Ilona Marton was a prize-winning journalist and political prisoner. As a correspondent for United Press, she covered the communist show-trials, including the 1949 trial of Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty. In 1955, she and her journalist-husband Endre Marton were convicted on sham charges of spying for the United States. They served time in a maximum-security Hungarian prison and, after their release, filed stirring first-hand reports about the 1956 Hungarian uprising. In 1957, they were smuggled out of Hungary and were granted refugee status in the US. The Martons were praised by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles "for providing 'a solid basis for the free world['s] judgment' of events in Budapest" and jointly won the prestigious George Polk Award, which "is presented annually for reporting, often at great personal risk, in the public interest."
Little is known about Ilona Marton's early life. She was born in Miskolc on March 14, 1912, to Jewish parents whose surname was Neuman or Neumann. Her father reportedly "was a horse breeder whose frequent gambling losses were of great trepidation to the family. He once came home with a silver-tipped umbrella and announced that it was all the family owned." When she was 19, she changed her surname to Nyilas and re-invented herself as a Roman Catholic. She raised her children as devout Roman Catholics and told them that their grandparents had died in the siege of Budapest in 1945. They did not discover their Jewish roots until they were adults. Her daughter Kati was in Hungary researching a book on Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Jews in Budapest. She was interviewing an old friend of her mother's who was a Holocaust survivor, when the woman suddenly said, "Of course, you know your grandparents were in one of the first transports to Auschwitz," where they perished. The last communication Ilona had from her parents was "a postcard slipped through the crack of a cattle car headed for Auschwitz."
Kati Marton later was to write: "As a matter of fact, I did not know. I had no idea. My parents… had not told me…. I was shocked, not because I minded being Jewish --- I did not really know what that meant --- but because I was stunned that something so essential had been kept from me." Kati Marton dedicated her biography of Wallenberg "to those Hungarians for whom Wallenberg arrived too late." She intended it "as a small memorial to the grandparents I never knew" and noted that "my children now regard this history as theirs."
Ilona Marton was married briefly to Sandor Brody, whom she divorced. In 1943, she married Emre Marton, with whom she had three children: Julia Marton-Lefevre, Kati, and Andrew. Kati was married to Peter Jennings and is the mother of Elizabeth and Christopher Jennings. After divorcing Jennings, Kati Marton became the wife of US diplomat Richard Holbrooke. Ilona Marton died in Maryland on September 4, 2004, at the age of 92.
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