Hungarian Actress Recognized by Yad Vashem for Saving Jews

Katalin Karady, one of the most popular actresses in Hungary in the 1940s, has been recognized by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial as a Righteous Gentile for her efforts to save Jews during World War II. The award ceremony was organized by the Israeli Embassy in Hungary and held at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest.

Born in Budapest in 1912, Karady was an American-style star in the 1940s, playing mysterious, erotically radiant female characters in many Hungarian films. She was compared to Marlene Dietrich, not just for her screen presence but for the anti-Nazi feelings the two shared.

In 1942 Karady was put on trial for her efforts to bring Georg Denes, her Jewish songwriter, back from the Russian front, where he was in a forced-labor battalion.

Karady was arrested and tortured together with her lover, Istvan Ujszaszy, after the Germans occupied Hungary in 1944. Ujszaszy, a general in the Hungarian army, was a secret agent working for the British and Allied forces against the Germans, and is believed to have been the model for the main character in the novel “The English Patient.”

Karady and Ujszaszy were held in jail for about half a year. When released, Karady succeeded in saving a group of Jewish children who were to be shot by the banks of the Danube River by bribing Hungarian fascists with her gold jewelry. She sheltered the children in her apartment until Budapest was liberated in January 1945.

After the war Karady played in only one movie, and left Hungary in 1949. She lived first in Brazil and later moved to New York, where she worked in a small hat shop until she died in 1990.

Though she continued to be well-known in the Hungarian community in the United States, Karady rarely accepted stage appearances after moving to the United States. Her success was tied mostly to her songs, as her unique, husky singing voice helped popularize movie hits on thousands of gramophone records.

Her famous song, “I’m Your Destiny,” still is sung in Hungary, and the movie “Lethal Spring” is still shown. A recent Hungarian film on Karady’s life was a great hit.

Karady planned to return to Budapest after the collapse of the Communist regime, but she died before her plan could be realized.

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