John Rostas came to Australia as a child when his family fled Hungary following the harrowing 1956 revolution. He went on to become a university professor and raise a family in Australia but has never forgotten the people who saved his life by helping him find safety here. Now John is sharing his story and explaining why it led him to make a surprising choice when it came to planning his estate.
There comes a time in your life when you need to create a will. It’s a smart move that is best addressed before it’s too late and you’re not in a position to do so. Recently, I made some adjustments to my own will.
At 70, I’m retired and have everything I need in life. I’m surrounded by family – my first wife, who I had two children and four grandchildren with, sadly passed away 10 years ago, and I have since remarried, gaining an additional two stepchildren and six step-grandchildren in the process – and I lead an active lifestyle.
When updating my will, I decided to leave a substantial sum for a charity whose work is especially significant to me.
When I was almost seven years old, my parents made the brave decision to flee conflict-ridden Budapest in search of a safer, more stable life for us. It was 1956 and the Hungarian Revolution had just been put down by the Russian army.
We tried to escape to Austria but were captured at the border, arrested and shipped back to Budapest. My parents were blacklisted, their identity papers were marked to indicate that they had tried to escape and they were forbidden from gaining employment.
My mother’s brother, who had migrated to Australia before World War II, started the process of applying to the Australian government for permission for us to migrate to Australia. After almost four months without any income, my parents received an offer from a person in the Hungarian secret police to exchange our apartment for passports that would allow us to leave Hungary.
My father was able to secure three-month visas for us to go to Italy and we left Budapest by train. After arriving in Italy, we learned from my uncle in Melbourne that the Australian government had granted us permission to migrate to Australia, but the permission had been sent to the embassy in Budapest in the same week that we had left Budapest.
My uncle then started the process of reapplying for us to migrate from Italy.
However, at that time, the Australian government was under political pressure to reduce the number of Catholic migrants coming to Australia. Since the High Court had ruled that it was illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of religion, the government had instigated an unofficial go-slow on the processing of applications for migration from countries with a majority Catholic population.
Although we had already been granted permission to migrate from Hungary, and we were not Catholic, it took five months to be granted permission to migrate to Australia from Italy.
We spent some time in a Red Cross refugee camp and then relied on money sent by family and friends. When our Italian visas expired after three months, we were in danger of being deported back to Hungary.
Thankfully, an Italian friend had contacts with the United Nations and arranged for us to be issued with United Nations Stateless Refugee Passports to allow us to remain in Italy. Eventually, once the permission to migrate had been received, we boarded a ship in Genoa and arrived in Australia as stateless refugees.
While our experience was extremely stressful and traumatic, we were in a relatively privileged position. I’m very aware that there are many refugees around the world who lack the type of assistance and financial support we were lucky enough to have from our family.
By leaving a bequest to Australia for UNHCR in my will, I’m ensuring that refugees just like my family receive vital support in their time of need. Australia for UNHCR raises awareness and funds to support the United Nations Refugee Agency’s emergency responses to humanitarian crises, helping people in need across the globe by supplying shelter, protection, clean water, food and medicine.
Had it not been for the existence of the United Nations, who knows where we would have ended up. I feel indebted to them. I feel very grateful to have ended up in Australia and have the opportunities that I’ve had because of this lifeline. Today, there are so many people around the world who are in a similar situation and are in need of a lifeline.
For me, changing my will to include a bequest was a natural process. I had been making regular monthly donations for the past few years to Australia for UNHCR – and continue to do so – but I wanted to do something more substantial that would leave a bigger impact.
There are various ways you can leave a bequest to Australia for UNHCR. Residual gifts are the most common, where the beneficiary receives what is left of your estate after other costs are covered and your loved ones have been looked after. Some people prefer to leave a percentage of their estate or a pecuniary gift, which is a specific sum of money. However, a percentage of your entire estate, residual gift, or a gift or real property will not lose value over time and can help Australia for UNHCR have a greater impact on UNHCR’s work in the future. Regardless of the amount or type of gift, UNHCR truly appreciates every single bequest gift it receives.
Knowing that my money will be going towards creating a safer and more stable life for refugees for years to come brings me great joy. While there is the option to select what your funds will go towards, when it comes to supporting refugees throughout the world, I think it’s important to let the agency decide what’s the most pressing, not me.
The work that Australia for UNHCR does is broad and important. In the past, my donations have supported children with their education in various locations, helped provide clean water and as a regular donor, if there is an emergency, funds are available to help the most vulnerable immediately.
My children are supportive of my decision to leave this substantial sum for charity in my will. They understand my background and why it’s so important to me. Had it not been for the generous work of UNHCR, they might not be here.
There are so many children who are trapped in frightening, dangerous situations, just like I was all those years ago, and need the help of generous Australians – just like me and my family were helped in the 1950s.
Aussies want everyone to get a fair go and there’s no better way to help someone onto the path of working hard and give them the chance to make something of themselves in a safe society than leaving a gift to Australia for UNHCR. It’s what everyone would want for their own kids, and it’s simple to do, so I’d encourage everyone to think about doing the same. You can read more about Australia for UNHCR and the work it does here.
Important information: The information provided on this website is of a general nature and for information purposes only. It does not take into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. It is not financial product advice and must not be relied upon as such. Before making any financial decision you should determine whether the information is appropriate in terms of your particular circumstances and seek advice from an independent licensed financial services professional.
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