Hungarian 'Angel of Mercy' champion of Human Rights

Wed, Jun 27th 2018 09:00 am
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Sister Margaret (Margit) Slachta courageously fought against injustice during the Hungarian Holocaust of 1944-45. (Courtesy of Catholic Cemeteries)
Sister Margaret (Margit) Slachta courageously fought against injustice during the Hungarian Holocaust of 1944-45. (Courtesy of Catholic Cemeteries)

The Sisters of Social Service in Hungary, embraced Benedictine spirituality, had a special devotion to the Holy Spirit and protected many from Nazi atrocities. Their foundress Sister Margaret Slachta is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Lackawanna.

A documentary, "Angel of Mercy," will to be released soon. The film tells the courageous story of Sister Margaret Slachta and her order's heroic actions during the Hungarian Holocaust of 1944-45. She is described as a champion of human rights because of her work for social justice. Sister Margaret joined a religious community called the Society of the Social Mission in 1908. However, in 1923 she founded the Sisters of Social Service, known as the Grey Nuns today. The Sisters were known throughout Hungary for providing services to the poor as nurses and midwives, and ministering to the young in orphanages. Sister Margaret formed the Union of Catholic Women, which was an organization that focused on social justice for women.

In 1938, when the first anti-Jewish laws were passed in Hungary, Sister Margaret published articles opposing anti-Jewish measures in her newspaper called the Voice of the Spirit. However, in 1943 the government suppressed her newspaper, but she continued to publish it underground. Fighting the deportation of Jewish families, Sister Margaret is known for her heroic actions of sheltering the persecuted, protesting forced labor and opposing anti-semitic laws. She went to Rome in 1943 to encourage papal action against the Jewish persecutions. Sister Margaret instilled in her sisters the precepts of their faith and demanded that they protect the Jews, even if it led to their own deaths. When the Nazis occupying Hungary in 1944 began a widespread deportation of Jews, Sister Margaret's order arranged baptisms hoping it would spare people from deportation. They also sent food and supplies to the Jewish ghettos and sheltered people in their convents. Sister Sara Salkahaz, SSS, was executed and Sister Margaret was badly beaten and barely avoided execution. Sister Sara was later beatified for sheltering Jews during the holocaust. Through Sister Margaret's efforts, the sisters were able to rescue more than 2,000 Hungarian Jews from the Nazis.

Sister Margaret raised awareness of the contribution of the Protestant churches in the rescue efforts of the Jewish population. Noted for having a zeal for social justice in the rescue and relief efforts of the Jewish population, she is quoted as stating, "I stand without compromise on the foundation of Christian values; that is, I profess that love obliges us to accept natural laws for our fellow men without exception, which God gave and which cannot be taken away."

Following World War II, Sister Margaret was again elected to Parliament, having been elected previously in 1920. Cardinal Joseph Mindszenty was also elected and the two were part of the resistance against communism.

The Sisters of Social Service lived and worked in Buffalo, since the 1920s. A group of sisters came to join them in Buffalo from Hungary in 1947. Because religious orders were suppressed in communist occupied countries in the 1950s, many sisters chose to either leave or go underground, Sister Margaret chose to emigrate from Hungary to Buffalo for political reasons in 1949. Moving the administration of the order with her.

Sister Margaret died on Jan. 6, 1974, at the age of 89 at the former St. Francis Hospital. She is buried with the Sisters of Social Service Section, Lot 5 Grave number 2.  

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