Christmas "miracle" spared life of young rebel at brink of execution in 1956 uprising

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Pesti Gizella's life took a turn for the better when a guard came to her Budapest prison cell and told her she was about to be executed.

As a student leader in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, Pesti expected her days might be numbered after she was captured during the Soviet crackdown. She had been made to lie on a cot beneath a brightly burning light and keep her hands still and plainly visible. She wasn't so much afraid of dying as she was of the insects that would crawl onto the bare bulb and fall on her face.

She could hear the gunshots of executions from her cell. She felt certain her short, hard life -- orphaned and wounded and still only 19 -- had reached an inevitable end.

"I don't really believe in miracles," she says now, "but . . . "A strange thing happened on her way to the firing squad 50 years ago yesterday. She was taken to the office of a Soviet interrogator, who told her he had a family in Russia he might never see again and he had a few hours to save the lives of some young people so he was going to spare hers. She was put on a truck, then a train, where she hid in a coal box. She figured she was headed to Siberia. As the train rumbled along, she passed out.

When she came to, the train had stopped. She slipped outside and asked an old man walking along the tracks where she was. Sopron, he said -- the last city in Hungary before the Austrian border.
Sick, cold and barely clothed, she started walking toward the bright lights of Austria.

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adam richard schrepfer - 12/19/2006

great story...good christmas stuff...