Sunday, 27 January, 2013

Vali Rácz was a Catholic Hungarian born in 1911 – a famous singer and actress who went to great lengths to hide her Jewish friends, from the Nazi regime – putting her own life at risk on more than one occasion.

Vali was brought up by her parents in the countryside, in a small town called Golle.  She loved music and started showing signs of her musical talent at a young age.  When her parent’s friend, a Jewish professor at a music academy in Budapest came to visit, he saw her talent and invited her to audition.  From here her passion for music grew and her talent continued to develop.

It was not long before Vali got her first big break which led to a two year stint performing in a famous Budapest revue theatre.  Her musical fame resulted in her becoming a pin-up for the Hungarian troops fighting on the Eastern Front during World War II and between 1936 and 1943, Vali made eighteen films.

News of the mass deportation of Jews from rural areas began to spread to the cities, and Vali became concerned for her many Jewish friends.  In May 1944, an old friend (a Jewish man who was married to a Christian) contacted her appealing for help.  The friend wanted Vali to hide his cousin and his wife, who were desperate for somewhere safe to go to avoid deportation.

After seeking the opinion of a friend, a plan was hatched and Vali agreed.  A hiding space was created at the back of an enormous wardrobe, with a false partition in it where they could hide in the event of a Nazi raid.  For the rest of the time, they could stay in the house, sleeping in the basement.

The hiders were careful not to get discovered, by staying away from the front windows and only going out for fresh air in the garden at night.  They had to stay absolutely silent if Vali had visitors.  Vali continued to go out to work during this time, keen not to arouse suspicion.

Despite the religious and cultural differences between Vali and her hidden fugitives, everyone grew to understand and respect one other and the plan was working extremely well.  When Vali was asked for help by another Jewish friend and her daughter, she took them in.

In November 1944, Vali was arrested by the Secret Police and imprisoned and interrogated for two weeks.  News of her plight reached an influential friend who used his contacts to plea for Vali’s innocence.  Eventually she was released and, despite traps being set for her, she never gave anything away about the fugitives in her house.

Even being arrested did not stop Vali from helping her friends.  Another Christian family contacted Vali and asked for her help too.  Soon enough the Baroness, her daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter also moved in.  The house was full with people staying in every room.

However, after the Russians liberated Budapest, a group of Jewish partisans arrested Vali and accused her of collaboration with the Nazis.  After an interrogation, it was announced that Vali would be collected from her home the following day and shot.  At first, she couldn’t understand where they got their evidence from, but it turned out that the techniques that she used to keep her hidden Jewish friends safe were what would lead to her arrest.  Vali had continued to perform for German officers if requested and to socialise with them, so not to arouse suspicion, and on one occasion had been seen walking with a young German officer who used to be a neighbor – he was going to help her by shooting rabbits in the forest, which would enable her to feed her visitors, but he was killed before he could do it. 

Just hours before she was due to be executed, news reached a Red Army Colonel with whom Vali had had a relationship during the war.  He had moved on to another country, and just happened to be passing through Budapest on that fateful day.  He was able to use his considerable influence, and after two hours announced that he had contacted higher authorities and that Vali was completely exonerated.

All the people she had hidden survived the war and some emigrated to Israel.

Vali married and had two children before moving to the USA, then London before finally relocating to Munich where she died in February 1997.

In the state of Israel, those who went to considerable trouble to hide or help Jews, a lot of the time at great risk to themselves, are recognised and rewarded by having their name added to the Wall of Honor in Yad Vashem in Israel.  Vali was recognised as a Righteous Among the Nations in 1991.  

You can download a printable version of the full case study here.

You can listen to Vali’s daughter Monica Porter tell us about her mother’s story.


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The Holocaust