Taken on her 90th birthday
Remembering Anna Sándor de Kénos
(March 21, 1921 – May 18, 2018)
Charles Bálintitt Jr.
One of my earliest memories was back in the late 1960’s. We would go up to Dr. Simonfay Feri’s Hungarian Palace Hotel in Monticello, NY on many occasions with my parents and sister. I remember seeing her there. And when my mother suggested a big event to help Feri pay his mortgage at the end of the summer season, which she referred to as an “Anna Bál”, I thought it was being named after Annuska. I was about 10 or 11 and didn’t know that this was a Ball that was usually held in the summer on Anna’s name day (July 26th).
She became friends with the British travel writer, Patrick Leigh Fermor, when she was 13 and still living on her family estate in Transylvania. He had made his famous walking journey from Holland to Constantinople in 1933/1934, setting out on this long journey at the age of 18. His book “Between the Woods and the Water” describes his time in Hungary and Transylvania. You can also find an account of Sándor Anna’s life on the Patrick Leigh Fermor website: https://patrickleighfermor.org/2018/07/18/anna-sandor-de-kenos-friend-of-patrick-leigh-fermor-obituary/
Annuska, along with her family, were forcibly removed from their family home in the early morning hours of March 3, 1949 as were all of the Hungarian noble families in Transylvania in the middle of that night. (My father was a little luckier because he received a warning from a former maid the day before and was able to avoid arrest at that time. Although, just as everyone else, he lost everything). They were sent somewhere else to live, in far less than ideal conditions. This was known as an internal deportation. Those who went willingly were, at least, not sent to prison. And the Romanian prisons were quite horrible at that time. You can get an idea of these tragic events in Jaap Scholten’s fascinating book, “Comrade Baron”.
She was later able to leave Romania and make her way to Hungary. She then escaped from Hungary, with so many others, in the immediate aftermath of the uprising in the fall of 1956. She eventually settled in New York and went to work for the Hungarian Cosmetics firm of Ernő László, which had many famous movie stars as clients. But she was someone who always wanted to help people, so after some years she became an operating theatre nurse. Annuska not only helped the sick, but really was always willing to help anyone in need. She was never married and maintained homes or apartments in Pennsylvania, Florida and Budapest. So you can say that she was a self-made woman.
Many years ago I attended a number of parties at her home in Wayne, Pennsylvania. They were always wonderful events and something to look forward to. She also entertained a lot in Sarasota, Florida. There were always quite a lot of Hungarians in that area. I know that whenever my parents went down there over the years, they would always mention so many names of friends they had met, many from the New York City area who had homes or just vacationed in or near Sarasota. Of course, some of the biggest and best parties were hosted by Annuska.
I remember one party in Pennsylvania with quite a few guests, as usual. One of the guests was a man who was probably in his early 30’s at the time, Count Károlyi Sándor. He spoke Hungarian, but with a bit of a German/French accent (something we refer to as “raccsolás"). When one of the ladies at the party said something in Hungarian that was a little colorful in language, in a rather loud and curious sounding voice, he said “Párrrdónnn?” It seems to have been an expression he may have never heard before and it did catch his attention.
Annuska was always turning up in the New York area; I would run into her in many different places. For many years I helped my parents, along with other friends and relatives, to organize the Transylvanian American Tea Dance in New York. She would always come up for the dance, wearing her very colorful flower-embroidered Hungarian or, maybe more appropriately, Transylvanian national costume. She was a very proud Transylvanian (as am I) and did a tremendous amount of work to help her friends and relatives that were left behind in Transylvania.
She was a really special lady and always had her finger on the pulse of Hungarian society. I remember her calling my mother on numerous occasions from Florida, relaying information about some local New York incidents in the Hungarian community, before my mother ever heard of them. She always seemed to know what was going on even when she was over 1,000 miles away.
I guess you could say that she had a lot of spunk. Not too long ago, she went to a bank to take out a $100,000 mortgage. The banker asked: “How long a term do you want for this loan?” She replied: “30 years!” The banker then asked: “How old are you?” She responded: “92!” I wonder whether she was surprised when he turned her down.
One of the last times I saw her was at the funeral of one of our dear friends, Vámos Lili (née baroness Biedermann), who passed away on December 14, 2009 at the age of 75. I drove down to the funeral in Doylestown, Pennsylvania and then attended the luncheon. At the luncheon I was lucky enough to sit with some dear friends: Count Benyovszky Pál and Kati, their son Paul and daughter Louise, Paul’s girlfriend, Carol and also his ex-wife, Vállay Edith (niece of our very own Vállay Szokolay Olga) and Szabó Kata (née Countess Nádasdy) and, of course, Sándor Annuska. Kata and Annuska flew up from Florida to attend. Although Annuska had previously visited with Lili after she was diagnosed with cancer, being there for her as for so many others during her 97 years. I will miss her warmth, kindness, generosity, spirit and zest for life, as will everyone who knew her.
May she rest in peace!
Charles Bálintitt Jr. is a working Customs Broker in Lawrence, NY and a member of the Magyar News Online Editorial Board.