Doctor saved twice from Nazis by Raoul Wallenberg
Dr. Stephen Lazarovits, a man who escaped the wrath of Hungarian fascists twice during the Second World War, has died. He was 86. He died suddenly of natural causes on Jan. 14 in his Toronto home.
Born on Dec. 20, 1920, in Budapest, he was destined to be a healer. Determined to study medicine like his father and grandfather before him, he was accepted to university in 1938, one of only six Jews. There Lazarovits faced increasing anti- Semitism in the months before war ravaged Europe.
In the latter days of the Second World War, Lazarovits was caught in an Arrow Cross Party roundup and loaded onto a train bound for Auschwitz. It was then, while still at the station, that he first encountered Swedish diplomat and hero Raoul Wallenberg.
“Raoul looked at him and said to the commandant: ‘I processed this man. He can go.’ That was the first time he saved him,” Daisy Lazarovits, the deceased’s second wife and widow, said.
Wallenberg is credited with saving thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Holocaust by issuing invalid Swedish passports that looked real enough to fool fascist officials.
The second encounter occurred when Arrow Cross operatives raided Swedish House, where Lazarovits tended to patients.
“Somebody alerted Wallenberg who came and started yelling at them. He single-handedly got those people out,” she said.
Even amidst all this, Lazarovits found time for romance. He had been courting a young Daisy Bartok, proposing to her sometime around 1945. She turned him down and married another man, but their story would not end there.
Lazarovits went on to marry Susan Angyal, his first wife, and welcomed his only child, Andrew, in the years between the liberation of Hungary and the brutal Soviet repression of the Hungarian Revolution in 1956.
In the same period, Lazarovits was forced into the military, becoming a colonel in the medical corps and running an army hospital until he and his family could escape.
“He carried his son on his shoulders across a river to where Austrian students were waiting to take them to a safe place,” Daisy said.
From there, he found his way to Canada, where he became one of the first physicians to administer care to Toronto’s Italian immigrant community.
“He perfected his Italian instead of his English,” she said.
“He learned not only Italian,” said Suzanne Farkas, his stepdaughter and Daisy’s daughter. “As new immigrant communities came in, he made a point of trying to learn their language.”
At the height of his medical practice, lines of patients outside his office at the corner of Ossington Avenue and Dundas Street were common. Daisy said her late husband’s popularity was due at least in part to the way he cared for people, which included making house calls.
“He was one of the old-fashioned doctors that we don’t have anymore,” she said.
Lazarovits was married to his first wife, Susan, for nearly 40 years before she died suddenly in 1987. Thirteen years later, tragedy struck again when his 45-yearold son, Andrew, died of a brain tumour, cutting short the life of the fourth-generation doctor.
Having retired in 1991, Lazarovits kept active by travelling, researching and writing medical papers and taking university courses. The well-spoken doctor was also in demand to speak at weddings and anniversary celebrations, Daisy said.
A lover of poetry, Lazarovits was a close friend and physician to Hungarian poet George Faludy and was instrumental in having a Toronto parkette named for him in 2006.
Ever the romantic, Lazarovits rekindled his courtship of Daisy following the death of first wife. Again he proposed, but again Daisy was cool to his advances.
“He possessed a lot of pluck and determination,” Daisy said. “After 50 years he didn’t forget me. For five years he pursued me until I finally said yes, and I’m glad I did.” They married in 1993.
“He was very romantic,” she said. “Would you believe that every morning he would thank me for marrying him and said he loved me?”
He is survived by his second wife, three grandchildren, two stepchildren and one step-grandchild.
National Post Wednesday, January 24, 2007 Page: AL7 Section: Arts & Life Byline: Philip Alves