Enemies of the people: My Family's Journey to America, by Kati Marton
NOTA DE LEITURA
Há muito tempo que um livro me não impressionava tanto como este. Li-o todo num dia, com muito entusiasmo, embora a história seja tudo menos alegre.
Os personagens tinham ascendência judaica, mas comportavam-se como católicos. Os avós maternos da autora pereceram no Holocausto.
A autora, nascida na Hungria em 1949, hoje uma grande dama americana, teve do segundo marido Peter Jennings, dois filhos Elizabeth (n. 1980) e Christopher (n. 1982).
Antes, fora casada com o médico Carroll Wetzel. Em 13 de Agosto de 1993, foi anunciada a sua separação de Peter Jennings. Farta das infidelidades deste, assumira publicamente uma relação com Richard Cohen, que durou alguns anos. Neste passo, imitou a sua mãe que, por volta de 1954, fizera o mesmo a seu pai, quando este iniciou um curto affair com uma inglesa, Peggy Simpson. Em 1995 casou em Budapeste com o Embaixador Richard Holbrooke, o terceiro casamento de cada um deles.
Este livro de memórias está muito bem escrito, num estilo muito vivo, restringindo a narração aos factos, sem grandes descrições nem adjectivos.
O texto baseia-se em muitas centenas de páginas dos arquivos da AVO (Államrendőrség Államvédelmi Osztálya), a polícia política húngara, no tempo do comunismo puro e duro. Os relatos das prisões do pai e da mãe da autora (presos, respectivamente em Fevereiro e Maio de 1955) são de arrepiar. Foram salvos pela revolução anti-comunista de 23 de Outubro de 1956, depois brutalmente reprimida pelos soviéticos.
A autora confessa que teria alguma dificuldade em publicar o livro em vida dos pais, pois envolve muitas recordações que seriam dolorosas para eles. Ilona Marton, a mãe, faleceu em 2004 com 92 anos, Endre Marton no ano seguinte, com 95 anos.
Não resisto a fazer um paralelo entre os métodos de terror da polícia política com os da Inquisição. Tal como os cristãos novos acabavam por ter de confessar práticas e crenças judaicas, também aqui os personagens tiveram de se declarar espiões, sem o serem. E como os mais valentes dos cristãos novos que não acusavam ninguém que pudesse ser preso, também eles não denunciaram ninguém de nacionalidade húngara.
By ALAN FURST
Published: October 30, 2009
ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE
My Family’s Journey to America
By Kati Marton
Illustrated. 272 pp. Simon & Schuster. $26
The year is 1955; most of the world has taken sides in the cold war. In Budapest, behind the Iron Curtain, a little girl, 6 years old, lives one of the more privileged lives in that city. In an apartment on a tree-lined street on one of Buda’s hills, she is adored by her attractive parents, prominent journalists; she wears pink sweaters and cute shoes — patent leather Mary Janes — from America; she loves going to school; she loves her playmates. But then, on an icy February night at 2 in the morning, the light goes on in the room she shares with her sister, and life changes forever.
“ ‘Get into our bed,’ my mother said. As we slowly awoke, one of the searchers moved in. Like a hunter stalking big game, he sank his knife into our beat-up stuffed rocking horse. Straw spilled out of my oldest possession, as my sister and I ran to the room next door and dove into our parents’ bed. We were too dazed to ask where Papa was. Or did we know somehow? ‘Elvittek,’ Hungarian for ‘they took him away,’ was a word I often heard as a child. . . . So now my father had been elvittek, taken away.” Four months later, her mother was also elvittek. Taken away.
To many in Budapest, this would come as no surprise. Endre and Ilona Marton were a high-profile couple, intellectual celebrities. He was the Associated Press correspondent in Budapest, she reported for the rival U.P. Almost all foreign journalists had been forced to leave Hungary, but the Martons, Hungarians who spoke and wrote near-native English, seemed invulnerable. Endre Marton dressed well, smoked a pipe, drove a white Studebaker convertible and applied his Hungarian irony and wit to the gross distortions of government press releases. The Martons were welcome at the American Embassy and played bridge with American diplomats. So, they must be spies. Thus the AVO, the ferocious secret police of the Hungarian Stalinist state, was ordered to accumulate sufficient evidence of espionage so that the Martons could be arrested. It took some time, but by 1955, the AVO had what it needed.
Little wonder. As the head of the Hungarian state security archives would put it, many years later, “Everybody in your circle, whether your parents trusted or did not trust them, was informing on them.” And so they were — the governess, the dentist, the colleague. Recruited, most often (though not always) intimidated, by the AVO, they reported every contact with the Marton family. Meanwhile, AVO surveillance teams followed the Martons, bugged their telephone and opened their mail, filling file after file with the details of Kati Marton’s childhood.
With an unforeseen, to say the least, result: “Enemies of the People,” Kati Marton’s seventh book, a powerful and absolutely absorbing narrative of her parents’ journey — a series of escapes, from Hitler, from Stalin, eventually to America. Though if you think the AVO left them alone after that, you’re wrong.
Marton is a highly respected author and journalist. She has worked for ABC News as a foreign correspondent, reported for NPR, won many awards, headed the Committee to Protect Journalists and worked with the International Rescue Committee. So, some years after the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1989, when the records of secret police operations in Hungary became available, Marton knew she had to read the file (one of the biggest, it turned out) on herself and her family. It was, after years of concern for the victims of totalitarian states, her turn.
And what came next, “Enemies of the People,” has all the magnetism and, yes, the excitement, of the very best spy fiction. But would that it were fiction. Marton’s a gifted writer, and she knows about suspense. As you watch the AVO watching the Martons, as you see Endre Marton, a sophisticated and courageous man of culture, slowly crushed by interrogators in prison, you wonder when he’ll begin to cooperate, to give them what they want: names, dates, acts of espionage. There’s some of Arthur Koestler’s “Darkness at Noon” in this book, and more than a little of “The Lives of Others,” the German film about the Stasi, the East German secret police.
Here is one Dr. Leo Benko — could Graham Greene have come up with a better name? — planted by the AVO on Endre Marton as his cellmate: “I do not perceive the slightest trace of regret in him. During our first days together he was quite worked up, but lately he is rather broken in spirit and apathetic and doesn’t seem to notice anything around him. . . . In my opinion, . . . if he is still withholding any secrets, then, knowing his nature, there is only one way to force him to confess: by threatening his wife, and, even more, his children. I am certain, that if his wife and, even more, his children were placed in harm’s way, there is not a secret that he would not disclose to save them.” What Benko may not have known, and what Endre Marton certainly didn’t know, was that his wife was in a cell just floors away.
There are other villains — what else would you call him? — in this book, but there are also heroes. When the Martons are finally allowed to meet, in an office in the prison, an AVO major leaves the room, permitting them a moment of privacy (maybe). As Ilona Marton takes her husband’s hands in hers, she whispers, in English, “Darling . . . the Americans will free us.” And so they did. Though there are American villains here, including one in the embassy who spied for the Hungarians, American news media and diplomatic efforts did save their lives. But the true central character in “Enemies of the People” is surveillance itself — the operatives, the informants, the cameras and microphones — and what it becomes once committed to paper:
“Surveillance record, Aug. 27, 1954:
“10:05 a.m. [Marton] in a gray and black striped suit . . . and his two little girls left their home and got into car (license plate CA894) drove to Alkotas Utca 1, where we photographed him stepping out of the car. He then went into a stationery store with the little girls. Inside, he bought them school supplies. Ten minutes later, the little girls carrying their school supplies, Marton left the store.
“11:43 Marton drove to Gerbeaud and, after finding a table, ordered ice cream. The three consumed the above while chatting.
