111 years ago my grandfather, age 16, left his beloved Hungary, journeyed to Antwerp, Belgium and boarded the SS Kroonland with his 13 year old sister, 9 year old brother and 7 year old nephew to take the frightening journey across the Atlantic Ocean to New York.

Kalman came from a small village called Sárospatak in Northern Hungary. His family came to the US to escape growing anti-semitism and to find economic opportunity like 13 million others between 1900 and 1914. If he and his family would have stayed in Hungary they likely would have perished in Auschwitz with the 900 Jews of Sárospatak who were swept up by Hitler’s last ditch effort to exterminate those who did not fit the Aryan stereotype.

Kalman’s parents had arrived a week before him in New York. His older sister was on the same ship as Kalman but traveled separately leaving him to supervise his siblings. None of them spoke English. Whether any other relatives were in New York to greet them is lost in the mists of history since no one is alive to ask.

 

S.S. Kroonland

Within 8 years, Kalman was married to my grandma Julia, also from a small town in Hungary, and they became parents to my mother Sylvia and two years later my uncle Eugene.

Kalman became a self-taught and very successful women’s clothing designer and manufacturer. He was also an accomplished actor and director. His early experiences in Hungary and in the U.S. opened his mind to working people’s issues and he became a life long political activist. During World War II, he and his friends were very active in supporting the war effort, especially aiding Jewish refugees from Hungary. In 1947, the war just over, my grandparents packed up suitcases with clothes and other needed items and traveled to Budapest to help their surviving relatives. They would continue that connection for decades. In 2007 I found out about our wonderful Budapest cousins and we have visited them several times since then. The details of this story will be told in the book I am writing.

His story is similar to 13 million other refugees of his era. Perhaps with his drive and personality he was more successful than some. Grandpa and his family thought life would be better in the US so they made great sacrifices to come here.

Their story is being repeated in 2018 with those fleeing South America and elsewhere: parents taking enormous risks to find a safe and healthy place for their children.

I am a descendant of refugees.

Kalman Marki circa 1914