NEW CANAAN — Since 1959, Laszlo Papp has called New Canaan home. The Hungarian-born architect has served on the Planning and Zoning Commission, Town Council and Stamford’s Urban Redevelopment Commission. In the 1960s, Papp founded his own architectural firm in White Plains, N.Y., and is a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects.

Papp’s professional resume is vast and impressive, but it says nothing of his early life in Soviet-occupied Hungary and his role in Revolution of 1956. Papp sat down on a recent Thursday to discuss growing up in post-World War II Eastern Europe and his long road to America.

Q: What part of Hungary are you from?

A: I was born and raised until graduation from high school in the second city of Hungary, which is Debrecen, in the Eastern part of the country. It’s a very strong Calvinist community and I went to the so-called religious school, which was religious in the sense that it’s the school of the reformed church. But it’s not religious in the sense of being overly involved in religion except that we obviously had one lecture hour in a week called religion.

Q: How did Hungary change when the Soviets took power after World War II?

A: By the time I was in my senior year of high school the political system changed and the communists were in power. Two weeks before graduation I was called into the office of the secret police office. I had a friend in school that they wanted to have more information on, so they said I should periodically come back and report what he’s doing and who is he associated with. So I said, sure. But we were graduating in two weeks and the next day after graduation I was in Budapest. So this little episode was forgotten, but my contact with the communist system was not forgotten.

Before the last semester in technical school, the Soviets were again trying to demonstrate power and we had to have some sort of a demonstration that to say to them, ‘this is as far as you can go.’ Just before the last semester, there was a big meeting at the university and they decided that I had a terrible habit of political speech and didn’t have respect for the Soviet Union.

So they threw me out of the university, which was a tremendous blessing for me because after graduation I could have been called to the army for two years. But those who were politically undesirable were sent to work camps instead of regular military camps. So I went to the office where you have to report for duty when I got the notice to appear. I said, ‘Here is my lecture book, you see I’m not finished yet.’ The man said, come back when you’re finished.

Q: Where did you go from there?

A: I was a free agent all of a sudden. By good luck I got a job in one of the best offices. By that time the communists had abolished all private enterprise. So there were no more individual architecture firms. Everybody was herded into huge offices. This was a 600 person firm. Even though I didn’t have my degree at that point, in a few months I got individual assignments because they saw that I was capable.

Q: How did you become involved in the revolutionary movement in 1956?

A: I was there for six years and it was kind of known that I was not a party-aligned person. Every place where people worked, at these big factories or offices, was governed by three people. There was a director, the chairman of the labor union, and the party secretary. When the revolution came, every place of work elected a so-called Revolutionary Council. It’s like a board of directors in a sense. I happened to end up elected as chairman of that design office’s Revolutionary Council. The idea was that this would be the new leadership of the firm. The professional hierarchy would be in place but the political hierarchy would be changed.

Q: Was the revolution ultimately successful?

A: The revolution was on October 23 and that blossomed into independence in a few weeks. The Soviets had this big problem that a satellite stands up and says no more occupation. At the same time, November was the election time in the U.S. So Eisenhower was occupied.

The revolution became because of two things. One is that Austria was occupied after the war by the four winning powers, but then it came to a point when there was no reason to continue this, so in 1955, Khrushchev and Eisenhower sat down and said, we’ll let Austria be. They withdrew the occupation. So we thought, the Russians are out of Austria, we’re next.

In the meantime, Radio Free Europe was broadcasting very strong messages saying we are on the side of freedom and promising that if any of the satellites would stand up, they’d be behind it. So we said, America is going to help us. We were totally deceived. Eisenhower made some remarks saying we are not going to interfere in Eastern European affairs. So the Soviets said, we are free hands and crashed the revolution in November.

Q: Were you then forced to leave Hungary?

A: After that we were talking about what’s going to happen. What should we do? I was married, my wife was two years younger and she just graduated in chemical engineering and got a job. And she was pregnant. I was absolutely certain that as the chairman of the Revolutionary Council I would be jailed. And as it turned out, every member of that council who stayed home was jailed for some period of time. If we stayed the whole future would be so bleak, so hopeless. So we decided to leave at the end of November for Vienna.

A friend of ours in Vienna was in the export/import business and had a lot of connections in America because he was importing grain and was often in America. He said we should consider going because at that point not a lot of Hungarians were going to America. Later on, with 200,000 Hungarians coming through we might not be able to go. Then he showed me a home movie he made during one of his trips driving along the Merritt Parkway. He said, ‘Look how beautiful, this is America. So gorgeous. Why wouldn’t you check it out?’ So we thought, he has a point. So we registered for immigration and got accepted.

Q: How did you come to live in Connecticut?

A: We made a decision that we were going to live near my wife’s job and I would commute. We heard of a startup engineering firm in Stamford, begun by three engineers splitting off from General Electric. They hired my wife. That’s how we got to Connecticut.

Q: How have you enjoyed living in New Canaan? Why is it that you became so active in town?

A: I’ve lived here for 57 years, I feel almost like a native in many respects because not many people live here for that long. We had a good opportunity here, a good reception, a good life. So I felt I had to contribute. I love New Canaan. I’m happy here.

justin.papp@scni.com; @justinjpapp1