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Israel posthumously honors couple who saved Clearwater man during Holocaust

A Hungarian couple risked their lives to shelter Alexander Szegedy, 88, of Clearwater during WWII. “They are forever etched in my heart,” he said.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

A Hungarian couple risked their lives to shelter Alexander Szegedy, 88, of Clearwater during WWII. “They are forever etched in my heart,” he said.

Alexander Szegedy was a nervous young man when he arrived at the train station in Budapest on Dec. 4, 1944.

The 22-year-old had just escaped from a labor camp in Hungary and Nazis were still scouring the streets for Jews. He needed to find somewhere safe to stay.

After picking up his fiancee, Edith Lajta, at her parents' house, Szegedy made his way to the one house in Budapest where he hoped he'd be welcome — 13 Szekszardi in the city's 13th district. It was the home of Orban and Irma Stuzziero, a Christian couple whose son had married Szegedy's sister.

"He was very surprised to see me," Szegedy, now 88, recalled in a telephone interview from Clearwater, where he has lived for 32 years. "He invited us in and let us stay in their house."

The Stuzzieros had Jewish friends and were already under suspicion from their neighbors and local Nazis who had searched their home to see whether they were harboring Jews.

Despite the enormous risk to themselves and their family, the couple allowed Szegedy and his fiancee to remain in their home for almost a month, until the Soviets drove the Germans from Budapest.

When the news of the liberation made its way to 13 Szekszardi, Orban Stuzziero wrapped his arms around the young Szegedy and said: "You are a free man."

"Yes, uncle, we are free and thanks to you and your family, we are alive," a tearful Szegedy replied.

On Monday, 65 years after sheltering Szegedy that December day, the Stuzzieros were posthumously honored in Montreal for their selfless act. The state of Israel bestowed on them the title "Righteous Among the Nations," which is given to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.

The Hungarian couple, whose grandson lives in Sutton, also will have their names added to the Wall of Honor at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.

Szegedy's ill health prevented him from attending the ceremony at the Consul General of Israel. But Stuzziero's grandson, Bela Egyed, read a letter the elderly man wrote for the occasion, which coincidently took place on Szegedy's 88th birthday.

"They risked their own lives and that of their relatives — I have no words to describe their humanity, but they are forever etched in my heart," wrote Szegedy, whose parents were killed at Auschwitz.

In an interview with The Gazette, Szegedy was unable to discuss the kindness shown toward him without crying. "I think about it every day," he said.

Egyed was just 3 years old when Nazis turned up at his grandparents' house looking for Jews. Szegedy and his fiancee were hiding in a ventilation shaft outside the bathroom as the Nazis searched the house.

Everyone was on tenterhooks, fearing the toddler would inadvertently alert the Nazis to Szegedy's presence in the home.

The young boy did not.

"As soon as they left, I went to the bathroom and yelled: 'You can come out now,' " recounted Egyed, who is now 68.

Egyed said his grandparents were "very decent people" who went out of their way to help their Jewish friends.

During the war, his grandmother bravely endured taunts of being a "Jew-loving whore" when she took food to her Jewish friends in the city's ghetto.

After the Stuzzieros passed away, Szegedy stayed in touch with their family and still has visits from the couple's grandsons.

"He still talks about them," Egyed said. "His gratitude is boundless. He owes his life to them."

Katherine Wilton may be reached at kwilton@thegazette.canwest.com.

After the horror,
a life of success

Alexander Szegedy has lived in Clearwater for 32 years. After his harrowing experience in 1944, he married fiancee Edith Lajta, but they later divorced. He remarried and has been with his wife, Veronica, for 53 years. They have no children and live in a condo on Sand Key. Szegedy came to the United States in 1957 and settled in Massachusetts. He and a partner operated a medical instrument business that flourished, he said, before he retired to Clearwater for the sunshine and to escape New England's snow.

Israel posthumously honors couple who saved Clearwater man during Holocaust 12/23/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 23, 2009 10:23pm]
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