“12:20 p.m. Holding his children’s hands, Marton walked back to his car. They drove to Vaci Ut 7 and entered a toy shop.”
There is more of this report, then Marton writes: “To the AVO I owe a long-ago summer day, washed away by dramatic events to come. It is now restored to me.”
If Marton was able to retrieve a sweet memory of her past, she was also to discover details, intimate details, of her parents’ lives that she might well have preferred not to know. “A Pandora’s box,” the foremost historian of the AVO correctly called the Marton files. But, in the end, “Enemies of the People” becomes a treatise on human nature — at its best, at its worst — and Marton is enough of a good journalist, and a good human being, to take that for what it is: applaud the love and the heroism, deplore the cowardice and the cruelty, and go on with life. She doesn’t dwell on her feelings, but it could not have been easy for her to undertake this project. Yet, as the narrative draws to a close, she understands that the twists and turns of Europe’s brutal history can sometimes, with luck and courage, end well. And turn out to be, at least for Marton, and certainly for the reader, an honestly inspiring story.
Alan Furst’s most recent novel is “The Spies of Warsaw.”
Behind the Iron Curtain
Sunday, October 18, 2009
ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE
My Family's Journey to America
By Kati Marton
Simon & Schuster. 272 pp. $26
The family about which Kati Marton writes is her own. A moderately well-known and exceedingly well-connected print and broadcast journalist in New York, she is a native Hungarian who lived the first eight years of her life in a country under the repressive communist rule of the dictator Matyas Rakosi. She was born in 1949, the daughter of a prominent Hungarian journalist, the Associated Press correspondent Endre Marton, and his wife, Ilona, also a journalist. They were brave people who paid for their courage by being sent to prison, leaving their two young daughters to live with a family "willing to take us in for a certain monthly sum."
Marton's story, then, is one of bravery, suffering, survival and vindication. She tells it in straightforward, lucid prose -- no small accomplishment, considering that English is not her native language -- and with her emotions well under control. This is not a woe-is-me memoir of the sort so much in fashion these days, but a carefully reported, almost clinical account of what it is like to live in a totalitarian state and how hard it is to escape from it. It is much less a memoir of Marton's childhood than a joint biography of her remarkable parents.
She couldn't have written it a couple of decades ago, when Hungary was still in the orbit of the Soviet Union; it was not until later that Hungarian law made it possible for her to read "my family's files, kept by the AVO -- the dreaded Hungarian Secret Police -- in its Budapest archives." Those files, "which I read and translated from Hungarian, were my primary source for the precise details of the Terror State's twenty years of near total surveillance of our family and my parents' prison torment." She had her own memories, as well as a published memoir by her father ("The Forbidden Sky," 1971) and an unpublished one by her mother, but the AVO files were the key to making this book possible.
Marton made her first visit to the AVO archives several years ago. She was met by Katalin Kutrucz, head of the archives, who brought out the "hundreds of pages of our family file" and, "reading my thoughts," said: "Everybody in your circle, whether your parents trusted or did not trust them, was informing on them. That was just the way it was." It was a state that institutionalized informing as a way of life:
"The main instrument of Sovietization was the AVO, which reported directly to Stalin's secret services -- the NKVD and the KGB. Set up in September 1946 (in the same elegant Renaissance palazzo where I would read my parents' files), it had seventeen divisions, each with a special function. Everybody knew that the Red Army stood squarely behind the AVO, which was in effect a Soviet party within the Hungarian Communist Party. Its chief characteristic, I would learn growing up, was a brutality against which ordinary political and diplomatic actions were useless. Division One was supposed to infiltrate and control Hungarian political life, through a vast network of informers, usually recruited through intimidation. Typically, targets would be snatched from their beds late at night, and released on condition that they would become informers. This included, as I now learn, most of my family's immediate circle."
The Martons were of particular interest to the AVO because of Endre and Ilona's high positions in Budapest journalistic circles and because they were especially close to many people in the American legation there. Endre was "a fully accredited, full-time AP correspondent" while Ilona had "a similar post from the rival United Press": "My mother was a sharp observer and a witty commentator," but "she was no writer," so "unbeknownst to the wire services, my father was filing for both AP and UP." Both had "barely survived the Nazis" in World War II, yet they were not cowed by the experience:
"When the Communists took over Hungary, my parents brazenly and openly aligned themselves with the new Enemy: the Americans. How could they have taken such risks? Having outwitted the [Nazis], were they swollen with a sense of immortality? Or did they just want to enjoy life again? They were still in their thirties, full of unspent vitality, and suddenly sought after by American and British diplomats and journalists, who had come to witness the Sovietization of this unfortunate corner of Central Europe. Their English was good and their manners and bridge game even better. Having such 'powerful' friends may have given my parents a sense of invulnerability. After the stigma of being Jews in an anti-Semitic society, what a balm that must have been."
They were very good at what they did. "Your mother and father were indispensable," an American journalist told Marton. "They gave us leads that we didn't have. They were models of what journalists should be under difficult circumstances. They were bright, and had such charm and such professional integrity. We had this intimate bond. We really cared about them. We knew they were on thin ice. But they just kept on reporting." The ice grew thinner as Rakosi's government gradually expelled all Western journalists, leaving the Martons, in effect, the outside world's only reliable source of information about what was going on in Hungary.
Not surprisingly, Rakosi and his apparatchiks didn't like this one bit. They persuaded themselves that the Martons were involved in "espionage activities pursued by the American embassy," the next step being to arrest Endre in early 1955 and to interrogate him mercilessly for months on end. To be sure, he had been reckless in some of his dealings with the Americans, but he had done nothing to betray Hungary -- he was in fact a passionately patriotic Hungarian -- and was guilty of nothing. Yet eventually he began to feel himself guilty of something: "This is the ultimate triumph of totalitarianism: the victim who seeks blame for himself."
Next to go to prison was Ilona. In due time Endre was charged with being a "permanent advisor" to the Americans, and Ilona faced the "laughable" charge of "discussing the price of eggs (and meat) with the Americans," which was "a treasonable offense in Rakosi's Hungary." Endre was sentenced to six years in prison, Ilona to three. Then, with no warning, she was released and he was pardoned, probably because of intense diplomatic pressure from the West. They rejoined the girls, reclaimed their old apartment and went to work, which in November 1956 meant covering the heartbreakingly abortive Hungarian Revolution. Endre's coverage was bold and brilliant, and when the family escaped to the United States the next year he was given "a special George Polk Memorial Award for 'distinguished achievements in journalism.' " That was the beginning of a long and successful American career with the AP, working out of Washington and living with his family in Bethesda -- all the while spied upon by the AVO and its agents.
It's a terrific story, and Marton tells it very well. She deeply admires her parents but doesn't romanticize them or try to explain away their penchant for dangerous risk-taking. She isn't sure that either of them would like the book, as they didn't like their secrets told, but the reader surely will feel, as I do, that it is a powerful tribute to them.
Enemies of the People: My Family's Journey to America
Author Kati Marton
Publisher Simon & Schuster
Pages 288 pp.
Reviewed by James Hoge
Marton, an American author and award-winning journalist, recounts the harrowing experiences of her Hungarian parents under Nazi, and then communist, rule.
