Ausztráliából kaptunk egy levelet Kemény Miklós volt diákunk
fiától, Kemény Alextől. Felajánlotta használatra édesapjának 1939-es érettségi
bizonyítványát, fényképeit illetve életrajzát is iskolánk honlapjának. Egyelőre
az életrajz csak angolul olvasható, később megtalálható lesz magyar fordításban
26 June 2007 [My name is Alexander Nicholas Kemeny, although everybody
knows me as Alex.
I have written this biography of my father, Nicholas Charles Kemeny (known
as Nick) for my father's school in Budapest, Hungary: Berzsenyi Dániel.
This biography was largely based upon a typed document left by my mother,
Jacqueline Kemeny. She had written down what she had known of Nick's life,
starting the document shortly before he died in 1998, and continuing it
after his death.
Jacqueline Kemeny was a journalist, and she "interviewed" Nick
as the basis for her document, then supplemented it with her knowledge based
upon their 42 years of marriage. My father had almost never discussed any
aspect of his life in Hungary with me, perhaps because there were some painful
Nicholas Charles Kemeny was born on April 5, 1921 at Fasor Sanatorium in
His father, Sandor, was a banker with the Austro-English bank. Sandor, who
had been born in 1877, had served as a First Lieutenant in the Hungarian
Army during World War 1. Nicholas' mother, Leontine ("Lili") had
grown up in the town of Nagyvarad, having been born in Moson in 1891.
Sandor and Lili, who were both Jewish, married in March 1918. Nicholas was
their only child. The family lived at 20 Alkotmany Street, Budapest, and
was reasonably well-off.
From 1931, Nicholas attended Berzsenyi Dániel Grammar School, having gained
a partial scholarship. Each year, in order to maintain the scholarship,
good marks had to be obtained. A "classical" education was provided,
including eight years of Latin.
Nick did very well at Berzsenyi Dániel as his final report card shows, with
"excellent" passes in Mathematics, Physics and German, and creditable
passes in his other subjects.
Aside from his schoolwork, Nicholas learnt to play the violin. Also, he
had learnt English privately since the age of eight. His knowledge of English
was to change his life.
Until about 1929, the family had employed a nanny, named Betty. She then
went to work for another Jewish family, but she had to leave their employment
in the mid 1930s, because of a new law that made it illegal for an "Aryan"
to work for Jewish people.
This was typical of the anti-Semitic atmosphere that was rife in many European
countries, not just Nazi Germany. However, Betty kept in touch with the
Kemeny family, and her influence, which I will come to later, may well have
saved Nick's life.
After matriculation from Berzsenyi Dániel, Nick wanted to study mechanical
engineering at university. His final report card from Berzsenyi Dániel stated
that he was "well up to the requirements" and "qualified
But, there were highly discriminatory rules in Hungary in the 1930s that
made it possible for only a tiny percentage of Jewish people to gain entry
to university. These rules were known as "numerus clausus".
Those few Jews that did go to university were usually selected because their
family had the "right" influence with the "right" people.
Even so, life at university was far from pleasant for them, as there were
frequently "Jew beating" days. The teaching staff were also generally
disinclined to give good marks to non-Christians.
Nick's father, Sandor Kemeny, had become ill in 1931 and died in 1938, so
by the late 1930s, the family was neither influential nor very well off.
So Nick went to the Royal Hungarian Technical College for Textile Industry
at Ujpest, and qualified as a Textile Engineer. In about 1941, he suffered
an accident in a weaving mill when a strap broke and hit him in the left
eye, detaching the retina. He spent the next two years in and out of hospital
as surgeons tried, unsuccessfully at first, to attach the retina and save
his sight in that eye.
During this time, other Jewish boys of his age were being called up for
service in the "Labour Divisions" of the Hungarian Army. For most
of them, this constituted a death warrant.
Members of labour divisions were not armed and were used at the forefront
of attacking troops to carry out labour and act as a kind of buffer between
the ordinary Hungarian soldiers and the enemy.
