BosNewsLife Reporter Recalls Interview
By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife reporting from Budapest
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife) — Hollywood actor Tony Curtis has died at the age of 85, his daughter Jamie Lee Curtis said — news that was expected to come as a shock for Hungary and its Jewish community, which he supported. Curtis, who was born Bernard Schwartz to Hungarian Jewish parents, spoke with a BosNewsLife reporter in an exclusive interview in 2003 about plans to help “end the ignorance” towards what happened during World War Two, when Hungary was a close ally of Nazi Germany.
The veteran actor, who starred in over 100 films such as ‘Some Like It Hot’ with late actress Marilyn Monroe, joked at the time that he wanted the country of his parents to become hot again…for Americans.
Curtis spoke to BosNewsLife in a theater of Budapest, where he shot two television commercials which Hungary hoped would rebrand it as “a centre of spa and health tourism”, ditching its traditional image of Paprika and Gypsy music.
“Why shouldn’t Hungary benefit from the American dollar? You know it would be good for the country and also help to clean out some of the ignorance” for other religions, he said in that rare interview, dressed in his trademark shorts and casual pullover on a cold autumn day.
In the pre-crisis world, Americans spent an estimated $270 billion on recreation and travel annually and Tony Curtis wanted some, if not all, of that money to end up in Hungary where tourism revenues reportedly dropped.
Hungary needed the extra cash as most East Germans, who flooded the country under Communism, stayed away because of higher prices and amid reports that the country’s Lake Balaton was “drying off”, blamed by scientists on global warming.
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Farmotel Stefania is located in hunting area in one of Hungary’s most prestigious wine regions. Near hills, forests and lakes. It has all the facilities of a fine hotel and offers full privacy, huge outdoor space, sauna, grill house and much more.
Curtis made clear he wanted elderly big spending Americans to visit Budapest’s Dohany Synagogue, the largest in Europe, which he helped to refurbish with huge funds in honor of his father.
It is a location where the former drugs addict, who searched for love or companionship in five marriages, apparently felt part of a larger, Jewish, family. “My father used to go to Budapest as he lived in a small city. And he used to go to the Dohany Synagogue… So one day I went to see it and it was in disrepair. So I asked: Can I help? And they said: yes,” recalled Curtis, who also painted and wrote novels.
“Hitler wanted to make this the Museum of the Jews had he won the war,” Curtis added in the 2003 interview, before interrupting his carefully, slowly spoken words so his female assistant could count and put the obligatory number of sweeteners (“yes five, that’s right”) in his cup of coffee. Now “it’s the only synagogue in Eastern Europe that is maintained as beautiful as it was,” he continued.
While Curtis was born in a small New York home in 1925, he said he never forgot his parent’s roots and their struggle with anti-Semitism. “My father was Hungarian and he lived through that time. At the end of the First World War he was a boy, and at the age of 15 or 16 he was caught up in pogroms in the ghetto’s. (Finally) he was able to survive and come to America.”
At least 600,000 Hungarian Jews were killed during World War Two, in many cases with support from Hungarian fascists. From Hungary’s prewar Jewish population of an estimated one million, some 100,000 are believed to live in Hungary today.
As a young man he saw movies about that war era. “It has always (puzzled) me how my father’s country could have contributed to the killing of this people (in) all of these places,” said Curtis, who has been searching for his Jewish roots in Hungary since the aftermath of Soviet domination in the late 1980s.
“What made my Hungarian brothers do that to their fellow Hungarians, throwing them in concentration camps? Maybe it was just a case of survival. (But) that kind of ignorance could provoke people to kill children, I don’t understand that.”
He said, “The thought of a two, three year old child being led somewhere, (and than) stepped (and) killed…Just because of a religion they have. It’s something we must purify ourselves from.”
Curtis stressed he would “never forgive Germany” for what went on. “But I can forgive Hungary because I understand they were not the originators of (these crimes). In that whole European chain from Poland and Latvia all the way up to Yugoslavia (and) Romania who was able to avoid (the massacres)?” he wondered.
The actor, who also once commemorated Hungary’s 1956 revolution against Soviet Communism, said he wants to be remembered as someone whose projects help “to blow away the ignorance of the world, and I can not do it in any place of the world, except in Hungary.”
He remained an optimist that the future would be better, but admitted not all signs were positive. Just before he spoke, thousands of people attended a Budapest rally of an ultra right wing party with French nationalist politician Jean-Marie Le Pen.
And this year — despite Curtis’warnings — the far right Hungarian Movement for a Better Hungary (Jobbik) became the third largest political force here.
Curtis, who died in Las Vegas Wednesday, September 29, of cardiac arrest, will be “greatly missed” by his fans and family, said Jamie Lee Curtis in a statement. “My father leaves behind a legacy of great performances in movies and in his paintings and assemblages. He leaves behind children and their families who loved him and respected him and a wife and in-laws who were devoted to him. He also leaves behind fans all over the world. He will be greatly missed..”
God rest his soul. He did much towards bringing joy to others and sharing his joy of life. We will miss his humor and art.
