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As a symbol of the new policy of openness citizens of Hungary planned an event at the border to the free nation of Austria. Originally, they planned to take a bus over the border, visit a small Austrian village and return. Plans changed when several hundred East Germans heard about the event and decided to use the afternoon as an opportunity to escape to freedom outside the Soviet Union’s Iron Curtain.

Lt. Colonel Arpad Bella was on duty at the border with 4 other guards when a group of 150 East Germans made up of young people and families with small children. Rather than comfort the group, Bella and his men let the group cross in Austria. Bella said he knew his men would have been overwhelmed if they had tried to stop the group. Bella said he was surprised by the response of the people when they reached freedom. He said, “They embraced, they kissed, they cried, and they laughed in their joy. Some sat down right across the border, others had to be stopped by the Austrian guards because they kept running and didn’t believe they were in Austria. It was an incredible experience for them.”

Laszio Nagy who helped organize the picnic says the events of that day lead to the fall of the Berlin Wall three months later, and eventually to the collapse of the Soviet Union. He said the East Germans left behind hundreds of cars and possessions to make the short walk to a new life. Nagy said, “Some of them were waiting for the moment for 20 or 30 years. They left behind everything because freedom has the greatest value.”

Hungary remembers picnic that cracked Iron Curtain,; August 19, 2009. Illustration by Jim L. Wilson and Jim Sandell

Philippians 3:7-8 (CEV) “But Christ has shown me that what I once thought was valuable is worthless. (8) Nothing is as wonderful as knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have given up everything else and count it all as garbage. All I want is Christ”

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