Devecseri, Ladislas ‘Laci’ (1907-2005)

A contemporary of Kastner from Kolozsvár. A civil engineer like his father, Emil. They owned and ran their engineering and construction firm with branches in Bucharest, Romania and other cities in Hungary. Emil Devecseri was a scion of a family of Hungarian patriots and of an assimilated Jewish family. Emil proudly served his Austro-Hungarian Kaiser in World War I as an officer, and the family counted prominent newspaper editors among its members. Like many other similar families, their forbearers Magyarized their names from the original Levy. One of their biggest clients was the Hungarian army for which they produced prefabricated barracks, bridges, and major buildings.

From 1944 on, Laci worked closely with Kastner, and among others, built the barracks overnight to preempt Eichmann and to accommodate the people at the Kolumbus utca camp.

His wife Barbara was the niece of Joel Brand. Laci, his wife, two sons and his parents, left on the first train from Bergen-Belsen to Switzerland. They moved to Israel after the war, residing in Haifa. After a stint in private practice Laci accepted a position with Solel Boneh Foreign Works Department, Israel’s largest engineering – Construction Company and was assigned to head their projects in Djibouti, then a French possession on the Horn of Africa where Solel Boneh was carrying out a contract for the French Army.

He divided his time between Paris and Haifa and after the fall of Communism added an apartment in Budapest to his overseas abodes. His elder son followed in his father’s footsteps and entered the engineering profession, working on major international projects around the world.

Recruiting like-minded colleagues, passengers on the 1944 train to Switzerland and former co-workers of Kastner from all parts of the world, Laci was indefatigable in getting the true story of Kastner out, all the time combating and stemming the flood of falsehoods and maligning  articles appearing in newspapers, magazines and books.

On July 7, 2002, on the grounds of the great Dohanyi Synagogue in Budapest, Laci, at the age of ninety-five, spoke at the unveiling of a monument to Kastner and the Rescue Committee he initiated, organized and fought for the past two years, in the presence of the Budapest mayor, government ministers, noted scholars and a host of dignitaries.

 On Vaci utca 12, the building where Kastner lived during 1944, Laci had the city mount a commemorative marble plaque on the façade and saw to it, paying for it himself, that every year on the day marking Kastner’s death, a fresh flower wreath was hung on a special hook reserved next to the plaque.

In his final years, Laci appeared on many programs, was interviewed many times by the BBC at length, wrote his memoirs and articles for the local Hungarian press. He kept a lively correspondence with many institutions, contributed to Steven Spielberg’s Shoah project and cooperated with Dr. Rahe, the director of the Bergen-Belsen Gedaenkstaette, the former camp, now a museum, where his mother, Sidonia’s diary, illustrated by the noted artist Irsay,  occupies a central place in the museum.

In 2005, ninety-eight year-old Laci passed away in Leanyfalu, a village a few miles outside of Budapest, where he spent the last years of his active life.

 

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