EXCERPT: 'The Great Escape,' by Kati Marton

In 1900, like many other aspiring Jews in Hungary, the family Magyarized its name to Marton, and entered the city's prosperous middle class. Great-grandfather Maurice's apartment was in the fashionable Leopoldtown area, near the Parliament, overlooking the Danube. Maurice's sons were decorated in the First World War, which Europeans call, without irony, the Great War. Less than thirty years later, his grandsons would not be allowed to wear their country's uniform nor bear arms, but were instead sent off to forced labor on the Russian Front. Unlike the central figures in this book, the Martons stayed through the Nazi terror -- which they miraculously survived. Though my father, Endre, was called up by the Nazis for forced labor on the Eastern Front, he managed to escape and from then on he and my mother, Ilona, were hidden by Christian friends. My maternal grandparents were not so lucky. Living in a northeastern city called Miskolc, they were among the first Jews rounded up by Adolf Eichmann and his Hungarian allies and forced on an Auschwitz-bound transport. The last word my mother ever had from them was a postcard slipped through the crack of a cattle car headed for Auschwitz. My mother, a historian, and my father, an economist, became journalists for the two American wire services, United Press and Associated Press, after the war, as the communists seized Hungary. Early in 1955, they were arrested by the communists and convicted of being spies for a country neither of them had set foot in, the United States of America. Their story attracted international attention and made the front page of the New York Times. For nearly two years, while my parents were incarcerated in Budapest's maximum-security Fo Street prison, my sister and I were placed in the care of strangers.

My parents were released from prison in the brief thaw just prior to the outbreak of the Hungarian Revolution in October 1956, and resumed their reporting for the Associated Press and the United Press. When the Soviet forces, which had briefly withdrawn from Budapest in the face of a national uprising, returned to crush the revolt, my father sent the last cable from Budapest, alerting the world that Soviet tanks and troops were rolling toward the capital. Then all communications with the outside world were cut. (These are among my most enduring childhood memories.) Again in danger of arrest for their coverage of the revolt, my parents and my sister and I were granted asylum in the American embassy in Budapest, along with the world-famous cardinal, Josef Mindszenty, who, I remember clearly, blessed us each night. (Not only did the cardinal think we were good little Catholic girls, so did we; our parents had raised us as Catholics, and never told us our true family history.) In early 1957, a brave American diplomat named Tom Rogers drove us across the Austria-Hungary frontier to freedom -- and exile. Today, only one of Maurice Mandl's offspring remains in Budapest, my father's first cousin, my aunt Tekla, now in her eighties, who, along with my mother's younger sister, Magda, are my only surviving relatives left in Budapest.

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