The Holocaust’s Impact on One Small Town in There Was Once…


A vitally personal version of a story often told in anonymous terms, There Was Once… reclaims the overwhelming tragedy of the Holocaust as it was visited upon a small Hungarian town. Several years ago, Gyöngyi Magó, a Catholic high school teacher in Kalocsa attempting to recover the history of the town’s Jewish community, began a search that led her to Gabor Kalman, a survivor who was inspired by Magó’s efforts to direct this film. Kalman, like the rest of Kalocsa’s 118 (out of 511) survivors, fled Hungary after the war; he then pursued filmmaking in the United States. With a Jewish population of zero, Kalocsa remains glaringly connected to its past, something Magó points out to students who visit the town library unaware it was once a temple, and can little imagine a previous generation, now dispersed around the world, still holding their fellow Hungarians in even greater contempt than the Germans. Town elders testify to what Magó calls “the golden age of Kalocsa Jewry”; survivors, traced to North America, speak of the dark undercurrent that led genocide to their doorstep. The neo-Nazi sentiment in Hungary today is touched on most acutely when it mars the memorial that finally brings the survivors home.