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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

My Red Cross Story: Reconnecting with My Niece after 30 Years


My niece in Hungary and I Skyped just the other day, and she was so excited to see me for the first time in over thirty years! She is now in her sixties in Ivanca, Hungary, and my life has led me to Denver with my wife Gretchen. I could not have reunited with my niece without the help of the Red Cross Restoring Family Links program.
George Kantor in his Denver home meeting with
Restoring Family Links volunteers. 
My story of resettlement outside of my native country of Hungary began when I was discovered without a passport or papers as a stowaway on a British ship in the English Channel.

I was fleeing political instability after the Hungarian anti-communist uprising of 1956 and I feared my personal security after being discovered as a messenger between student groups in Budapest and my grandparents’ town. My father, brothers and sisters were murdered civilian casualties from USSR and German conflicts during WWII in my childhood during the late 1940’s. When I fled Hungary, I left my surviving mother and older sister behind.

I was nearly sixteen. I had escaped via a French contact to the European coast, then on to the ship to London. The ship’s officers were aware of what was happening in Eastern Europe and decided, “He’s made it this far, let’s let him keep going!”

Although I remained in contact with some family while I lived in London then South Africa and the U.S., I was completely severed from my family after my mother’s death in 1987. The mail system collapsed and it was nearly impossible to communicate efficiently. I received word of my mother’s death six months after the funeral.

During the 19 years I lived in Colorado, my wife Gretchen understood my unresolved, and hidden grief but encouraged me to try to reconnect. I am now in my early seventies and recently had a long and difficult recovery from surgery. It gave me perspective and I decided to return to Ivanca to investigate my past. I wanted to know what happened to my sister and find my niece.
George and his wife Gretchen looking at their first contact
Red Cross note from Karolyne, George’s niece, since 1987. 
In August 2013, I visited my mother’s grave and the old Inn that my family had operated. Kind residents led me to the town halls of my home village and the village where my sister reportedly lived. The secretary of the town hall even greeted me on a Sunday, which was gracious. I left word of my interest in finding my niece. It had been so long since I had been to Hungary and I strained to recall my native language. I was virtually a stranger. By the time I had to return to the United States, I had seen where my mother was put to rest, but I couldn’t trace my surviving relatives.

In February 2014, Red Cross volunteer Robbe Sokolove knocked on my door in Denver to tell me that the niece I had been searching for wanted to establish contact! I learned that several weeks after I left my hometown, my niece had also returned to my mother’s grave. The business owners and the town hall employee explained to her that I had been visiting from the U.S. and looking for relatives. It was a cultural imperative after decades of communism to keep my personal information and my niece’s privacy secure.  During that period, Hungarians and the Ivanca community had always trusted the Red Cross. After my visit, they helped my niece send a message to me through the Red Cross humanitarian network.
Robbe Sokolove and George Kanor, laughing about how they
met through the Red Cross Restoring Family Links contact started
by George’s niece in Ivanca, Hungary with the Hungarian
Red Cross. 
I had always known of the Red Cross, but it was a shock to have them find me at a time when I needed help reconnecting to my family. I am still in shock that I can hear my niece’s voice and her excited laugh on the phone now that we have reconnected. She wrote my wife Gretchen a hand written note in English already. Although she could see me on our Skype call on May 13th, her computer did not have a camera. Now, I have to figure out how I can see her face for the first time in nearly thirty years!
The request for contact sent through the Red Cross
International Services, Restoring Family Links
humanitarian aid network. 

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