Marton, an American author and award-winning journalist, recounts the harrowing experiences of her Hungarian parents under Nazi, and then communist, rule. Endre and Ilona Marton were well-known journalists in Budapest, he for the Associated Press and she for United Press. By the early 1950s, they were the last permanently accredited independent journalists behind the Iron Curtain. They were arrested in 1955 after an informant in the American legation exposed Endre for transmitting a copy of the Hungarian government's 1954 budget, officially a state secret. Imprisoned in 1955 and then pardoned in 1957 by a beleaguered regime, the Martons and their two daughters, Kati and Julia, found refuge in the United States, where Endre resumed his career as a respected Associated Press correspondent, now covering the State Department. From secret police files and numerous interviews, Kati Marton re-creates the "routine terror" under which her parents lived and worked in Hungary. She reveals how her parents were "spied on and betrayed by friends, colleagues, even their children's babysitter." In short, "someone was watching them, or listening to them, during most of their waking hours. Of their private lives, there remained virtually none." Under the stressful life imposed on them, the Martons suffered some professional and personal dents in their otherwise courageous behavior. Kati Marton's gripping account of personal triumph over daunting odds is also a compelling reminder of the evil and destructive force of totalitarianism.
Escape from Hungary
by Michael Korda
Michael Korda is moved by Kati Marton’s powerful memoir, Enemies of the People, about her parents’ struggles under fascism and communism, their hidden Jewish identity, and Eastern Europe’s weighty history.
At a moment when many historians are trying to bring to the American public’s attention the Slovak government’s push to make it illegal for its substantial Hungarian minority to speak or use Magyar, their own language, it is both useful and a pleasure to read Kati Marton’s book, Enemies of the People, about the persecution and survival of her family, and to remind ourselves of the horrors of Eastern Europe. Endemic anti-Semitism, Nazi occupation and collaboration, the murder of millions of Jews, wholesale redivision of frontiers leaving large numbers of people stranded in the middle of alien and hostile populations, then Stalinist rule, with all its cruelties and stupidities, followed by “reformist” communist governments that were no better, followed finally by the end of the Cold War and an indecent rush for the riches of free-market capitalism, which plunged many people into poverty while the young, the shrewd and the tough carved out huge fortunes for themselves. In Eastern Europe the past is not only always hovering over the present, it is not even passed. It waits, like some malevolent caged beast, ready at any moment to escape and bring back all the horrors.
Kati Marton’s wonderful is a necessary reminder and antidote to this tide of history. It is a family story that reads like a good novel, with a happy ending of sorts, and at the same time a searing account of what life was like for people in Eastern Europe between the end of World War I and the fall of communism. Filled with repression, murder, lies, it was a world out of a novel by John le Carré or Graham Greene, in which your best friends betray you to the secret police, in which everybody from the hall porter to the babysitter are informers, and in which even the smallest deviation from the party’s current “line” can bring the dreaded knock on the door, the arrest, with or without torture, and a “show trial.” These are, or were, the realities of life for millions of people, and by following her own family through its experiences, and uncovering, so far as it can be uncovered, the truth of what happened, she has written not only an exciting book, a journey of discovery full of surprises and pains, but also a wonderful document of, to borrow Romain Gary’s famous phrase, “a European education.”
Although Marton and I have very different life experiences (unless you include the fact that we were awarded the honor of Commander of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary at the same ceremony), just as she did not discover that her parents were Jewish until she was 30, I did not discover that my father was Jewish until the death of his brother Zoltan (the director of Sanders of the River, The Four Feathers, and Sahara) in 1961. Like her parents, it was not that the Korda brothers were ashamed of being Jewish, they simply found it more expedient not to expose their children to yet another danger, and had learned the hard way just how high the cost of being Jewish could be in Hungary in the 1940s, under the double hammer blow of Hungarian fascism and German occupation. Marton discovered that her maternal grandparents had been sent to their death in Auschwitz in 1944, part of the more than 500,000 Hungarian Jews who were murdered there, and the gaps in my father’s side of the family among those who had stayed in Hungary were equally chilling, as was the determination of everybody to ignore those who had been killed as if they had never existed. Marton’s beloved father, a man of the utmost politeness, charm, and sophistication, was, she says, “cold” when she related this discovery to him.
How well one understands that! When someone has spent a lifetime trying to survive a death sentence—for being Jewish in Hungary, as in many other places in Europe, was a death sentence, without appeal or mercy—the last thing you want is your children uncovering what you have been at such pains to conceal. She handles wonderfully her parents’ insistence that they were not Jewish, they were Hungarian—that strange patriotism assimilated Hungarian Jews have always felt for the country, the language, the culture they loved, and their inability to separate themselves from it. Nobody has written better than Marton (in The Great Escape) about the great migration of Hungarian geniuses to the West after World War I, and the fact that so many of them were Jewish, but felt no need to cling to that inconvenient fact once they reached Paris, London, New York or Hollywood. Nobody is more sentimental about Hungary than a Hungarian who has left it behind, and Marton’s parents were no exception.
Still, the genius of her book, its readability, its fascination, is her profound love for her parents, and her deep understanding of the terrors within which they lived, and the things they had to do to survive—survive not once, but twice, first despite the Hungarian fascists and the Germans, who would have killed them as Jews, and then despite the Hungarian communist government, which wanted them silenced. The fact that both her parents were reporters for American news agencies (her father did the writing for both of them), frequented the American Embassy, drove an American car, and had a life of privilege in a “People’s Democracy” marked them down as “enemies of the people,” in the jargon of the day, and the fact that they were intelligent, civilized, well-dressed, and sophisticated only made their arrest and suffering more certain.
Marton has written a book that is honest, frank, and true—her explorations of the secret police files on her parents, the revelations that these sordid files contained, her painful reconstruction of the truth of what life was like for people in a country in which the truth is systematically forbidden, in which lies are the common currency of the state, in which murder and repression are everyday realities, in which the government is your enemy, recalls the best works of Koestler and Orwell, but contained within a family story, which remains for all its horrors, touching, life-loving, even, in its own unsentimental way, inspirational. Her parents were—one can sense it reading the book and looking at the family photos—decent, complicated, interesting, attractive people; her father, though like many other Hungarian Jews (some of them, I must confess, in my own family) hid many secrets behind an urbane façade, uncanny cosmopolitanism and an incisive intelligence, was somebody one would have wanted to know, they were in every respect a remarkable couple, and few daughters could ever have had the courage, loving them as she did, to track down so carefully every detail about their lives as Kati Marton has done, bringing them back to life both as they wanted to be known and remembered, and as they were.
New York Times bestselling author Michael Korda's books include Ike, Horse People, Country Matters, Ulysses S. Grant, and Charmed Lives.
Posted Thursday, Nov. 19, 2009
Enemies of the People: My Family’s Journey to America by Kati Marton
Simon & Schuster, $26
" 'Get into our bed,’ my mother said. As we slowly awoke, one of the searchers moved in. Like a hunter stalking big game, he sank his knife into our beat-up stuffed rocking horse. Straw spilled out of my oldest possession, as my sister and I ran to the room next door and dove into our parents’ bed. We were too dazed to ask where Papa was. Or did we know somehow? 'Elvittek,’ Hungarian for 'they took him away,’ was a word I often heard as a child. . . . So now my father had been elvittek, taken away."
Four months later, her mother was also elvittek. Taken away.
To many in Budapest, this would come as no surprise. Endre and Ilona Marton were a high-profile couple, intellectual celebrities. He was the Associated Press correspondent in Budapest, she reported for the rival United Press. Almost all foreign journalists had been forced to leave Hungary, but the Martons, Hungarians who spoke and wrote near-native English, seemed invulnerable. Endre Marton dressed well, smoked a pipe, drove a white Studebaker convertible and applied his Hungarian irony and wit to the gross distortions of government press releases.
The Martons were welcome at the American Embassy and played bridge with American diplomats. So, they must be spies. Thus the AVO, the ferocious secret police of the Hungarian Stalinist state, was ordered to accumulate sufficient evidence of espionage so that the Martons could be arrested. It took some time, but by 1955, the AVO had what it needed.
