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One Woman in the War

Alaine Polcz

The Honeymoon

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1János and I were married on March 27, 1944, the fourth year of the war, in the church on Farkas Street.

2Do you know the five-hundred-year-old massive Gothic church with the austere Protestant interior? I attended the Calvinist High School for Girls next door; I was confirmed and gave recitations there on major holidays. The bishop officiated. János Székely, my religion teacher, also in a robe, and my godfather, Ferenc Deák, a Calvinist minister at Hidelve, participated. My classmates in their uniforms formed a line, and my teachers were also present.

3Before the wedding they teased me about how I would have to speak my vows in Latin, and Erzsike Kovács, my Latin teacher, would be there. She was, and when she offered her congratulations and embraced me, she whispered into my ear, “You may now call me by my first name.”

4These are my happy recollections of the wedding. But all those people. And how can I hold the train, the veil, the bouquet, and my bridegroom’s arm all at the same time? I won’t be able to take a step if I don’t hold up my dress and veil, because they will stick to the coconut matting and pull me back. On the way to the church in the car, the best man, whom János chose, flirts with me outrageously; I do not quite understand him, and he gives me this piece of advice, “You must not do anything the first night, you will be so worn out; don’t spoilit.”

5The bishop goes on unmercifully long, I am unable to follow him, it is tiring to stand. Magnesium bulbs are continuously flashing (pictures are being taken), I can’t refrain from wincing.

6János, utterly bored, stretches his leg (the bishop notices, I am very embarrassed). It is over. I wait for him to speak or gesture to me, but no, he looks elsewhere. At this, I somehow go limp inside. I do not remember whether we spoke to each other at all on the way home, but, in fact, we were numb; we had been so swamped by people we could barely fight our way to the car.

7Then the wedding feast. Bride and groom at the head table. When the others eat from china, silver is set before us. When they eat from silver, gold is set before us. Every dish is brought to me first; I put some on my “lord and master’s” plate, then on mine. (Next they serve the bishop, then my mother.) Erzsi, our Transylvanian servant (we became engaged at the same time and waited for letters from the front together; her fiancé was killed in action), whispered to me, blushing, “Please take less.” Then more insistently, “Madam says you should not eat so much.” Only near the end of the dinner did I come to understand that it was not proper for me to eat so much. How unfortunate that I never asked them why.

8At the sidetable, my sister and my brothers, their cronies, and my girlfriends were having a jolly time. At the head table, a dreadful boredom reigned, but my mother would not allow me join them; I think the others at our table shared my suffering.

9Or were they feeling fine? I haven’t the faintest idea!

10Telegrams, flowers, and gifts had been inundating our home since morning. Father was the chief county attorney at the time, and it seemed as if he was going to become Lord Lieutenant; so, as was the custom in such circumstances, everyone was trying to gain his attention.

11I hate sitting at the table when my stomach is full. Finally we got up, after what seemeed like an endless period of time. I fortified myself with black coffee, and I was allowed to join the young people; I found my cat, which I truly regretted leaving behind, but János did not let me take it to my new home. I would have liked to register at the university very much; I wanted to become a physician, but he would not let me do that either. I acquiesced, for I loved János deeply. I met him when I was fourteen years old; he was my first love, and the first to kiss me. He asked me to learn to type, so I could transcribe his manuscripts. (He took his degree in economics; he wanted to become a writer. Four years of service at the front followed; meanwhile, I finished high school and graduated.) I studied typing, but I really hated it; an oppressive anxiety descended upon me; in the meantime, I practiced the scales with ten fingers, touch-typing.

12I had just begun to feel better when they accompanied me into my old bedroom. János removed my veil and wreath, handed them to my mother, and expressed his thanks to her for me, or for the dinner, or for the whole wedding. My mother handed me over to him and asked him to take good care of me. With that, we left. Only years later did I find out that my mother started to cry, could not stop, became ill, and did not rejoin the guests.

13Our new apartment, on the mezzanine of a villa, faced my parents’ one-family dwelling and garden. We simply walked across the narrow, cobblestone street that ran into the hills. Maybe I would have liked him to carry me over in his arms. Or did he, only I no longer remember? How did we enter? What did he say? Did he undress me or did I undress myself? I can’t conjure up anything. I simply don’t have any recollection of that first night. (If Freud was right, I had reason to forget it.) A single trifle remained. During the night or at dawn, as he lay beside me, he put his leg, bent at the knee, across me, and that felt very pleasant. Everyone recognizes this movement; children are wont to snuggle against their mothers this way.

14Today, in relation to sexuality, I am without inhibitions. I could tell you what took place in medical or psychological terminology, possibly scornfully or frivolously or boisterously, but, well, I just don’t have anything more to say. It hurt. For days it even hurt to sit.

15I was sleepy and tired. In the morning I marveled I had not figured out before that a man has to spread his legs. Now I know that he doesn’t “have” to, that it is just a habit, but then I believed that everything I learned during that night was so and could not be any other way.

16It seems I had, in those days, a very good appetite; as we woke up, pangs of hunger seized me. I threw on a lovely floor-length negligée that was given to me directly for this occasion, and I bounded home for some victuals. They greeted me with colossal consternation, “You! What are you doing here? Go right back, Erzsi will bring you something right away.”

17We were in a hurry to go into the city to register my new name and catch the express train to Budapest. János did not wait for me to get dressed, he went ahead.

18When I got into the bathtub, the shower turned on unexpectedly and my hair became sopping wet. I dashed toward town but first ran into mother’s to say good-bye. Again they greeted me with consternation. Apparently, at such a time, the proper thing is to disappear, blushing, and I had no feeling for that, or for heaven knows what! They were also angry about my wet hair.

19I could not buy a ticket on the bus because my purse was empty. (I received a thousand forints as a wedding present, but I did not want to touch that, intending it as a surprise; I gave it all to János, so I had already been without money for several days, and I was ashamed to ask my parents.)

20Dealing with the ticket problem embarrassed me greatly, but the conductor smiled and said I should accept one as a gift from him; he had heard that yesterday was my wedding day. This made me very happy. But when I got off the bus, János gave me a tongue-lashing.

21He was also angry about my hair, the suitcases, and about something else, I no longer remember what. His gray-green eyes darkened; his beard was very heavy, his face was dark blue even freshly shaven.

22We traveled in first class to wonderful, distant Budapest. (That’s funny, isn’t it? But you don’t know what Budapest and Hungary meant in Kolozsvár. Maybe you have some inkling of it by now.)

23I don’t remember a thing about the journey. In Budapest—I don’t know at which station—I stood among the tracks, and suddenly my heart began to ache; it ached generally, and I became very sad.

24Then the best man approached, the one who had flirted with me in the car on the way to the church, and he told me I looked beautiful, my traveling outfit was charming; he knew we were coming by train, but he did not want to disturb us. Then he made some innuendoes and kept complimenting me.

25The Carlton. A suite overlooking the banks of the Danube. I was staying in a hotel for the first time in my life. When we dined in our rooms, a table was wheeled in, and a waiter stood there the whole time, changing the plates before us. The suite consisted of a bedroom and a living room. I do not remember anything else.

26I was surprised I did not enjoy it more.

27Air-raid sirens every night. One time, the whole building shook. A bomb had split the Ritz in two. The Carlton, too, is gone since then. The entire row of hotels was flattened by bombs.

28We wandered about the city. Occasionally János left me alone. He had some conferences to attend, he said. I found this natural, though we were on our honeymoon.

29I strolled along the banks of the Danube or I slept. I always wanted to sleep, I was inexpressibly tired and sleepy. This leads me to believe that we might have been together frequently at night, and, of course, there were the incessant air-raid alerts.

30Then we went to Csákvár, Majk, and Eger. (Exactly ten years later, I was in the same hotel, in the same room with Miklós.)