My family, suffered in Hungary, as well. He did much to dispel the myths of what Hungary and it’s people are, as a nation.
shocked to learn Tony Curtis Death. He was a wonderful person. My favorite actor and cannot forget him, and will be always in memory. If possible, please inform me his residence phone number or address to send condolence letter. Regards, Qasim Fazal, Residence of Japan since 1972.
They are “shocked”??
The guy was 85 years old!
Bye Tony, I remember seeing you and Janet Leigh at the Fox Theatre here in Detroit, Michigan oh so many years ago. I loved you then and was so jealous that my girlfriends actually got to have their picture taken with you. Thanks for all you were able to do in Hungary.
Carol (Nagy) Kunz
I was blessed to be part of your life. I have always feared this moment of losing one of the kindest and most generous men. You will always be missed.
We have made the correction.
BosNewsLife News Center
Hungary Being My Ancestral Home
By D.K. Milgrim-Heath©2010
Hungary being my ancestral home-
Where my Katz & Bernstein families lived and did roam.
I am a 1st generation Hungarian American-
As was Tony Curtis’s is also then.
My family came from Zugo, Munkacs, Huklyvyi plus Budapest.
Cities on the Blue Danube River its everlasting beauty really is the best.
I played actress Julie Andrews aged 15 singing On the Beautiful Blue Danube-
Her glorious voice that’s an internet courtesy of YouTube.
My father studied at the Yeshiva in Munkacs then came to Ellis Island,NY/ USA in 1920-
For a newer better, easier life in America that was quite plenty.
I like Tony Curtis lost relatives in the Holocaust long ago-
Never will I meet them ever this is fate I know.
All Jewish immigrants all had it hard in New York city-
When I was born my dad lived in NY many years-my city being internationally pretty.
Beautiful cities I’ve seen of Hungary on photos-another European Riviera at its best.
No comparison to the French Riviera in any way this -I have confessed!
My dad as a child grew in Huklyvyi as a farmer-my grandparents ran a local inn there-
By the Carpathian Mountains as its beauty as the Sound of Music was everywhere.
I’m sure my family prayed at Budapest’s Dohany Synagogue,
So many years ago a memory years ago being now a beautiful memorial fog.
That beautiful soul for helping the Hungarian Jewish Community-
Became Tony Curtis who revered his father by honoring him via his Hungarian ancestry.
My father too was that proud Hungarian patriot-
That weekly reminded me of our history a lot.
Growing up adoring eating shiskaele and nockerle too-
An acquired taste for things for food ‘paprika spiced up’ for you!
Chicken Paprikash known the world over for its true Hungarian taste-
Tasted better following a Hungarian cookbook or a recipe that a relative did baste.
One time my daughter being little didn’t like paprika on food on her plate-
I told her it’s too bad you’re Hungarian that’s your culinary fate!
Tony Curtis had that very handsome Slavic face-
My father did too and I have a female version in its place!
When I was a child I need to dress-up in a native costume that day-
I dressed as a proud little Hungarian girl in every way!
I have that strong thirst for my paternal family’s Hungarian roots as well-
Some day hoping to visit Tony Curtis’s ancestral and my land would be swell.
“Curtis stressed he would “never forgive Germany” for what went on.”
How childish. Well, just like the nazis Tony ain’t going to heaven either, considering the way he cheated his women.
The Bible makes clear in John 3:16 (King James Version) “16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” It does not say “Except those who cheated on women” or “cheated the insurance” etc. I do not believe that Hitler is in heaven. However Tony Curtis was clearly searching for answers. The Bible says we are NOT saved by our ‘good works’ or how ‘good we are’, or how famous in this world…As a matter of fact the Bible says Jesus Christ died at the cross and rose up from the death for all sinners like me and you, or, say, Tony Curtis. The Bible says to believers”. . . you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) or: “. . . he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” (Titus 3:5)
And while Abraham in the Old Testament was not yet part of the Church of Christians, or the Body of Christ as the Bible calls it (as Jesus Christ had not yet appeared to the people in Abraham’s time) he was promised a promised land, and salvation…Not because of his works or how good he was, but because of his faith…
Romans 4:2-6 (NASB)
2 “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.
3 For what does the Scripture say? “ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.”
Stefan J. Bos, BosNewsLife
Thanks for that dude! This was a thoroughly interesting read.
my mother was born 1924 in Huklyvyi. She was a Katz. The family was rounded up the Hungarian Gendarmes and deported to Auschwitz I believe in September of 1944.
Hungary was never a close ally of the Nazis, you idiot! Hungary was under occupation. Then after the German Nazis, the Russian Communists were just as bad for another 40 years. Get a grip on your history.
Hungary was never a close ally of the Nazis, you idiot! Hungary was under occupation. After the German Nazi occupation, the Russian Communists took over, many of whom, like Rakosi, were atheist Jews, they were just as bad for another 40 years. Get a grip on your history.
Hungary was a VERY close ally of Nazi Germany during most of World War Two. Am not sure what history lessons you received, if at all.
Stefan J. Bos
Hello, thank you for removing the comment. I believe I missed one of your emails sent, I’ve been having some issues with my computer. Thank you again.
NOTE FROM BOSNEWSLIFE: We have kept the comment, but removed the name due to uncertainty about email address.