The Game of Their Lives
The Stories of Righteous Among the Nations Who Devoted Their Lives to Sport

Margit Eugénie Mallász


Margit Eugénie Mallász

Margit (Gitta) Mallász was born in 1907 in Ljubljana (former Yugoslavia, today Slovenia). Her father was a Hungarian aristocrat and served as a general in the Hungarian army; her mother was a native of Ljubljana. In 1926 Mallász started her art studies in Budapest, and specialized in the design of theatre sets. Next to her professional career, Mallász excelled as a swimmer, and in 1926 became Hungary's champion in backstroke. In the course of her sporting career Mallász became friends with Lili Strausz, a Jewish sports teacher. In 1943 the two women joined a graphics studio in Budaliget, a small village near Budapest, established by two other Jewish friends of Mallász, Hanna Dallós and her husband, Joseph Kreutzer. The German occupation of Hungary in March 1944 brought an end to this activity. The studio was closed, and the four returned to Budapest.

In June 1944 the Jews in Budapest were ordered to move into Jewish houses – the so called ghetto was created. Joseph Kreutzer was arrested soon after and disappeared. One of Mallász’ friends introduced her to Father Pal Klinda, who managed to shelter Jewish women in Boldog Katalin, a college that had been turned into a sewing workshop for the production of military uniforms. When asked by Klinda, Mallász agreed to take charge of the workshop, on condition that she could bring her two friends, Hanna Dallós and Lili Strausz, along. The workshop was legal and was permitted to employ Jews, because of its contribution to the war effort, but the Jewish workers had to be registered and their number had to be authorized. Father Klinda (recognized as Righteous Among the Nations) and Gitta Mallász employed Jewish women in the workshop, and also brought in persons who were not supposed to be there, including the women’s children.

Following Hungary's takeover by the Arrow Cross in October 1944, a reign of terror began in Budapest, with Jews being killed in the streets and others deported on foot to the Austrian border. The situation in the workshop became very dangerous as the Arrow Cross militia were hunting Jews all over Budapest.  Moreover, a group of SS men were housed in a villa next to the Boldog Katalin. On 5 November 1944 Arrow Cross men, headed by Father András Kun, a notorious Jew hunter, broke into the Boldog Katalin, claiming that the workshop had no permit. Kun ordered Mallász to give him a list of the Jewish workers, threatening to shoot her if she didn’t comply. Knowing that some women had managed to escape, she gave a smaller number, and the remaining women were taken away. Fortunately, one of the women managed to warn Father Klinda, and he was able to free the women and bring them back. Following this ordeal, Mallász managed to convince a German soldier to give her a document certifying that the workshop was under the auspices of the SS. Mallász even went as far as to go to the SS men in the nearby villa and complain to them that her workshop was being harassed by the Arrow Cross people. Nevertheless, in the beginning of December 1944, the Arrow Cross men returned. Mallász called the SS men and began negotiating with the intruders so that meanwhile the women would be able flee from through a hole in the wall which Mallász had prepared ahead of time. Thanks to her tactics, all but sixteen women managed to get away. Among those who were caught were Hanna Dallós and Lili Strausz, Mallász’ friends. Eva Langley-Dános, the only survivor of these sixteen women, returned from Ravensbrueck and wrote an account of the fate of this group. Her account, together with the testimonies of women and their children who were sheltered in the workshop and managed to get away, enabled Yad Vashem to reconstruct the circumstances of this rescue.

In 1960 Mallász fled from Hungary and settled in France. The same year she married Laci Walder, a Jewish Communist and veteran of the International Brigade in Spain. Mallász passed away in 1992 in Ampuis/Tartaras (Rhône District) and according to her wish, her ashes were strewn into the Rhône river.

On February 16, 2011, Margit Mallász was recognized as Righteous Among the Nations.