Nick said that one of the few survivors of labour divisions told him: "We
had guns in front of us and guns behind us. We were just as likely to be
shot by the Hungarians as by the enemy. We had very little chance."
The effect of this, and of the war in general, meant that, of the 72 students
that finished their schooling at Berzsenyi Dániel in 1939, Nick believed
that only 24 survived beyond 1945.
Nick escaped the fate of many of his schoolmates. Because of his eye injury,
he was given deferments from the army on medical grounds for a couple of
years. He also had a false birth certificate produced that showed his religion,
and those of his parents, as Protestant. However, by late 1944, these papers
no longer fooled anyone, so Nick went into hiding.
Nick's mother, Lili, managed to arrange for Betty, who was now a housekeeper
at a boys' school on the outskirts of Budapest, to hide Nick in a small
room in the tower of the school. This was in November 1944, when the Nazis
finally entered Budapest.
Life in the tower was cramped and cold, and Nick stayed there until the
allied liberation in February 1945. Food was brought by Betty at night.
Nick was not allowed to leave for any reason, even during an air raid, when
everyone else went into underground shelters. By luck, the only bomb that
fell nearby during these raids failed to explode.
Lili had been hidden in an embassy by a friend, and so also survived the
siege of Budapest.
By 1948, Nick had started a reasonably successful textile manufacturing
business. But this was frowned upon by the now Communist Hungarian government.
They also considered his background (the son of a banker), as "bourgeoisie"
and therefore not classified as someone to be trusted.
People were leaving Hungary illegally, but of course there was the risk
of imprisonment or death for those who failed. However, both he and Lili
agreed that life in the west would be better, and that it was worth the
The plan was for Nick to leave without permission, and then for Lili to
apply to emigrate legally. For older people, this was possible, but still
In mid 1949, Nick paid a border guard to guide him across the minefield
and over the fence into Austria at night. A train driver was bribed to smuggle
Nick's beloved violin (the only family heir loom to have survived the war)
under his seat at the front of the train.
Because of his knowledge of English and qualifications, Nick had a better
chance than most in gaining political asylum. He registered as a stateless
person, and applied at the English-speaking embassies of the United States,
Canada and Australia.
Because Lili had a friend who had emigrated to Sydney, Australia, Nick was
accepted by the Australian government. He arrived in Sydney in December
1949, after a month boat trip from Genoa via Aden, Colombo, Perth and Melbourne.
In Colombo, he made himself sick by eating too many bananas. At age 28,
he had never tasted one before!
Lili left Hungary legally in 1956 and joined Nick in Sydney. Before she
left, she sold all her possessions. With the money, she bought a diamond
ring, which she smuggled out of the country hidden in the tip of her umbrella.
She sold it in Vienna and therefore had a little money to start a new life
in Australia. She died in Sydney in 1963.
Nick worked in the textile industry until 1957. He gained acceptance to
Sydney University in 1957 to study mechanical engineering, but at the last
minute decided he was too old to become a full-time student for four years
(he had married an Australian girl, Jacqueline Lyford, in 1955). Nick felt
that, with a family possible soon, it would not be wise to embark on such
a long period of study.
Instead, he kept working full-time and studied accountancy at night. He
qualified as an accountant in 1960. Nick worked for a newspaper publisher
(John Fairfax and Sons), rising to a fairly senior management position.
He retired from John Fairfax in 1986.
Nick played his violin in amateur orchestras until he was seventy-five years
old, and was a keen bridge player. He also loved listening to classical
Nick went back to Europe only once, in 1987, and of course came back to
Budapest one last time in September of that year. He still had some friends
His died on New Year's Day, 1998, following a stroke in November 1997. Nick
was survived by his wife, Jacqueline, his only child, Alex (named after
Nick's father, Sandor), and his three grandchildren: Nicholas (named after
Nick), Max, and Celia.