AHF Featured Member: Helen M. (Ilona) Szablya
The Honorable Helen M. (Ilona) Szablya (Pronounced: SABYA) is the Honorary Consul General of the Republic of Hungary for the States of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho based in Seattle. Each year, the Ethnic Heritage Council honors a naturalized citizen who has made outstanding contribution to the U.S.A., while maintaining his or her ethnic heritage. Congressman Jim McDermott presented her the “Spirit of Liberty Award" on July 4, 2011, at the the Ethnic Heritage Council's 27th Annual Naturalization Ceremony at Seattle Center where over 500 people, from more than 75 countries, were sworn in as new citizens of the United States of America. [see photos] and [read Congressman McDermott's speech]
Born and raised in Budapest, Hungary, Helen is an award-winning author, columnist, translator, lecturer, and former publisher of Hungary International, a newsletter for Americans about business in Hungary. She has two university degrees, speaks six languages, and lived in five countries under seven different political systems. The number of her English language publications exceeds 700, many of which won awards. Szablya Consultants, Inc. is her translation and consulting agency.
Helen was President of the Washington Press Association and received its highest award, that of the "Communicator of Achievement". The National Federation of Press Women awarded her with a National First Prize for Editorials and the First Affiliate Presidents Award in 1988. Helen was project director and co-author of Hungary Remembered, an oral history drama/lecture series; a project commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 (major grant from Washington Commission for the Humanities and National Endowment for the Humanities). It was featured on world wide wire services in 42 languages. It won two international awards and the George Washington Honor Medal from the Freedoms Foundation. Helen was an "Inquiring Mind" lecturer for the Washington Commission for the Humanities. Helen recently received the Order of Merit from the President of the Republic of Hungary for her life’s work.
Following the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, Helen escaped to Canada and later settled in the state of Washington. She earned a bachelor of arts degree in foreign languages and literature from Washington State University. Fluent in six languages, she worked as a translator and interpreter for many years. Her dream of becoming a writer was postponed until 1965, when the last member of her immediate family escaped Hungary. Helen and her husband John, who was Professor Emeritus of Washington State University, have lived in Kirkland WA until his death in 2005, where Helen still resides. The couple has presented many hundreds of lectures on Hungary. They coauthored papers in the areas of energy affecting human culture and on translating / interpreting. The Szablya’s have seven children and 16 grandchildren. The family was named HUNGARIAN FAMILY OF THE YEAR by the Hungarian Congress in Cleveland, in 1981.
Today the 1956 Hungarian uprising against almost ten years of repressive Soviet domination is only a distant memory for those of us who had read about it in the news or our history books. But for Helen Szablya, born and raised in Budapest, the experience was all too real. Just ten days after the people’s revolution was crushed by Soviet troops leaving more than 2,500 dead, Szablya was about to give birth to her third child in the midst of machine-gun bursts and cannon fire of the ongoing street fighting. Even though Helen’s husband was a privileged young scientist under the Soviet system, they knew they had to leave their homeland for religious and political freedom.
John and Helen Szablya found their way to Canada and then the United States, settling in Pullman, Washington, where they raised seven children. John Szablya became professor of electrical engineering at Washington State University. Helen now lives in Seattle and for 18 years has served as Honorary Consul General of the Republic of Hungary. She is an award-winning author, lecturer, and former publisher of Hungary International, a newsletter for Americans doing business in Hungary. As President of the Washington Press Association she received its highest award, "Communicator of Achievement." She was project director and co-author of Hungary Remembered, a drama/lecture series commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Hungarian Uprising of 1956.
Helen became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1979. Five days before John’s death the couple received the Order of Merit from the President of the Republic of Hungary in October 2005 for their lifetime work. Helen represents the highest principles of the Ethnic Heritage Council, to both cherish your ethnic heritage and to promote the positive values of your adopted country, and for this Helen Szablya is a true inspiration for us all.
Helen’s talk after receiving the Spirit of Liberty award:
When we escaped from Hungary and looked back with my husband for a last time, to our native land, little did we know that not only will we return there, but I will represent this country as consul general in my new country, America - The land of dreams, the land of freedom. I am putting the finishing touches on my new book to be published. Its title will be „Flame of a dream”. That flame, which we pursued with my husband is FREEDOM.
Our families brought us up as "world citizens," meaning that we considered ourselves first of all human beings who believe in God, and then Hungarians. When we crossed the border and arrived in freedom, we decided that our home was where we were together. We learned that strangers are friends whom we have not yet met.
From the first minute on we were striving to free Hungary and to explain everyone how extreme right and extreme left are equally bad. We gave talks, we wrote articles. It was the great efforts of Hungarians within Hungary and outside of Hungary that contributed to the Fall of the Red Star, which is the title of another book I wrote.
Since Hungary became free my husband and I pushed for a Hungarian Consulate in Seattle because we wanted to put Seattle on Hungary’s map and vice-versa, meaning we wanted to establish an intimate relationship between Seattle and Hungary.
When we arrived in freedom we had three children - six diapers - and NOTHING ELSE. God blessed us with four more children, 16 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren to date. We always considered ourselves the richest, the luckiest people in the world.
Our children all speak Hungarian and are proud to be Hungarian Americans. We too brought them up as world citizens to love and respect every human being without prejudice. Having lived through nazism and communism, we dedicate ourselves to testify that the best way for a human being to live is in freedom and democracy.
Thank you again for this great honor, and thank you, America, for freedom!
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Helen Szablya's book, "The Fall of the Red Star" is a story of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution through the eyes of an "illegal" boy scout troop. Published by the book publishing arm of Highlights Magazine. Internationally acclaimed, it won first prizes from the Washington Press Association and the National Federation of Press Women. It was published for the 40th anniversary of the 1956 Revolution. [read more]
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