From Darkness into Light by Robert Ratonyi
My Journey Through Nazism, Fascism, and Communism to Freedom
Robert Ratonyi was born in Budapest, Hungary, in January 1938, a critical year in world history. In March of that year, Nazi Germany annexed Austria into the Third Reich, signaling Hitler’s intent to start WWII by invading Poland in 1939. In November 1938, organized pogroms were carried out throughout Germany and Austria in what is called the Kristallnacht, or the “Nights of the Broken Glass,” when a hundred Jews were killed, seven thousand Jewish businesses were destroyed, a thousand synagogues were burned, and thirty thousand Jews were deported. Ratonyi’s parents saw what was coming to Jews in Hungary and decided not have any more children. As a result, he grew up as a single child, which he always regretted.
Hungary became an ally of Germany in 1940, and following that, Ratonyi’s early childhood was scarred by fear, upheaval, and loss. He was four years old in 1942 when his father was conscripted into a Jewish labor battalion, and he never saw him again. Germany invaded Hungary in 1944, when he was six years old, and his mother was deported to an Austrian concentration camp. He was forced to wear a yellow star and face the terrors of war and ghetto life without his parents. He survived, thanks to some family members and strangers. He was brought up by his mother who survived and grew up under a communist dictatorship.
He was a freshman at the Technical University of Budapest when he was caught up in the bloody uprising against the regime in October 1956. After the Russians crushed the Uprising, he managed to escape to Austria and eventually ended up as an immigrant in Canada in February 1957.
Once in Montreal, Canada, Robert restarted his life, learned English, worked during the day, and continued his education in an evening engineering program at a local university in the fall of 1957. In 1961 he transferred to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US where he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering. While in graduate school, he married his wife, Eva, also a Holocaust survivor from Hungary, and became an American immigrant in 1964. After leaving MIT, Ratonyi worked for General Electric and continued his education in the evening to receive a master’s degree in management from Drexel University.
The combination of his engineering and business education then catapulted Robert into a successful corporate business career. He left GE and worked for Exxon Enterprises and Xerox Corporation. He moved to Atlanta with his wife and two children in 1978 when he became Vice President of Contel Corporation, now part of Verizon. Subsequent to his corporate career, he formed and managed his own mergers and acquisitions and strategic consulting business.
Mr. Ratonyi is the Founding Chairman of the MIT Enterprise Forum of Atlanta from 2000 to 2002. He is also an Educational Counselor for MIT and interviews high school seniors who apply to MIT.
As a child survivor of the Holocaust, he is a regular speaker to middle and high school children and to various adult audiences on behalf of The William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum since 2011. He is also a regular speaker on behalf of the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust throughout Georgia.
Year first published: 2022