An American Story: Finding Home in Fairfield County

Olga Vállay Szokolay

An American Story: Finding Home in Fairfield County

László Papp in front of his story board and Elisabeth Deutsch with picture of sister Frieda

The Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants was founded in 1918 and is celebrating its 100th birthday.  As a perfect birthday present, an exhibit, honoring eight Connecticut residents from seven countries, was opened on February 8th at the Spaght Gallery of the Fairfield Museum and History Center in Fairfield, CT. The exhibit will stay open until July 23rd, 2018.

A series of photographic portraits and biographical narratives illustrates the lives of the refugees and immigrants from Cambodia, Congo, Cuba, Hungary, India, Rwanda and Syria.  Among them, two Hungarians share their extraordinary life stories.

Fairfield resident Elizabeth Deutsch (Betty) from Bodrogkeresztúr, Hungary is the survivor of several concentration camps.  Taken from her native village, all her family perished in the Nazi ordeals of the first part of the 1940s, and only she and her sister could be miraculously rescued by the International Red Cross.  After the war, finding refuge and spending five years in Sweden, Elizabeth and her sister came to the United States in 1950 and used to live with relatives in Bridgeport, CT.

Both her sister, Frieda and Betty found jobs in a sewing factory, working days and going to school evenings.  She became a licensed hairdresser.  In 1953, Frieda married and moved to New York.  In 1954, Betty married and over the years they had a son and a daughter with her husband, Andrew. To be closer to a synagogue, they moved to Fairfield in 1970 where she has been living ever since.  At the closing ceremonies of the exhibit's opening, the audience listened to this 90-year-old reciting her autobiographical poem titled “Wound That Never Heals”.

Hungarian-born architect Laszlo Papp shares his life experience and how he and his late wife, Judith, built new lives and home in Fairfield County. His portrait and nutshell biography, exhibited on the display banner, is just a minute part of his life.  This still active 88-year-old New Canaan resident has momentous achievements behind him in the professional, patriotic as well as humanitarian aspects.  His is a rare example of successfully merging being Hungarian and American.  A recipient of numerous awards and medals from both his native and adoptive countries is a quiet, unassuming, modest man.  Until recently, he was a passionate sailor in his Hobie Cat as well as a strong recreational skier.

Laszlo’s latest recognition took place last September for his tireless leadership in establishing the 1956 Hungarian Revolution Memorial in New York City’s Riverside Park, at the foot of the Kossuth Monument.  At the Hungarian Consulate in New York, he was awarded one of the highest decorations by the Hungarian government (see article in MNO, October, 2017), delivered by Consul General Kumin Ferenc, in the presence of Áder János, President of Hungary. On the day of the ceremony, he and Consul General Kumin escorted President Áder and his wife to the recently finished Memorial.

Our enduring friendship of several decades makes me proud of having been instrumental in their settling in Fairfield County.

Olga Vállay Szokolay is an architect and Professor Emerita of Norwalk Community College, CT after three decades of teaching.  She is a member of the Editorial Board of Magyar News Online.