31In Eger we had a quarrel, and he left me standing on the street. On the very same day, I found out that he had given five hundred pengős to the college where he had studied, and had not told me about it. That he failed to mention it to me hurt me deeply. After all, I would have been very pleased about it. I gathered from a conversation I had with his cleric teacher that he had handed the money over the day before. He donated it out of my thousand forints. (In those days, that amounted to a half-year’s salary.)

32I have no memories of Eger other than this, just the city. We had planned that, on our way home, we would stop awhile in Budapest. We found out from the newspapers that they were establishing ghettos there. We did not want to believe they would do this, and if they actually did, even then not in Transylvania, that was impossible. But we immediately started for home.

33We were the only Christians in our entire apartment house. The residents on the floor above us were very good friends; they were the ones who, right in the middle of a terrible housing shortage, turned over to us the ground-floor section of the building; they were drawing closer together because they were afraid. We served as a screen for them in matters of one kind or another; they helped János, who was then working for the Helikon Publishers, to a second job and income. He had also obtained his position at the Helikon through the intervention of our Jewish friends, particularly mine. Laci Kovács’s wife, the bright and energetic Sulika who, the truth be told, actually ran Helikon and the Szépmíves Céh, another publishing house, was a Jew herself. So we rushed home.

34The German occupation.

35I am crossing the promenade at night on the way home. German tanks stand under the century-old wild chestnuts, ready to fire. Soldiers beside them, motionless and mute. Only their lighted cigarettes glow red in the darkness of the blackout and the foliage. It seems as if I can hear them breathing. A woman is walking alone in the darkness in front of the tanks, and the soldiers watch, motionless and silent. I am afraid. Not for myself, I do not count. It was strange how quiet it was, not a murmur, not a movement on the entire long road. This scene still haunts me. It was then I began to fear the Germans.

36Terror and turmoil everywhere.

37When we were being married, the Yellow Star already had to be worn. Böske Horváth, my girlfriend, did not come; she would not, she said, go to a Calvinist church, and I rebuked her stupidly, saying I willingly went to a synagogue with her. The young girl with whom my brother was in love, Margitka, did not come either, but that did not surprise me, because I was friends with her only outside my home. Ferkó Dőry, when he learned he had to wear a star, suffered a crying fit and never left his apartment again.

38Pista Kovács brought him to the wedding in a jacket in a taxi, saying he would tear apart anyone who dared to demand their papers. All this was a part of the atmosphere of the first days of my marriage, and it was with this memory that we hurried home from Budapest.

  • 1 “A Transylvanian writer” – author’s note. Kádár (1894–1972) founded the Erdélyi Szépmíves Céh in 1 (...)

39The day after we arrived home, they hauled off Imre Kádár1 from our street. János ran to the school for his little girl, Anna, so she would not go home, and took her to Sulika. From there she was sent for safety to the provinces. She survived. In the meantime, Jánoska, their son, ran home and looked for Anna at our place. I detained him to no avail, he left. He did not survive. I have no other recollection of these days other than waiting with the Sebőks, who lived in the building, for the time when they would be taken away. It was horrible. Of course, we did not sit idly by. We succeeded in getting Péter, the Sebőks’ son, into forced labor service. Soldiers had to be fitted out hastily, within hours. My sister Irénke whipped the soldier’s cap off her suitor’s head, for which he was then put in jail. To this day I do not understand why she did it, for she was the only anti-Semite in the family. My brother Egon’s hobnailed boots were a bit large for Péter; he returned them after the war with thanks.

40Meanwhile, we ran about with suitcases, warm clothing, medicines, false papers, false medical certificates. We helped confine people in mental institutions, and so on. Others did the same; in those days, this was a matter of course.

