Shoa memoir upends reader expectations
A complicated Holocaust history, combining her parents’ love story with social and political themes, Marianne Szegedy-Maszak’s I Kiss Your Hands Many Times: Hearts, Souls, and Wars in Hungary is already a best-seller in Hungary and enjoying growing sales in the United States.
On Sunday, June 8, the author, a professional journalist, will discuss the work at an invitation-only brunch for members of Jewish Federation of Monmouth County’s Vanguard Society. The event will be held at the Hotel Tides in Asbury Park.
In a phone interview, Szegedy-Maszak told NJJN, “On some level, the story is about me, trying to untangle the mystery of my parents’ lives before I was born. But it also explores moral choices and depicts the complex relationship Hungary had with its Jewish population. This is particularly relevant today amid reports of rising anti-Semitism in that country.”
In her book, Szegedy-Maszak writes that her father, then secretary to the Hungarian ambassador to Germany, met Adolf Hitler on three occasions in the 1930s, a reception and two dinners. But that didn’t save him from being sent to Dachau later on.
According to Szegedy-Maszak, her father Aladár, a gentile, and mother Hanna, a Jew, met and fell in love in 1940, but were unable to marry because of his political prominence and her religion.
Later, with the war raging and the persecution of Jews ramping up, Hanna and some others in the family went into hiding. Szegedy-Maszak’s maternal grandfather was sent to Mauthausen, and her great-uncle Ferenc Chorin also was imprisoned.
Amazingly, however, both were released and, along with 38 other members of the family, including the author’s mother, were allowed to go to neutral Portugal.
Ironically, her father, the non-Jew, remained behind barbed wire until being liberated by the U.S. Seventh Army in 1945.
Szegedy-Maszak said so many of her relatives were freed because, before the war, they were among the largest industrialists in Hungary, with major interests in mining and manufacturing. Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, was willing to make a deal granting freedom in exchange for the property.
“My great-uncle negotiated the arrangement, and, incredibly, Himmler kept his word,” said Szegedy-Maszak. “At that point, the Nazis were attempting to maintain an image of legality,” she explained.
After the war, the author’s parents finally married and arrived in the United States — with portfolio. Her father was sent over by the pre-communist government as its ambassador.
“My parents did not speak much about their experiences during the war,” said Szegedy-Maszak, noting that her book is an attempt at self-discovery as well as a history of the times.
“I was born in the United States, as were my brothers,” she told NJJN. “When the communists took over in Hungary, my parents remained here, and my father served as the director of the Hungarian language section of Voice of America.”
Szegedy-Maszak said the Asbury Park brunch represents her first speaking engagement in Monmouth County. She also has delivered presentations about the book, published by Spiegel & Grau, a Random House division, in New Brunswick and a few other spots around the country.
She expressed pride that the Magyar-language translation of the book has made the best-seller lists in Hungary.
Monmouth federation’s director of development, Elena Herskowitz, said Szegedy-Maszak’s appearance underscores the local organization’s sister-city relationship with the Jewish community of Budapest. Last November, 30 people from the federation participated in a mission to the Hungarian capital, she said. Members of the Vanguard Society contribute to the federation $1,000 per individual, $1,800 per couple, above and beyond their current campaign commitment.