Gabor Kalman was nine years old in Kalocsa, Hungary, when the Nazis invaded.
Born in Kalocsa in 1934, Kalman’s family was “herded up” in the ghetto. But, in May 1944, when the rest of the town’s Jews were to be deported to Nazi death camps, the family was able to go into hiding in Budapest.
Many years later, Kalman delved into his past when he directed a documentary, There Was Once…, about Gyöngyi Magó, a dedicated, present-day high school teacher in Kalocsa who investigated what happened to the Jews who lived there during the Holocaust.
The film will be screened on Sunday, November 15, 3:30 pm, at Chamber Theatre, Ben Franklin Place, 101 Centrepointe Drive. Admission is free, and Kalman will be present to answer questions following the screening.
“I didn’t go after this film. It came to me,” Kalman told the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin in an interview from his home in Los Angeles. “I got an e-mail from a total stranger identifying herself as a history teacher at a high school in Kalocsa who was researching local history and stumbled on the fact that there used to be a Jewish community there.”
Magó had seen Kalman’s name on the list of all the Jews to be killed.
“Nine-year-old little me was on that list,” he said.
The family returned to Kalocsa after the war, but the town’s remaining Jews “were kicked out again in 1948” by the Communists.
The family went again to Budapest, but left in 1956 during the Hungarian Revolution, first to Vienna, then California. Kalman has lived in Los Angeles for about 30 years. In addition to being a filmmaker, he’s an adjunct professor at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.
In her 40s and Catholic, Magó asked Kalman for assistance in finding other Jewish survivors so she could write her thesis on the Jewish community of Kalocsa.
“I was very taken that someone not Jewish, and so many years later, was interested,” he said.
The film depicts a memorial ceremony Magó arranged for the lost Jewish community exactly 65 years after the date and hour they were taken away.
“Second and third generations of survivors came, and the Archbishop came. In the middle of the event, the Hungarian neo-Nazi party showed up,” he said. “You’ll have to see the film to know what happened.”
Kalman, now nearly 81 and still working, said, “I still have a few films in me,” among them Keepers of Memory: Stories of Hidden Children, a film on hidden children during the Holocaust, which he postponed making when the story of There Was Once…presented itself.
By watching There Was Once… Kalman hopes the audience will appreciate the difference one person can make.
“There are many Holocaust accounts,” he said, “but what one woman does and continues to do is so impressive. She goes into the classroom and shares her research with her students. We need more like her, a shining example that you can teach that hate, prejudice and discrimination is not acceptable in today’s world.”
The Ottawa presentation of There Was Once…, a Holocaust Education Month program, is co-sponsored by the Embassy of Hungary and the Shoah (Holocaust) Committee of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa.