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PostMy Father: From Slave Laborer to Entrepreneur (Istvan Simon, USA, 06/21/18 8:43 am)
John E asked (19 June) why my father would choose engineering after having been enslaved by the Nazis in a factory during World War II.
Though I cannot truly answer for my father--I never asked him this question, so I do not know--I nonetheless can say some things about the matter. First of all even before the war, my father was involved with industry. He worked at a Swiss company that made aluminum products in Hungary. A relative of ours was the managing director of this company in Budapest, and my father was employed as a laborer. He did not yet have an engineering degree at the time, but was a technician. Furthermore, the company sent him for training in Switzerland, one of the reasons why my father was fluent and spoke perfect German. It was therefore natural for him to continue in the same line of business more or less as what he had done all his life. It was also at this company that my father met my mother.
The communists in Hungary did not assign my father to anything. Studying mechanical engineering was his own choice.
My father was an expert on industrial tool making and machining. In fact he wrote and published two books about the subject in Hungary. Later when due to the economic upheavals that rocked Brazil it became difficult for my him to find gainful employment, he opened his own business, leveraging his experience and knowledge in tool making.
This business initially was very difficult to get off the ground, but eventually gave my father a very comfortable living, and he also enjoyed being his own boss. We had a small manufacturing company and had a very extensive list of products in the tool making sector of pre-fabricated tooling components and devices. When my father started this business, this was a major technological innovation in Brazil. It was commonplace technology in the United States, but in Brazil tool making was still done on an artisanal basis, one project at a time in the tool departments of factories.
There was resistance to do it in a more modern and predictable way using these components to assemble a complete tool or complex device used in the manufacturing process. As usual, people liked doing things the way they have always done, and did not want to adopt the less costly and more effective new technology easily. This is why it was very difficult to get his business off the ground. In a very real sense, my father helped Brazil modernize in this area and adopt more efficient and less error-prone methods to assemble tools and devices form components rather than make one-off tools in the tooling departments. Tools are tricky to make, and very costly if designed the old-fashioned way. Oftentimes the tool had to be debugged, until it would work as intended, and this process was very expensive and time-consuming. Designing the tool from prefabricated components was much less error-prone, faster, used much less labor, and so it was better and ultimately much cheaper. But it took education to change the mentality in Brazilian companies.
JE comments: Istvan, have you ever thought of writing your parents' story at greater length? What a fascinating saga of upheaval, suffering, displacement and ultimate triumph over adversity.