Mission in Life
Editor’s Note: The following story, which originally appeared in the Summer 1993 issue of IUP Magazine, is included in this online edition in light of Edward Chaszar’s death on September 11, 2011. He was a faculty member in the Political Science Department from 1969 to 1991. The writer of the story was Craig Swauger, a professor emeritus of journalism at IUP and a member of the Indiana State Teachers College Class of 1942 who died April 5, 2000.
Every morning, Edward Chaszar begins his day with a swim in the pool of the Connecticut Avenue apartment complex where he and his wife live in Washington, D.C.
After breakfast, he is off to what he calls his “busy, exciting life.” And his wife, Maja, heads for her woodworking studio. First on Edward’s daily schedule is an hour or so spent at a desk on his correspondence. At least three times a week he visits the Hungarian-American Coalition offices to read the newspapers and the press releases from various embassies.
At other times, he may attend briefings at the White House arranged by the National Security Council. Or there may be Capitol Hill hearings dealing with human rights issues and general political concerns on central and Eastern European matters, especially related to the ethnic strife of the past few years.
The Chaszars have been in Washington since the summer of 1991, when Edward retired from IUP after twenty-two years teaching in the Political Science Department.
The present “busy, exciting” life of Ed Chaszar stems from a virtual lifetime commitment to human rights. Since his retirement, Chaszar has continued to involve himself in human rights organizations, with particular attention to the interests of Central European national or ethnic minorities.
The culminating moment of his long and consuming battle in the human rights arena came with well-deserved recognition on October 23, 1992. On that date at the Hungarian embassy in Washington, D.C., a ceremony was held to commemorate the 1956 Revolution against Soviet rule.
During that ceremony, the seventy-two-year-old professor emeritus received the Officers’ Cross of the Order of Merit awarded by the president of Hungary. With more than four hundred present, including personnel from the State Department and the diplomatic corps, Hungarian Ambassador Pal Tar presented the cross and a citation to Chaszar “for meritorious service on behalf of national minorities.”
The high honor comes to Chaszar forty-seven years after he left his native Hungary and went on to a crazy-quilt life that covered concentration camps, immigration to America, studies at three universities, worldwide travels, scouting, aid to refugees, research and publishing, and the long, satisfying career at IUP—all of these activities with an overlay of concern for human rights.
Chaszar’s abiding interest in international relations and human rights goes back to the small village of 250 people in which he grew up. His parents were schoolteachers, and there was a brother, who was to disappear during World War II, and a sister, who died a few years ago in Hungary.
The small town was close to the border where Hungary, Austria, and Yugoslavia meet. “Even as a child,” Chaszar said, “I could sense how there were three different countries in that corner meeting and exchanging goods—sometimes smuggled goods—and displaying different customs and languages.”
He studied Latin, Greek, German, and English at the “gymnasium,” the Hungarian equivalent of high school plus two years of college, and then went on to study law and political science for four years in Budapest. In 1944, while working on his doctorate in political science, he was drafted into the Royal Hungarian Army just at the time when the Soviets invaded Hungary.
“We were no match for the Russians,” Chaszar recalled. “I had been in the service for six months when we retreated into Austria and surrendered to the Americans in order to avoid surrendering to the Soviets.”
As a consequence, Chaszar found himself in a displaced persons camp in Braunau, Austria, notorious as the birthplace of Adolf Hitler. The camp was crowded with refugees. “Conditions were so miserable, food so scarce,” he said, “that I decided to leave for Italy, where I had heard life was much better.”
But in Italy, Chaszar was captured by border guards and placed in an internment camp on a small island off the coast of Sicily. For a year or so he was in a virtual concentration camp, surrounded by barbed wire and guard towers.
“We were not treated well,” he said. “In fact, life there meant almost starving to death in a beautiful setting. During the first year, we were given each morning only black coffee and our daily ration of bread. At noon and in the evening, it was bean soup. The exception came on religious or national holidays, when we received macaroni or spaghetti. And all the time we kept waiting and hoping for some sort of break.”
The “break” came in 1948, with the arrival of the International Refugee Organization. Chaszar was transferred to an IRO camp near Naples, where he was trained on the job as a medical x-ray technician. He continued to live and work in the camp for the next two years.
The refugee organization eventually opened possibilities for immigration. Under the displaced persons bill, Chaszar was one of four hundred thousand people who came to the United States. Needing a sponsor to get a visa, he was aided by an elderly Hungarian woman in Cleveland. He recalled: “I did not know her, and she did not know me. She was just favorably disposed toward sponsoring others.”
He took a train to northern Germany and caught a transport that brought him to America. And so it was Cleveland where Chaszar settled on December 22, 1950.
The thirty-one-year-old Chaszar lived on Buckeye Road and went to work as an electrical assembler in an x-ray equipment factory. In the fall of 1951 he won a scholarship in a competition for adults and enrolled in night school as a junior in Cleveland College, a branch of Western Reserve University. Despite his previous studies, he was unable to transfer many credits without his formal papers of accreditation. However, he was granted two years’ advanced standing; he was allowed no credit for his previous law studies, since the legal system is so different in Europe.
After his first year of study, Chaszar moved to the campus. He was lonely, though, with no association with his countrymen. “I hoped to find some students who were Hungarians,” he said. “So I stopped at the registrar’s office and asked if I could check their college ‘rooster.’ My English was not very good yet, and my request really puzzled them. Finally, they understood that what I wanted to check was the ‘roster.’”
