CEDAR FALLS — Peter Gorog, a Holocaust survivor who became an engineer before fleeing Communist Hungary and went on to work with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, will speak at University of Northern Iowa on Tuesday night.
He will be the keynote speaker at the ninth annual Norman Cohn Family Holocaust Remembrance and Education Lecture.
“His life after the war would be worthy of a lecture invitation by itself,” said Stephen Gaies, director of UNI’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Education. “He’s had a full lifetime several times over, and so I think people may be interested to hear what he has to say.”
The lecture will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Curris Business Building’s John Deere Auditorium. The event is free and open to the public.
Gorog was born Peter Grunwald in Budapest, Hungary in 1941. German forces invaded Hungary just three years later. He and his mother, Olga, spent the time between the invasion in March 1944 and January 1945, when Budapest was liberated by the Soviet Army, trying to evade Nazi forces and Allied air raids.
After World War II, he continued to grow up in Communist Hungary, changing his family name in 1962 to Gorog for fear of anti-Semitic discrimination. Gorog earned a degree in electrical engineering and helped with the design of the first Hungarian-made computer.
Gorog defected to the United States in 1980 and worked on NASA projects, including the Hubble Space Telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope. He retired in 2014.
Gaies said the early years of the lecture invited a variety of speakers, including artists and scholars, but in 2012, turned more attention to inviting the Holocaust survivors themselves.
“It’s an aging generation and we want to give people a chance to meet Holocaust survivors while they are still there,” Gaies said, noting four of the last six speakers were survivors of the 1930s and 1940s-era genocide. “We really consider this to be a rare opportunity.”
He said there remain only two living survivors in Iowa, and though they had been active speakers in the past are no longer able to get out and keynote events.
During Gorog’s visit to Iowa, he also will meet with students at Holmes Junior High School and Urbandale Middle School to talk about his life experiences.
Gorog’s visit is made possible in part by the Office of Survivor Affairs of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.