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George Bien, Gulag survivor

WASHINGTON -- George Zoltan Bien, who survived imprisonment in the Soviet Gulag after World War II and was forced to flee his native Hungary after the uprising against Soviet occupation in 1956, died of pancreatic cancer Thursday in Halquist Memorial Inpatient Center in Arlington, Va. He was 76.

Mr. Bien was born in Budapest in 1928 to a venerable Hungarian family. His parents were ethnic Jews who converted to Christianity in 1919; Mr. Bien was unaware of his Jewish heritage until years later.

In January 1945, Soviet forces were in Budapest as the brutal Nazi occupation was ending. When Soviet soldiers arrived at the Bien home asking to talk to Mr. Bien's father, a prominent cardiologist, the elder Bien felt he had nothing to fear. He was wrong.

Dr. Bien was acquainted with Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Nazis. Nevertheless, the cardiologist occasionally had been called upon to treat German soldiers and embassy officials in Budapest. Soviet authorities took him into custody and charged him with espionage.

When 16-year-old George proudly laid claim to a short-wave radio in the house, he, too, was arrested. He assumed he would be in custody briefly before returning home to his mother and 12-year-old sister. He said he could not have imagined that he had plunged into a 10-year nightmare.

In ''Lost Years," a memoir published in English in 2000, Mr. Bien wrote: ''What an ironic fate: We survived the war under the Nazis, but not the 'peace' under the Soviets."

Mr. Bien's father died of typhoid within six months at a labor camp in Ukraine. His last words, Mr. Bien learned years later, were: ''My son! My daughter!"

''The Gulag was like a giant Auschwitz without gas chambers," Mr. Bien wrote in his memoir. Like the victims of the Holocaust, the young Mr. Bien was loaded on a cattle car and transported eastward -- from Budapest to Austria, then to a prison near Odessa, Ukraine, and labor camps on the Black Sea.

In September 1946, ''slave merchants" herded him onto a crowded prison train for a 30-day journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway to the prison port of Nakhodka on Russia's Pacific coast. He was then put on a ''death ship," the Felix Dzerzhinsky, for a six-day journey to Magadan and the infamous gold-mining camps of Kolyma, the far eastern section of Siberia.

Mr. Bien weighed 83 pounds when he arrived at the camp, just below the Arctic Circle and more than 7,000 miles from his home.

Mr. Bien worked in a prison hospital and a hospital pharmacy, and later in gold-mining and timber camps. Stalin's death in 1953 led to the release of foreign prisoners from the labor camps, and Mr. Bien, then 27, made his way home in 1955, reuniting with his mother and sister.

He made his way to the United States in December 1956. He became a naturalized US citizen in 1962. In 1958, he began working for Capitol Printing Ink Co., later Flint Ink Corp. He became a nationally known authority on the manufacture of printing ink. He retired as Flint Ink's technical director in 1992.

Mr. Bien leaves his wife of 35 years, Eleanor of Fairfax, Va.; two stepchildren, Diane Geib and Robert Michaelson, both of Fairfax; and a grandson.

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