In 1954 Chaszar received his bachelor’s degree. He rewarded himself with a hitchhiking trip to California to see his newly adopted country. “That was a tremendous experience,” he remembered. “I had never realized how vast the United States was. You see, Hungary is no larger than the state of Ohio.”
While in California he tried to find work so that he could enroll for graduate studies at the University of California at Berkeley. “But it was the time of a recession, and jobs were scarce,” Chaszar explained. “I still have in my possession a referral slip from the unemployment office for a job as a cotton picker on a plantation. I thought my new bachelor’s degree entitled me to something better than that.”
So Chaszar returned to the Cleveland area and began working on his master’s degree in government and politics at Western Reserve. In 1956, he was granted American citizenship in Cleveland. He recalls that impressive moment: “After the ceremony, we were told we could go down to the next block and register to vote. I signed up as a Republican—and I still belong to that party.” This is despite the fact that he was later to be impressed with Democrat Jimmy Carter’s stand on human rights.
At the time, Chaszar was still a close observer of what was taking place back in Hungary. The most significant event was the 1956 revolt of the Hungarian people against the Soviet occupation government. For ten days, the Hungarians controlled their own government, but the uprising was ultimately put down by the Soviets.
The result was an exodus of 220,000 refugees, many of whom came to the United States. Chaszar responded by spending the next six months living and working with students who, in large part, had been young Hungarian revolutionists. As a counselor and interpreter, he helped place hundreds in American colleges.
Chaszar worked in 1956 and 1957 as an observer at the United Nations and then returned to Cleveland to complete his master’s degree at Western Reserve in 1958. Shorty thereafter, he became youth program director with the Kassuth Foundation in New York, working specifically with its scholar exchange program. In that assignment he traveled to Europe, Africa, and Latin America to lecture and exchange ideas. Eventually, he wound up in Sao Paulo, Brazil, for a two-year teaching stint.
While there, he met Maja Hartmann, a Hungarian native whose family had fled the Soviet occupation during World War II. Brought together by their mutual interest in the Hungarian ethnic scouting movement, the couple married in July 1964. They have two children—Andre, twenty-seven, a Penn State graduate and now an architectural engineer in New York City, and Julianne, a May 1991 summa cum laude IUP graduate in international studies.
Chaszar also has a son by an earlier marriage—Edward, forty-six, who is with Swissair in Atlanta. There are three grandchildren: a fourteen-year-old girl and six-year-old twin boys. Chaszar speaks matter of factly about his first marriage: “I was married in Hungary when I was twenty-four at the end of World War II, but we got physically separated by the circumstances of war. Eventually, we got divorced because of the seemingly hopeless situation of finding ourselves on opposite sides of the Iron Curtain.
“My wife ended up in Hungary and I in Italy at the internment camp. She couldn’t come out, and I couldn’t go back—unless I was willing to risk some sort of punishment for having fought against the Soviet Army.”
Through his travels and studies, Chaszar is fluent in Hungarian, Italian, and Portuguese and has a fair command of German, Spanish, and French. In 1969, he joined the IUP faculty to teach International Law, International Organizations, and World Politics. In 1972, he was awarded his Ph.D. from George Washington University. At IUP, he and his wife hosted foreign students, and Chaszar was advisor to the Explorer scouts and worked with the local chapter of Amnesty International.
The recipient of many honors and awards, Chaszar belongs to numerous organizations, mostly related to human rights. He has researched heavily and published ten books and monographs and many periodical articles, as well as book reviews and articles in collections.
Each year for a few weeks in February and March, Chaszar attends the annual session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. The commission, composed of delegates from fifty-three nations, drafts international human rights conventions of a general nature. Other matters focus on the special rights of children, women, the disabled, and minorities. The last has always been Chaszar’s special interest because of his family background. As a nongovernmental representative of the International Studies Association, he was active in the drafting of the “Declaration of Rights of National or Ethnic, Religious, and Linguistic Minorities.”
Chaszar describes his current activities as “lobbying,” although he is quick to point out that what he does is simply call attention to situations, such as economic or human rights problems. He prepares news releases and memoranda for the National Committee of Hungarians from Czechoslovakia, of which he is legal advisor. He is also on the board of the Hungarian-American Coalition.
Right now, the Chaszars are “testing the waters,” as Edward says of the rented residence in Washington. They still own their own home in Indiana, but he believes they will settle in Greater Washington.
Not that they have forgotten IUP. Chaszar comes from Washington every other month to visit his former colleagues in the Political Science Department, where as professor emeritus he still has an office with his nameplate on the door. In his visits to IUP, Chaszar works with files and research materials necessary for his Washington activities.
On visits to IUP, he is likely to stop over at noontime for a swim in Memorial Field House. After all, he did swim there almost every working day in his twenty-two years at IUP. His friends there and elsewhere find him to be the same vigorous man, fit-looking with mustache and iron-gray wavy hair. He still speaks in the same precise, matter-of-fact voice masking the passion and conviction that has made him a well-known figure in the worldwide movement for human rights.
Now, after he rises each morning in Washington, Chaszar walks out onto the balcony of his fifth-floor apartment and looks out at the huge oak trees that reach as high as the tenth floor. Those great trees, in their towering strength, seem an appropriate symbol of the meaning and influence and concern that over the years Dr. Edward Chaszar has brought to the human rights movement.