Angel of Mercy in Canada – a film about Sister Margit Slachta

In 1949 when Sister Margit Slachta arrived to the United States and asked for temporary refuge, she had no idea that she would never return to Hungary. She died in Buffalo, New York, in 1974 and the local paper headline read, “Sister Margaret Slachta Dies; Champion of Rights.” Indeed, she was an uncompromising fighter of human rights.

George Csicsery arrived to the US with his family in 1951. He is a Californian filmmaker who made Angel of Mercy, a documentary about Sr. Slachta’s life. To be honest, Sister Slachta’s story was unknown to me before I saw his film.

Sr. Slachta was born in 1884, attended Catholic schools and became a nun, teacher, and in 1920 the first woman member of the Hungarian Parliament. She was an early feminist, a socially sensitive politician, and the founder of the order, Sisters of Social Services in 1923.

Sr. Slachta believed that laws given by God transcended laws made by man. She wrote, “I stand without compromise, on the foundation of Christian values; that is, I profess that love obliges us to accept natural laws for our fellow-men without exception, which God gave and which cannot be taken away.”

Her activism was inspired by the desire to serve God, and her values were close to what we call today the Catholic Left.

Sister Margit Slachta

Sister Margit Slachta

When the first anti-Jewish laws were passed in 1938, Sr. Slachta vigorously opposed them in her newspaper, Voice of the Spirit. During World War II, Sr. Slachta supported the poor and the displaced; she smuggled food to the ghettos and helped men in the labor battalions. She pleaded with the Catholic Church and the wife of Admiral Horthy for assistance and ended up saving nearly a thousand Jewish children in her orphanage. One of Sr. Slachta’s colleagues, Sister Sára Salkaházi was brutally murdered by the Arrow Cross, and Sr. Slachta herself narrowly avoided execution. Yad Vashem recognized Sister Slachta as Righteous Among the Nations, and in 2006, Sister Salkaházi received her beatification ceremony at Budapest’s St. Stephen Basilica.

After World War II, Sr. Slachta restarted her political career as a member of Hungary’s Free Parliament, but following the Communist takeover in 1949, she had to leave the country. Even in the U.S., she lobbied relentlessly for Hungarian causes as a contributor to Radio Free Europe.

While Mr. Csicsery’s films often play on California TV channels, he is lesser known in Hungary, and I was pleasantly surprised that his work was introduced in Canada. Last November a rough cut of Angel of Mercy was screened at the St. Gabriel’s Passionist Parish in Toronto; the event was co-sponsored by the Embassy of Hungary in Canada and the Consulate General of Hungary in Toronto. Hungary’s ambassador to Canada, Bálint Ódor, and Consul General Stefánia Szabó were there, along with Csicsery and two representatives of the Sisters of Social Service from Calgary.

Father Brando Recana (left), two Sisters of Social Service and Ambassador Bálint Ódor (blue tie), filmmaker George Csicsery and Consul General Stefánia Szabó at St. Gabriel's Passionist Church.

Father Brando Recana (left), two Sisters of Social Service and Ambassador Bálint Ódor (blue tie), filmmaker George Csicsery and Consul General Stefánia Szabó at St. Gabriel’s Passionist Church.

George has a fascinating life story on his own and his work deserves more exposure and acknowledgement within the Hungarian-American community. His films often tackle complex subjects, I especially liked the way he handled the history of the Hungarian Scout movement (Troop 214). He has also made a series about mathematicians, among them the wandering genius Pál Erdős (N is a Number), and educator Pál Halmos (I Want to Be a Mathematician). I loved the unforgettable Transylvania sceneries of his visually stunning film about Hungarian folk song collector Zoltán Kallós (Songs Along A Stony Road).

For full disclosure, I must mention that I have personally known George Csicsery for decades and I have seen most of his films. Kudos for sharing Angel of Mercy with a Canadian audience in Toronto.

You may read more about George Csicsery’s films by clicking here.

György Lázár

6 Comments

  1. Christopher Adam says:

    My father’s cousin, Ilona Borsai, was a member of the Sisters of Social Service in the years following World War II and even after 1949, once the order was disbanded in Hungary, she lived with two members of the order in a house in Buda. Ilona had survived the Holocaust (she had converted to Roman Catholicism at age 18, while the rest of the family became Unitarian) and her views were very much influenced by Sr. Slachta.

    After 1949, Ilona became a researcher and musicologist working alongside Zoltán Kodály, recording and collecting folk music both in rural Hungary, as well as among Coptic communities in Egypt, making multiple research trips to the Middle East and presenting at Arabic conference on the region’s music history. She never married and she and members of the defunct order still lived very much as members of an underground religious community during communism. One of them, Mona Lisa (or more formally known as Mona Ilona), wrote a monograph on the life of Margit Slachta.

    My mother told me that in around 1970, shortly before Sr. Slachta’s death, my father’s cousin was invited to Buffalo, to meet with the nearly two dozen or so Hungarian members of the Sisters of Social Service who now lived in New York state. My parents also travelled there and met with Sister Slachta. My parents, my father’s cousin and two dozen cheerful, singing nuns of the order packed a bus and went to see the musical Oliver Twist at a local theatre. It was quite the sight, apparently.

    Anyhow, I thought I’d share this little anecdotal family story about our connection to some of this…

  2. András B. Göllner says:

    The commitment of these women to the protection of justice and human dignity should never be forgotten. They stand as rare and precious examples for all of us. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. Sister Slachta and Sister Salkahazi were beautiful, courageous, truly Christian people, and all Hungarians can and should be proud of them.

  4. Christopher–

    Interesting that you mention Ilona Borsai! I remember having illustrated children’s books by her. They must have been published in the seventies or maybe early eighties.

    As well, being fascinated with Kodaly as I am, did you know that it was, in fact, Kodaly that sent Ilona, your father’s cousin, to Egypt in the sixties? UNESCO had asked Kodaly, and Kodaly sent Ilona Borsai, on his behalf. She was among the first to organize/categorize Coptic music in Egypt, using this UNESCO grant.

  5. Sr. Margit sounds like an awe-inspiring and fascinating, brave woman. Is there a possibility that other cities and smaller communities could see this film? Can Mr. Csicsery’s other films be viewed somehow? Not just in Toronto, I mean. Nice anecdote about Christopher’s relative, makes me feel grateful and humbled, as I love Coptic music.

  6. Gyerekek, hany “ujsagot” irtok? Mire ez a nagy nyuzsges?
    Ha csak egyet irnatok, talan eszrevennetek a hibaitokat is. A fenti cikkbol:

    ” When the first anti-Jewish laws were passed in 1938, Sr. Slachta vigorously opposed them in her newspaper, …”

    Tenyleg? Az elso zsido-ellenes torveny 1938-ban keszult el Magyarorszagon? Csak nem ugy gondoljatok, hogy a Numerus Clausus a zsidokat segitette?

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