As a father lay dying, he said to his 16-year-old son, “The worst thing about having to go now is that I won’t know my grandchildren. You must promise me one thing: my grandchildren will never read censored newspapers.”

It was 1969. They were in Hungary, and the communist government controlled what the papers could and could not print.

The boy’s name was Lászlós Mandoki. He was trained as a classical musician, but also played drums in rock bands, performing a wild form of rock that the government condemned.

At age 22, Lászlós and two friends decided to escape the country, even though they could be killed if caught.

They had IDs showing they were musicians, which allowed them to cross into Yugoslavia, a country also under communist control. To get out of Yugoslavia, they decided to walk through a five-mile long railway tunnel that led to Austria.

They waited until midnight, when the guard shift was changing, to sneak into the entrance. They didn’t realize how narrow the tunnel was going to be, or how dark. The walls were just wide enough for a train. And the acoustics were such that you couldn’t hear a train approaching. Every 150 feet or so there was a small recess in the wall just big enough for one person. Or three very terrified ones.

After a couple of miles walking in complete darkness, they saw a light. It wasn’t the end of the tunnel, but the underground border between Yugoslavia and Austria. It was unmanned. They walked into the light and out of it, once again stumbling their way down the dark tunnel.

When they finally made it to the end, they were so happy they hugged the first thing they saw, a transformer box. Austria wasn’t communist, but took a dim view of illegal immigrants, so they pressed on and eventually made it to West Germany.

One of the friends who escaped with Lászlós was also named Lászlós. They planned to become successful musicians and thought that more than one Lászlós might be too many for the music world, so Mandoki changed his first name to Leslie.

A few years later, a man asked Leslie to sing in a group for the Eurovision Song Contest. He said no. He was a drummer, not a singer; the song was in German, which he didn’t speak very well; and he would have to dance. As incentive, the man offered him free use of his recording studio for three months. Leslie agreed.

He hated performing with the group — called Dschinghis Khan — for the very reasons he had outlined to begin with. To his dismay, the group was an enormous success.

Search for “Dschinghis Khan – Moskau 1979 (High Quality)” and you can see Leslie with long hair, a handlebar mustache, a flashy green outfit, and a fake look of enjoyment. Jump to 1:55 to see him up close.

After a few years with Dschinghis Khan, Leslie Mandoki became successful on his own and still records and performs today.

His children don’t read censored newspapers.

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