The great encounter at the New York Hotel
From the 1920s until 1936, the New York Coffeehouse was the centre of the nightlife in Budapest. Not only the rich, writers, and poets frequented it, but almost all the layers of society appeared there, according to certain sources. It would be difficult to find such a popular social-communal centre nowadays, which would be similar to it. The German officers also liked it very much during the Second World War. So did one of them, Leonhard Scheller, who was the provisor in chief for the eastern battlefront of the German army during the 1940s. About this time, he met the 21 year-old Kató Fényes, who was a fashionable jazz songstress then, but she had to hide as of 1941, because of her Jewish ancestors.
After that her concealer could not take further risks and put her out, her colleague Evelin helped her. She did not dare to hide her in her flat either, but she could help by inviting her to places. Evelin also found out to go to the restaurant of the New York hotel. This seemed to be a good idea, because nobody would have thought that any Jewish people would have ventured to turn up there, as it became the headquarters of Wehrmacht officers after the German occupation in March 1944, and many German sympathizers frequented the place.
In the lion’s cave
After that Evelin invited her to the New York Coffeehouse she said:
‘I entered the lion’s cave and I ordered the most expensive thing.’
After dinner, they sat in the lounge to have a cognac. A German officer in uniform, Leonhard Scheller sat to their table. At the end of drinking together, he asked ‘if he may take the ladies home?’ To which they had to say yes. In the taxi, Scheller asked where he could take the ladies. First, they took Evelin home, who said farewell to Kató in tears. Then Scheller asked Kató ‘to what address may I take you?’ Kató Fényes answered:
‘To the concentration camp! I have Jewish ancestry! Before I would cause inconvenience to you, please, arrest me!’
To this, Scheller looked at her and said ‘No! You come with me!’ He took her back to the New York Hotel and said to the receptionist ‘she is my new secretary’, and asked for a room to her. Later, they fell in love with each other and Scheller acquired fake documents to her from the Wehrmacht.
One good turn…
They took out a lot of Jews from concentration camps by referring to the plea of workforce demand needed for loading. They hid them in a flat in Károly Avenue allocated by the Wehrmacht for a while, and then released them with fake ID cards. The flat was operated as an alimentative laboratory officially and 18 people could hide in it at the same time. Kató was a laboratory assistant in this lab seemingly. After the war, communists stigmatized Kató as a German ally and persecuted her. However, until the end of 1947, the radio was allowed to play her hit songs and she was allowed to perform at amusement places like the Café Abbazia on Oktogon Square (Budapest); but after 1947, she was put on the blacklist and her music was banned, because the communists considered the musical style that she represented libertarian and imperialist. Their situation was cleared partly because several people whom they rescued collected signatures in Scheller’s defence later.
Finally, Kató immigrated to Munich and Scheller stayed in Hungary to the rest of his life. Regarding the Hungarian jazz music or jazz singing, it was persecuted for a couple of decades, and it never naturalised as other musical styles did. The New York Hotel lost its previous glitter after the war during the communist era, and its condition deteriorated gradually.
Royal luxury: rebirth of the New York Palace
In 2001, the Italian Boscolo group bought it and restored it to a state recapturing its original pomp. The internal courtyard was also renovated beautifully; it got a glass roof and more than three-metre tall palm trees were placed on its floor that received marble covering. There are 112 rooms with sound-proof windows on the five floors of the building. The café of the hotel is the paradise of cigar-fans, because the hotel guests can choose from the world’s best cigars in the cigar bar. The presidential suit has silk wallpapers and besides the silk and velvet tapestry on the furniture, the blue crystal chandelier from Murano impresses most guests when entering the suit. The bath section, its interior and bright white walls resembling to an ice-cave were dreamt and designed by Italian designer Simone Micheli.
Translated by Zita Aknai
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- Hotel - Magyarország legszebb szállodái: A New York Hotel és a Gresham-palota. (In Hungarian) Budapest, LifeNetwork, 2016.
- ATV:Magánbeszélgetés. (In Hungarian) Budapest, (2009).
- Bakk Ágnes: Kulcstalan kávéház – A New York, (In Hungarian) 2014.
- Turi Gábor: A magyar jazz mint csempészáru. (In Hungarian) 23. november 2016. (magyarnemzet.hu)