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Man with Martin County ties honored with Congressional Gold Medal

Published: Oct. 15, 2021 at 6:52 PM EDT
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MARTIN COUNTY, Ky. (WSAZ) - The Martin County Historical and Genealogical Society hosted an event Friday, presenting the Congregational Gold Medal to Col. Martin Himler’s family.

Himler was a Hungarian immigrant who came to the United States in 1907 when he was just 18 years old.

“He arrived in New York with just a few cents in his pocket,” said Doug Cantrell, a professor at Elizabethtown Community and Technical College.

Himler found work in the coal mines of West Virginia. He saw firsthand how underpaid the workers were, especially immigrants.

In 1919, he started his own coal company in Martin County. He brought with him hundreds of Hungarian immigrants.

“Himlerville is going to be the most unique coal mining community in the world,” Cantrell said. “Mine workers owned stock in the company they worked for, and they received compensation and they received wages as mine workers.”

The miners owned the mine and a whole town formed, becoming Himlerville.

“The idea that he did this was quite phenomenal. It’s really amazing to see that story to come here and visit and see that whole part of his life,” said Jim Hamos, the great-great nephew of Himler.

A flood washed away most of the town in 1928, and the company went bankrupt. The town was renamed Beauty.

Himler left Martin County and eventually joined the army when he was 55 years old.

“He said he decided that he needed to repay the United States because he thought it was the greatest country in the world,” Cantrell said.

He became an officer at the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) which became today’s CIA. He interrogated Nazi war criminals in Hungary and Austria.

“He was aware his great nephews were in that camp and went to find them as the liberation happened,” Hamos said.

Himler died in 1961.

He was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for his work with the OSS.

“I’m very proud to accept it in his honor and proud to accept it for him. I’m sure he wouldn’t have wanted it, kind of knowing the background of him,” said Barb Beder, Himler’s great-great niece.

A few of his relatives accepted the Congressional Gold Medal in his honor.

“He embodies the immigrant experience of coming to this country and trying to find opportunity. What’s amazing to me about this story is he wanted other Hungarians to also benefit,” Hamos said.

Himler started a newspaper for Hungarian coal miners in 1916. It became the largest circulating Hungarian newspaper in the country.

He also wrote a book before he died. It’s called “The Making of an American.”

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