Denis Lehotay was accompanied by three generations of his family members as he accepted an award from the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem, on behalf of his late parents, Victor and Mary Lehotay.
Designated as “Righteous Among the Nations” for their heroic actions in Hungary during the Second World War, which saved the life of Andrew Kun, as well as his mother and baby sister, the Lehotays will be forever remembered as brave and honourable gentiles who put their own lives in jeopardy to save their Jewish neighbours and friends.
The award was presented by Nimrod Barkan, Israel’s ambassador to Canada, and Ester Driham, national executive director of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem (CSYV), during a ceremony at the Israeli embassy in Ottawa on Feb. 9.
Barkan noted that while many in Hungary and across Europe stood idly by, there were some courageous people who risked their lives to save others.
“I am not sure that I could have been courageous enough, had I been in their shoes, to do what they did,” he said, before sharing his own family’s story.
“It so happens that my grandmother and her son – my uncle – were also saved by someone who was Righteous Among the Nations. They were also Hungarians.… They were hidden in a barn and their lives were saved.”
Kun was overcome with emotion as he addressed the members of the Lehotay family who were in attendance.
“I am a Holocaust survivor and the reason I am a Holocaust survivor is because of your parents. They not only saved me, they saved my mother and my sister, Susan, by providing us with whatever we needed to escape or to hide,” said Kun.
Too emotional to continue, he added, “All I can say is thank you.”
Susan Kun Turnau shared the story of her birth, when her mother was released from the hospital with nowhere to hide.
The Lehotays found a place for them and found Christian mothers who were nursing. “For two weeks, they handed me around and fed me,” she said.
She held up a photograph of her family and said, “This family would not exist today if not for the Lehotay family. That is the bottom line and that is why we are here.”
Denis Lehotay – who was accompanied by his brother, Victor Lehotay, his children and his grandson – said he wanted them all to know the story of their grandparents and great-grandparents, and to take pride in their example.
“Many people just hid, covering their ears and eyes and hoping for their own survival,” he said.
“My parents were two people who did the right thing and the honourable thing because they could not do otherwise.… My parents were friends of Andy and Susan’s parents. Andy and I were also friends and we are still friends 75 years later.”
Another ceremony – which was hosted by the Jewish Federation of Edmonton, the Israeli Consulate for Toronto and Western Canada and CSYV – was held in Edmonton on Feb. 20 to honour a Dutch couple who helped shelter Jews in the Netherlands during the war.
The ceremony, which was held at Edmonton’s Beth Israel Synagogue, honoured the late Albertus and Gerrigje van Engelen.
Hartgert van Engelen accepted a medal and a certificate of honour from Yad Vashem on his parents’ behalf.
The couple hid a number of Jews in their home in Soest, Netherlands, including Ilse Jacobsohn, a German-Jewish refugee who fled the country after Kristallnacht in 1938, and members of the Bremer family.
“The exemplary story of Albertus and Gerrigje van Engelen demonstrates that every person can make a difference and that freedom of choice does exist. These are the values that the CSYV strives to convey to the next generation of Canadians, while teaching about the Holocaust,” Driham and Fran Sonshine, CSYV’s national chair, wrote in a statement.