Secretary-General of the Árpád Academy,
Hungarian Scholar and Community Leader
BIOGRAPHY AND SUMMARY ACCOMPLISHMENTS
Dr. Ferenc Somogyi was a Hungarian historian, legal scholar, constitutional historian, social welfare administrator, politician, representative in Hungarian Parliament, publicist, writer and cultural historian.
As an influential member of the Cleveland Hungarian community, he took an active role or was a founder of many of the organizations that still operate today, including the Hungarian Association, the Hungarian School, and the Hungarian Scouts, as well as many others.
He arrived 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.
He 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.
In 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.
In 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.
In 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 years.
In 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 Hungarian Congress.
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 culture.
In the 1970’s, Professor Somogyi again was able to turn his energy and dedication to scholarly work, producing a number of significant books.
In 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.
In 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.
On 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 entitled Remembering the Course at Western Reserve University was distributed during the ceremony.
Starting in July 2019, a virtual exhibition was published in a multi-part series by the University of Pécs to commemorate Prof. Dr. Ferenc Somogyi. This can be found at the following links in the Hungarian language:
A kiállítás főoldala
Gyermekkor, középiskolás és egyetemista évek
Somogyi Ferenc az Erzsébet Tudományegyetem magántanára
Somogyi Ferenc országgyűlési képviselői és országos szociális felügyelői munkája