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Dekmar to speak at 3D Journeys

In his 37 years of police work, LaGrange Police Chief Lou Dekmar has spoken to hundreds of audiences on dozens of law enforcement issues.  On March 26, the chief will address a more personal topic, sharing “Family Stories from Behind the Iron Curtain” as lecturer for LaGrange College’s 3D Journeys series. The free presentation is set for 10 a.m. in the Dickson Assembly Room of Turner Hall.

This year’s 3D travel/lecture theme is central Europe, a region where Dekmar’s roots run deep.  His grandparents on both sides fled Hungary in the 1930s, as Hitler rose to power.

“My grandfather arrived at Ellis Island with $43 to his name,” Dekmar said.

In many ways, Dekmar’s story epitomizes the American dream. The first member of his family to attend college, he has forged a distinguished law enforcement career marked by significant honors and leadership roles. He is currently president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the largest law enforcement leadership organization in the world.

Dekmar’s stories come from his grandmother and also draw on a 1980s visit he made to relatives in Hungary. The country was then under Communist rule, and family members were, at first, leery because of his police work, Dekmar said.

“The police were hated there,” Dekmar said. “They were seen as an extension of the Russian government. They ruled by intimidation and fear.”

Dekmar’s kinsmen were primarily farmers and manual laborers with a primitive, arduous lifestyle.

“If my grandparents hadn’t immigrated, I would have been out there hoeing beets with the rest of them,” he said.

Dekmar will share the podium with his friend, Dr. Robert Friedmann, professor emeritus of criminal justice at Georgia State University and founding director of the award-winning Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange. The two have worked together at numerous national and international conferences, but this will be their first talk focusing on their shared Hungarian ancestry.

Friedmann’s stories are poignant and painful, but also full of hope. Both his parents were deported from their native Transylvania to the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz. They survived the horrors of the Holocaust, but his mother died just days after his birth in 1947. Years later, he found letters she wrote to her sister in Palestine during the years 1941-1947 and had them published in a book entitled “28 Letters.”

“I got to know my mother through the letters,” Friedmann said.

The missives describe how she coped with monumental challenges while focusing on “living beyond surviving.”

“She was never bitter, never vindictive. She wanted to do more than just survive,” Friedmann said.

He believes her story has relevance today and needs to be told as “a testament to the victory of humanity and the human spirit over evil.” There are, he said, “bunches of stories” from 20th century Hungary that most Americans are unaware of.

Dekmar hopes their stories will complement each other.

“We welcome the opportunity to share our experiences, those things we have learned.,” he said. “Having seen what totalitarian governments can do, we have developed a high degree of appreciation for freedom.”