NEW YORK — Whether studying algae at the New York Aquarium or creating underwater life exhibits at the American Museum of Natural History, Eva Konrad Hawkins found a refuge in New York City as a marine scientist.
A Jew who grew up in Hungary, Dr. Konrad Hawkins had lived through the Holocaust and the Hungarian uprising of 1956 and then fled communist oppression for the United States. There she also conducted research and taught biology at the University of Pennsylvania, Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey, and City College in Harlem.
She died of COVID-19 on April 18 at a nursing home in the Bronx, family members said. She was 90.
Her brother was writer and sociologist Gyorgy Konrad, a prominent Hungarian dissident during communist rule who died in September. Though the siblings survived the German occupation, relatives and classmates were killed in concentration camps. Their house was looted and their synagogue ransacked.
“They saw at an early age how easy it is to lose everything, and this formed the basis of their grown-up thinking,” Gyorgy Konrad’s widow, Judit Lakner, said.
Gyorgy Konrad remained in Hungary after the uprising in that country as an opponent of the regime. But his sister felt stifled as a scientist and longed to study at American universities.
“She wanted to live in a democracy, to live without fears,” Lakner said.
Dr. Konrad Hawkins decided to defect. Taking only a backpack, she traveled to Hungary’s northern border and crossed snowy wooded terrain on foot into Austria. She emigrated to the United States in 1957.
Eva Konrad was born March 12, 1930, to a prosperous family near Debrecen in eastern Hungary. She was 14 when the Germans invaded.
While most Jews in their village were killed in Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps, she and Gyorgy Konrad, who was 10, and two of their cousins managed to escape to a safe house in Budapest thanks to a non-Jewish shopkeeper who used documents obtained through bribes, a cousin, Paul Zador, 84, said in an interview.
As a young girl, she had to wear a yellow Star of David when walking outside or risk being shot. At one point, she narrowly escaped a roundup and deportation to a camp.
After the war, she and her brother were reunited with their parents, who had been sent to the Strasshof concentration camp near Vienna.
Dr. Konrad Hawkins earned her doctorate in botany from the University of Pennsylvania in the early 1960s and married Charles Hawkins later in the decade. They divorced after several years.
Dr. Konrad Hawkins, who wrote a number of scientific journal articles on algae, had a consuming passion for her field, Zador said. He recalled one episode during a visit by her at a beach house. “While I was cooking her lunch, she was down by the water looking for algae,” he said.
She had a limited social life because she was “fanatical about her research,” said Zador’s wife, Ellen Ficklen. “It was her and her microscope,” she said.
Dr. Konrad Hawkins eventually settled in uptown Manhattan and saw New York City as her adopted home.
“She was a very proud New Yorker,” Lakner said. “She didn’t belong to anywhere else, only to New York. She loved the freedom.”