Sixty years after the Nazi genocide, where in Hungary alone 450,000 Jews were killed, the memory of a brave pastor has been recalled in a feature article in The Weekend Australian newspaper.
Seventh-day Adventist Pastor Laszlo Michnay was president of the church in Hungary for 17 years, part of which included the Holocaust of 1944. Risking his own and his family’s safety, he protected many Jews in his home and church.
Some of his children and grandchildren now live in Australia. His daughter, Clara Pongrass, has been a member of the Woollahra Seventh-day Adventist Church in Sydney, NSW, for 52 years. Her daughter, Judy Kaye, recently paid homage to her grandfather at the opening of “The Final Solution: The Holocaust in Hungary,” an exhibition on view until the end of September 2004 at the Sydney Jewish Museum. She noted that he was guided by moral and religious principles. “He believed he would be blessed and protected for saving the Jews,” she says. Pongrass confirms this and says none of the Michnay family was harmed. She recalls the Holocaust through the eyes of the 15-year-old girl she then was.
“It was scary,” she says. “Most women were raped by the soldiers, but when they came to our area, we hid under the choir stalls in the church.” When the Russians arrived to liberate Hungary, she observed that the Nazis “had to be quick. They took the Jews down to the Danube River and gunned them down, hundreds of them. I saw this with my own eyes.”
Her father, Pastor Michnay, was determined to help the Jews after witnessing anti-Semitism when he was in Germany and Poland for church conferences. Realizing it was a matter of time before the Nazis hit Hungary, he stockpiled non-perishable food and planned a network of safe houses. He appealed to his congregation to help oppressed Jews.
The basement of the Budapest Adventist Church and the attic of the nearby Michnay home hid many Jews. Others were billeted in a network of safe houses belonging to Adventist ministers in country areas. As a result of the care they received, many Jews became Christians. One was Yehudit Carmeli, who was baptized in Israel 50 years after the Michnays helped her family. “Those who read this story should take courage,” she says. “Keep planting the seeds of the gospel through words and deeds. One day, God will make that seed sprout and grow.”
Pastor Michnay died of a heart attack in 1964 while on his way to Sydney to visit his grandchildren. He was buried in Vaucluse, an eastern suburb of Sydney. In 1981 he was posthumously recognized with a certificate from Yad Veshem, the Holocaust museum and archive in Jerusalem.
Last year, Pongrass and her daughter placed a commemorative plaque in the Sydney Jewish Musuem: “In memory of my father—Laszlo Michnay—honored at Yad Vashem as righteous among the nations for risking his life to save Jews during the Holocaust in Hungary. Dedicated by Clara Pongrass and family.”
While the current exhibition draws attention to the Hungarian Holocaust, the plaque will remain in the museum as a permanent reminder of the power of one pastor who lived out his faith.