Ilona Marton, a teacher who became a United Press reporter in her native Hungary and covered the 1956 revolution at great personal risk, has died at the age of 92.
Marton, who had been ill with pancreatic cancer, died Saturday of heart failure at the Bedford Court retirement facility in Silver Spring, Md., said her daughter, Kati Marton. Funeral arrangements are pending.
In 1948 the Communists took over the government of Hungary. Marton's husband, Endre, was a reporter for the Associated Press in Budapest and Marton, who had been teaching history, took a job as a reporter for the rival United Press, Kati said. United Press was a predecessor of UPI.
"It was a big roll of the dice for both of them to be doing what they were doing," she said. "They were operating on conviction, they hated what was happening to their country, and they gave to their profession with their last measure."
Their reporting put them under the scrutiny of the Communist government.
In February 1955, Endre Marton was arrested by Hungarian authorities after the couple left a party at the U.S. Embassy. He was charged with espionage. His wife was arrested in June and forced to leave their daughters, Kati and Julia, ages 6 and 7, with strangers.
"It was awful, we lived with strangers, we didn't know where our parents were, and we knew they were enemies of the state," Kati said.
The Martons were released from prison in 1956 as part of a general amnesty given political prisoners just before the Hungarian Revolution began in October.
On Oct. 23, a spontaneous uprising began against Communist rule. To help cover the story, United Press reporter Anthony Cavendish went to Budapest from Warsaw, and UP reporter Russell Jones drove there from Vienna.
On Oct. 30, Soviet forces withdrew, but on Nov. 4, the Soviets smashed their way back into Budapest, crushed the revolution and halted communication out of the country.
Cavendish on Nov. 8 left by car to file a report. Limited communications were restored and Jones remained in Budapest until he was expelled Dec. 5.
Jones, as an American correspondent, won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the revolution, but the work was a collaborative effort and her parents both were deserving of Pulitzer recognition, Kati said.
"She was basically Russ's guide in Budapest. She took him around, she spoke the language. It was a collaborative effort in the best sense," Kati said. "She knew the ropes and it was her territory. She was the local reporter."
The Martons each received a special George Polk Award for Journalism for their coverage of the revolution.
After the revolution, Ilona Marton helped organize a general strike, which besides her occupation as journalist made her a target for arrest. Warned that the secret police were about to arrest them, the Martons, with their two young daughters, were given refuge in the U.S. Embassy along with Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty, whose treason trial they had covered.
The Martons were smuggled out of the country with U.S. assistance in 1957, first to Vienna and then to New York.
Endre Marton began covering the State Department for AP in 1957 in Washington, and Ilona began a new career teaching French at high schools in Rockville and Kensington, Md., before retiring in 1975.
In 1958, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles praised the Martons, saying they had "provided a solid basis for the free world judgment" of events in Budapest.
Ilona Marton was born March 14, 1912, in Miskolc, Hungary. She received a master's degree in history and a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Debrecen and became a history teacher in Budapest.
When the Germans invaded Hungary in 1944, both of Marton's parents were sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where both died, Kati said.
In a life that spanned much turmoil, Ilona took great pride in her journalism career.
"She was a Unipresser and proudly so," said Richard Holbrooke, Kati's husband and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
"She looked back with great pride and wonderment that she had done something that was so clearly dangerous to the point of recklessness, particularly with two small children," Kati said.
"She was my first and primary role model. I became a journalist as well," said Kati, an author and former broadcast correspondent who is a board member and former chairwoman of the Committee to Protect Journalists. "I went in my parents' footsteps. I wanted to be brave, to believe in something bigger than myself, to be a pioneer as they were, and to have a meaningful life."
Ilona Marton is survived by her husband; her three children, Julia Marton-Lefevre of London, Kati Marton of New York and Andrew Marton of Fort Worth, Texas; a sister; and four grandchildren.