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Intel's Grove: Time right for memoir

As the chairman of Intel Corp., Andy Grove speaks freely and often about silicon wafers, microprocessors and the history of computing.

But he has refused to talk about his own history. Until now.

As a Hungarian Jew, Grove took a new identity to hide from the Nazis, and later chafed under Soviet domination before fleeing to the United States.

"I didn't feel like talking to strangers about it when they came to interview me about microprocessors, the Internet and stuff like that," Grove says. "It was not an appropriate way to combine these things."

Grove ends his long public silence in a new memoir, Swimming Across, recounting stories of his youth in eastern Europe.

He began the book with his grandchildren in mind after being named Time magazine's 1997 Man of the Year.

"I'm getting old," the 65-year-old Grove says. "It dawned on me that by the time they are old enough to be interested and understand it, I will be too old to make too much sense."

True to Grove's personality, the book speaks in logical tones. He doesn't psychoanalyze and never connects the trauma of his youth with the business philosophy he made famous in another book, Only the Paranoid Survive.

In fact, Grove's legendary career at Intel, where he served 11 years as chief executive, gets only two sentences in the epilogue.

But he says he approaches important business challenges with the same rational decisionmaking he used before fleeing Hungary 45 years ago.

"As I think about the stories in the book, they are so much like me today that I am more prone to conclude I was me at age 15," he says.

It's not difficult to see how paranoia might emerge from his early life.

Grove, born Andras Grof in Budapest in 1936, begins his story with memories of driving his pedal-powered toy sports car as his parents watched search lights crisscross the sky over the Danube.

It was his third birthday, Sept. 2, 1939, the day after Hitler's troops invaded Poland.

He soon lost much of his hearing after a bout with scarlet fever. His father, a dairy operator, was conscripted into a Hungarian labor battalion.

Though not religious, he and his mother faced persecution like other Jews when Germany occupied Hungary in 1944.

At first, the changes were inconvenient, such as being forced to sit in the back of trams. Then Jews were not allowed to ride at all. Then he and his mother were moved to a "Star House." They were forced to wear yellow Stars of David. Radios were confiscated. Neighbors were herded into German Army trucks.

Shortly afterward, Grove's mother obtained false papers and he took on a Christian identity as Andras Malesevics, her illegitimate child.

"I was deadly afraid of making a mistake," he says. "I didn't know exactly what was going to happen if I had made a mistake, but I had a feeling it would be awful."

After the Red Army reached Hungary, a semblance of normalcy returned, although Grove's mother was raped by a soldier. After three years, his father reappeared _ a filthy, emaciated man in a ragged uniform.

Grove discovered girls, opera and English as a teen. His poor hearing, which was only restored after five surgeries in the 1970s, made him an observant student and he excelled in school.

The book's title stems from a story a teacher told Grove's parents one night, that life is a big lake in which everyone starts swimming. "Not all of them will swim across," the teacher said. "But one of them, I'm sure, will. That one is Grof."

As a chemistry major at the University of Budapest, Grove was not very politically active, but he joined in demonstrations that led to the 1956 ousting of the pro-Soviet regime. After the Red Army invaded, he, along with 200,000 others, decided it was time to leave his homeland.

"I was very conscious of people getting shot, that I could be one of them," he says.

With the help of the International Rescue Committee, which will receive proceeds from the book, Grove landed in New York. He studied chemical engineering at City College in New York, earned a doctorate at the University of California at Berkeley, and helped found Intel Corp. He never returned to Hungary.

His mother, who eventually fled Hungary with Grove's father, reviewed the manuscript of Swimming Across. She is now 94. At first, she said nobody would be interested in the story, then warmed to it. She allowed personal details of her life, such as the rape, to be used.

"She basically said that was the least of it," Grove says.

The Intel chairman long thought he had escaped fear, uncertainty and insecurity when he left Hungary. Then the World Trade Center crumbled. He ran into fellow Hungarian emigre and Intel pioneer Les Vadasz shortly thereafter.

"We looked at each other and he said to me, "I didn't think I was going to have to go through this kind of stuff again,' " Grove says. "That captured my feeling as well."