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Family Declassified:

Uncovering My Grandfather’s Journey from Spy to Children's Book Author

In Family Declassified social scientist Katherine Fennelly delves into the rationale and consequences of family secrets by studying her grandfather, Francis Kalnay, a high-level spy for the Allied Forces in Europe. In 1954 Francis abandoned his family and fled to Mexico for two decades where he reinvented himself as a children’s book author, an architect, and a gourmand. Until his death at age 93, he never spoke of his Jewish ancestry, his work as a spy, or of the murder of his sister and nephew at the hands of Hungarian Fascists.


A Google search for ‘Francis Kalnay’ yields more than 54,000 results—the vast majority related to the children’s book, Chucaro: Wild Pony of the Pampa, for which he won a Newbery Honor in 1959. Buried deep within the search results are a few references to his years at the Office of Strategic Services (OSS)—the precursor to the CIA. However, none describe how a foreign-born sailor overcame a childhood marked by tragedy and rose to become the head of an elite espionage unit for the Allied Forces during World War II. At the OSS Kalnay was one of the few foreign-born Americans informed and ‘indoctrinated’ in what we now know as the ULTRA decrypts, the German Enigma messages that were used to capture or thwart almost all German offensive intelligence activity during the Second World War.


It took several years of examination of declassified government records, personal interviews, and genealogical searches to piece together the life of a man who kept secrets about his Jewish identity, the nature of his work as a spy, and the murder of his sister by Hungarian Nazis. The result is a manuscript that examines the nature of family myths and presents the gripping story of a man whose life was shaped by some of the most extraordinary events of the 20th century.

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About the Author

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Trained as a social scientist, Katherine Fennelly is an immigration policy expert whose work has taken her to many of the countries where her late grandfather lived out his adventures. She has studied and

worked in Iran, Spain, and Ecuador and done consulting work and academic residencies across Latin America and Europe. Katherine is a voracious reader and a life-long student of languages. She discovered her family’s Jewish roots as an adult, something her Hungarian-American mother preferred not to discuss. When not tracking down classified documents and delving into family history, she volunteers for refugee service organizations, serves as a Spanish-English interpreter, and enjoys biking in Prospect Park and spending time with her daughters and granddaughters who live nearby in Brooklyn.

“In an era when family secrets dominate best-selling books, few can compete with the unpacking of the secrets in the life of the author’s grandfather.”
– Riv-Ellen Prell, Ph.D., anthropologist and Jewish Studies scholar; author of Fighting to Become Americans: Jews, Gender and the Anxiety of Assimilation

“Katherine Fennelly has conducted extensive research that makes use of previously unexamined documents on the OSS.” 
– Kirk Ford, Jr., Ph.D., Military Historian; author of The OSS and the Yugoslav Resistance, 1943-1945

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