• January 2011

Kati Marton Tells Us Why Her Parents Were "Enemies of the People"

By Hope Katz Gibbs
Author
Truly Amazing Women Who Are Changing the World

This month we shine the spotlight on Kati Marton, an award-winning former NPR and ABC News correspondent, who is the author of several books, including her latest, “Enemies of the People,” and a New York Times bestseller, “Hidden Power: Presidential Marriages That Shaped Our History,” as well as “Wallenberg,” “The Polk Conspiracy,” “A Death in Jerusalem,” and a novel, “An American Woman.”

Read more about her work below.

But first, it is with sadness that we report the passing of her husband, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who died from complications of an aortic dissection on December 13. The 69-year-old diplomat helped bring peace to the Balkans as the chief architect of the Dayton accords. He was President Obama’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and upon his death Obama called Holbrooke “a truly unique figure who will be remembered for his tireless diplomacy, love of country, and pursuit of peace.”

Theirs was a love story. A third marriage for both (Marton, 54, was previously married to ABC newscaster Peter Jennings, with whom she had two children), she once said to the press that she “didn’t realize such happiness was possible at our ripe age.”

Later, New York Magazine detailed the evening when Holbrooke presented Marton with a scribbled document after they began seeing each other seriously for several months.

Marton said: “Richard gave me a list of every time he’d seen me in nine years. He has a phenomenal memory. It included things like elevator sightings, large parties, small parties. I was so overwhelmed. Even if I wasn’t already half in love with him, that would have pushed me over, because of that sustained devotion and the fact that he never let on.”

Our thoughts are with her.

About “Enemies of the People: My Family’s Journey to America”

We first met Marton in the fall of 2009 when our January Book Column profilees, Perry Pigeon Hooks and Loretta Yenson of Hooks Book Events, had brought the well-known Marton to DC to speak at several venues.

Audiences who met the elegant writer were intrigued by her true-life thriller, which tells the story of her parents, Hungarian journalists Ilona and Endre Marton — two journalists who during the 1950s wrote hundreds of articles for the U.S.-based Associated Press and United Press International about what was going on behind the Iron Curtain.

For decades, the details of their lives were buried in the files of the Hungarian Secret Police (known as the AVO). Marton worked tirelessly to uncover the fascinating and sometimes excruciating details of the controversial careers of her now-deceased parents, who not only shaped her career and life — they helped put an end to the Cold War.

Marton told gathered audiences that she was warned that she would be “opening a Pandora’s box,” as she researched her parents controversial lives.

She paid little attention. Marton explains today that she felt compelled to understand the intricacies and courage of her parents, who were enmeshed in a nail-biting game of cat and mouse with the AVO.

“Close friends-turned-informers relayed the Martons’ every move to the Secret Police, who were determined to arrest them,” she shares. “My parents only made it worse by spurring easy friendships within the American legation. But it afforded them an affluent lifestyle and consequently allied them with the ‘enemy,’ as they were considered by the AVO.”

They eventually were imprisoned for six years for espionage, as Marton explains in the introduction of her book.

“All my life, my parents’ defiance of the Communists, their stubborn courage as the last independent journalists until their arrest, trial, and conviction as CIA spies, has been at the core of our family identity. On Feb. 25, 1955, at 2 in the morning, following a game of bridge at the home of the U.S. military attaché, my father was abducted by six agents of the AVO. His arrest was front-page news in The New York Times. Four months later, they came for my mother.”

Before moving to America, Marton and her sister Juli were sent to live with a Hungarian family named Hellei. “Everything about them made me long for my parents and our old life,” Marton shares.

Indeed, this poignant memoir is at once a history lesson of the Cold War and a love letter to the people who shaped her life.

“No one played a bigger role in my life than my father, who was so sparing with praise,” Marton writes toward the end of the book. “I think I even chose my life partners with him in mind. In 1977, when I was hired as an ABC News foreign correspondent, Papa told me to observe and learn from Peter Jennings. ‘Now there is a man who has all the important qualities: intelligence, a sense of the world, great good looks — a man, Kati, who has it all.’

“So, I recall thinking at the time that this is the sort of man he would like as his son-in-law. Until the end of his life, though we had divorced, he considered Peter, the father of his grandchildren, as a son-in-law. And vice versa. After I married [Ambassador] Richard Holbrooke, then an assistant secretary of state, Richard and Papa would sit for hours reminiscing.”

In the epilogue, Marton admits she would not have written this book if her parents were still alive. “Most deaths bring both grief and relief. With my parents’ deaths the taboo of the past was lifted.”

Buy the book here.

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