Born in Budapest, Hungary, during World War II, Eva Ratonyi MS’76 was too young to remember the details of the Holocaust. But as a daughter of Jewish parents, she has been told about the extreme efforts her mother and father went to in order to ensure her safety.
“My father was very resourceful,” Ratonyi said. “He actually went to the courthouse and forged papers for our family.”
Although the Holocaust came late to Hungary, in the spring of 1944, the Nazis deported close to 600,000 Jews. Thanks to the resilience of Ratonyi’s father, their family of three was able to avoid deportation.
“He always marched to a different drummer,” Ratonyi said. “So when he was told to go to the designated houses for Jews, he absolutely refused.”
Instead, Ratonyi’s mother would spend days walking her in her carriage, and at night the trio would sleep under the machines that occupied her father’s machine shop. At one point, Ratoni’s parents even placed their daughter in the home of a Christian family for weeks until it was safe for her to return.
“People did whatever they could, and I’m convinced it was my father’s stubbornness that saved us,” Ratonyi said.
After the war ended, the family machine shop was confiscated by the Communist regime and placed under government ownership in 1948. When an opportunity to escape Hungary arrived in 1956, Ratonyi and her family, which now included a younger sister, escaped to Austria with 200,000 other Hungarians. They were placed in a refugee camp for nine months before moving to Canada.
It was in Montreal where Ratonyi met her future husband, Robert. Both refugees and Holocaust survivors, the two continued their romance long-distance after her father received a visa and moved their family to New York. At 17, Ratonyi attended high school in the city, then began pursuing a college degree at Hunter College. After marrying Robert in 1963, Ratonyi made several cross-country moves with her husband, who began his corporate career as an engineer after receiving his master’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The first move was to Philadelphia, where Robert began working for General Electric. Although her husband’s career was taking off, education remained a priority for Ratonyi, who completed her bachelor’s degree at Temple University.
“When we were growing up, especially as a Jewish family, it was absolutely drummed into our heads — education, education, education,” Ratonyi said. “My father had a saying, ‘They can come and they can deport you, and they can take everything away from you, but they cannot take your education.’ ”
When her husband took a job in Dallas in 1975, Ratonyi decided to pursue her master’s degree in management science at UT Dallas. At the time, the University only had a graduate program, and her first year attending was also the first year UTD admitted upper-level undergraduates.
“There was no MBA at that time,” Ratonyi said. “It was a relatively small campus.”
After graduating in the spring of 1976, Ratonyi took a job as a programmer/analyst at Texas Instruments, then the only female in her department. The alumna worked for TI until 1978, when her husband received an offer to work for a Fortune 500 company in Atlanta, where the couple currently lives.
Two children later, the Ratonyis eventually formed their own consulting business before retiring. Because education was so important to the couple, the two now dedicate time to educating others about the Holocaust and their individual experiences. Robert has become a regular speaker for groups such as The Georgia Commission on the Holocaust and the Breman Holocaust Museum, and has told his story to audiences far and wide.
“He was a witness, and now everybody that hears his speech will become a witness,” Ratonyi said of her husband.
And even though speaking about their experiences can be painful, it’s a duty they remain loyal to in order to educate others and make sure history doesn’t repeat itself.
“It’s something that you have to do,” Ratonyi said. “You can’t let it be forgotten.”
Eva Ratonyi MS’76 introduced her husband, Robert, at the 50th Annual Scholars’ Conference at the Davidson-Gundy Alumni Center on Sunday, March 8.