Swimming Across: A Memoir


Andris Grof (Andy Grove) tells us about his childhood in Hungary and how he lived through and dealt with WWII, Russian communist influences, and how he escaped to America. "I was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1936. By the time I was twenty, I had lived through a Hungarian Fascist dictatorship, German military occupation, the Nazis’ “Final Solution,” the siege of Budapest by the Soviet Red Army, a period of chaotic democracy in the years immediately after the war, a variety of repressive Communist regimes, and a popular uprising that was put down at gunpoint. This is the story of that time and what happened to my family and me.

The Rabbit Hole is written by Blas Moros. To support, sign up for the newsletter, become a patron, and/or join The Latticework. Original Design by Thilo Konzok.

Key Takeaways

  1. But I could see in my mother’s face that there was something else. She went on, “I think it’s time for you to become Andris Grof again.” I was stunned. I had become Andris Malesevics so through and through that for a moment I was confused. But only for a moment. Then the significance of being free to use my real name engulfed me.
  2. The sensation of being in a dream kept me from feeling fatigue and also kept me from wondering what would await us at the end of our journey. I just kept walking, numb. After a while, I was neither particularly surprised nor unsurprised by anything we encountered.
  3. My father was an outgoing man. I was impressed and also a little envious at how easily he struck up conversations even with complete strangers. He was able to find a common bond with everyone he encountered — the waiter at the restaurant, the conductor on the streetcar, or somebody sitting at the table next to him. He seemed genuinely interested in these other people. Every once in a while, in his enthusiasm, he got me involved in these conversations. Most of the time, I would listen for a while, but I would soon get impatient to go home.
  4. I discovered C. S. Forester’s books about the nineteenth-century British navy captain Horatio Hornblower. Something about the character really intrigued me. Although I wouldn’t tell anyone this, I fancied myself as a latter-day Captain Hornblower, a man of few but deeply thought-out words, carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders, pacing an imaginary deck with my hands behind my back, living a rich inner life that my classmates never suspected.
  5. I felt distinctly inferior in comparison with my friends. I didn’t play the violin — or any instrument, for that matter — and I wasn’t a math or physics genius. While I was a good student, I wasn’t particularly outstanding in any one area. And I was still bad at all sports except swimming. But they accepted me as their equal. I think that the main asset I brought was that I was more comfortable with the rest of the class than they were. I served as their bridge to the wild bunch. We had something else in common: All five of us were Jewish. We weren’t the only Jews in the class. There were a few more whom we had not become friendly with. But as we gravitated to each other’s company, and hung around with each other at recess and after school, a subtle wall formed around us. No explicit acts of anti-Semitism were ever expressed toward us. But the separation was real. We never discussed the fact that we were Jewish. We just knew that we were, just as the other members of the class knew it, too. Hungarians almost always knew who was or wasn’t Jewish, kids or adults. It became a sixth sense for all of us, never a subject of explicit discussion, but one of constant tacit awareness.
  6. Even the places that specialized in chemical compounds generally didn’t have them in stock. In an economy that operated by central planning, shortages of just about everything were commonplace.
  7. One reaction to the growing political oppression was the number of jokes that sprang up about it. They acted as a safety valve for feelings that couldn’t be expressed otherwise. Jokes about current events in Budapest were an art form. They were created and transmitted almost instantaneously.
  8. (The most annoying slogan was “Work is a matter of honor and duty.” It was posted everywhere — on factory walls, in stores, and even on street signs — right above the heads of people who were listlessly trying to get away with the minimum amount of work.)
  9. I realized that I needed help. Everything, from getting a job to getting a telephone, required “connections.” My father found somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody inside Chinoin. This person moved my application along, and I got hired as a laborer.
  10. I realized that it’s good to have at least two interests in your life. If you have only one interest and that goes sour, there’s nothing to act as a counterbalance to lift your mood. But if you have more than one interest, chances are something will always go okay.
  11. This evening, I was hanging on the outside as usual, looking ahead in the gathering May dusk, but I didn’t see the traffic or the familiar streets going by. My mind was filled with atoms and molecules and experimental schemes. Then, all of a sudden, I got it. I don’t know what set it off. The experimental results that were floating around in my head suddenly jelled and the confusion of the previous weeks coalesced into a solid vision of where I was and where I needed to go. I jumped off the tram and ran home. I took out my notes and checked to see whether my recollections of the past experimental results were correct. They were. I couldn’t wait to get back into the lab the next day. With complete confidence, I planned the next sequence of experiments to confirm my hypothesis. They worked.
  12. Political parties that had long been disbanded came back to life, and dozens of newspapers sprang up to publicize their beliefs. It was as if the gradual thaw that had slowly been taking place over the past couple of years had suddenly turned into a flood.
  13. The coffee we got was made from real coffee beans. In Hungary, “coffee” was made from ground, roasted hickory nuts. Since coffee wasn’t produced in any of the Communist-bloc countries, we didn’t have it. Real coffee tasted very good.
  14. I’ve never gone back to Hungary. To be sure, as the years went on, political and economic life both improved, at least as far as I could tell. Hungary even ended up becoming a member of NATO. But although I’ve retained fond memories of Hungarian music and literature, and I still look with some warmth at picture postcards of Budapest sent to me by friends who visit there, I have never desired to revisit it myself. I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe I don’t want to remind myself of the events I wrote about. Maybe I want to let memories stay memories. Or maybe the reason is something simpler than that: My life started over in the United States. I have set roots here. Whatever roots I had in Hungary were cut off when I left and have since withered and died.
  15. I went through graduate school on scholarships, got a fantastic job at Fairchild Semiconductor, the high-flying company of its day, then participated in the founding of Intel, which in time has become the largest maker of semiconductors in the world. I rose to be its chief executive officer, a position I held for eleven years, until I stepped down from it in 1998; I continue as chairman today. I’ve continued to be amazed by the fact that as I progressed through school and my career, no one has ever resented my success on account of my being an immigrant. I became a U.S. citizen. I was named Time magazine’s Man of the Year in 1997. My two daughters now have children of their own. In fact, it was the arrival of the grandchildren that stimulated me to tell my story. As my teacher Volenski predicted, I managed to swim across the lake — not without effort, not without setbacks, and with a great deal of help and encouragement from others. I am still swimming.

What I got out of it

  1. Amazing what Grove went through by the time he was 20. You can see the foundation, the grit, the perspective he got from these difficult times and how it later informed his life at Intel, becoming one of the most respected CEOs of all time. 

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