Little wonder. As the head of the Hungarian state security archives would put it, many years later, "Everybody in your circle, whether your parents trusted or did not trust them, was informing on them." And so they were — the governess, the dentist, the colleague. Recruited, most often (though not always) intimidated, by the AVO, they reported every contact with the Marton family. Meanwhile, AVO surveillance teams followed the Martons, bugged their telephone and opened their mail, filling file after file with the details of Kati Marton’s childhood.
The unforeseen result, to say the least: Enemies of the People, Kati Marton’s seventh book, a powerful and absolutely absorbing narrative of her parents’ journey — a series of escapes, from Hitler, from Stalin, eventually to America. Though if you think the AVO left them alone after that, you’re wrong.
A real-life spy movie
Marton is a highly respected author and journalist. She has worked for ABC News as a foreign correspondent, reported for NPR, won many awards, headed the Committee to Protect Journalists and worked with the International Rescue Committee. So, some years after the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1989, when the records of secret police operations in Hungary became available, Marton knew she had to read the file (one of the biggest, it turned out) on herself and her family. It was, after years of concern for the victims of totalitarian states, her turn.
And what came next, Enemies of the People, has all the magnetism and, yes, the excitement, of the very best spy fiction. But would that it were fiction. Marton’s a gifted writer, and she knows about suspense. As you watch the AVO watching the Martons, as you see Endre Marton, a sophisticated and courageous man of culture, slowly crushed by interrogators in prison, you wonder when he’ll begin to cooperate, to give them what they want: names, dates, acts of espionage. There’s some of Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon in this book, and more than a little of The Lives of Others, the German film about the Stasi, the East German secret police.
Though there are American villains here, including one in the embassy who spied for the Hungarians, American news media and diplomatic efforts did save their lives. But the true central character in Enemies of the People is surveillance itself — the operatives, the informants, the cameras and microphones — and what it becomes once committed to paper.
If Marton was able to retrieve memories of her past, she was also to discover details, intimate details, of her parents’ lives that she might well have preferred not to know. "A Pandora’s box," the foremost historian of the AVO correctly called the Marton files.
But, in the end, Enemies of the People becomes a treatise on human nature — at its best, at its worst — and Marton is enough of a good journalist, and a good human being, to take that for what it is: Applaud the love and the heroism, deplore the cowardice and the cruelty, and go on with life.
She doesn’t dwell on her feelings, but it could not have been easy for her to undertake this project. Yet, as the narrative draws to a close, she understands that the twists and turns of Europe’s brutal history can sometimes, with luck and courage, end well. And turn out to be, at least for Marton, and certainly for the reader, an honestly inspiring story.
Alan Furst’s most recent novel is "The Spies of Warsaw."
Last Updated: November 24, 2009 00:01 EST
Marton Sees Family Secrets, Father’s Love in Cold War Spy File
Review by Margaret Carlson
“Enemies of the People: My Family’s Journey to America” is published bySimon & Schuster (272 pages, $26).
Nov. 24 (Bloomberg) -- “Children cannot fully know their parents,” Kati Marton writes. She comes as close as a child ever can in her memoir “Enemies of the People” -- with the unexpected help of the Hungarian secret police.
Memoir-avoiders need not worry. There are no horrible revelations; no found memories of abuse, psychological or otherwise. Using a huge stack of documents on file in Budapest to which she gained access after her parents died, Marton concentrates on the facts as only spies can collect them.
The book is actually a biography of two fascinating people, Endre and Ilona Marton, journalists behind the Iron Curtain who became the darlings of British and American diplomats and reporters in the late 1940s and ‘50s. They went to swish parties, whisked top-down around town in a white Studebaker, and dressed their two adorable daughters in patent leather Mary Janes. They were just the kind of people the government found dangerous.
Marton’s family was full of secrets. She didn’t know they were Jewish until she was 30, or that her grandparents were killed at Auschwitz.
When she went to Budapest to look at her parents’ thick police file, she discovered more secrets -- her parents both had affairs; members of the family’s inner circle, including the nanny, were forced to become informants.
One Summer Day
She discovered a grace note in one surveillance report. The entry for August 27, 1954 begins thus:
“(Endre Marton) in a gray and black striped suit and his two little girls left their home and got into a car.”
They went to a stationery store to pick up school supplies, got back into the car and went for ice cream. At 11:43 a.m. it was noted that “the three consumed the above while chatting.”
Afterwards, “holding his children’s hands, Marton walked back to his car” and they proceeded to a toy store.
Marton rarely dwells on her feelings but here she writes: “To the AVO I owe a long-ago summer day, washed away by dramatic events to come. It is now restored to me.”
Marton didn’t need a file to recall “elvittek”: Hungarian for “they took him away.” One cold night in 1955, Kati wakes up to her mother ordering her into her parents’ bed while the police slash open her rocking horse. Her father disappears.
Four months later, “elvittek” again as her mother is arrested. The two girls are removed from home and taken in by a family paid by her parents’ friends to do so.
What gives the book added depth is the juxtaposition of Marton’s childlike view of her parents with her adult perspective. She occasionally wonders about the careless way her glamorous and complicated parents comported themselves even as they knew they were targets of the hostile regime.
“When the Communists took over Hungary, my parents brazenly and openly aligned themselves with the new Enemy: the Americans,” Marton writes. “How could they have taken such risks? Having outwitted the (Nazis), were they swollen with a sense of immortality? Or did they just want to enjoy life again?”
The book has a very happy ending. The Martons survived, saved by the Americans they’d befriended, and in 1957 came to live outside Washington, where Endre Marton worked for the Associated Press. Kati Marton became a journalist herself. Much later, she married Peter Jennings of ABC News and, after their divorce, Richard Holbrooke, a special envoy in the Obama administration.
How many of us could learn so much and yet write so clearly, unsparingly and tenderly of a subject so close? As much as any child, Marton came to fully know her parents. She’s not sure her parents would like the book. I am.
(Margaret Carlson, author of “Anyone Can Grow Up: How George Bush and I Made It to the White House” and former White House correspondent for Time magazine, is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)
The Budapest File
By James I. Lader
“Enemies of the People”
Simon and Schuster, $26
If Kati Marton had merely written the story of her family’s tribulations in the police state of Communist Hungary in the 1950s and their subsequent escape to the United States, she would have produced a very interesting book, albeit not an unusual story. In the recently published “Enemies of the People: My Family’s Journey to America,” however, the Budapest-born author has given us a great deal more. This is a complex work and a riveting read. Like the well-known Hungarian dessert Dobos torte, its many layers make it delicious.
Ms. Marton is the daughter of fascinating parents. Her father, Endre Marton, was an award-winning journalist who represented the Associated Press in Budapest, while her mother, Ilona Marton, was the representative there for United Press (as U.P.I. was then called). The senior Martons were well educated, elegant, and good looking. They moved easily in Budapest’s robust cafe society of the post-World War II years and early 1950s and were popular in the American and British diplomatic communities in the Hungarian capital.
They were unabashedly pro-West in their tastes and attitudes. As Hungary turned quickly into a grim, unforgiving Stalinist state, this made the Martons thorns in the side of the authorities. Virtually everyone around them was reporting on their every move.
At the time, the young Kati, born in 1949, would have understood none of this. In a comfortable apartment high on a Buda hill, she and her older sister played happily and dressed gaily in hand-me-down frocks from the children of American diplomats living nearby. That happy, cosseted childhood was abruptly interrupted by the arrests and imprisonment of her parents — “enemies of the people” — in 1955.
Kati and her sister were cared for by virtual strangers. The parents were released (Ilona after nearly a year, Endre after nearly two) in time to file some of the few firsthand news reports on the Hungarian uprising to reach the West in the fall of 1956. When the Soviets moved in to quell the revolution in November of that year, the Martons sought refuge at the U.S. Legation. They were spirited out of the country to safety in Austria and soon thereafter came to America, settling in suburban Washington, D.C.
