Tomas Orley was one of the leaders of the student protests that sparked the Hungarian revolution of 1956 that eventually saw Soviet tanks storm into the country and forcibly return the control of the country to communist hands. The 1954 Junior World Sabre Champion, Tomas Orley had been training with members of the Olympic team prior to the start of the revolt. He fought the Soviets until he was out of ammunition. Along with another fencer, Csaba Gall, Orley escaped Hungary while the Olympics were underway, crossing the border to an Austrian refugee camp. His story was one of many made public through the International Rescue Commission that was assisting refugee Hungarians in starting a new life outside their native country. Hearing of Orley’s story, Ralph Edwards, host of the television show “This Is Your Life”, offered up the funds for travel expenses to the US, as Tomas had an uncle living in Torrance, CA.
Orley appeared on “This Is Your Life” on Dec. 26, 1956, just 4 days after arriving from Austria. Daniel Magay and Attila Keresztes, two good friends from Hungary, also appeared. They had been good friends with Orley in Hungary and had been among the 30 Olympic athletes in Melbourne that defected to the US after the conclusion of the 1956 Games.
Keresztes and Orley in Hungary
They had arrived in San Francisco from Australia. Upon arrival in San Francisco they were approached by a man speaking rapidly in English, and the only words they understood were “Orley” and “Hollywood”. Eventually, it was understood that Magay and Keresztes were invited to appear on the show as surprise guests. Along the Magay, Keresztes, Orley’s uncle, aunt and cousin from Torrance, the show also brought in Csaba Gall from Austria, and Orley’s two older brothers, one who lived in La Paz, Bolivia and the other who lived in Perth, Australia. (What was the travel budget for that show?) Orley, for appearing on the show, also received a rack of suits and a set of appliances. John McDougall, who attended Stanford University and fenced with Orley, said, “Tomas was the best dressed student at Stanford. He had closet full of suits from the show, a gold watch and a whole bunch of kitchenware. He was the only student I ever knew whose apartment had all the latest appliances.” Orley went on to win team sabre at Nationals in 1957 alongside Magay and George Domolky, another Hungarian expat.
US National sabre team champions, 1957
Orley getting advice from Gyorgy “Uncle George” Piller at the 1958 National Championships.
Tomas Orley took individual bronze in ’57 and ’58, and gold in ’59. He was selected for the US Olympic sabre team for the Tokyo games of 1964.
Tomas Orley, sans hat, with some of his 1964 Olympic teammates.