I Grieved a Hero I Loved (but never knew)

Heroes Square, Budapest, Hungary


Standing in the warming sun, I leaned against the railing in the center of Hősök Tere (Heroes Square), Budapest, camera in hand. My interest was in the cenotaph (a memorial similar to the tomb of the unknown soldier) just a few feet away.

Cenotaph in Heroes Square


“To the memory of the heroes who gave their lives for the freedom of our people and our national independence.”

Around me, tourists began arriving by the hundreds, covering the vast square in kaleidoscopic pattern – some in large groups led by guides with microphone in hand and speaker slung around their shoulder, some walking hand in hand with their sweetheart, and others like us, a group of foreigners admiring our surroundings and snapping photos, independently of one another.

It was there, in the middle of a crowd and of my desire to capture memories that a wave of grief suddenly and surprisingly washed through me for a hero I loved, but never knew.

Karl and Ilona Stadler – my grandparents.


That hero was my grandfather.

He was not a soldier; he was a border patrol official in charge of the trains passing through the town of Hegyeshalom, on the Austrian border.

My grandfather gave his life for helping others escape to freedom from the Communist oppression of Hungary in the 1950’s.

And for the first time in my life, standing in front of the heroes memorial, I cried for him.

I cried for my loss of never hearing his voice or looking into his eyes, for never sitting on his lap or hearing him laugh, for never being held in his arms or smelling his cologne.

I cried also for my grandmother, and for my mother and her sisters.

I cried for the painful and personal hell through which they each lived suffered and survived: the separation, the imprisonment, the beatings, the fears that should never have been in their childhood, the loss of their home and family security, their harrowing escape, and their threadbare life in a refugee camp.

My trip to Hungary earlier this month began as a missions trip to help build a church in Szigetszentmiklos. It ended on a mission to re-build my family’s history, find answers to many questions, and document my heritage for my children and their future children.

But mostly, to show how God’s thread of redemption pulled together tattered and torn patches of humanity to create an eternally meandering quilt.

I invite you back for the unfolding story.

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