December ’56 in the Exponent: 40 Hungarian Jews Arrive in Philadelphia; Community Aid Mobilized for 15 New Families

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The impact of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 reached Philadelphia by year’s end, with the Dec. 28 Jewish Exponent reporting on the arrival of 40 Hungarians.

“Fifteen family groups, the vanguard of many more Hungarian Jews expected in the coming weeks and months, they arrived still bewildered, clutching their children’s hands, and carrying meager possessions in knapsacks and battered suitcases,” according to the issue’s lead article.

The article was accompanied by a photo of one of the arrivals — a 3-year-old boy named Gaby holding a sign that simply read “Thanks.”

The Hungarian Revolution, which spanned parts of October and November in 1956, started as a nationwide revolt against the government and its Soviet-imposed policies. Begun as a student-led demonstration, the revolt led to the government’s collapse, with protestors organizing into militias to fight Soviet troops and the Hungarian secret police.

It didn’t take long for the Soviet troops to quell the revolution; a new Soviet-installed government was in place by early 1957.

In the aftermath, about 20,000 Hungarian Jews fled the country.

The 40 who arrived in Philadelphia late in the year had been staying at a United HIAS Service shelter in New York City or at Camp Kilmer, N.J. When they arrived in Philadelphia, what was then-called Jewish Family Service “put them up in hotels, met their immediate needs, and provided counseling and other help to start them on the road to adjustment to their new life in America.”

Jewish agencies said the assistance provided was straining budgets.

“In some respects this is like 1938 and 1946 over again,” said Ralph Huberman, president of Jewish Family Service. “The difference is that we have the organization and staff ready for the job. The big problem is that of finances.”

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