I had one of those naggy afternoons recently. You know the ones: trying to rally the whole family to dress up. We must find nice outfits, iron shirts, bust out the necktie, somehow create a clean, put-together image of our family in order to head to my cousin’s house one weekday afternoon.
And as we walked into my cousin’s lovely home, we heard the familiar banter and prattle of a warm family gathering. My kids stayed close to me at first as we began to greet family members. I noticed pretty quickly that there were people there I didn’t know, a group that had been invited but wasn’t family, per se.
One of my kids inquired:
“Hey, mom, who’s that old man over there?”
My eyes traveled to where he was looking and saw a cuff-linked, tall and handsome older gentleman. And it was precisely in that world transporting instant that all the nagging and ironing and “polishing” and “propering” of the morning started to fade away…
For in that room stood Alfred Lakos.
This was the man who had been hidden in my great grandmother’s apartment for over 4 months as a little boy during the Nazi occupation of war torn Buda Pest.
Standing right there.
History and worlds coming together.
Back in the 1940’s, my great grandmother, a fiercely independent, physician and divorcee decided to help her best friend and her best friend’s nephew hide away from likely transport to a concentration camp and almost certain death. It wasn’t a decision so much as just the next action to take in a terrible and confusing point in history. The Washington Post ran an article in November 2014 that explains the situation better than I can.
And during the entire season, she wrote in her journal. Day by day she kept an account of the news, the rumors and the actuality as seen out her apartment window.
These diaries (16 in all averaging 150 pages a piece) are a salient interpretation of the political and war-torn climate of World War II. And though she was Hungarian, she wrote every word in perfect English. For many years the diaries sat in storage collecting dust and fading from legacy’s view.
But through the persistent and strategic work of my uncle, the diaries are now housed in the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. where they will be archived permanently.
When word got out about these diaries her situation was explained to the Yad Vashem, the holocaust memorial in Israel and she was nominated for and received the medal of honor designating her as "Righteous Among the Nations."
And it was for this awards ceremony that we dressed up in all of our rare finery. We, along with many family members and the Alfred Lakos family, attended a beautiful and thoughtful remembrance of the holocaust and its survivors.
At the end of that momentous day as we threw our finery into the dirty clothes bin, I reflected that an extraordinary legacy like my great grandmother’s would not exist without moments of utter impossibility.
My mom tells me that Maria (her grandmother) told her there was only one time when she was ever really afraid. The German soldiers were invading her town, her home which contained 2 jews hidden behind a mirror. And she was truly afraid. The soldier came close to her, too close, touched her, touched some of her things, turned around and left. Impossible.
But let’s face it, my great grandmother didn’t commit heroic acts of bravery so that I could write this today. She lived her life. She took the next correct action that faced her…and with enough of these choices, she created a woven tapestry of grit, intrigue, and heart.
Impossible moments leading to a great story. A humbling legacy into which I somehow have been included. I don’t know what to do or how to do it but I think it looks a lot like doing the next right thing one day at a time.
Blessings to you as you work to be brave in your own way today.
I have to wonder how much of her bravery got passed down to you, Christina. I mean, someone doesn't participate in a war like that without their character and core being strengthened and changed in many different ways. Her character was then passed down and down. I wonder what you unknowingly have received directly from her act of hiding Jews. Your independence? Your grit? Your compassion? And then what is passed on to Audrey and Jack from you? Crazy to think about in hindsight, huh? You have some amazing stories in your family and I think those stories will continue on with you!
I seriously have goose bumps. The profound act of "doing the next right thing" changed an entire family line! Alfred Lakos and his lineage simply would not be alive today if it weren't for Maria. I'm just sure of it. That is no small thing. Not to mention, Maria was a bad-ass. A divorced female, Hungarian doctor, fluent in English in that era? Astounding. What a reminder that one person really can make a difference. I often doubt the transformational truth of that. This story helps me reevaluate what next "brave" thing I can do that may just change the course of history. At the very least, my own heart in the process.