Éva Székely - Holocaust survivor and Olympic medalist
Éva Székely (3 April 1927 – 29 February 2020) was a Hungarian swimmer. She won the gold medal at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki and the silver medal at the 1956 Summer Olympics, set six world records, and won 44 national titles. She held the first world record in the 400 m individual medley in 1953.
Szekely was born in Budapest, Hungary.
In 1941 Székely set a national speed record, although she was barely allowed to start because she was a Jew. As a child, she competed for a local swim team. In 1941, at 14 years of age, she was expelled from the team because she was Jewish. She was excluded from competition for the next four years, and survived the Holocaust partly because she was a famous swimmer. Towards the end of World War II, she lived with 41 people in a crowded two-room “safe-house” in Budapest run by the Swiss, and to keep in shape, every day she ran up and down five flights of stairs 100 times.
At the end of World War II she met her husband, Dezső Gyarmati, from whom she was later divorced and who in 2013 predeceased her, who was a three-time Olympic water polo champion (1952, 1956, and 1964) in water polo.
Her daughter, Andrea Gyarmati, born in 1954, was a backstroke and butterfly swimmer who won two medals at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. After the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 the family defected to the US but they didn’t stay, returning to Hungary to care for Székely's parents. Evas Records
1:05,8 (1950. szeptember 2., Budapest) országos csúcs
2:35,4 (1947. május 28., Budapest) országos csúcs
2:35,2 (1947. augusztus 16., Budapest) országos csúcs
2:34,0 (1948. július 17., Budapest) országos csúcs
2:31,4 (1949. július 23., Budapest) országos csúcs
2:27,5 (1951. május 6., Moszkva) országos csúcs
5:29,4 (1947. május 24., Budapest) országos csúcs
5:28,0 (1947. június 28., Budapest) országos csúcs
5:26,0 (1947. július 3., Budapest) országos csúcs
5:24,8 (1949. július 24., Budapest) országos csúcs
5:18,2 (1949. augusztus 15., Budapest) országos csúcs
5:15,4 (1950. október 10., Budapest) országos csúcs
800 m Freestyle
11:32,2 (1947. május 24., Budapest) országos csúcs
11:26,8 (1950. május 1., Budapest) országos csúcs
11:05,6 (1951. július 1., Budapest) országos csúcs
1500 m Freestyle
21:44,6 (1950. május 1., Budapest) országos csúcs
100 m Breaststroke
1:27,8 (1941. július 3., Budapest) országos csúcs
1:27,0 (1945. augusztus 26., Budapest) országos csúcs
1:24,6 (1946. augusztus 21., Budapest) országos csúcs
1:22,2 (1947. július 29., Budapest) országos csúcs
1:21,4 (1947. december 28., Budapest) országos csúcs
200 m Breaststroke
3:11,4 (1941. július 6., Budapest) országos csúcs
3:09,2 (1945. augusztus 19., Budapest) országos csúcs
2:56,1 (1947. szeptember 14., Monte Carlo) országos csúcs
100 m Butterfly
1:19,2 (1950. szeptember 1., Budapest) országos csúcs
1:19,0 (1950. október 12., Budapest) országos csúcs (33 m)
1:18,8 (1950. október 18., Székesfehérvár) országos csúcs (25 m)
1:18,6 (1950. október 21., Székesfehérvár) országos csúcs (25 m)
1:16,9 (1951. május 9., Moszkva) országos csúcs (25 m)
200 m Butterfly
2:52,4 (1951. május 13., Moszkva) országos csúcs (25 m)
2:51,6 (1952. május 6., Stockholm) országos csúcs
2:50,8 (1952. április 19., Moszkva) országos csúcs (25 m)
2:50,7 (1953. július 26., Budapest) országos csúcs
200 m IM
2:51,2 (1947. május 24., Budapest) országos csúcs
2:47,6 (1947. november 21., Budapest) országos csúcs
2:45,6 (1949. december 5., Budapest) országos csúcs
2:45,0 (1951. december 26., Budapest) országos csúcs
200 m IM (World Record)
2:49,1 (1953. július 25., Budapest) országos csúcs
400 m IM
6:10,6 (1953. április 8., Budapest) országos csúcs
5:50,4 (1953. április 10., Budapest) országos csúcs (33 m)
5:40,8 (1955. július 13., Budapest) világcsúcs (25 m)
She also set six world records, and won 44 national titles. She held the first world record in the 400 m individual medley, in 1953.
After retiring from competitions Székely worked as a pharmacist and swimming coach, training her daughter among others.
In 1976 she was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame. She was named as one of Hungary’s Athletes of the Nation in 2004, and received the Prima Primissima award in 2011. She was also inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. Eva and her husband left for the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne a few days after the outbreak of the Hungarian revolt against Communism. Upon arrival in Melbourne they were informed that the Russians had come to power. With no word about her young daughter or her parents, she spent a hard week of anxiety before her events and lost more than twelve pounds. Nevertheless, she managed to win a silver medal in the 200-meter breaststroke and finished fifth in the 400-meter freestyle.
In February 1957 the Szekelys were able to visit Vienna, where they promptly defected and flew to the United States. They returned to Budapest the next year because they were worried about Eva’s parents, who had remained in Hungary. Upon their return to Hungary Eva retired from competitive swimming and began to train young swimmers, also coaching her daughter in preparation for a career as a competitive swimmer.
While few, if any, active or retired Hungarian Jewish athletes were open about their religious identity, Szekely had the courage and determination to go public with her Jewishness. During a nationally televised interview in 1974 she spoke of the anti-Jewish laws of the early 1940s which limited participation in athletic competition. Referring to those who could document non-Jewish origin as far back as their grandparents, she noted, “That was no problem for me, I did not have to go back as far as my grandparents. Unequivocally, I was a Jew.”
Since ending her swimming career, Szekely—who is a pharmacist by profession—has published literary works. Her first literary venture—a short story entitled “The True, Great Love of My Life in Water”—was published in the 1977–1978 yearbook of the Jewish community, a renowned repository of scholarly articles and works of fiction.
Szekely was elected to the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and was made a member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1976.