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Peter Gorog was born Péter Grünwald in Budapest, the capital of Hungary, on March 10, 1941. Peter’s father, Árpád Grünwald, worked as an office manager at the Franklin Publishing House and his mother, Olga Schönfeld, was a hat-maker.
The persecution of Hungarian Jews in the interwar years began with the 1920 Numerus Clausus Act, which restricted the number of Jews who could be admitted to higher education. Árpád, who aspired to be a lawyer, could not be admitted to law school under the discriminatory quota system.
As a result of increasingly oppressive antisemitic laws, forced labor battalions and labor camps were established in Hungary. In October 1940, Árpád was conscripted into a forced labor battalion along with thousands of other men considered undesirable for armed service by the Hungarian government. Árpád was not allowed to go home for Peter’s birth in March, 1941 and was able to see Peter only when he went home for a brief visit 3 months later. In December 1942, Árpád was sent to Ukraine with a labor battalion, where he was given little food or clothing during the harsh winter. Árpád was declared dead by the Hungarian Ministry of Defense in January, 1943.
Olga supported the family through income from her hat-making until she was forced out of the apartment that also served as her millinery shop. German forces invaded Hungary in March 1944, and the Hungarian government ordered the Jews of Budapest to move into “csillagos ház,” meaning “houses marked with a yellow Star of David.” Fearing further persecution if they moved into this housing, Olga and Peter, carrying only one suitcase of clothing and valuables, found refuge with a Christian friend.
A few days after moving in with the friend, a neighbor denounced Olga and Peter. Olga was arrested by the Hungarian gendarmerie and taken to the Mosonyi Street Jail. She escaped two days later, and the family moved into an apartment safeguarded by Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg. In October 1944, the Arrow Cross party gained control of the Hungarian government and began a reign of terror against the Jews in Budapest. Olga and Peter fled to the Budapest ghetto, where they lived with Peter’s grandparents, two aunts and a cousin in a one bedroom apartment. They spent most of their time in the basement during the frequent Allied air raids. In January 1945, Budapest was liberated by the Soviet Army. Olga and Peter made trips to the countryside to barter jewelry for food. Despite their efforts to feed the family, Peter’s grandparents died of illnesses exacerbated by malnutrition and lack of medical care a few months after liberation.
Peter grew up in Communist Hungary and changed his family name in 1962 from Grünwald to Gorog for fear of antisemitic discrimination. He earned a Master of Science degree in electrical engineering and later participated in the design of the first Hungarian-made computer. He defected to the United States in 1980, where he worked on various NASA projects such, as GOES, LANDSAT, Hubble, and the James Webb Space Telescope. Peter retired in 2014. He and his wife have five daughters. Peter is a volunteer at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.