41János behaved very decently, not just with me, but with everyone. He helped without a word, he felt no fear, and he did not expect any expressions of gratitude. Other than that, he kept his silence. I was unaware of many things myself. The Gestapo took the most notable and wealthiest Jews into custody at night. My brother Egon was working for the city. The Germans always requested a truck from there. This way we knew about it in advance. I passed the tip on to Böske, she sent it on, and then they would not sleep in their own beds that night.

42Böske and her family brought their jewels and other valuables over to our place. We rescued Ferkó Dőry, he became a soldier. They hauled away Margitka, Egon’s sweetheart, in a garbage truck.

43They were coming closer to our street. Sebők, his elderly mother, Mrs. Sebők, János and I spent the evenings talking endlessly. Then— well, they are not coming today, we can go to bed.

44Mrs. Sebők lugged her belongings to our place in the daytime. The elderly mother suffered a stroke; half her side became paralyzed. Let’s go quickly, get papers—we can save her from the camp! I sat on the bed beside her and assured her that she would not be taken away, that she would get to the hospital. When I ran off to the market, she wept and shouted, “Call her back, I believe her when she says I won’t be hauled away.”

45Three days later, they hauled away all the residents in the building. They herded them down the staircase. There were little children, howling in despair; milk bottles broke, milk ran down the steps. I rushed out to help them. I wanted to speak to Magda. A gendarme yelled at me, “What do you want from them?” and he pushed me back in through the vestibule door. Magda, Mrs. Sebők, smiled and waved as she went down the stairs. The gendarme slammed the door in my face; I stood against the wall and heard the rattle in the old woman’s breathing. Her son pleaded, “Don’t rush her, the poor woman has had a stroke.” “Then we will make her journey easier with a rifle butt,” I heard this, too, then János grabbed my wrist, pushed me into the living room, and locked the door on me. This was his most compassionate act during the seven years of our marriage.

46The two of us were alone in the entire building. My parents were away on their summer holiday. János spent the days in town. I cleaned the house, cooked, and waited for him to come home.

47The building gave me the shivers, the bolted doors, the basement. I never went down when we had an air raid. I opened all the windows according to regulations. I sat down at my desk, which stood in the corner. I looked at my parent’s place, directly across the street. My cat came over to me frequently. But one time János found it there, snatched it up, and threw it out the window. Our apartment was on the mezzanine; the cat landed in the rosebushes. I began crying and shouting. From that time on, the cat appeared only when it saw that János was not at home.

48Meanwhile, life went on, of course. I had beautiful clothes. I had never had so many clothes before. (As a child and a young girl, I wore handme-down, poorly altered clothes.) Parties, theater, hustle and bustle.

49János gave me a beautiful Alsatian; it made me very happy. But then some Germans stole it. I licked my home like a mother pussycat.

  • 2 “A highly reputable ear, nose and throat specialist, my brother’s partner” – author’s note.

50Márta Prámer,2 that spiteful beast, said at the end of the war, “Do you know what I really regret? That they also destroyed your beautiful home.”

51János lived in one room. It contained many books, Biedermeier parlor furniture, a desk, a couch, and an antique wardrobe.

52I furnished my room with its corner windows very charmingly, harmoniously, cozily with antique furniture that I very fondly collected piece by piece. (Today I do not understand where I got the taste and energy, given my state of mind at the time.)

53A small modern dining room looked out upon a most pleasant and very usable balcony covered with flowers. The kitchen was a typical provincial kitchen with a cleanly scrubbed floor and a splendid stove; it was my pride and joy. I canned preserves and gave dinners; I set the table decoratively and cooked very well; and I tried to dress fashionably, in accordance with János’s wishes.

54He wanted me to use makeup. This is one thing I did not do, because I did not know how. (This is true. Today, women are born with this skill, we had to learn it.) Besides, it would have been absurd. I was rosycheeked, my lips were still ruby-red. My hair was naturally wavy and I hardly ever went to a hairdresser.

