Eva Szekely Varnai, the mother of Ambassador Judith Varnai Shorer, the consul general of Israel to the Southeast, died in Ramat Gan, Israel, on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2017. She was 89.
Eva passed away 67 years after she left the ashes of what was, before World War II, a magnificent and rich Jewish assimilated community in Budapest that was devastated by the Holocaust. Eva had witnessed the atrocities of the Nazis and the dreaded fascist troops, who gunned down Jews at the banks of the Danube. “The water was red for days,” she remembered.
After the war, she met her beau, who came back from the Russian labor camps in Siberia, and they married.
Vowing not to be a victim anymore, she and her husband, Gyuri, tried three times to be smuggled across the border to Austria and were incarcerated for that. During her stay in prison, Eva had a miscarriage. Still, they were not daunted by their failure, and in 1950 they succeeded in boarding a moving train late at night that crossed into Austria. They boarded the train from two sides and were not certain, clinging to the train’s sides, that both made it across the border until they got well into Austria. They then were taken by a ship from Italy to Israel, where they were sent to the desert city of Be’er Sheva.
Though she vowed never to return to Budapest, Eva relented when her daughter Judith was nominated to serve as Israel’s ambassador to Hungary, and she mourned that her husband, who had died a few years earlier, did not share her glee at seeing a full company of Hungarian soldiers presenting their arms before her daughter.
“This is not my country anymore,” she said.
In Israel, she revived her family business of crafting and marketing leather handbags and purses and ran a famous store in Tel Aviv until the age of 75. Until her last days she ruled the family with tight reins.
She is survived by two daughters, Judith and Iris, and five grandchildren. She held herself together until her oldest granddaughter’s marriage ceremony three weeks ago, then just faded away.