When I look for things to write about, I look at different sources and sometimes the sources come to me. In this instance, it came to me from my mom. She had read the article about Laszlo Michnay in a magazine and gave it to me. I found Michnay to be an extraordinary human being, him and his family.
The War Years
Michnay was born 28 July 1893 in Bekescsaba, Bekes, Hungary. During World War II he was the president of the Seventh Day Adventist church in Hungary. When he went to Germany and Poland for business, he saw a rise in anti-Semitism and he was determined to not let it permeate his church. It would not be until March of 1944 that German forces would invade and occupy Hungary, just over a year before the end of the war. Hungary’s work with Germany is checkered and would need an entire blog (or more) just on it.
In October of 1944 the Hitler backed Arrow Cross Party took control of Hungary under the command of Ferenc Szalasi, a fanatical leader and childhood friend of Michnays’. Michnay and Szalasi had a strange bond between a fascist fanatic and an Adventist Pastor, they had been school mates and when Szalasi wasn’t working, Michnay helped support him. As Szalasi was in charge of the deportation of Jews, this friendship would later save lives.
Michnay also had another friend, Raoul Wallenberg the Swedish diplomat that was taken in January 1945 and never seen again. It is through Wallenberg that Michnay starts his work.
Michnay was aware of a growing anti-Semitism among Adventist, and in 1944 delivered an anti-Nazi sermon in which he said “my dear Christian sisters and brothers, you can only be faithful and honest followers of Christ if you take Jews, our next of kin, into your protection.”
By this time Michnay is already on the Gestapo radar and there are plain clothes policemen in the congregation during his anti-Nazi sermon.
Michnay saw anti-Semitism as a sin against the “next of kin” to the Adventist faith, the Jews. He began hiding Jews. He would hide them in his church and in the attic of his home. He lovingly referred to them as “U Boats”, as they were moved from one hiding place to the next. Some would be taken in by a network of Adventist country pastors and hidden on Adventist farms.
Michnay made no distinction between Jews and Adventist of Jewish decent, it made no difference to him, each one needed help and he was there to provide it.
Michnay and his family were well aware of the cost of hiding Jews. His daughter, Clara, had seen Jews gun downed by the Nazis next to the Danube River, not long before Budapest was liberated.
It is his friendship with Szalasi that comes into play in hiding the Jews. Because of that friendship and because Szalasi was the leader of the government, Michnays’ churches and home were never very thoroughly searched. Michnay would engage the police who came to search in conversation, loudly, giving those in the house and/or church time to hide from the authorities. And even though the Gestapo knew about him and his activities, he was never picked up and interrogated by the Gestapo.
Like Wallenberg, Michnay would provide false documents to those he hid, including the poet Andor Peterdi whom he hid in his home attic. This helped him gain the title the “Adventist Wallenberg”.
It wasn’t just Michnay who hid Jews and risked his life, it was his whole family. His daughter, Magda born in 1925, was able to describe what it was like to be in hiding as she had hidden in the chapel at one point with a group Jews in hiding. She told about being cramped into small spaces, having no food or water for hours and the fear that existed in wondering how long they would be there and if they would be betrayed.
There was also, Kardy Berzenczey, Magdas’ fiancé, who used a rucksack to smuggle Jutka Holczer out of the ghetto.
Many of those taken into Michnays’ care survived the war. The Vamosi family was taken to Adventist pastor Istvan Olah, who lived in an apartment in a Budapest suburb. The family was eventually moved the farm of Imre Torok, an Adventist farmer.
Arpad Rooz was another “U Boat” that was taken to the home of Zgigmond Csiki, a dentist, in Miskolc. He survived the war and later became treasurer of the Hungarian Adventist Union.
Michnay left us on 30 October 1965, but his good deeds live on. In 1981 he was recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations, and was followed in 2017 by his wife, Jolan.
Kindness, that is the word that comes to mind when I think of Michnay. Kindness to Szalasi when he was in need and kindness to the Jews when they were in need and it paid dividends for generations. When we are kind to one another, we can change the world. Michnay if proof of that. I hope that his story will inspire you to choose kindness each day.
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