strange land. But others are unique.

Geza Farkas' story is one of the latter.

In 1944 Hitler turned on his ally, Hungary, and sent 500,000 Hungarian Jews to concentration camps.

Geza Farkas was 12 years old at the time and living with his family in Budapest. He had one brother and one sister; his father owned a retail furniture store. It was about this time in his life that Geza became interested in gymnastics. Little did he know that his interest would at one time threaten his life and another time save it.

Geza was good at gymnastics. After high school he went on to the government-owned Hungarian Physical Education College in Budapest. In 1950 he began to prepare for the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. His academic classes were six mornings a week, and six afternoons a week he would practice until 6 or 8 at night, then take a bus home.

At the '52 Olympics, Geza was 27th all-around gymnast and 20th on the rings. For the next four years he would prepare for the 1956 Olympics to be held in Melbourne, Australia.

In October 1956, a revolution against the Communist rule that had slowly taken over Hungary broke out. In support of the revolution, the Hungarian Olympic Team, now in Melbourne, refused to carry the national Communist flag. Instead, they carried a flag of black and wore black armbands. Geza was one of those athletes.

Geza, now 24 years old, did his personal best in Melbourne. He finished 15th on the high bar and 17th on the rings.

His Hungarian Gymnastic Team finished third in the overall competition, good for the bronze medal. But there was no celebration. Back home in Hungary, the revolution had failed and its leaders were in trouble. Many were imprisoned and feared for their lives. Geza and his teammates, because of what they had done before the eyes of the world, also feared for their lives and for the safety of their families.

And so it was decided. The team was flown to Vienna and there each athlete was to pick a country. Many stayed in Austria. Some went to Switzerland. About 20 came to America. Geza was part of that latter group.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Because of the difficulty of understanding Geza's self-taught English, it is impossible to quote him exactly on paper. We have therefore taken the liberty of "translating" his words and attributing the quotes to Farkas.)

"When I first came to America, I was both happy and sad. Happy to be able to come to a great country where there is freedom. Yet at the same time I was very sad. I had to leave my family and friends, and quite honestly, at the time, I didn't know if I would ever see them again.

"Our plane with about 20 of us athletes on board flew into New Jersey and in the days we waited there we went to visit the Statue of Liberty. But when I went to see it I was sad about my family. I was sad for them for a very long time."

Geza was then moved to Kent State University where he was to teach gymnastics. Geza didn't then and still hasn't yet formally studied English, but he said he had no problem communicating with his students. He says athletics, perhaps like music, creates a language of it own.

While teaching at Kent State, Geza and other members of the Hungarian Olympic Gymnastics Team would go on tour and do exhibitions throughout the U.S. It was on one of those tours to Madison Square Garden that he met fellow countryman Frank Chasar.

Frank liked Geza and took him to his home in New York City. Chasar told him that if he ever got tired of teaching at Kent State to call him and he would provide him with a job in a little city in western New York. That city was Jamestown and the job that Geza took in 1960 was with Frank Chasar's Chase Interiors Company.

That was 26 years ago and Geza is still here in Jamestown. He has since married and has two children. And he has been back to Budapest. At each visit he notices that the government is relaxing its control over the citizens a bit more.

"Budapest now has a very high standard of living. A lot of the oppression is gone. My father, who is still alive, still runs his furniture business. Many things are good, but it is not America. You never know who is listening to you when you talk on the street. You never know if your phone is tapped.

"For all the relaxation of the oppression, there is still is one thing missing - freedom. In America there is total freedom, in Hungary there is not."


The additional financial assistance of the community is critical to the success of the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame. We gratefully acknowledge these individuals and organizations for their generous support.

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