Catholic nun, Margit Slachta, the first female member of the Hungarian parliament who rescued Jews in World War II and who later died in the United States in 1974, was reburied in Budapest’s Fiume Street cemetery on Tuesday.
Slachta was born in Kassa (Košice) in 1884. In 1920 she became the first woman to be elected to the Hungarian diet (the National Assembly at the time). In 1908 Slachta joined a religious community, the Society of the Social Mission. In 1923, she founded the Sisters of Social Service, who were well known throughout Hungary for nursing, midwifery, and orphanage services, in addition to the schools the community opened.
Slachta began to publish articles opposing anti-Jewish measures in her newspaper, Voice of the Spirit, as the first anti-Jewish laws were passed in Hungary in 1938 (not counting numerus clausus in which Jews were not mentioned, although the legislation aimed to reduce the number of students of Jewish origin in universities). After the government suppressed her newspaper, Slachta continued to publish it “underground.” She also stepped up when deportations of the Jews of Csíkszereda (Miercurea Ciuc) began in the autumn of 1940. Thanks to her intervention, the deportation was halted and the detainees were released.
Slachta also sheltered the persecuted, protested forced labor and anti-semitic laws, and went to Rome in 1943 to encourage papal action against the Jewish persecutions, which reportedly resulted in the halt of deportation of the Jews in Slovakia.
When in 1941, 20,000 were deported, Slachta protested to the wife of Admiral Horthy. As the Nazis occupied Hungary in 1944, and commenced wide-scale deportations of Jews, Slachta’s sisters arranged baptisms in the hope it would spare people from deportation, sent food and supplies to the Jewish ghettos, and sheltered people in their convents. One of Slachta’s sisters, Sára Salkaházi was executed by the Arrow Cross, and Slachta herself was beaten and only narrowly avoided execution.
The sisters eventually rescued probably more than 2,000 Hungarian Jews. For her efforts and bravery, Yad Vashem institute recognized Slachta as Righteous Among the Nations in 1985.
She returned to the Parliament following the 1945 elections. On January 31, 1946, she was the only MP to vote against the declaration of a republic, arguing that an issue of this magnitude can only be decided after Hungary has regained its sovereignty, and not by a vote in the Parliament.
Her activities in the National Assembly after 1945 were largely dedicated to the defense of the Church’s and religion’s freedom.
One of her most well-known incidents was in June 1948, when Parliament decided to nationalize church schools and she remained seated during the National Anthem after the vote. She came under attack several times afterwards and was twice banned from parliament for six months.
Finally, in the summer of 1949, her and her sister left for Austria, then soon after went to the United States. There she was also involved in helping refugees of the 1956 Revolution. She died in Buffalo, NY on January 6, 1974.
Cardinal Péter Erdő, the Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest, who celebrated the reburial ceremony, said that Slachta “represented in words and in action” the notion of Christian love. She supported the poor and rescued the prosecuted during the Second World War and dared to speak in parliament against the new tyranny that started after the war, he added.
Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén (of co-ruling KDNP – Christian Democrats) said it was an obligation for the Hungarian state and government to organize the return of ashes of Hungarians who rest in a foreign land for various reasons.
“Along with social-democrat Anna Kéthly, she was one of the truest people of the last century, testimony to the fact that courageous defense of human dignity is not at all men’s prerogative. From today on, her body rests in Hungarian soil. I hope her spirit has returned with her too,” Budapest mayor Gergely Karácsony, co-leader of leftist-green Párbeszéd, commented.
featured image via Zsolt Szigetváry/MTI