In Memoriam--Andrew Romay (1922-2017)

A tribute to Andrew Romay (1922-2017)

On Friday, February 10, 2017, Mr. Andrew Romay, who was my dear friend, died in New York. His colorful and valuable life deserves, in my opinion, a special obituary. Few people in the world knew both Nazi concentration camps and Communist prisons, and few are those who, once they arrived in the United States, became both close friends and colleagues of the world famous brothers, Paul and George Soros. A highly successful financier, Andrew Romay was also an important philanthropist who, among other things, helped many immigrants to adjust to life in the United States.

Andrew Romay was born in Miskolc, Hungary, on September 24, 1922, to a Jewish family.  He never renounced his faith despite pressure in Hungary on assimilated Jews to convert to Christianity.  Characteristically for the inconsistencies of Hungarian and, in general, East European life in the interwar period, Andrew attended and graduated in a Catholic high School and, despite growing public antisemitism and anti-Jewish laws, he was allowed to study economics at Budapest University. Yet, before completing his doctoral work, he was drafted into labor service which, under the fascist Arrow Cross regime, late in 1944, found him digging anti-tank trenches on the Austro-Hungarian border. Barely alive, he was liberated, in the Mauthausen concentration camp, Austria, in May 1945, by US Army troops. 

Following the revolution of 1956, he and his fiancée Marietta Puder fled to Austria where the two were married and soon after emigrated to the United States. Although penniless, the couple immediately found work; he as an economist, and she as a fashion designer. Andrew soon met the engineer Paul Soros, George Soros’s elder brother, with whom he formed a Coal Transportation business in the South. This and later business ventures enabled Paul Soros and Andrew to make their fortunes.

In the last decade or two of his life, Andrew, who had lost his wife, devoted himself more and more to charity work. He did this in part by financing the creation of memorials for the thousands of Jews and Roma forced laborers who were killed or died of typhus and starvation at the Austro-Hungarian border in 1944-1945. He also helped to finance Holocaust studies in Hungary. His latest and greatest philanthropic achievement was the creation of a center for recent refugees, immigrants, and asylum-seekers at the English-Speaking Union in New York City. This so far has helped some 750 newcomers to the US with year-long scholarships, English classes, workshops, civic programs, and cultural events. 

Returning to Hungary, he completed his doctoral studies and subsequently worked at a state-owned import-export company where he met his future wife. Unable to stomach the abuses and gross inadequacies of Hungary’s Stalinist system, he tried to illegally cross the infamous Iron Curtain but was caught and imprisoned in a concentration camp at Kistarcsa. Freed six months later, he was hired by the Ministry of Foreign Trade which, even though he was one of the handful who spoke English as well as other languages and had a doctoral degree, gave him only entry level work.

Andrew Romay was one of thousands of highly talented Hungarians who were driven from their own state and society and yet, who nevertheless never abandoned their home country.