Former Hungarian president who saved Jews during Holocaust dies

Arpad Goncz, who was key in developing Hungary’s democracy and helped save Jews during the Holocaust, died Tuesday.

By: AP

Arpad Goncz, a much-loved Hungarian writer and translator who survived a communist-era life sentence for taking part in the 1956 anti-Soviet revolt and later become Hungary’s first democratically chosen president, died Tuesday at age 93.

Parliament deputy speaker Istvan Hiller announced the death to lawmakers, adding, “he was a legend already during his lifetime.” Lawmakers stood for a minute of silence in honor of his memory.

“(Goncz) was loyal all his life to patriotism, democracy and humanity’s European system of values,” said President Janos Ader.

A statement from Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government said Goncz had “served the renascent Hungarian democracy to the best of his knowledge for ten years.”

Goncz was charged with treason and sentenced to life in prison by Hungary’s Communist authorities for taking part in the abortive anti-Soviet uprising of 1956. He was released in 1963 under a general amnesty aimed at easing tensions with the West.

Goncz was elected to a five-year term by the parliament after a free election that ended four decades of communist rule in 1990, and was later re-elected by parliament for a further five years.

As World War II drew to a close, Goncz was called up to fight for Hungary — then allied with Nazi Germany — but escaped from his unit and joined the anti-Nazi resistance, helping to rescue Jews and others being persecuted.

He is survived by his wife, Maria Zsuzsanna, and four children, including daughter Kinga, a former foreign minister.