In Memoriam István Serényi
Earlier this year, Hungarians lost a man who was, in more than one sense of the word, a great champion. István Serényi excelled not only in sports, but also as a brave fighter for freedom and justice for Hungary. He was an accomplished athlete the first half of his life, but a champion all of his 97 years, doing much for his beloved Hungary.
He was born December 13th, 1917 in Trencsén, in the northern part of the country which, after the 1920 Treaty of Trianon was part of the 71% of Hungary that was taken away and became part of another country. His family then moved to Veszprém, the Trans-Danubian region. He grew up and attended school there, developing into a great sportsman, winning several scholastic as well as national races as a long distance runner.
After school, while still being active in sports, he started a career as a journalist. This, his writings during World War II led to his troubles after the war. Like many thousands of others, he was imprisoned without a trial, conviction or even being charged with any crime. (The Communists were good at this.) He spent two years in a detention center. Not long after his release, he fled his native country and became a refugee. While living in West Germany, he got married. In 1956, he and his wife emigrated to the US and settled in New York where they lived for 35 years.
Soon after arriving in New York, he became an active participant in the Hungarian emigrant community. For years, even decades, he would be at the microphone as moderator, master of ceremonies or as the main speaker at celebrations, meetings, balls, festivities. But the three things that he was involved with in a short three-year period made Mr. Serényi known not only in New York, but in the entire Hungarian emigrant community worldwide:
In September 1959, when Khrushchev visited and toured the US, Mr. Serényi managed to go up inside the symbol of freedom in New York harbor and covered the eyes of Lady Liberty with a black cloth so that “She would not see the shame” of the brutal dictator, who had crushed the Hungarian Revolution only a few years earlier, now being welcomed as a guest here.
Then in 1960, still a great athlete, he ran from New York to Washington, DC, 240 miles, in 8 days – this is more than running 8 marathons in 8 days! His jersey had the words “Remember Hungary” printed on it. Upon his arrival at the white House, he gave a memorandum of the Captive Nations to then Vice President Nixon.
Two years later, in 1962, he walked from San Francisco to New York City in a record 74 days, with the message on his jersey: “Freedom for Hungary!” All these feats of his were fully covered by the international press.
In subsequent years, he traveled to many countries, met with kings and prime ministers, speaking on behalf of Hungarian causes. After the end of Communist rule in his native country, he was awarded high honors by the President of Hungary. In 1995, he moved to Vienna, Austria, where he lived for 20 years, the rest of his life.
Mr. Serényi was a serious man, but always had a smile on his face. He passed away on March 27, 2015.
László Oroszlány was born in Hungary and left the country in 1956. He came to the United States in 1959, and established a firm producing precision parts as a manufacturing subcontractor for the aerospace industry. He retired from there after 42 years. He had been President of the Lay Committee of St. Stephen of Hungary Church in New York.