Monday, November 15, 2010

Enemies of the People: My Family's Journey to America by Kati Marton 2009

“Enemies of the People, Kati Marton’s seventh book, [is]a powerful and absolutely absorbing narrative of her parents’ journey — a series of escapes, from Hitler, from Stalin, eventually to America.” From a review in the New York Times by Alan Furst in October, 2009.

When the Hungarian émigré journalist Kati Marton (b. 1949) was working on her first book on Raoul Wallenberg she discovered through an off-hand remark made by an interviewee that Marton’s mother’s parents had been murdered in Auschwitz. Marton was shocked to hear this and to learn that she had Jewish roots.

Marton’s highly educated parents – they both had PhD’s and spoke several languages including English – were totally assimilated and had each converted to Catholicism. They were upset when she confronted them and they refused to talk about their Jewish backgrounds. Both parents insisted upon looking forward, not backward. Her father was a patriotic Hungarian and an Anglophile who had been part of a triple gold-winning fencing team that had represented Hungary in the 1936 Olympics. When she tried to talk about the death of her grandparents at Auschwitz with her mother, her mother’s eyes would well up with tears and the conversation never took place.

This memoir recounts Marton’s early life in Budapest when her two parents were journalists employed by important American entities: the United Press and the Associated Press. Once the Soviet Union made Hungary a satellite Soviet state shortly after World War II, her westernized parents who had befriended American Embassy personnel became more and more suspect. Eventually each was arrested and sentenced to multiple years in jail, but they were released in 1956 during what turned out to be a temporary thaw in relations between the Soviet Union and the West. When the Hungarian revolution followed months later, but was violently suppressed by the Soviets, her parents then applied for refugee status and fled to America where her father continued to work for the Associated Press. 

The bulk of the information in the memoir was extracted from files on her parents Marton requested that had been kept by AVO, the Hungarian secret police. Marton was handed huge files of documents which revealed information about her parents that presented her with a much more nuanced and complex picture of them than she had realized.  Along with interviews she conducted with people who had known her parents in Hungary, she learned much that her parents had never told her. For example, she learned that before World War II because of increasingly restrictive laws against Jewish residents, they could not get the jobs in careers they were highly qualified for and tutored students in English to put food on the table. They survived the war because they had false papers and were hidden by Christian friends. And she learned that her father had had a connection to the Resistance.

But most revelations were about her family’s life under the Communist regime. She realized that informers had infiltrated their household staff. That when they went to restaurants the waiters were informers. That when her parents were in jail their jail mates were informers. And an informer in the American Embassy was the person who facilitated their arrest. What was most upsetting were the files about her parents’ time in jail – how they tried to break her father to get him to admit he was a spy. How they arrested her mother to put pressure on her father.

The documents were, in fact, a gift to Marton. Her parents’ lives were much more difficult during World War II and during the Soviet occupation than their children had ever suspected. Now she understood the difficulty they had talking about the past and their desire not to inflict that pain on their children.

America was a wonderful refuge for the family, but Marton found through the Freedom for Information Act that when her parents first arrived they were suspects here too. The FBI under J. Edgar Hoover conducted surveillance for ten years, concerned that maybe her parents were Soviet agents.

This memoir includes family photos and has an index.
 To read an interview with Kati Marton about the memoir click here.

Paternal side
Erno Marton – author’s grandfather
    Endre (Andrew, Andre) – Erno’s son; married Ilona Neumann; author’s father
        Juli – daughter of Endre and Ilona
        Kati – daughter of Endre and Ilona; married and divorced Peter Jennings; married Richard Holbrooke
            Elizabeth and Christopher Jennings – children of Kati and Peter Jennings
        Andrew Thomas Marton- son of Endre and Ilona
    Feri – Erno Marton’s son
Maurice Mandl – author’s great-grandfather; possibly original name before Magyarized to Marton

Maternal side
Adolf and Anna Neumann
    Ilona – their daughter; married Endre Marton; author’s mother
    Magda – their daughter; married Laszlo (Laci) Pless

Bethesda, Maryland
Budapest, Hungary
Miskolc, Hungary
Melbourne, Australia


  1. Kati Marton mentions a brother in this story as well as in her memoir, Paris a Love Story. A son, Andrew is also mentioned in her father, Endre's obituary.
    Do you have any information about this brother of Kati Marton?

    1. Sorry, I don't know anything about a brother. Maybe someone reading this post does. Toby Bird