Like most children, Marianne Szegedy-Maszák was vaguely familiar with her parents’ background as she was growing up, but didn’t know or understand many details. As in many immigrant homes, the adults discussed those details in what American-born Marianne regarded as “secret” languages—in her family’s case, mostly in Hungarian.
After her parents and other beloved older relatives died, Szegedy-Maszák decided to delve more deeply into the unknowns, aided by a cache of letters from her father to her mother during their difficult courtship. And what a rich story she tells in I Kiss Your Hands Many Times: Aladár and Hanna Szegedy-Maszák and their families were people of extraordinary sophistication and stamina who survived persecution by both Nazis and Communists.
Hanna was a member of a hugely wealthy clan descended from pioneering Jewish industrialist Manfred Weiss, the Andrew Carnegie of Hungary. Most of the family converted to Christianity, but that didn’t help them with the Nazis and their vicious Hungarian allies. They survived, but in a way that aroused great resentment among fellow Hungarians: A Himmler aide forced them to sign over their fortune to the Nazis in exchange for being allowed to escape. Unwelcome in Hungary after the war, most went to the U.S., where they again thrived.
Aladár was a Christian, a highly regarded diplomat, who resisted Hungary’s alliance with Germany and tried unsuccessfully to negotiate a separate peace with the Allies. When the Germans invaded, he was sent to Dachau. After liberation, he rose from concentration camp prisoner to Hungarian ambassador to the U.S. in an astonishingly short time. Then came the Communist coup in Hungary. Aladár tried mightily to persuade the U.S. to intervene, failed again, and spent the rest of his life in exile.
Their daughter tells their stories with beautiful sensitivity. She is loving but clear-eyed about their flaws and troubles. Her parents lived in middle-class comfort in Washington, D.C., but her father in particular was broken by his political and personal tragedies. Marianne grew up in a household darkened by his depression. Yet through it all, his deep love for his wife endured. Their daughter’s fine memoir highlights a largely forgotten chapter of the Holocaust and honors their memory.