Ackerman Chronicle

Issue 39 | October 7, 2020

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Virtual Book Launch Event

Hungarian Holocaust Survivor, Robert Ratonyi, joined us to discuss his newly-released memoir, From Darkness into Light: My Journey through Nazism, Fascism, and Communism to Freedom.

Robert and his wife Eva, also a survivor from Hungary, previously delivered the Mitchell L. and Miriam Lewis Barnett Lecture as part of the 50th Annual Scholars' Conference in March of 2020. Eva, a UT Dallas alumna, introduced Robert during this live event, which was attended by people from around the world. Dr. Nils Roemer served as a moderator for the event, asking Robert questions about his life, memoir, and his motivation to tell his story.


From Darkness into Light is structured in five chronological chapters based on what Ratonyi describes as his "journeys." In the first chapter, "A Holocaust Childhood," Ratonyi narrates his family’s situation in Budapest in 1944 as they were navigating air raids, resettlements in ghettos and persecution by the anti-Semitic Hungarian government. As a six-year-old boy, Ratonyi did not understand the significance of the order to wear the Yellow Star but he was aware of his father’s absence after being conscripted into a labor battalion, and later missing his mother as she was marched on foot to Austria together with several thousand Jewish women.


In his second journey, Ratonyi discussed growing up in a working-class family under communism and how his mother has struggled to provide for him as single parent working in a factory. However, despite the harsh conditions of living under totalitarian dictatorship, Ratonyi talked about the positive impact of belonging to a loving family and of being surrounded with several influential characters such as his uncle Laci and his Rabbi, Dr. Kálmán. For Ratonyi’s bar mitzvath, Rabbi Kálmán wrote a heartwarming letter and addressed it to Reichmann Robert. The change of the last name from Reichmann to Ratonyi was motivated by the desire to “blend into my new society at the University without telling everyone that I am Jewish,” says Ratonyi.


As a young college student in Hungary, Ratonyi experienced his third journey, "The Hungarian Uprising of 1956." In December of that year, he made the life-changing decision to flee Hungary and he entered into his fourth journey, "The Escape." In his fifth and final journey, “Immigrant Years,” he discussed his search for a new home country, first in Canada and then finally in the United States. Ratonyi’s book is an intimate historical narrative of the Holocaust in Hungary, of growing up under communism, and of life as a Jewish immigrant in North America.

A Message from Robert Ratonyi

"Let me mention the objective I had in mind to write my five “journeys” that cover twenty-six years of my life. These journeys are eye-witness accounts of historic events in the 20th century in the middle of Europe. I am today, more than half a century later, the product of those experiences. I learned some important lessons and drew some conclusions. I learned lessons about the human capacity for love, kindness, and self-sacrifice, as well as hate and cruelty during the Holocaust. I learned the importance of family and having a role model to provide guidance on what is important to grow up and be a responsible, sensible, and sensitive person. I learned that pain and suffering in childhood, or how poor you are growing up, need not have a negative impact on your self-esteem. I learned that socialism and communism are failed utopian ideologies, and history has proven that it always results in misery, not to mention the moral corruption that inevitably results from a totalitarian system.


But history repeats itself and that is why it is important to teach these lessons. We are now in the 21st century and already there have been several genocides. Open the TV and all you hear about is the battle between socialist and Marxist ideologies against our democratic capitalist system.


I learned the importance of setting goals, taking risks, working hard, and delaying gratification to achieve those goals. I also learned that good luck, being at the right place at the right time, has a lot to do with success. Being an immigrant in Canada, and then in the US, I learned how to start out with no material possessions, not even speaking English, and end up as a highly educated, productive member of society in a few years.


These are the lessons I hoped to pass on to my children, grandchildren, and future generations of Ratonyis, and now to the general public with the publication of my book."

In Case You Missed It

The recording of this event can be found by clicking here.
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The Ackerman Center is proud to partner with the ADL - Texoma as Dr. Roemer guest lectures on this timely topic.

The North Texas/Oklahoma Regional office of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) covers the North Texas area (Dallas, Fort Worth, Amarillo, Lubbock, Midland-Odessa, Temple, Waco, Tyler, Marshall) and all of Oklahoma.

This event is free of charge, but pre-registration is required by clicking here.
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Jewish Argentines were disproportionately represented among the victims of the “dirty war” between 1976 and 1983, a state-led campaign against so-called “subversives” that left some 30,000 dead. In its aftermath, comparisons to the Holocaust circulated widely. But popular awareness of the Holocaust had existed decades earlier in Argentina, among speakers of the Yiddish language. This talk explains how Yiddish traveled to Argentina, the extent of Yiddish cultural activities there, and the responses of Holocaust survivors upon finding a robust Yiddish cultural center in Argentina after 1945. This history provides a new context for understanding the entanglement of Jewish migration to Argentina, the Yiddish language, and the trauma of the “dirty war.”

The event is free, but pre-registration is required by clicking here.

Film Screening and Discussion: The Silence of Others

This documentary reveals the epic struggle of victims of Spain's 40-year dictatorship under General Franco, who continue to seek justice to this day. Filmed over six years, the film follows the survivors as they organize the groundbreaking 'Argentine Lawsuit' and fight state-imposed amnesia of crimes against humanity, and explores a country still divided four decades into a democracy. Seven years in the making, The Silence of Others is the second documentary feature by Emmy-winning filmmakers Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar.


This film will be available for screening free of charge from October 12-26, 2020. More information and the link will be posted on the Ackerman Center Upcoming Events webpage.

Click below to view the film's trailer

Panel Discussion: The Silence of Others

Thursday, Oct. 29th, 5:30pm

This is an online event.

Join Drs. Amy Kerner, Pedro Gonzalez Corona, and Sarah Valente for a brief commentary and opportunity to share your thoughts and perspectives and to discuss the meaning and implications of the film.

More information and the link will be posted on the Ackerman Center Upcoming Events webpage.

2020 Annual Einspruch Lecture

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This year’s special lecture will be presented in two parts. In addition to the live panel discussion on October 25th, there will be a pre-recorded interview with Mr. Ben Ferencz, the chief prosecutor for the United States Army at the Einsatzgruppen Trial in Nuremberg. This video will be posted online and distributed mid-October.
In a special new episode of the Ackerman Center Podcast, Dr. Sarah Valente interviewed Dr. Nils Roemer about the op-ed published in The Forward magazine this week. Dr. Roemer together with other four German-born directors of Holocaust and genocide centers at American universities wrote the article “It Is Not Too Late for American Democracy — Yet.”

All episodes are available for streaming online and can be found by clicking here.
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This issue was made possible by the following contributors:

Cynthia Seton-Rogers, Academic and Outreach Events Manager
Amal Shafek, Research Assistant