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Courage to Care Award Presentation to Janos Esterhazy

Posted: November 8, 2011

Remarks by Abraham H. Foxman
National Director, Anti-Defamation League

Presentation of ADL Jan Karski Courage to Care Award
Posthumously To Count János Esterházy
New York, NY, November 3, 2011

Since 1987, we have been presenting the ADL Courage to Care Award to honor rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust. As you can see from your program, our recipients have included individuals from all walks of life—diplomats and dignitaries, businessmen and farmers, housewives and shopkeepers.

The recipients have been of varying faiths and come from many different countries—from Eastern Europe, where the Shoah was primarily carried out, to the continents of Africa and Asia, and America.

This year we are renaming our award in honor of one its first recipients—Jan Karski, the Polish Christian, who covertly ventured twice into the Warsaw Ghetto and Belzec concentration camps in order to provide one of the first eyewitness accounts of Hitler's Final Solution to the Polish government-in-exile. 

Karski subsequently spoke directly to Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt and urged the allies to stop the mass murder. 

Such is the esteem we feel for Jan Karski, whom I had the privilege of knowing during his years of teaching at Georgetown University, that we decided to rename the award in his memory.

Each time we present the Courage to Care Award to the family of someone who risked his or her life to save Jews, we will also remember Karski's urgent message to the western nations that governments and people have the power and the obligation to step forward and stop the murder of innocent men, women and children.  That the Holocaust is not just a history lesson, but a message for today and for all time.

We dedicate this award in his memory so that each time we present it, we will remember his heroism.

As Jews, we give praise to individuals who do good deeds, which we call, a mitzvah.  But the greatest mitzvah of all is that one that is the hardest.  To maintain one's decency in the face of moral evil.

To help another human being when to do so will earn you scorn, contempt and even threaten your life and that of your family, is to take a moral stand of incalculable value.

Those who defended and aided Jews and other victims of the Nazi slaughter merit our recognition and our eternal thanks. They were individuals who followed the call to conscience, which is surely no simple matter.

What motived this relatively small group of people is sometimes difficult for us to understand in the world as we now know it.  Difficult because it seems these individuals possessed a moral courage to which most of us can only aspire.  Difficult to comprehend because they risked everything, including the lives of their families, to help people who, for the most part, they did not know at all.

Apart from their willingness to help others, they do not seem to have much in common.  They crossed gender, ethnic, religious, and socio-economic lines.  They were Catholic, Orthodox Christian, Evangelical, Baptist, Lutheran and also Muslim.  They were farmers, doctors, diplomats, peasants and kings.  They were simple people of faith.

Count János Esterházy was such a person of conscience, one who had more than enough reason to remain silent.  Esterházy was born in 1901 into the Hungarian aristocratic house of Esterhazy. 

After attending school in Budapest, Esterházy returned to his estate to find that Hungary was forced to cede most of his estate to Czechoslovakia as part of the treaty that ended World War I.  He married a countess and had two children, Alice and Janos.

In the 1930's, Esterházy actively participated in the political arena.  He was elected President of the Hungarian National Union League and ultimately elected President of the National Christian Socialist Party in Czechoslovakia.  He was an opposition politician who was a stringent defender of the cause of self-determination.

In 1935, he was elected to the Parliament of Prague and he gave numerous speeches in which he defended linguistic, cultural and economic rights of minorities.  He pleaded for fair treatment of Slovakians then under Hungarian rule and later refused to become a member of the Parliament in Budapest. 
In 1939, he became the only Hungarian member of the Slovak Parliament.  He was an ardent Catholic, and made clear his rejection of Nazism and its Hungarian version symbolized by an arrow.  He said that "we shall not replace the cross with the arrow, we shall stay loyal to the cause…while the arrow should continue its mission as a noble tool of traffic control."

Also in 1939, he actively participated in assisting the settlement of Polish refugees in Hungary, many of whom were Jews.  In 1942, out of 63 members of the Slovak Parliament, he was the only one to vote against the deportation of Slovakia's Jews.

Following the vote he and some close friends helped Jews flee to Hungary.  For these heroic actions, Slovakia's Nazi-allied government listed Esterházy amongst its public enemies.  He was charged with defaming Slovakia, his parliamentary immunity was cancelled and he was convicted of treason and imprisoned.

In 1944, he was in direct contact with participants in the Slovak national uprisings.  He was arrested again in 1945, but soon set free.  He was captured by the Soviets and taken to Moscow where he was accused on false grounds and condemned to 10 years of forced labor.

Czechoslovakian authorities condemned him, in absentia, to death and all of his property was confiscated.  He was passed from Soviet to Czechoslovakian authorities and condemned to life imprisonment.

János Esterházy died in prison in 1957 of lung disease.  In 2010 Yad Vashem acknowledged his efforts in saving persecuted Jews.

I stand before you today because of someone like Count János Esterházy.  I had the good fortune to be sheltered from the Nazis by a brave and decent woman who was my Polish nanny, Bronislawa Kurpi.  She baptized me and raised me as a Catholic.  But for her, I would not be alive today to bear witness.

I know firsthand how essential it was to have the help of just one person, who at a moment of moral collapse, did not forget the essential principle of leading a moral life:  do unto others, as you would have others do unto you.

My nanny and János Esterházy stood up to say no.  Others did too, but too few.  And we know that whenever and wherever good people stood up to say no, Jews lived, Catholics lived, and others lived.  Imagine what would have happened if there were more people like Chiune Sugihara, Raoul Wallenberg, Oskar Schindler and Bronislawa Kurpi.

Those from that time whom we in the Jewish community call the "righteous" provide our morally compromised world the example of their call to conscience.  Often, their bravery went unnoticed, yet through their actions, they proved that it is possible to choose to do a most demanding mitzvah against overwhelming odds and without hope of commendation or advantage.

I want to take this opportunity to thank Eileen Ludwig-Greenland for her generosity through the years in sponsoring the Courage to Care Award.

It is now my honor to present ADL's prestigious Jan Karski Courage to Care Award to Giovanni Malfatti, the son of Alice Esterházy Malfatti and the grandson of Count János Esterházy, who will accept the award on behalf of his family.

The award is a plaque with miniature bas-reliefs depicting the backdrop for the rescuers' exceptional deeds during the Shoah.  It is a replica of the Holocaust memorial wall created by noted sculptor Arbit Blatas.

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ADL Honors Hungarian Aristocrat Who Helped Polish And Slovak Jews Flee To Hungary During The Holocaust

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