A three year process involving an 83 year-old Sydney man and the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation in New York has resulted in an 82 year-old Hungarian woman and her late mother being this week awarded the honorary title “Righteous Among the Nations”, better known as “Righteous Gentile”, by the State of Israel.

Steven Colman, now of Chatswood, Sydney, was 18 years-old and fleeing from the Hungarian Nazis - the Arrow Cross - in Budapest when he knocked on the door of Zsuzsanna Reszeli and her 17 year-old daughter Karolina in November 1944.

Mr Colman, a Jew who had deserted and was on the run from the Hungarian Army, was seeking a safe haven for his mother and had heard on the underground grapevine that the Reszelis might be able to help. Even though they were already hiding another young Jewish couple in their small flat and were risking possible death if caught, the Reszelis without hesitation took in both Mr Colman and his mother, who was hidden from the Nazis by the Reszelis for three months while he was risking being caught while arranging false documents for his father and others.

Ilonka Kalman and her 18-year-old son Steve Kalman (today Colman), were sheltered in the Budapest home of Zsuzsanna Reszeli and her daughter Karolina nicknamed "Csöpi" ("midget" in Hungarian). Although Karolina was 17 at the time, she had a height of the normal three year old. Both Karolina and her mother went through great danger in providing the shelter and food for Kalmans without ever doubting their decision to help.

On October 2008, during a ceremony held in Budapest Mr. Colman said: "Csöpi is part of our family now, and humanity can be justly proud that there still are some people like Csöpi and her mother. Csöpi survived breast cancer, her vertebrae is twisted and she had brain hemorrhage and stroke which made her arm useless. But if you were to need help even now she would offer refuge to a persecuted or any who might need her assistance. Csöpi and her late mother are the real heroes of those awful times 64 years ago. Not those of us who survived are the heroes, but the Reszeli women and some people like Wallenberg, who really had no connection to those whom they decided to help."

Steve Colman and family.

Karolina Reszeli (Csöpi).

The two families remained in contact until Mrs Reszeli died in 1980 and Mrs Colman in 1990. Mr Colman has continued to keep contact with Karolina - nicknamed Csopi (Hungarian for “Tiny” – she is a 98 cm tall little person) last visiting her in Budapest two months ago.

With the help and support of Mr Baruch Tenembaum from the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation in New York, Mr Colman began petitioning the Israeli government to consider the awarding of Righteous status in 2006.

The highest honour bestowed on non-Jews by the Jewish people through Yad Vashem, the title Righteous Among The Nations recognises those who put their own lives at risk to save Jews from the Holocaust.

Overseen by the Supreme Court of Israel, the awarding of the honorary title is a meticulous process involving the taking and checking of evidence from survivors and witnesses and evaluating the element of risk to the rescuer.

Best known recipients of the title are Oscar Schindler and Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews by issuing fake diplomatic passports in 1944.

The Raoul Wallenberg International Foundation is a non-profit organisation set up in Wallenberg’s memory to develop education programs and raise awareness of civic courage.

Mr Colman today praised the two brave women who in all likelihood saved his life and that of his mother 65 years ago.

“No-one who did not live through those dark days will ever really understand what those two righteous people did,” he said. “They were there for us in our hours and days of need but they never considered what they did to be heroic. They can never be repaid for what they did but I am so happy that this small gigantic lady known as Csopi has lived long enough to receive the recognition she deserves.”

Ms Reszeli will be awarded a medal and a certificate of honour and her name and that of her mother will be added to the Wall of Honour in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem as well as trees will be planted in their honour.


1 December 2009

Ms Irena Steinfeldt
Yad Vashem


Dear Ms Steinfeldt,

I received the news of the late Zsuzsanna Reszeli and Karolina Reszeli having been declared Righteous among the Nations during the night and I wish to express my thanks to you and all the others who have contributed and worked towards this.

I must specially thank Baruch Tenembaum, whom I never met, but who has sustained me and with whom last night I could shed a few tears as he passed on the news, that finally in a small way I could repay to my Mother's saviour the heroic deed her Mother and her have been involved in from November 1944 until 18th January 1945.

My thanks to Mr. Tenembaum also applies to the members of his organisation.

Nobody who has not lived through those dark days will ever really understand what those two righteous people did and that I have been able with the help of you and others to attempt to repay these two women after 65 years for deeds, which they do not ever considered heroic to-day, is a privilege for which I am truly thankful. Not that they can ever be repaid!

I do not know what, if any benefit is attached to a person who is declared Righteous, but I know that the State of Israel or the Jewish community could never ever find a greater appreciation than I would give these two splendid and unassuming people, who were great in our hours and days of need.

Yours sincerely,

Steven Colman
For further information please contact Steven Colman, 02 9410-1282 or 04 1258-1212