Monday, September 28, 2009
“You are opening a Pandora’s box,” author Kati Marton was warned when she began the research for her new book, Enemies of the People: My Family’s Journey to America.
The Hungarian-born writer paid little attention and dove headfirst into the files of the Hungarian Secret Police (known as the AVO). There, she found the fascinating and sometimes excruciating details of the controversial careers of her parents — Endre and Illona Marton — two journalists who during the 1950s wrote hundreds of articles for the U.S.-based Associated Press and United Press about what was going on behind the Iron Curtain.
Now an accomplished journalist herself, Marton felt compelled to understand the intricacies and courage of her parents who were enmeshed in a nail-biting game of cat and mouse with the AVO. In fact, close friends-turned-informers relayed the Martons’ every move to the Secret Police who were determined to arrest them. The Marton’s only made it worse by spurring easy friendships within the American legation, which afforded them an affluent lifestyle and consequently allied them with the “enemy” in the minds of the AVO.
This eventually led to their imprisonment for six years for charges of espionage.
“All my life, my parents’ defiance of the Communists, their stubborn courage as the last independent journalists until their arrest, trial and conviction as CIA spies, has been at the core of our family identity,” Marton writes in the introduction of her book. “On Feb. 25, 1955, at two in the morning, following a game of bridge at the home of the U.S. military attaché, my father was abducted by six agents of the AVO (the Hungarian Secret Police). His arrest was front-page news in The New York Times. Four months later, they came for my mother.”
Before moving to America, Marton and her sister Juli were sent to live with a Hungarian family named Hellei. “Everything about them made me long for my parents and our old life,” Marton shares.
Indeed, this poignant memoire is at once a history lesson of the Cold War, and a love letter to the people who shaped her life.
“No one played a bigger role in my life than my father, who was so sparing with praise,” Marton writes toward the end of the book. “I think I even chose my life partners with him in mind. In 1977, when I was hired as an ABC News foreign correspondent, Papa told me to observe and learn from Peter Jennings. ‘Now there is a man who has all the important qualities: intelligence, a sense of the world, great good looks — a man, Kati, who has it all.’
"So, I recall thinking at the time that this is the sort of man he would like as his son-in-law. Until the end of his life, though we had divorced, he considered Peter, the father of his grandchildren, as a son-in-law. And vice versa. After I married [Ambassador] Richard Holbrooke, then an assistant secretary of state, Richard and Papa would sit for hours reminiscing.”
In the epilogue, Marton admits she would not have written this book if her parents were still alive. “Most deaths bring both grief and relief. With my parents’ deaths the taboo of the past was lifted.”