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Swimming Across: A Memoir

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Swimming Across

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Swimming Across
By Andrew S. Grove
Warner Books, (2002)
ISBN: 0446679704

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - March 3, 2002

Swimming Across is a gentle look back upon a turbulent period in Hungarian history, and one man who survived to tell his tale. Andrew S. Grove, one of the founders and current chairman of Intel, was originally named Andris Grof, and he was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1936. At that time, Hungary was in the tyrannic grip of a fascist regime. And the political situation only got worse as the Nazi war machine began to march across Europe, only to be replaced by a Communist dictatorship.

In this memoir, Grove recounts his life in Hungary, and his flight for freedom after the abortive Hungarian Revolution that had attempted to throw off the yoke of Communist rule. He chronicles arduous process of gaining permission to immigrate to America, and what his life was like once he arrived in the United States. Although this book includes a brief chapter on what happened to him after he adjusted to American life, it primarily concentrated on his life in Hungary and how he came to America.

Although he was Jewish, religion played almost no role in Grove's life, other than culturally. It was simply a fact that he was aware of, and it had little impact in his day to day existence. That is, until the Nazi's invaded Hungary. When World War II started, Hungary was technically allied with the Germans, and the Hungarian army fought along side of German troops.

For Grove, the main impact of the war, in its early years, was that in 1942 his father was drafted into an Army Labor Battalion. This was the only unit in the Hungarian Army in which Jews were allowed to serve. The following year, Grove's mother received word that her husband was missing in action. It was not until after the war that they learned what happened to George Grof and the atrocities that he endured. The men serving in the Labor Battalions did all manner of backbreaking work and the men were often tormented and reviled by both Hungarian and German soldiers. Only a handful of the Jewish men serving in the Labor Battalions survived the war.

For most of World War II, the Jews of Hungary lived in 'relative' security. Although they were forced to live in cramped housing called "Star Houses" and to live under a host of anti-Jewish laws, Jews with Hungarian citizenship were spared the fate of being deported to Nazi death camps - at least during the early years of the war. However, those Jews living in Hungary who were not Hungarian citizens were treated far differently. Many were killed, deported to concentration camps, or used as slave labor. This is a fact that Grove does not mention, and may have been unaware of. In 1944 Germany decided to invade Hungary and life became more restrictive for all Jews and many were herded into ghettos. Shortly thereafter, the Nazi's commenced upon the mass slaughter of Hungarian Jewry. Luckily for Grove, his mother was able to obtain false papers for them both, and they spent the remainder of the war living under the name Malesevics. Grove and his mother hid in plain sight, pretending to be Christians. They were fortunate to have survived the war. According to the figures quoted by Grove, there were 650,000 Jews in Hungary at the beginning of the war, of these only 150,000 were still alive by the war's end. (Pg. 3.)

After detailing his life during the war, Grove examines what happened in Hungary after the Nazi's were pushed out by the Russian's, including the seemingly systematic rape of all the women in Hungary. He also illustrates how the country was slowly converted to a Soviet satellite state and the implications that this had on his day to day life, including his family's livelihood after all the private businesses in the country were nationalized. The largest portion of this book concentrates on this period, which also corresponds with Grove's teenage years and his first year at University where he studied Chemistry. In October of 1956, a popular uprising erupted which overthrew the communist overlords. Hungary was once again an independent republic. Freedom however, was short lived and the rebellion was brutally crushed. In a move to consolidate their power, thousands of 'dissidents' were arrest. Many were never heard from again. Fearing that he would be picked up, Grove joined the flood of young people who streamed out of Hungary in the chaos that followed the uprising and made his way to Austria. From there he managed to make his way to the United States, where he had relatives.

Once in America, Grove switched his major to Chemical Engineering and struggled to quickly finish his degree so that he could be self-sufficient. His hard work and perseverance paid off, and he went on to help found one of America's leading technology companies. This memoir is told in a reserved, impassive manner and while Grove shares his experiences, he seldom shares the emotions that they engendered. Nonetheless, this book offers a fascinating glimpse at a tumultuous period. It is well written, eminently readable, and Grove's courage and determination is inspiring.

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