Helen and John Szablya, center, with their family.
The Szablyas after 1956 escape.

SEATTLE, Wash. – Helen M. Szablya and her family in the 1950s made two dangerous but unsuccessful attempts to escape communist Hungary.

Faced with the threat of prison, the Szablyas armed themselves with false identification and made a third run for the border in 1956. The family, including three small children, rode a train to Sopron, then hiked for miles across rugged terrain, finally crossing the Austrian border.
The Szablyas first immigrated to Canada, but later moved to Pullman, Wash., and became naturalized U.S. citizens. Helen’s husband John Szablya served as a professor of electrical engineering at Washington State University from 1963 to 1982. Together they reared seven children, and Helen also attended class part-time for six years, earning her bachelor’s degree in 1976 in foreign languages and literatures.
The family moved to Seattle in 1982, after John retired from WSU and went to work as a consultant for EBASCO, then a private engineering firm, and taught part-time at the University of Washington.
On July 4, 2011, some 500 immigrants from more than 80 countries were ushered in as new U.S. citizens at a Seattle Center ceremony. During the two-hour meeting Helen Szablya was honored with the 2011 Ethnic Heritage Council Spirit of Liberty Award. The honor is given each year to a naturalized U.S. citizen for outstanding contributions while maintaining his or her ethnic heritage.
“When we escaped from Hungary and my husband and I looked back to our native land for the last time, little did we know that not only would we return there, but that I would represent this country as consul general of my new country,” Szablya told the Seattle crowd.
In December, she traveled to Washington, D.C., for an annual meeting of honorary and career consuls, where she and others met for an extended period with Hungarian President Pál Schmitt.
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