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I Bore Witness John Macsai

John Macsai (1926—2017)

Holocaust Survivor - Budapest, Hungary

Bachelor of Architecture, Miami University, Class of 1949

John Macsai was born János Lusztig on May 20, 1926 in Budapest, Hungary into a middle-class observant Jewish family. As an only child, John grew up surrounded by a warm extended family who fostered his early love of art.

Three images, Portrait of young János Lusztig, Portrait of István Irsai, and Snapshot of János Lusztig and his cousin in Budapest with text reading, 'Images courtesy of the Macsai family.'


  1. Portrait of young János Lusztig, undated

  2. Portrait of István Irsai, undated

  3. Snapshot of János Lusztig and his cousin in Budapest, 1941 July 6

When the collaborationist Hungarian government passed anti-Jewish laws in 1938-39, restricting Jewish enrollment in universities, John had to learn a trade. In 1941, John began to study graphic design under István Irsai, the Hungarian architect and graphic designer who created the Bauhaus Hebrew font, Haim. He graduated cumma sum laude from gymnasium in April 1944 and was forced into labor service in June of that year. John joined his father’s labor battalion in Austria but conditions quickly deteriorated as the Russian army advanced. On April 7, 1945, John’s father collapsed in the Austrian Alps on a death march to Mauthausen concentration camp. Forced to leave his father behind, John endured three weeks in Mauthausen and Gunskirchen camps before being liberated on May 5, 1945. After liberation, John entered the architectural program at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics and later graduated with a Bachelor degree of architecture from Miami University in 1949 alongside Robert Diamant, a fellow Hungarian and Holocaust survivor. John continued to draw on his Bauhaus training under István Irsai and had a successful career as an architect, becoming an authority on designing housing for the elderly and disabled. 

Two images, a display of student graphic design work by János Lusztig and Photograph of István Irsai tourism poster with text reading, ‘Images courtesy of the Macsai family.’

  1. Display of student graphic design work by János Lusztig, 1942 May 3

  2. Photograph of István Irsai tourism poster, after 1960

John’s story is one of ten extraordinary personal journeys of Miami alumni and faculty told in the exhibition, Bearing Witness: The Holocaust and Jewish Experience at Miami University, co-hosted by the Walter Havighurst Special Collections & University Archives and Hillel at Miami University.
Correction on 5/29/2020: An earlier version of this article claimed that John Macsa received a "B.A. in Architecture." It has been corrected to read "Bachelor of Architecture"