June 2, 2016 - Iron Curtain survivor speaks to students at Valley Central High School
On Wednesday, May 25, students
in Robert Sassi’s SUNY Orange Modern Europe class at Valley Central High School
had the opportunity to hear a first-person account of life, and subsequent
escape, under the Iron Curtain.
In 1956, Hungarian
dissidents led an uprising against the Russian occupation in Hungary. As
Russian efforts to suppress the protesters intensified, fourteen-year-old Maria
Pongracz along with her mother and eight-year old brother took a harrowing
journey under Russian fire to escape. They fled to Austria, later settling in
New York City. Eventually, Mrs. Pongracz moved to Orange County and raised
eight children, all of whom attended Valley Central schools. She sits on the
Town of Crawford Council and is an advocate for seniors in the area.
Mrs. Pongracz spoke to
the class about her harrowing escape and her journey from former baroness to
refugee.The class sat rapt and
listened to Ms. Pongracz’s stories of hiding with her brother beneath a woman’s
skirt as they were smuggled to the countryside, of watching Russian soldiers
beat her mother, and of being pushed across the river to Austria in the
freezing cold in a boat by her mother. At the end of her presentation, students
asked many more questions about her life. When the bell rang, many students stayed
behind and continued to chat with Ms. Pongracz.
“Ms. Pongracz is a
living piece of history,” Mr. Sassi said. “We’re privileged to have her join
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