Every human being is unique. However, some human beings seem more unique than others. Agnes Kaposi is one such person. Rising to the top of her profession, she became one of the very few women to do so in a field at the time dominated by men. She broke the symbolic ‘glass ceiling’ for many other women to follow. Agnes also survived not only the Holocaust, but also the Soviet invasion of Hungary following the uprising in 1956. Hence the title of her extraordinary memoir ‘Yellow Star-Red Star’ (i2i Publishing 2020). Those who endured both fascism and Soviet communism have a particular story to tell. Agnes recounts it with élan, whether through her book or in her gripping presentations before audiences of all ages.
I first met Dr Agnes Kaposi at Limmud in December 2019. At that point her book was about to be published. She had just held a large audience spellbound with an account of her life. Agnes was born in 1932 in Debrecen, the second largest city of Hungary situated close to the Romanian border. Like many Jews in Hungary at the time, the family considered themselves to be loyal to both their faith and state without being actively religious. Agnes takes us through her childhood under the threat of war and her years under Nazi occupation and incarceration in a concentration camp. A series of fortunate circumstances, including an air raid that put the railway track out of use and prevented Agnes from being sent to a death camp, enabled Agnes to survive. The bombing itself almost ended her life. More than 15,000 who had arrived with Agnes at Strasshof in June 1944 did not survive, nor did 564,000 of the Hungarian Jewish community. The story didn’t end at liberation, far from it. Even in the weeks and months thereafter, many perished through malnutrition and disease. As a young teenager, Agnes managed to pull through. The following eleven years were not without trauma and incident. Protected by her teacher, Agnes, the top pupil in her school, unconsciously managed to not be sent to the Soviet Union to study. Instead, she stayed in Hungary and studied Electrical Engineering. Agnes graduated in 1956, the year of the Hungarian Revolution. By the end of the year she had escaped to Austria and her life in exile began. A few weeks later on the 12th anniversary of the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Agnes arrived in Folkestone in the United Kingdom. Her academic career took off and she became only the third woman to be admitted as a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering.
The story Agnes brings to us is one of survival yes, but more than that, it is one of immense achievement, it is inspirational and can change the lives of those who hear it. The story has been withheld for decades; only now is Agnes telling it. It is fresh, vivid and compelling. Once heard, it is unforgettable and once met, Agnes too is unforgettable. The story is unique, and Agnes is unique.
The Reverend Bruce Thompson
Chair, Lincolnshire Methodist District
Author of Echoes of Contempt: A History of Judeophobia and the Christian Church, Wipf and Stock Publishers (US), 2018.