Endre Marton Dies at 95; Reporter in Postwar Hungary

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Endre Marton, 95, an Associated Press diplomatic reporter in Washington best known for his dispatches from his native Hungary, where he briefly was a political prisoner, died Nov. 1 at his daughter's home in New York. No cause of death was disclosed.

A former economist, Dr. Marton switched to journalism in postwar Budapest. At the AP, he competed against his wife, United Press International correspondent Ilona Nyilas, as they covered the postwar communist regime's show trials of such figures as Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty and former foreign minister Laszlo Rajk.

The Martons were rare English speakers working for Western news organizations who also were well-versed in the language, history and customs of Hungary. Because of the authority of their reporting, their bylines became well known to Western news organizations -- as well as to the communist rulers.

For a while, there was a farcical element to the workings of the AVO, the despised secret police in Hungary. When the family's cook told Dr. Marton that she had been approached to inform on him, he told her he would gladly write the reports himself.

This blithe defiance ended in February 1955 after the Martons returned from a party at the U.S. Embassy. Six men concealed in the shadows of their garage arrested Dr. Marton on charges of "espionage and plotting against the people's democratic regime" and alleged that he had furnished the U.S. ambassador with state secrets. They allowed him brief parting words with his wife before whisking him off in a black Mercedes.

That June, his wife was taken away by four burly men in overalls who had burst into the family home. She arranged for their children to spend time with strangers sympathetic to her plight. Meanwhile, Dr. Marton was sentenced to six years in jail; his wife received half that term.

Both were released in 1956 during a period of clemency for political prisoners, and they returned to work covering the uprising that began that October in response to a renewed call by the Communist Party to limit freedom of expression. Seeking a story of struggle that also provided a personal angle, Dr. Marton once wrote of teenagers who destroyed a Soviet tank but wanted to get home because they were scared of their mothers' anger if they were late for dinner.

Overall, he called the failed revolt "the lost opportunity of our generation," blaming inaction from the West for losing a chance to create "what could have been the turning point in the growth of international communism."

After Soviet troops entered Budapest to quell the rebellion in November 1956, the Martons again were susceptible to arrest. They fled to the U.S. legation -- where Mindszenty was also hiding -- and were spirited out of the country, first to Vienna and then to New York. They were hailed by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles for providing "a solid basis for the free world['s] judgment" of events in Budapest.

In 1957, Dr. Marton and his wife received the prestigious George Polk Memorial Award for their coverage of the revolt.

Dr. Marton was born Oct. 29, 1910, in Budapest and enjoyed luxuries provided by his father, a stock trader. He was a 1932 graduate of Budapest University, where he also received a doctorate in economics in 1936.

During World War II, he spent time under Hungarian command in a forced labor brigade near the Russian front. Returning to Budapest, he was briefly a correspondent for the London-based Daily Telegraph before being lured to the AP.

Starting in the late 1950s, he spent about 20 years specializing in diplomatic correspondence from Washington. To many younger correspondents, he was a polite and dignified presence at news conferences -- rigorously prepared but seldom confrontational.

His memoir about the revolution, "The Forbidden Sky" (1971), highlighted a respectful, even chummy tone among him and his jail interrogators. "The eighteen months left no scar on my mind," he wrote. "I have no nightmares and seek no revenge. Ilona is even more magnanimous. She thinks it was an experience which made our lives richer and more appreciative of what life offers. She may be right."

In retirement, he was a diplomatic policy consultant to the pre-deposed shah of Iran and spent several years as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University's foreign service school.

After his wife's death last year, he moved to New York from the Bedford Court retirement facility in Silver Spring.

Survivors include three children, Julia Marton-Lefevre of Costa Rica, Kati Marton of New York and Andrew Marton of Fort Worth; and four grandchildren. Through his daughter Kati, a journalist and author, Dr. Marton has been the father-in-law of broadcaster Peter Jennings and U.S. diplomat Richard C. Holbrooke.


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