A child at the time, Ms. Marton could not rely solely on her own recollections in order to compile the complete version of her family’s story. Until their deaths, Endre and Ilona Marton had remained tight-lipped about much of what had happened to them in Hungary. The author had no choice but to rely on her own, not inconsiderable skills as a researcher and reporter. In addition to interviewing people who had known her parents on both sides of the Atlantic, she obtained the voluminous files on them maintained by the AVO — the dreaded Hungarian secret police — as well as F.B.I. files (often extensively expurgated) available to her under the Freedom of Information Act.
Ms. Marton’s research enabled a personal journey of discovery that is as intriguing as her family’s actual journey of escape and resettlement. It is this subtext that distinguishes her book. Perhaps the most stunning revelation to the author, during the course of her research, was the offhand remark by a third party that her maternal grandparents were Jews who had been killed at Auschwitz. She had been brought up with no idea of this, having been told only that her grandparents had died during the war. It took Ms. Marton a long time to understand her parents’ need to let go of certain aspects of their pasts in order to move forward with their own lives and protect their daughters from fear.
Almost as shocking to the author was her discovery that, long after her parents had settled happily and successfully in the U.S., the Communist government of Hungary maintained a dossier on them, with the intent of recruiting one or both of the Martons as spies. The depth and intricacies of cold war espionage — on both sides — are effectively exposed here.
“Enemies of the People” is at once many things. It is an intimate glimpse of life in postwar and cold war Budapest, with insights into both Western and Communist mind-sets. It is a portrayal of the cat-and-mouse game that played out globally between East and West after the defeat of Nazi Germany and until the downfall of the Soviet Union. It is a portrait of a dashing, heroic couple whose lives could be the stuff of great cinema.
Above all, however, this well-written book documents the author’s careful efforts to claim the story that is her birthright. Of the departure for Vienna in 1957, she writes: “The Marton family’s nearly one hundred years in Budapest had come to this: we could hardly wait to leave. I remember jumping up and down with wild abandon on the rolled-up Persian carpets, our grandparents’ legacy that we were leaving behind. It felt as if our lives were just about to begin. My sister and I were each allowed one suitcase with the clothes and toys of our choice. An entire ‘sentimental’ suitcase was filled with photo albums and family memorabilia.”
Over the ensuing years, Kati Marton came to understand that the contents of that latter piece of luggage were insufficient to tell her who she was, what and where she came from. Her curiosity and her need to find out have produced an admirable and compelling book.
Kati Marton’s previous book was “The Great Escape: Nine Jews Who Fled Hitler and Changed the World.” She has a house in Southampton.
A retired teacher of American history and English, James I. Lader is a weekend resident of East Hampton.
March 30, 2010
The Millions Interview: Kati Marton
In her new book, Enemies of the People: My Family’s Journey to America, Kati Marton tells the story of her parents, Endre and Ilona, who were, for a very brief moment after Hungary’s 1956 revolution, among the most famous anti-communist dissidents in the world. Both were journalists working for Western wire services and quite open about their pro-American sympathies while living in Hungary under the Stalinist dictatorship of Mátyás Rákosi in the late 1940s and early 1950s. They were jailed and tortured, only to be released a few short months before the revolution. After the revolution failed, and thanks to the assistance of key contacts across the Iron Curtain, the family made their way to the states, where they eventually settled down to a quiet life in Bethesda, a Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C. The book is structured with all the slow reveals of a good suspense novel and Marton herself calls it “one of the rare cold war thrillers with a happy ending.”
Marton has had a distinguished career as a journalist at ABC and NPR, and since retiring from the profession, has written a series of histories aimed at a popular audience. She has two children from a previous marriage to Peter Jennings. We spoke by phone on Feb. 24, she in Washington, me a few miles away in Maryland. She was in town to see her husband, Richard Holbrooke, who had just returned from a trip to Afghanistan. What follows is a slightly pared-down version of our full conversation.
The Millions: The history of children of freedom fighters is a long story of children on some level resenting their parents, feeling their parents have given themselves over to a cause while neglecting their roles as parents. But your book is very much a love letter to your father and mother. Even at the points of greatest tension in your parents’ lives, they’re teaching you and your sister how to ski and comforting you when you’re sick. But is there a part of you then, or at anytime of your life, or now, that resents your parents for putting themselves at so much risk, thus risking you growing up without parents?
Kati Marton: The essential mystery of my childhood, one of the reasons I had to go back and had to get into the secret police files after both my parents passed away four years ago, was that very question: “Why did they take such risk?” And I have to say that I owe the Hungarian Secret Police [AVO] — one of the world’s worst, most treacherous bodies — the answer to that question, because as a result of 20 years of absolutely relentless surveillance I now understand my parents much more. I now understand their motives much more.
I do not hold my parents up as models of parenting. I’m a parent myself and I don’t think I would have made some of the calls that they made, specifically signing up with the Americans from the beginning of the cold war when that was just the most dangerous thing that any Hungarian could do. And then being very flagrant about their support of America in the cold war while working as Hungarians behind the Iron Curtain, behind enemy lines. I don’t think I would have had the courage or, frankly, the recklessness to do that. But I understand why they did that and although, as you say, the book is a, I’m hoping, loving portrait of my parents, it’s also an honest one and an unvarnished one. I think they come across as very human, and their motives very mixed, as all our motives are. They were not saints by any measure.
In my younger days I had them on a much higher pedestal. Now I feel like, “I get these people. I get their motives.” And they are people that I hugely admire and would have liked to have known even if they had not been my parents because they’re so interesting as characters… But I don’t think the book is just a big wet kiss to my parents. I think I tried very hard to be straight and to look at them with straight eyes and above all not to be too sentimental in my judgments of them.
TM: Near the beginning of the book you go into some detail about your father’s complicated feelings towards his Jewish background.
TM: That story, by the way, is a very common one among Holocaust survivors. Part of the way they managed to survive the Holocaust was to emotionally divorce themselves from their Jewishness.
KM: Yes, can I just jump in there? Neither of my parents were brought up in the Jewish faith. And they came of age in a period of European history when religion — this was before Hitler — when religion was not very important. Science and reason and knowledge were the new gods of the early 20th century. And they frankly considered religion, any kind of religion, as kind of backward mumbo jumbo. Neither of them had any roots in the Jewish faith. They identified themselves not as people of faith but as Hungarians, very proud Hungarians, which they were until Hitler’s brand of fanaticism made it impossible not to embrace a religion that they didn’t feel very close to at the beginning. So they never had comfort from their faith. They weren’t religious people. And they didn’t see any reason to apologize for that. They were both intellectuals. They each had a Ph.D. And I think that they were so marked by the Holocaust and the speed with which their own countrymen turned on Jews — even Jews who had converted to Christianity as my parents had — that I think for the rest of their lives they were suffering from post-traumatic shock.
TM: You don’t fully accept that they don’t tell you about your Jewish background until you’re well into adulthood.
KM: I don’t. That’s one of the aspects of the complex characters that are my parents that I don’t respect, I don’t agree with. And I think in the end they admitted they made a mistake by withholding some information so fundamental from their children…
TM: Is there a reason why you chose to put that discussion at the beginning of your book? That fact shadows much of the rest of the book even though you don’t constantly bring it up.
KM: I thought it was important to give their background but I heartily disagree with you. This is a book about terror and surveillance and how the terror state functioned… which is by fear, which is by implicating the whole population, making everybody in a sense complicit in the way that it turned even our closest friends and relatives into informers. I think that is the theme. And how these two people, my mother and father, survived. More than survived. They survived with their heads held high. They survived the very brief but very brutal Hungarian Holocaust which was really just the last six months of the war. And then survived a maximum-security communist prison with their humanity intact, so much so, that they came to this country and began new lives at an advanced age – they were both well into their 40’s – and started a new life, and raised very optimistic children.
