I recently watched a very moving documentary film about the fate of Jewish Hungarians in the town of Kalocsa, the seat of one of the four archbishoprics in the country. When the archbishopric was established in the Middle Ages, Kalocsa was a much more important city than it is now with its 18,000 inhabitants. As one would expect, the overwhelming majority of the inhabitants of Kalocsa are Roman Catholics. However, there was also a robust Jewish community that made up 5.9% of the population at the time of the Second World War.
The history and fate of the Hungarian Jews of Kalocsa has become known worldwide as a result of the collaboration of two people living far away from one another: Mrs. Gyöngyi Magó, a high school history teacher in Kalocsa, and Gabor Kalman, an award-winning film director from Los Angeles.
In 2004 Gyöngyi Magó was writing a thesis for the University of Szeged. Her adviser was Judit Pihurik, whose specialty is the history of World War II. Magó was always interested in local history and noticed that, although several histories of Kalocsa had been written over the years, researchers ignored the Jewish community of the town. She decided to fill the void. Once her 61-page paper was finished, she realized that she must share her new knowledge with her students. Moreover, she decided to pursue the topic further by conducting interviews with possible survivors and older people in Kalocsa who still remembered some of the people she mentioned in her thesis.
She managed to find one survivor, Gabor Kalman. The two began exchanging e-mails. Gyöngyi Magó found out that Kalman was a film maker and Kalman became fascinated with Gyöngyi’s project. As Kalman said, “I was immensely touched that after 64 years a non-Jew would take on the task, not only of digging up this lost culture but also of using what she found to educate, to inform, to enlighten, and to fight prejudice and hatred — which unfortunately is very much in evidence throughout Hungary today.”
The two began searching for others from Kalocsa, and the result is a gripping documentary on the lives and fate of Kalocsa’s Jewish population. In the final scenes the few survivors travelling from all over the world meet in Kalocsa for a reunion attended by the mayor and the archbishop. Among the visitors there was even a woman from Canada who swore that she would never return to Hungary.
Since then not only has the documentary been highly acclaimed but Gyöngyi Magó also received the Medal of Valor from the Museum of Tolerance. She shared the stage with Tom Cruise, a fellow recipient. Far away from Kalocsa in Hollywood.
Why do I write about this film now? Because tomorrow is United Nations’ Human Rights Day. It will be observed in the Library of Congress and the D. C. Jewish Community Center where the documentary film will be shown. Representative Alcee Hastings urged members of Congress to see the film, especially in light of the “resurgent anti-Semitism in Hungary.”
On Monday, December 10, at noon, Gabor Kalman will talk about the film and will show clips at the Library of Congress. At 7:00 p.m. there will be a screening of the film, followed by a panel discussion. The moderator of the discussion will be Steven Feldman, book publications officer, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Members of the panel will consist of Ambassador Michael Kozak, U.S. State Department and Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism; Gabor Kalman; and Professor Charles Gati. For those in the Washington area who want to attend, the Jewish Community Center is located at 1529 16th Street NW.
As for the film, I watched it and can attest to the fact that it is superbly done. I hope that very soon we might be able to see it on television. For now, you can view segments of the documentary online and learn more about how it came into being.