Kathleen Behr, who fled Hungary and worked at the National Academy of Sciences, dies


Kathleen “Kati” Behr. (Family photo)
April 29

Kathleen “Kati” Behr, a longtime staff member with the National Academy of Sciences who had escaped from her native Hungary in 1956 by walking through a forest at night with her two young children, died March 21 at a hospice in Sarasota, Fla. She was 89.

She had kidney failure, her son-in-law, Dean Brenneman, said.

Mrs. Behr, who was born Katalin Ida Guth in Budapest on April 27, 1924, grew up in a cultured Hungarian family and learned to speak four languages as a young woman.

She endured the Nazi occupation of her homeland during World War II, followed by the Soviet takeover during the early Cold War. According to her family, her father, a lawyer, was run over and killed in the street by a Soviet military vehicle. Her brother was arrested and held as a political prisoner. Her family was forcibly moved out of its apartment in Budapest.

Mrs. Behr, who had married pianist Endre “Bandi” Behr in 1944, held secretarial positions before training as a laboratory technician at a university in Budapest. In 1954, she became an assistant to the director of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

In 1956, Hungarian nationalists staged an uprising, known as the Hungarian Revolution, that was crushed by Soviet tanks and troops. Many Hungarians, including Mrs. Behr, sought to flee the country.

With her two children, Mrs. Behr — by then divorced — joined a small group of Hungarians attempting to escape in December 1956. They were escorted to the edge of a forest, then left to their own devices. During a cold night, she and her children sought to move silently through the dark woods toward Austria.

One member of the party, her son-in-law said, fell in a well and drowned. After two days, Mrs. Behr and her children reached a safe house, then crossed the border of Austria. They eventually came to the United States on a decommissioned military troop ship.

After staying at a refu­gee camp in New Jersey, Mrs. Behr arrived in Washington in 1957. She worked at a department store before finding a job at the National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council, where she helped place emigre Hungarian scientists within the organization.

She worked in the research council’s international office until her retirement in 1989.

Mrs. Behr, who was a longtime resident of Arlington County, was active in Hungarian-American circles throughout her life.

Survivors include two children, Marianne “Marika” Brenneman of Washington and Sarasota, and Andras “Andy” Behr of Rockville, Md.

Matt Schudel has been an obituary writer at The Washington Post since 2004.
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