Hungarian Holocaust Survivor Turned Olympic Gold Medalist Dies at Age 92
During World War II, fascist militants in Hungary came to take Szekely, then 17, away to kill her along with others at the Danube River. Her father convinced them to leave Szekely alone by telling them she was the swimming champion of Hungary, and that “one day you will be happy you saved her life.”
The Germans recruited her into a labor battalion, but Szekely escaped by jumping onto a passing streetcar during a forced march through the city. She returned to her family, who were living in a two-room safe house and stayed there until they were liberated, according to The Guardian.
Throughout her career, Szekely broke six world records, won 44 national titles, took home a gold in the 200-meter breaststroke at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952 and earned a silver in the same race at the Melbourne Olympics in 1956.
She was at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany, during the Black September massacre and even had coffee with one of the victims, wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg, the morning before he was killed.
Szekely married water-polo player and Olympic medalist Dezso Gyarmati. Their daughter, Andrea, grew up to be a swimmer and Olympic medalist.
In 2004, Szekely was named one of Hungary’s “Athletes of the Nation.” In 2011, she received Hungary’s prestigious Prima Primissima award.