My mother Anna Zsarnai, my father and I escaped from Hungary during the 1956 Revolution.

My parents worked on a Communist work farm approximately 200 kilometres from Budapest, the capital of Hungary. When the Russian tanks rolled into the capital, thousands of people were killed. The exodus began and many fled the country before the borders were closed. Many were caught and many more imprisoned. Friends and family members were turning each other in and no one could be trusted.

One cold November day in the middle of the night, 17 people took a chance and decided they would escape not just from the Communist work farm but from the country. When we left our one room home, my mother at the tender age of 20 with a 4 year old daughter, locked the front door, threw the house key over her shoulder and never looked back. My mother’s family had no idea that would be the last time they would see my mother and me.

We were hidden in a covered, horse drawn bread wagon. Women and children in the wagon, the men driving the wagon and one man scouting the road ahead on a motor cycle looking out for Russian tanks.

After two days of traveling the main roads, our motor cycle lookout came back with warnings of Russian tanks up ahead. The following 2 days we traveled on dirt farm roads with no idea which direction we were going in. In the last town before the Austrian border, huge speakers blasted announcements “If anyone is caught housing or helping anyone escape the country they will be imprisoned for 10 years or even worse, shot.”

One of the local farmers risked his own life by helping us get to the Austrian border.

Unfortunately, the night before we arrived, the only bridge between communism and freedom was bombed and many lost their lives that night.

With the help of Austrian university students and the Red Cross, we crossed the icy waters of the Fertu by making a human chain in the freezing water and handing one person over at a time. When my mother handed me to the first man in the water, it was the first time she had let go of me since we had left the farm.

Einser Canal

As refugees, we traveled from Austria to Italy to France and eventually to Canada, arriving in 1957. When we arrived, my mother kissed the ground.Ascania

In 2007, we celebrated our 50th anniversary of our arrival to Canada. As a gift, my mother gave my husband Bob and me a vacation back to my homeland. We wanted my mother to come along but the wounds were still deep, and she chose not to come.

As a gift back to my mother, Bob and I decided that we would try to find my mother’s only living sibling and the youngest in the family, my Uncle Zoli, with whom my mother had lost contact over 50 years ago.

Zoli Kitchen ToastArmed with a list of Zoltan Allagas from an online phone directory, we set off to Hungary, and in the second week of our visit, we located Uncle Zoli and his wife, Zsuzsa.

Zoli and Anna (Pindoori)You can see the 59 second video message that Zoli sent back to his sister Anna by clicking the link below or clicking on the pic of us not letting go of each other for three hours!

When we played this for my mom on our return, it was the first she had heard Zoli’s voice in over 50 years!Zoli Gabi Judi Granny

CLICK HERE for Zoli’s message to Muci (sister Anna) from Hungary 2007

We brought back hundreds of pictures and that video clip, and my mother and her brother have been speaking on the phone and corresponding regularly ever since over Skype and webcam on the internet!

Anna Zoli First SightThe awesome news is that Uncle Zoli and his wife arrived in Toronto on Monday, June 30, 2008 and my mother and her brother were reunited for the first time in 52 years.

I haven’t seen my mother this happy since she gave birth to my brother, Jim. I can’t imagine being without my brother for 52 years.

My mother was 20 when she last saw her 12 year old brother. Mother is now 72 and her brother is 64.

What a reunion it was!!


Three TV crews and a newspaper team covered the reunion at the Toronto airport. Zoli had told his entire village that he was traveling to Canada at age 64 as a movie star! To see some of that coverage, please click on the links at the bottom of this article.

Zoli Anna LaughTo us, Canada Day is very special, and on July 1st every year we celebrate with lots of fanfare. This year was the most incredible Canada Day we have ever celebrated because for the first time in 52 years, my mother celebrated Canada Day with her brother, Zoli and his wife, Zsuzsa.

It was quite an emotional rollercoaster.

Canada Flag BestMy uncle and aunt will be enjoying Canada for the next three months and our intent is to show them as much of Canada as we possibly can.

Thanks for sharing this wonderful moment with us.

Anna Bassett


1. Amateur home video of the Reunion at Pearson, Canada Day Eve.


2. Here is the CTV coverage at 6 pm and 11 pm …

3. Toronto Sun article. Click on the pic to make it larger and readable!

Toronto Sun Article

4. CTV interviewed Zoli, Anna and Anna Wed July 2 on Canada AM:

Update August 20 2008:

In the month and a half since arriving, Zoli and Zsuzsa have met many kind and friendly people and have had dozens of Canadian adventures with Anna and her family, Anna and Bob.

After the television coverage, the three were recognized everywhere they went! Hugs at Costco, high fives at McDonald’s Drive Thru, autographs at Canadian Tire, handshakes and bows at the Chinese grocery, and a crowd of new Canadians at the No Frills!

Once they got over the commotion and the jet lag, it was time for shopping and travelling and sightseeing!

Niagara 1965 Zsuzsa had always wanted to visit Niagara Falls, and when she saw this picture in 1965 of Nagyanna, young Imre, young Anna, and Granny (Anna and Zoli’s mother), she swore she would get there one day!

Click here or on the picture below to see her dream come true, and a slide show of the Canadian Adventures of Zoli and Zsuzsa!

Niagara 2008

And click here or on the picture below to see Z&Z’s Farewell Party, complete with 40th Wedding Anniversary congratulations from Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada, and David Miller, Mayor of Toronto.

Mike and Maureen hosted two parties.  Guests brought Canadian souvenirs, and Maureen raffled a bottle of Guerlain perfume from her private collection!  With gifts of cash, Zoli and Zsuzsa returned home with enough money to buy a new lawnmower, chainsaw, stove and fridge. Their new stove and fridge are in the slideshow too, along with their thank you card (see below), painstakingly translated from Hungarian to English and copied by hand!

Thanks to everyone for making this a historic occasion and wonderfully touching experience!

Maureen Zoli Dance