The arc of the story is how they hit rock bottom under the most brutal treatment. In my father’s case, twice trying to commit suicide. It’s a very shattering thing for his child, namely me, to read about that. And their marriage is also on the brink when they’re arrested. In fact, my mother always used to say, “Well, prison saved our marriage.” And I never understood what she meant by that, but now I do because I see they were both involved with other people when they were arrested and then in prison they actually observed each other’s courage. They fell in love all over again. They got out of prison. They had a) a new marriage and my younger brother is the product of that reunion and b) we began our odyssey to America, which has had a really happy ending. I mean I’m talking to you today because they were people who were so forward-looking. Unlike many people from that part of the world who are really imprisoned by their history, my parents were not.
TM: You talk about your parents’ affairs. It’s rare to read descriptions of someone’s parents’ paramours without that much bitterness. I’m somewhat amazed reading your book that you seem to actually like their lovers.
KM: First of all, I started working on this book, as I said, after they passed away full of outrage and judgment. “How could our babysitter betray us?” “How could this one do that?” “How could even our dentist be an informer?” And, you know what, by the end of reading thousands of pages of surveillance records and more and more I asked myself how would I have behaved under similar terrifying circumstances.
My parents whispered to each other late at night, “What will become of my little girls?” They were expecting that midnight knock on the door, that terrifying knock on the door, that eventually came. So I became much more judgment-free, much less full of outrage, much more admiring of people who could survive with their humanity intact. And I tell you something: I’m not a kid myself. I’m at a stage in my life where I am much more understanding of human frailties. Because I’m so full of human frailties. And I was quite pleased to read that both my father and mother had some happy memories, thanks to the affairs, to take with them to their cells. Their marriage had hit a low point and both my parents were astonishingly attractive people and there were many temptations for them and they succumbed. Not the first people in the world to have succumbed to such temptations. But in their case, they had more excuses to want to escape their reality. They were living in a giant prison even before they were in prison: their every step followed, their every conversation recorded. They were living in a terror state.
There was nothing small or narrow-minded about my parents and all of that I am the beneficiary of. And, for sure, I have made my life choices and my career choices — first to become a reporter, then to become an author — based on their example. And certainly the work I do for Human Rights Watch and for the Committee to Protect Journalists are my great passions. I owe them those values. No, I’m not the child of a couple of monks.
TM: You draw a portrait of the American diplomatic circle in Hungary at the time. And it sounds a lot like what the U.S. Interest Section in Cuba must be like now.
KM: Yes, I imagine.
TM: There were very limited places where you could go. And yet, the vast majority of the people there tended to behave very sanely. I kept on thinking when you mentioned the betrayer who lived inside the embassy, who turned in your father, that in those circumstances, someone had to crack.
KM: It was a shock to discover that it was actually an American who provided the key evidence that led to my parents’ arrest. And he did crack. He was caught in what John Le Carré would call a honeypot, that is to say a compromising position with a beautiful agent who then photographed the affair. The man had a wife and a couple of kids and so he was blackmailed. But I did a lot of research on diplomats of the day, of the cold war, and they all said you were trained in those days to immediately go to the chief of mission, the ambassador, and say, “I’m sorry, sir, but I’ve been caught. In a thoughtless moment, I succumbed to human weakness.” And you were guaranteed passage out of the country.
But this man, who is no longer with us, chose another route. He didn’t tell the ambassador. He continued his post and he continued gathering evidence against my parents to keep his shame secret. In other words, he paid off the blackmailers. But you know, there’s always going to be weak people, and in times, such as this period, the cold war, people really were tested, as they were during the Holocaust. It’s all very well and good for us living in relatively — relatively I underscore — peaceful and relatively prosperous times. It’s all very well for us to have iron judgments of people but until you’re really tested– as my parents were — it’s really arrogant, I think, to make such harsh judgments.
This is not to say that I’m not judgmental of this particular individual. He betrayed my parents to save his own career. He didn’t succeed in the end. He was booted out of the Army and never drew a pension. But the Army is very protective of its own so there was never any publicity about his treachery.
TM: There’s a book that I would not be surprised to find out that you’ve read. It was a history of the 1956 revolution and it came out about three years ago, called Twelve Days by Victor Sebestyen.
KM: Yes, I read it. It’s very good.
TM: In it, Sebestyen talks about how it continues to haunt him that teenagers were given guns and Molotov cocktails during the 1956 revolution. And it’s the one fact about the revolution that he can’t really abide to this day. Those teenagers with Molotov cocktails make an appearance in your book without too much judgment. And I’m curious to know what your actual feelings are about that.
KM: I think the difference between Mr. Sebestyen’s account and mine is a very key fact: I was there. I lived through those days and the days and years that preceded it. I lost my parents for — in my father’s case — two years to this revolting regime. He is writing from a detached, more academic position, where it’s much easier to expect high standards of conduct and good planning and rational behavior.
The revolution was an absolutely spontaneous eruption of emotion. In my neighborhood, I saw these teenagers. They were our new heroes. These teenagers were not drummed into service the way child soldiers are in so many places around the world today. They lined up to play a role in what they saw as a historic opportunity, a historic moment, in their country’s long oppressed history, to fight the hated Soviet occupier. There were no plans to recruit teenagers. And, by the way, they were not little kids. They were, I think in most instances, 16, 17, 18, 19 years old. And Time magazine made the Hungarian Freedom Fighter the Man of the Year that year. So I think, of course there’s room and need for the historian’s judgment of these kinds of events. But it’s equally important to have the human story. And mine is the human story, the human cost of the cold war, with all its messiness, imperfections and “Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if they had had a trained army ready to go?” and “Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if the West had dispatched just a little bit of help at this the first uprising against the Soviet empire?”
But none of that happened. These kids, you couldn’t stop these kids. They were so full of hate. They had been oppressed their entire lives. From nursery school on, we were trained to love those distant gods in the Kremlin: Stalin, Lenin, later Khrushchev. And nobody thought that those were our heroes, our leaders. We had to learn Russian. We had to learn marching songs. In my case, I had to watch the Hungarian Secret Police drag my parents away. So kids grow up really fast in that kind of a system. At age six I already knew what I could say outside our apartment, and what I couldn’t. Sometimes I made mistakes. (laughs) As Enemies of the People relates sometimes it could be confusing. All I am saying is let’s not let the historian’s accounts and judgments be the only ones that we pay attention to.
TM: You mention a meeting with Cardinal Mindszenty, who was one of the most famous cold war dissidents. And you portray him as an incredibly stolid, old-school stark “Catholic to the Catholic degree” figure. It’s strange to meet this figure who doesn’t even smile in his freedom-fighting mode. How does that memory of him color your view of him as an adult?
That was how he was. He was a dark, stubborn, not a charismatic figure. He was
not a martyr of the church. He confessed to being a CIA agent when he had the
option of not confessing to false charges. By the way, my parents also confessed
to being CIA agents, because of what we today call enhanced interrogation. They
were submitted to Abu Ghraib-style interrogation. And they reached their
breaking point. In my mother’s case they broke her by withholding information
about her children.
Which is I think about as cruel a technique as anyone could devise.
But to return to Mindszenty. My description of him is through a child’s eyes. And that’s how he was. He hardly ever smiled. He was not a beloved figure. But he suffered in prison and then he became a huge encumbrance to the West in the Cold War because he did not leave the American embassy. He actually occupied the American ambassador’s office for I believe 15 years until he was spirited out. But he was not a warm or loving man of the cloth. He was stern. There was an almost peasant-like stubbornness about him.
