in the United States in late 1950 and settled in Cleveland, OH, which
was then still arguably the second largest Hungarian city outside of
Hungary. Here he became one of the most prominent and respected
representatives of the Hungarian immigrant community, while maintaining
a scholarly detachment, giving an example of moderation and
embodying cultural tolerance.
His students, from the generations he taught in Hungary in the 1930's to
those he taught in American in the 1960's, observe that Professor
Somogyi commanded their respect and attention by his very presence,
typifying the type of ideal professor of learning and culture of the old
school rarely found in today's world. His influence was strong and is
still with his students even after decades. As one of his student's
noted, Professor Somogyi's "greatest gift to those of us who had the
good fortune to be associated with him during a short period of our
formative years" was his influence on opening up minds, with tolerance
and willingness to exchange ideas on the level of culture and learning,
to the excitement of ideas.
Dr. Ferenc Somogyi was born June 25, 1906 in the village of Nárai, Vas
County, Hungary. He traces his ancestry from an ancient Hungarian
non-titled noble family. His father was Lajos Somogyi (de Somogyváry)
and mother Mária Gergye. He was the first of 12 children, which included
3 boys and 9 girls.
completed his secondary education at the Preparatory School of the
Premonstratensian Order in the city of Szombathely, where he
distinguished himself by winning 2 school and 1 national award in
literary composition. He graduated in 1927. Later that year enlisted in
the Sopron Regiment, where he was first in his class and regiment. In
1928 he was assigned to the Béla III Infantry in Pécs as a military
student and attended the St. Elizabeth Royal Hungarian University (known
today as Janus Pannonius University) as a student of jurisprudence and
constitutional law. While completing his studies, he further
distinguished himself by winning five awards.
Dr. Somogyi received his doctorate in constitutional law April 13, 1932
and in jurisprudence October 25, 1934. In the fall of 1937 he was
habilitated as a professor (magántanár) in the field of "the
history of Hungarian civil law." From the beginning of 1938 through 1944
he regularly held lectures in his field of specialization as well as in
other program areas including social welfare.
His lecture style and presence soon established him as an extremely
popular professor, so much so that students were drawn to his classes
and sought out his tutelage.
the fall of 1938 he was appointed as the Social Counselor for Baranya
County. In 1939 he was elected as one of two representatives to
Parliament for the city of Pécs. In 1940 he was appointed as Assistant
to the Executive President of the National Foundation for Folk and
Family Protection. In 1944 he became the Executive Vice President of the
National Social Welfare Superintendency. In 1945 he became the Director
of the Social Welfare Section of the Ministry of Interior. He helped
poor families with many children get homes and jobs to establish
themselves. It was in this capacity that he received the order to leave
Hungary at the end of World War II.
Professor Somogyi spent five years in Austrian émigré camps (Kellerberg,
Spittal an der Drau) after the end of World War II, as did thousands of
other political immigrants from the war devastated and by then communist
dominated countries of Central and Eastern Europe. While there he
continued to teach and also involve himself in cultural activities as
theater director and journal editor. He taught Hungarian history,
language and literature, Latin language and literature and even some
physical education at the camp's József Mindszenty Hungarian
Academic High School, and became the instructional director of the Grof.
István Széchenyi Secondary School. Starting in July 1948, and published
until 1956, he edited a landmark biweekly journal entitled "Vagyunk" (We
Are) dealing with a broad spectrum of cultural and historical topics
focused on the interests of Hungarians outside Hungary.
Late in 1950, he arrived in Cleveland, and found a thriving Hungarian
community. His extensive knowledge and leadership skills led him to be
drawn into the multifaceted fabric of Cleveland life, with the goal of
educating and working for freedom for Hungary. Like many other
immigrants to America in these times, he did not have the opportunity to
fully utilize his knowledge and professional skills in the continuation
of his career, but rather found himself constrained by the times to
accept available employment, while continuing his Hungarian activities.
Until his retirement, he was employed as a machine operator and
supervisor at Sealy Mattress, but his life continued to revolve around
teaching and pursuing the cause of freedom for Hungary.
