Andrew Grove: He Hid from Hitler Then Changed the World

By Johnson, Judy | The World and I, October 2009 | Go to article overview

Andrew Grove: He Hid from Hitler Then Changed the World


Johnson, Judy, The World and I


A Jewish Hungarian Childhood: Hiding from the Nazis

Being Jewish in 1936 was dangerous. Adolf Hitler, the Nazi chancellor of Germany, wanted to kill all the Jewish people. Even people who were not religious Jews were to die. As Hitler's armies conquered other European nations, Jews in those countries were also forced to flee for their lives.

On September 2, 1936, Andras Grof was born in Budapest, the capital of Hungary. When he was four years old, he caught scarlet fever during an epidemic. Although he survived, he had a middle-ear infection that damaged his hearing.

Grof's father, George, worked as a dairy farmer. When the Nazis arrived in Hungary in 1944, they sent him to a Nazi work camp. Christians hid Andras and his mother, Maria, who had been a bookkeeper, in a dark cellar. They could hear the sound of guns outside. They changed their names so they wouldn't sound Jewish and got false identification papers. His mother told the eight-year old Andras that he had to forget his old name and use his new one.

Although he was ill from pneumonia and typhus, Grof survived the camp, and the family was reunited after World War II ended. Eventually Grof rebuilt his dairy business. Hungary came under control of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics after the war as a part of the Warsaw Pact. The Soviets were communists; they believed that the state should own all businesses. Because Grof owned a business, he was considered a capitalist, and the Grof family was therefore in danger.

More Dangerous Times

When he was fourteen, Andras began writing for a youth newspaper. After a relative was imprisoned without trial, however, Andras considered journalism a dangerous career. He thought of becoming an opera singer, but focused his interests on science.

He attended college, as his parents wanted him to do, and did well in chemistry. In 1956 when he was twenty, though, tanks from Soviet Russia rolled into Budapest. They came to Hungary to crush a movement toward greater freedom.

The Hungarian uprising included a large number of college students. The Soviets began arresting any students they found. Andras and a friend decided to go to neighboring Austria for safety. They were among the 200,000 young Hungarians who fled to the West at that time. When they found out that the Soviet army was also moving toward Austria, they paid a smuggler to get them there safely on trails seldom used.

The two young men did arrive safely in Austria. A few weeks later, Andras joined other immigrants on an old troop ship from World War II. The ship landed in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and the refugees were taken to New Jersey's Camp Kilmer. It had been used as a prisoner of war camp during the war. Andras later wrote a book about his escape, "Swimming Across."

The International Rescue Committee helped Andras get to New York, where an aunt and uncle lived. One worker handed him a blank check so that he could buy a good hearing aid. Many years later, Andras in gratitude would give all the profits from the sale of that memoir he wrote to the International Rescue Committee.

In the United States

One of Andras' uncles had moved to New York in the early 1930s as Hitler was coming to power. Twenty-year-old Andras went to Brooklyn and lived with his family. When he arrived in New York, he had only about twenty dollars.

Andras soon changed his name to Andrew Grove. He knew very little English but attended City College of New York to study engineering. Andy paid his tuition by working in restaurants. He read his assignments with an English dictionary at his side. …

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