Interview with Linda Ambrus Broenniman- The Politzer Saga

The book begins with a multi-generational family tree that sets the stage for the unfolding narrative of the Politzer family. The photos that follow are modern and ancient. Author Linda Ambrus Broenniman felt compelled to share the discoveries that came, as she referred to it, by “divine intervention,” at times. She calls this ancestral honoring, The Politzer Saga. It tells the story of her family, who unbeknownst to her, had Jewish members who lived undercover. 

Are you amazed at the courage it took for your parents to create a new life for themselves in an unfamiliar country after fleeing danger?

Yes. I am amazed. There is a quote, I think from The Odyssey, that children can never really know their parents. I thought I knew my parents, but I was shocked at how little I knew. They had lived lives I could not have imagined. Loving them did not mean really knowing them. 

Learning that my father had escaped a Nazi labor camp and that my mother had hidden Jews – including her best friend, my grandmother, and my father after he escaped from labor camp –  gave me an entirely new perspective and better understanding of the perilous circumstances they faced during the Holocaust. 

Not only am I amazed, but I am deeply inspired by the immense courage it took for my parents to create a new life for themselves in an unfamiliar country after living through such horrors. Their bravery in facing the unknown, the strength they showed in overcoming numerous challenges, and their determination to build a better life is nothing short of remarkable. Their journey is a powerful testament to resilience and hope and it continues to inspire me every day to face my own challenges with strength and determination. 

At what point did you discover that all was not as it seemed in your upbringing and the way your family identified?

We were raised Catholic. I was 27 years old when my older sister accidentally discovered our Jewish roots. While visiting her godmother, my sister casually inquired what our great grandmother Margit was like (my father’s grandmother). Her godmother answered that Margit was a strong Jewish woman. A slip of the tongue, a secret revealed. 

Although the secret was out, the truth was nowhere to be found – protected by an impenetrable web of secrecy. At age 27, I didn’t have the courage to penetrate that web, to dive into the unknown, to shake up my world. I was in graduate school at the time. My focus was elsewhere – building a career, an independent life. 

Why was the understood rule that no one was to inquire about the past?

Growing up, my parents were silent, unwilling to speak about their past. I will never truly know why; I will never truly know why my father didn’t embrace his Jewish heritage. I can only speculate. My father lived through unimaginable atrocities and the death of many of his family members, simply because he was born Jewish. 

Even though my mother was Catholic, she also experienced terror, as she risked her life to save Jews, including my father and grandmother. I imagine that when they immigrated to America, they wanted to leave those horrors behind. But the US at the time was very antisemitic. 

They first moved to Philadelphia, PA where they were young professors at Thomas Jefferson Medical School and later moved to Buffalo, NY to work at Roswell Park Memorial Cancer Institute. They were brilliant young doctors, focused on their career and starting a new family. With a Catholic wife, it was easier for my father to convert and for the Jewish question to “go away”. 

I can only speculate, but I believe that they wanted to protect their family. I believe that they hoped that we (their children) should never have to face what they faced.

How did your mother come to be honored as Righteous Among the Nations?

In 1944, the Nazis toppled the Hungarian government and handed power to Hungary’s fascist and virulently anti-Semitic Arrow Cross Party, which began to round up, deport and kill tens of thousands of Jews. 

My mother was just 19, a medical student, and a devout Catholic. Her closest friend, Éva Fisher Klein, was Jewish.  Eva came to my mother with an audacious plan. She explained that her friend, Ármin Grószmann, was forced to close a factory he owned in compliance with the anti-Jewish laws. Eva asked my mother to move into Ármin’s factory complex to hide Jews who were in danger. 

My mother and her family didn’t hesitate.  They moved into a house on the grounds of the shuttered factory just outside Budapest.  They hid Éva and her family, her boyfriend Rabbi Béla Eisenberg and his family, Armin’s family and numerous others who were likely to be deported to Nazi extermination camps. When they ran out of space at the factory, my mother and another medical student arranged for hiding places in the histology lab at the university’s medical school in Budapest. They supplied fake ID cards.

My mother had witnessed antisemitism and its virulent hatred. She refused to be complacent. She chose to defy it. It was for her courage and humanity that she was honored as Righteous Among the Nations in 2006. 

I’m sorry about her passing in 2011, succumbing to injuries from a housefire. How did you cope with such a loss?

Coping with the death of my mother in 2011 was incredibly challenging, especially since Alzheimer’s had taken her from us years before. To find peace, I choose to reflect on the memories we shared and the values she instilled in me. My mother was a beacon of strength and resilience, always putting others before herself. 

I am committed to honoring her legacy – a legacy of courage and compassion. She believed that every person should be treated with respect, dignity and compassion.

On May 5th, the Buffalo community unveiled a mural honoring my mother and two other Righteous Gentiles, Hungarians who made Buffalo their home. My hope is that the mural will inspire others to embrace these values and remember the impact that individuals can have in the face of adversity. 

Who were some of the leaves on your family tree that blossomed into your generation and beyond?

Abraham Politzer, my great-great-great-great grandfather, lived from 1797-1854 and had fourteen children, resulting in an extensive family tree. Tragically, over 30 relatives from the generation who lived during WWII were murdered in the Holocaust. Very few survived. Despite this history, I knew little about my ancestors and was unaware of any relatives, assuming only my immediate family existed. 

My parents’ bravery and resilience set a strong foundation for our family of seven children. Their legacy continues to thrive through their seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. 

As I began unraveling the mysteries of my parents’ lives, I discovered that we had cousins in both California and in Budapest. 

Since the publication of my book, The Politzer Saga, several other Politzers have reached out to me. We are now exploring our connections to determine if we share familial ties. 

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