1951 he became a director of the scholarly Cleveland-based Danubian
Institute, which dealt with examining and solving the historical,
political, social and economic problems of the Danube region. In 1952 he
became one of the founding members of the Cleveland Hungarian
Association, which operates today as the Hungarian Congress with
international scope and influence. In 1953 he cofounded and co-directed
the Saint Stephen Free University, where he lectured on Hungarian
history. In 1961, he became the director of the Hungarian Association's
Hungarian Self-Knowledge Course series and in the same year was one of
the 32 founders of the annually held Hungarian Congress, which has now
for 35 years drawn thousands of scholars and Hungarians from around the
western world to Cleveland to discuss and work for freedom, human rights
and justice in Hungary and cultural and social activities to sustain and
support Hungarian language and culture outside of Hungary.
the fall of 1962, Professor Somogyi accepted an invitation to teach
Hungarian cultural history at Western Reserve University (today part of
Case Western Reserve University) as director of the Hungarian Studies
Program, where he taught courses on Hungarian Cultural History for five
1966 he became Secretary-General of the Árpád Academy of Hungarian
Scientists, Writers and Artists in the Western World, an institution
that today has many hundreds of members around the world and draws
together distinguished Hungarian talent in a broad spectrum of
scholarship. Starting this same year, and continuously for the next 34
years, including this year, he edited and produced the annual “Krónika,”
a yearly 300+ page book that is the chronicle of the proceedings of the
His love of children and teaching led him in 1967 to involvement in the
weekly Cleveland Hungarian School, where he taught Hungarian culture and
history for decades.
Professor Somogyi was a sought after speaker in many Hungarian
communities in the surrounding states, known for his thought provoking
and memorable speeches commemorating historical figures from Hungary's
past. He also appeared regularly on local Hungarian language radio
programs and wrote in local papers.
His scholarly activities in Hungary and in the United States resulted in
the publication of nearly 500 studies and articles, including 29 of his
own books and textbooks, 46 scholarly studies and essays, and hundreds
of newspaper and periodical articles. In Hungary, his early works
focused on entailment and inheritance in pre-modern Hungary, and later
his increased involvement in social welfare led him to deal with the
history and status of social welfare in Hungary. In the United States,
Professor Somogyi was for a while unable to continue his academic and
scholar pursuits, due to necessities of starting a new life in a new
country. Yet, he was not content sit idly by. He turned to publicistic
and editorial activities as a way of helping enlighten his fellow
immigrants and share his knowledge and love of Hungarian history and
the 1970's, Professor Somogyi again was able to turn his energy and
dedication to scholarly work, producing a number of significant books.
1973 his 656 page tome, "Mission: The History of the Hungarian People"
appeared in Hungarian and immediately became regarded, as one reviewer
stated, an "objective..., well researched, and beautifully written"
synthesis of the history of the Magyars, embodying a traditional
historical philosophy guided by his belief in the unique historical
mission of Hungarians in the Carpathian Basin. This volume was followed
in 1977 by a shorter English version entitled "Faith & Fate." Professor
Somogyi also wrote an expansive two-volume synthesis of Hungarian
literature and cultural advances spanning ancient times to 1925.
Recognizing his unique contribution to scholarly research and teaching,
twenty-five of his past students from three continents contributed 27
articles in twelve disciplines from such diverse fields as cultural
anthropology, law, library science, political science and social work,
in the creation of a 616 page book entitled "Triumph in Adversity:
Studies in Hungarian Civilization in Honor of Professor Ferenc Somogyi
on the Occasion of his Eightieth Birthday." The volume was published in
1988 as the 153rd volume in the East European Monograph series and
distributed by Columbia University Press.
Dr. Somogyi continued to work even as his physical condition declined in
the last three years due to Parkinson’s Disease. He remained active in a
number of community organizations, including the Hungarian Association
and the Cleveland Hungarian Heritage Society, where he was recently
named honorary president for life for his contributions for preserving
and promoting Hungarian culture.
1992 he was able to visit a free Hungary for the first time since his
exile in 1945. He returned to his alma mater and where he taught in Pécs,
Hungary, today known as Janus Pannonius University, where he accepted
the Diamond Anniversary Diploma awarded on the occasion of the 60th year
of receiving his doctorates.
His final work, published early in 1995, is entitled "A Brief History of
Hungarians in Cleveland." Dr. Somogyi passed away on September 5, 1995
at the age of 89.
April 16, 2010 his contributions to maintaining Hungarian culture in
America, by teaching a 5 year course about the cultural history of the
Hungarian People at Western Reserve University from 1962 to 1967, was
honored as part of the Abraham Lincoln Award ceremony at Case Western
Reserve University by the American Hungarian Foundation. A short summary
Remembering the Course at Western Reserve
University was distributed during the ceremony.