In her latest book, journalist Kati Marton traces the post-World War II journey of her Hungarian parents, who both served prison terms for being Western spies before immigrating to the United States. She also writes about discovering the family secret that her parents were Jewish and that her grandparents had died in concentration camps.
But for one survivor from Springfield, Marton’s family secrets were no secrets at all. That’s because Hedy Brasch, who was born in Miskolc, Hungary, knew the grandparents Marton never met.
“In the cattle cars, we went to Auschwitz with her grandparents,” said Brasch. Marton’s grandparents did not survive that journey. Brasch did, along with her parents, and they followed Marton’s family’s journey — a journey documented in part in the pages of The New York Times. Brasch’s mother — who met Marton’s mother after the war — knew all along about Marton’s Jewish heritage, which the writer would discover only later.
So when Brasch heard Marton was coming to speak at a breakfast for Women’s Philanthropy of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ on Oct. 23 at B’nai Shalom in West Orange, she got in touch with the writer.
“We talked a long time; it was really something,” said Brasch.
And so it was that Marton opened her talk to the 200 audience members in West Orange by recounting that phone conversation with Brasch. This event marked their first face-to-face meeting.
Marton, whose new memoir is called Enemies of the People: My Family’s Journey to America, called her conversation with Brasch “a tremendous bolt out of the blue” and “raw and emotional.”
“I have just learned a missing piece in my family history,” Marton said. “Because the topic was so painful for my mother — who was also a friend of Hedy’s and sadly is no longer with us — my mother was really never able to talk about my grandparents, her parents. Thanks to Hedy, who shared this five-day nightmare with my grandparents, I have a sense of who they were and a very vivid physical description of them.”
As soon as she got off the phone with Brasch, Marton said, she wrote up the conversation and sent it off to family members around the world.
“Needless to say I’ve had several sleepless nights thanks to Hedy. She said she has too, as a result of our conversation. This is priceless for my family, my children, my siblings.”
Marton went on to discuss her book about her family’s ordeal during what she calls “the Stalinization of Europe.” While her parents, both journalists, served their prison terms, Marton and a sister were placed with strangers. The family fled Hungary after the 1956 revolution and moved to Maryland. In the book, Marton shares not only her own memories of that period, but also the information she discovered while reading the Hungarian secret police files on her parents, including intensive surveillance and records of betrayal by even the family’s closest friends.
Marton went on to become a reporter for ABC News and National Public Radio, as well as an activist who has chaired the International Women’s Health Coalition She was formerly married to the late NBC news anchorman Peter Jennings and is currently married to diplomat Richard Holbrooke.
In 2006 she wrote of other Jewish refugees in her book The Great Escape: Nine Jews Who Fled Hitler and Changed the World.
But all of that research wasn’t finished until she was able to speak to Brasch.
“Thank you, Hedy,” Marton told Brasch, who was seated at a front table. “And thank you, MetroWest. Thanks to you the family history is now more or less complete.”