Vali Rácz is a name which is probably unfamiliar to most people, but during the 1930s and 40s, she was one of the most famous singers and actresses in Hungary. She starred in approximately 20 Hungarian films, and was loved by the public, but she is not only remembered as a celebrity: she also hid five Jewish people in her villa during the Holocaust.
Valéria Rácz was born in Gölle, Hungary, and attended a convent school as a child. She had always had a talent and a passion for music, so with encouragement from her father, after she finished school she left Gölle to study at the Franz Liszt Music Academy in Budapest. She quickly rose to fame due to her excellent singing voice and glamorous appearance, and was referred to by the press as the “Hungarian Marlene Dietrich”.
A large number of Jewish people played an important part in Vali’s career and success: among them, a professor from the Franz Liszt Music Academy who encouraged her to audition, businessmen who employed her to perform at their clubs, a designer who created all her outfits and many fellow performers, so despite her “impeccably Aryan” background, the Nazis’ persecution of the Jews disturbed her greatly.
Two months after the Nazis carried out “Operation Margarethe”, the occupation of Hungary in March 1944, Vali took in two Jewish fugitives – Jenő and Szerén
Mandel, a quiet, middle-aged couple who were relatives of one of Vali’s friends. They lived in Vali’s basement, and were told not to leave the house under any circumstances. In case of a Gestapo raid, a secret compartment was built into Vali’s walk-in wardrobe, which they were able to hide in. A month later, she took in Margit Herzog, a close friend, and Margit’s teenage daughter Marietta. She then arranged for Ilona Mandel (Szerén’s sister) to hide at her parents’ home, but due to suspicion arising, Ilona later moved into the villa as well. All five hid there until November, when Vali was betrayed and arrested by the Hungarian Secret Police, who, although they did not find any evidence, imprisoned her in the Hotel Majestic, where prisoners were interrogated and often tortured before deportation or murder.
Fortunately, some of Vali’s friends with high-ranking connections arranged for her release, and she was freed after ten days, 24 hours before all of her fellow prisoners were either deported or sent on a forced march. No information was obtained from Vali’s interrogations, and all of those who hid in her home evaded capture. Vali married in 1946 and had two children (her daughter, Monica Porter, later wrote a book about Vali) and lived happily until she passed away at the age of 85 on 12th February 1997. She was honoured as a “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem in 1991.
This story was submitted by Isobel Rodol, a work placement student at The Wiener Library. For more information on volunteering and work placements, visit our website.