When they fled Hungary in January 1957, Laszlo and Elizabeth Novotny didn’t know what the future would bring, only that it held the promise of a better life. The couple, who were 21 and 18, and dating at the time, made the decision to leave when it became obvious that the 1956 uprising against the government and its Soviet-imposed policies had failed. Their escape from the country was dramatic: as their group trekked through snow-covered hills, they could see “Stalin candles” - parachutes with lights on them - falling from the sky as Soviet troops searched for insurgents.
“There were reprisals; people were executed,” says Laszlo. “It was very harsh.”
After walking in circles through a heavy snowfall, Laszlo, carrying a six-year-old girl whose father could no longer bear her weight, saw in the distance a wooden hut with a person in front. As they trudged toward it, they could only hope it was the Austrian border guard. Thankfully, it was.
The Austrians welcomed them with open arms, and tables laden with delicious food - luxuries like big bars of chocolate and a beautiful ham. Laszlo and Elizabeth stayed in a converted school with a few hundred other refugees for three months, then applied for emigration to New Zealand. They lived there until their boys were 9 and 10, when they decided it was time for a change.
“BC is similar to part of Hungary, with the hills and plains,” says Laszlo. He also liked Canada’s values: its health care system and how it supported the lower and middle classes.
Like many immigrants, Laszlo worked hard to make a good life for his family in Canada. Elizabeth was also very diligent, staying at home with the children while they were growing up, then finding fulfillment in later years through her work at St. Michael’s Centre in Burnaby, a hospice and care home.
Sadly, Elizabeth passed away from complications related to congestive heart failure in 2014, leaving Laszlo broken-hearted.
“When I lost Elizabeth, I realized I didn’t tell her enough times that I loved her,” he says.
Making a gift in Elizabeth’s name to Knowledge Network was just one of the ways he chose to honour their love and the memories of the life they shared. They often enjoyed watching Knowledge together, finding it more “human” and more peaceful than other stations. Laszlo says some of the shows about England in the old days remind him of Hungary, and how much he loved spending time on his grandparent’s farm during school holidays.
Laszlo, who has also left a bequest to Knowledge in his will, chose to support the public broadcaster for another reason: because, he says, it is Canadian. Through Knowledge, he sees a reflection of the place where he, Elizabeth and their children found opportunity and happiness - a place that, with its freedom and acceptance of others, they were proud to call home.