During the darkest days of the Holocaust, Dr. Laszlo Petrovicz was a steady beacon of light for Jews in Budapest.
As a Hungarian army doctor assigned to a Jewish labor colony, he helped dozens of captives escape under the guise of sending them to medical specialists. He and his Jewish wife, Zsuszanna, a nurse, provided food and medical care to Jews in Budapest's ghetto. They obtained false identification papers for many and hid others in their own home, written testimonies from survivors say.
And now, more than 40 years later, the Israeli Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem has bestowed its highest honor on Petrovicz.
Wife Shares Award
Next week Petrovicz, 79, will receive a medal of honor from Yad Vashem's Commission for the Designation of the Righteous, and will plant a tree on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem. He shares the award with his wife, who died in 1983. Petrovicz and his daughter, Susan Toth of Alameda, left for Israel on Friday.
"My father feels very honored," Toth said. "But he feels that what he did was a natural thing. He acted according to his conscience and the Hippocratic oath." Petrovicz, who speaks little English, declined to be interviewed.
Petrovicz and his wife fled Budapest in 1944 after the Gestapo began looking for them, Toth said. They lived quietly in the small Hungarian town of Dombovar until 1949, when they returned to Budapest. He still lives in Budapest, but has been staying with his daughter in Alameda for the last six months.
About 6,000 non-Jews have so far been honored by Yad Vashem's Commission for the Designation of the Righteous for their work on behalf of Jews during the Holocaust. But Petrovicz is among only a few hundred to receive both the medal and the tree-planting honor.
Others Still Alive
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, estimated that as many as 9,000 others who helped Jews during World War II are still alive. With the passage of time, he said, it becomes increasingly difficult for Yad Vashem to document their acts of courage.
"The biological clock is ticking away not only on the Nazi war criminals but on the entire generation who helped save the Jewish people," Cooper said. "There is a stepped-up effort to find these people." The Wiesenthal Center is paying for Petrovicz's trip to Israel.