TM: Now that you’re an adult -
TM: – you see similar events from another side. Not just because you are an American, but because you are married to Richard Holbrooke. You are moving in similar circles to those your father and mother were witnessing from the outside. Did that color you at all when you were writing this book?
KM: If you asked Richard Holbrooke he would say that his view of the world was colored by my writing this book. Because he was a source of great support for me. This was sometimes a very painful process when I came across a revelation of just how brutal my parents’ treatment at the hand of the communists was. Sometimes I felt like quitting because I felt like I had become one of the army of watchers who were watching my parents. And Richard would say, “No this is important. This is important beyond your family. This is important for history. You got to keep at it.” Richard and I sustain each other in our various careers with support and advice and criticism. He’s my first reader. I’m his first reader. It’s an invaluable partnership for both in what we do. I was with him in Dayton when he was negotiating the peace in the Balkans. When he was ambassador to the United Nations, we traveled all over.
On one trip, I’ll give you an example, we went to 11 African countries and both of us were transformed by that. That’s when he became totally focused on the problem of AIDS and made it an item for the Security Council. The first time that health was put on that agenda. And so on. So it’s a full partnership. And he did not have much familiarity with Central Europe before he met me. And he certainly does now. So I would reverse the influence. In this process he would tell you that it was a revelation for him. But it’s a fact that I’ve had a very fortunate exposure, a very privileged exposure to policy-making at the highest levels. It’s been a real interesting ride, I would say.
Paul Morton has worked as a cultural journalist in Vietnam, Bulgaria and Latvia. He also completed a Fulbright fellowship in Budapest, where he researched Hungary's communist-era animation industry. He currently lives in Minneapolis.
February 13, 1984, vol. 21, n.º 6
Peter Jennings Had a Lot of Miles on Him Before Wife Kati Made Him a Stay-at-Home
By Jane Hall
When Kati Marton arrived in London in 1977 en route to her job in Germany as an
ABC reporter, she was already wary of Peter Jennings, then the network's dashing
chief foreign correspondent. With his well-tailored trench coat and manicured,
movie-star looks, the newsman had a solid reputation as a globe-trotting
heartbreaker. "Everywhere I went for ABC, I met women with terrible Peter
Jennings stories to tell," says Marton, 35. "I didn't want to be one of them."
Despite such intentions, Marton grew attracted to Jennings, now the anchorman on ABC's World News Tonight. Accepting his "innocent" (so he claims) invitation to a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta, she discovered a man wholly unlike the brash womanizer she had expected. Underneath his formal speech and elegant attire "he was not at all like James Bond." Recalls Kati: "He was a rural-born Canadian with incredible energy and a childlike curiosity about the world."
Jennings was similarly smitten with the cosmopolitan Marton. "I was impressed by her brisk stride and her rich mind," he says of that night. "She could talk intelligently about every subject from politics to literature." After a two-year, long-distance romance (he flew to Bonn from London nearly every weekend to be with her), they married in London. Jennings, 45, once wed to childhood sweetheart Valerie Godsoe and later to photographer Annie Malouf, seems to have met his permanent match. "I regret my mistakes in my previous marriages," he says, "but now I can't imagine being married to anyone but Kati." Observes CBS newsman Tom Fenton, a longtime friend of Jennings: 'They're both sincere people, there's no 'side' to them, as the British say. And they have a very romantic relationship."
After 15½ years as a roving correspondent (he was London-based for seven-and-a-half years), Jennings was summoned home last summer to fill in for ailing anchorman Frank Reynolds. Three weeks after Reynolds died, Jennings officially won the job. This was his second chance at one of the most glamorous desk jobs in TV journalism and, at $900,000 a year, certainly one of the most lucrative. Once criticized for being too erudite to play in Peoria, Jennings' on-air style now is strictly no-nonsense as he wages his beautiful-head-to-beautiful-head ratings race with CBS's aggressive Dan Rather and NBC's folksy Tom Brokaw.
Jennings downplays the "unnecessary hoopla" surrounding the anchorman's job but concedes that viewers' allegiances can mean millions in advertising revenues. "This is a personality-oriented medium," he says. "Whatever my qualifications as a journalist, I can't control how people will respond to me on TV." So far they seem to be responding well. Historically mired in last place, ABC has been slugging it out with NBC for second place since 1981, and Jennings is credited with beefing up the network's foreign coverage. "I'd like to beat the competition," he says. "But if ABC decides after a year and a half that this isn't working, I can always go back to reporting."
Kati, an accomplished writer, gave up a promising career as an on-camera reporter when they married, and bridles when labeled Mrs. Peter Jennings. Her first book, Wallenberg, published in 1982, was a highly praised account of the Swedish diplomat who rescued thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Nazis before mysteriously disappearing at the end of World War II. Her next book, a political novel set in Eastern Europe, is due out at the end of this year, and she contributes a regular column to the London Sunday Times. "It's sort of a New York journal," she explains.
While writing remains her professional passion, raising their children, Elizabeth, 4, and Christopher, 1, is her private one. "This may date me as a feminist," she says, "but I think that at this stage, somebody should be home with the children."
The Jennings are clearly enjoying their status as one of New York's most sought-after couples, but Kati is more at ease in the social swirl. "I'm self-conscious at parties," admits Jennings. "My idea of a great time is dinner alone with Kati." Once reluctant to move to New York, he rides the bus to work and finds the city "friendlier and more neighborly" than he expected. The couple lives in an East Side five-story brownstone, which they rent from Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin. "I'm a street-corner talker," Jennings observes. "It's rather nice to have someone yell, 'Hi, Pete.' " Still, Kati misses the anonymity of London, where American TV journalists can roam unnoticed. "In New York every outing is a public one," she says. "I get impatient sometimes with Peter because he doesn't know how to be friendly but cut it short." To escape from the pressures of his high-stakes job, the family retreats each weekend to a sprawling rented house on Long Island. "That's where we really relax," says Kati. Peter's week-night sartorial splendor gives way to his "total slob" look of an old pair of khaki shorts, work socks and a sweater.
Like many modern fathers, Peter is taking an intense interest in raising his offspring. Elizabeth is a "regular fixture" in his Manhattan newsroom, and Christopher blurts out "Daddy!" when he sees Jennings' image on TV. But Peter is conscious of not letting his professional standing go to their heads. When Elizabeth pasted a newspaper ad featuring her father's picture onto the refrigerator, Peter replaced it with the children's drawings. "That's what belongs there," he says.
"This is an arrogant thing to say, but I'm terrific with children," Jennings continues. "Diapering came naturally to me." Friends say family life has mellowed him. "At 40, he had a tremendous desire to be a father," says Tom Fenton. Indeed, Jennings becomes an old softy when he talks about his children. "I used to be a guy who took the office home with me," he says. "One day I remember coming home and seeing Elizabeth's tiny hand reaching out to me through the bars of her crib. The office was forgotten."
The son of Charles Jennings, a prominent Canadian broadcaster, Peter was to the anchor born, in Toronto. At age 10, he had his own radio show, Peter's Program. A dismal student, he dropped out of high school to become a radio reporter in Brockville, Ont., and in 1962 he became a co-anchor of a Canadian TV news show. In 1964, with little reporting experience, he was hired by youth-crazed ABC and months later became, at 26, the youngest person ever to anchor a network newscast. "I was the youngest one around who had all his adult teeth," wisecracks Jennings. His ego inflated, and he became the object of sniping from TV critics and his more seasoned colleagues. But after three years Jennings, to his credit, asked for a new assignment. He spent the next 15½ years earning his broadcasting pinstripes as a correspondent and the foreign-desk anchorman for ABC. His deft coverage of world hot spots, including the Iranian hostage crisis and the terrorist takeover of the 1972 Munich Olympics, helped build his reputation among his peers. "In a job that is 90 percent showbiz, Peter is 80 percent journalist," says one colleague. Observes Kati: "Peter's looks were almost like a hunchback to him. He tried twice as hard as his colleagues, just to overcome his image. Now he knows that he's the anchor because he has the experience and skills for the job." Besides, she adds, "He's gotten bags under his eyes, and he's lost a little hair, which I find very appealing."
Kati, daughter of Hungarian journalists Endre and Ilona Nyilas Marton, was born in Budapest and "grew up to the music of typewriters." Her father was the Hungarian correspondent for the Associated Press, her mother for United Press. In 1955 Kati's parents were convicted on trumped-up charges of being CIA spies and imprisoned. Kati, then 7, and her sister Julia, 9, now deputy director of the International Council of Scientific Unions in Paris, were placed in a home for children of political prisoners. "I'm pretty conservative on the Soviets," she says. "There's nothing more graphic than seeing your parents taken away."
Shortly before the Hungarian revolt in 1956, her parents were released during a political thaw, and in 1957 the fannerisms gave her the "aura of a refugee." She graduated from George Washington University in1 with a master's degree in international affairs and worked for National Public Radio in Washington before becoming a TV reporter for the CBS affiliate in Philadelphia. "People ask if I have yearnings to go back to TV," she says, "but I think I've gotten it out of my system. For me, writing is much riskier—and more rewarding." Jennings is very much a fan of his wife's work: "She could write three stories in a taxi between the airport and the news bureau."
For the moment the family is adjusting well to a frantic life-style. "We're living our lives on fast forward," says Kati. That's partly because when a network beckons, it's awfully hard to say no. "However much people may denigrate the anchor slot, the truth is it's a big job—and there are only three of them," she observes. "The only drawback is that you lose little pieces of yourself to it." Jennings, however, has not yet lost the romantic flourishes that punctuated their courtship. When a recent out-of-town assignment forced him to miss the weekend family get-together, he sent Kati a large bouquet of lilies, irises and roses. The gesture did not go unappreciated. "I was so touched," she says, laughing, "that I went out and took his dirty shirts to the laundry."
August 20, 1993, Vol. 40, n.º 9
End of a Marriage
By Shelley Levitt
After 14 Turbulent Years, Peter Jennings and His Wife, Kati Marton, Decide to Separate
HE HAD COVERED THE 1979 HOSTAGE crisis in Iran, reported live from the Munich
Olympics of 1972, when terrorists murdered 11 Israeli athletes, and stayed on
the air for nearly 12 straight hours when the space shuttle Challenger exploded
seven years ago. But on Aug. 13, Peter Jennings was on vacation—camping in his
native Canada with his son, Christopher, 9, and daughter, Elizabeth, 13—when
perhaps the biggest story of his own life hit the wires. After 14 years of
marriage and two children, the 55-year-old anchor of ABC's World News Tonight
and writer Kati Marton, 44, were separating.
Columnist Liz Smith, a friend of Jennings's, broke the news with a sympathetic spin. "Kati and Peter," she wrote, "have asked us to stress that there is no third party involved on either side."
The couple's request for such a disclaimer wasn't surprising. Six years ago, they split up briefly, following Marton's affair with Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen. The highly publicized fling, some media insiders say, was less a romance than an act of comeuppance, retaliation by Marton for Jennings's numerous reported dalliances. But though Jennings would describe his wife's wandering as "the worst thing that ever happened to me," he is now reported to be involved with an attractive TV news producer in her early 30s who once worked on his nightly broadcast.
Marton knew about Jennings's reputation before she ever met him. In 1977, when she was on her way to take a job in Bonn as an ABC reporter, Marton stopped in London, where Jennings was the network's bureau chief. "Everywhere I went," she said later, "I met women with terrible Peter Jennings stories to tell. I didn't want to become one of them." But when the dashing correspondent asked her out, she accepted. By their third date, they were engaged.
At least one close friend of the couple's calls Jennings's latest rumored affair "an irrelevancy." This source says the unraveling of the marriage—Jennings's third, Marton's second—can be traced to the restlessness of Marton. The Budapest-born daughter of Hungarian journalists, who were imprisoned on false charges that they were CIA agents when she was 7, Marton has written a novel, An American Woman, and two acclaimed works of investigative journalism since she left ABC 13 years ago. "Kati's the one who instigated the separation," the friend says. "She wants to seize her life, be a woman on her own." Her decision has reportedly left the anchorman deeply saddened. As he told a reporter just last year, "My wife is the most interesting woman I've ever known, and I've known an awful lot of them."
LAKE PLACID NEWS
February 15, 2010
An old saw holds that, if you live long enough, the past will catch up with
In my column last week, I reflected on the documentary “Killing Kasztner: The Jew Who Dealt With Nazis,” and described my involvement in the rescue effort undertaken by Kasztner, in Budapest during World War II.
An event that took place decades ago, has emerged from the shadows. A new book, “Enemies of the People: My Family’s Journey to America,” by Kati Marton, has brought forth more memories from the past.
In early 1996, Richard Holbrooke, the architect of the Bosnian Peace Accord, who currently serves as President Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, visited Williamsburg to accept an award.
I interviewed him at the Williamsburg Inn. The subject came up of how his wife, Kati Marton, the former ABC-TV bureau chief in Germany who chaired an organization dedicated to the protection of the rights of journalists, managed to prevail upon Yugoslav President Milosevic to arrange the release of an American journalist detained by murderous Bosnian Serbs.
I mentioned to Holbrooke that I had known his father-in-law, Endre Marton, when he was an Associated Press correspondent in Hungary. I met him during Cardinal Mindszenty’s show-trial in Budapest.
“So, you have known Andor in Budapest?” Holbrooke said, using his father-in-law’s Hungarian nickname. “He is larger than life.”
Endre Marton has since died and his daughter, Kati, has written a riveting book about her parent’s extraordinary life. Her father, and mother, who was a journalist with the United Press, were the only accredited foreign correspondents remaining in communist Hungary. Their fearless reporting from behind the Iron Curtain was legendary.
In her book, Marton describes with great eloquence the life of her family in Communist ruled Hungary. It was a thrilling life, wrought with danger. The journalistic integrity of her parents, as reflected in their reporting, made them prime targets for retribution by the secret police.
“All my life, my parents’ defiance of the Communists, their stubborn courage as the last independent journalists behind the Iron Curtain until their arrest, trial, and conviction as CIA spies, has been at the core of our family identity.” Marton writes.
She describes how one night in 1955, following a game of bridge at the home of the U. S. military attaché, her father was abducted by six agents of the secret police. Four months later, her mother was arrested as well. Her father had been sentenced to six years in prison and her mother got three years on charges of espionage.
As a result of diplomatic pressure from the West, a year later the Martons were released from prison and rejoined their two young daughters, Kati and Juli, in Budapest. They went back to work, reporting on the abortive Hungarian Revolution in 1956. After it was crushed by Soviet tanks, Mr. Marton finally obtained permission to leave Hungary with his family. They arrived in the United States as refugees.
Decades later, and 20 years after the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe, Kati Marton gained access to the files in the archives of AVO, Communist Hungary’s secret police. “You are opening a Pandora’s box,” she was warned.
She reports in her book that the head of the archives said, “Everybody in your circle, whether your parents trusted or did not trust them, was informing on them. That was just the way it was.”
Kati Marton grew up in the United States and at one point poses the question: “Why did my parents take such a risk?” Than she quotes her father: “As an American, you can’t fully understand how conditions in a totalitarian state affect people’s choices and shape their lives.”
Frank Shatz lives in Williamsburg, Va. and Lake Placid. His column was reprinted with permission from The Virginia Gazette.