55I don’t remember whether János and I ever discussed intellectual or other problems. He did not like it if I talked about my feelings. He was extremely taciturn and sullen. He was marked by some kind of strange coldness and impassivity. He found it difficult to form human relationships. He had completely lost interest in everything; after three and a half years at the front, he knew—and somewhat cynically expected—that the Russians would come inevitably, that we would lose the war, and he also knew a few things about life in the Soviet paradise.

  • 3 “Later, this came to pass” – author’s note.

56He wanted and would have liked to write, but he wrote very rarely and very little. He never finished anything. And he drank. He drank heavily and regularly. It did not show on him; I never saw him drunk, rarely even tipsy. Several times daily he would drink one or two shots of hard liquor, and wine and wine-and-soda alternately. After a checkup, the doctor informed him that he had a chronic liver condition and must stop drinking because it will finish him off.3 He did not care and did not undergo treatment.

57We fought furiously over this. Love, pleas, logical persuasion, medical and other arguments did not affect him; he just shrugged his shoulders and went on drinking. I changed my tactics. When he took a drink, I always drank twice the amount. Until then, I had drunk casually and willingly and became tipsy quickly. Now I was often drunk; I became sick. I began to hate wine.

58He backed down a little, then resumed drinking; the condition of his liver worsened. I fell into despair. I played my last card; when he drank, no matter how little, I promptly drank myself senseless.

59This played out roughly like this: We went into town upon an invitation to dinner. Without saying a word, János turned into a restaurant. By now I no longer pleaded with him not to drink; doing that would generate an unbearable tension that lasted for days. He ordered the one deciliter of hard liquor for himself, a beer for me. I could not change the order; he abhorred all scenes in front of waiters and any strangers. I didn’t, it made no difference to me; I knew this and never spoke up. I stood up after a time, I had to go out. He took my purse without a word. I did not give a damn even about this. I went to the bar in a roundabout way and asked for a four-deciliter cognac. Somewhat amazed, the bartender asked, “How do you want it?” “In a glass,” I answered politely. I drank it up with slow, uniform sips. (The smell of cognac even today sends a chill along the length of my spine.) “My husband will pay for it,” I said casually, and I went back to the table. I don’t know how four deciliters of cognac before dinner affects others, but it was way too much for me. But I held out until I fell full length. This in itself would have been cause enough for gossip, but the fact that my heart, or something, cannot tolerate alcohol just made things worse. Doctor, injections, commotion!

60Perhaps, when I lay in a cold sweat with livid fingernails and lips, he was shaken, and embraced and kissed me. This was why he gave up drinking, or he had a feeling that I would stubbornly keep on doing it until I ran into serious trouble; I don’t know why, but he did stop drinking. He was even willing to go on a diet.

61Sometimes we amused ourselves. He enjoyed watching me when I was bathing, dressing, or undressing. I threw up barricades; he stole the keys, so I could not lock the doors. I enjoyed the fuss and the tussles enormously, but to undress naked in front of him—that really embarrassed me.

62We made plans. He took over the periodical named Pásztortűz. We were determined to turn it into a serious publication. I helped him eagerly, I was at his beck-and-call. I wheedled my father out of his old office for the editorial staff, and painted and furnished it, even though I previously spent some time in the hospital, then had my tonsils removed, so that my heart would better withstand my overactive thyroid. But the sign on the door made me indefatigable, “Pásztortűz. Editorial Office of the Illustrated Monthly.”

63I believe that even though I went to bed with him readily, I surrendered myself reluctantly to his embraces. Whether this showed, I do not know. It is certain that I always accepted his advances. If I did not feel anything, that was good; I remained composed. But if I gave myself over to his embraces, I lay there, after a few moments, with my nerves stretched to the snapping point; the blood vessels throbbed in my head, and my heart would not subside. I did not want to disturb him by moving, because it made him angry; I was able to lie motionless beside him by producing a tonal muscular tension throughout my entire body, and when I could no longer endure this stretching, I relaxed, then stretched again and relaxed again. For this reason, I was afraid to let myself go completely, because when I lay there unsatisfied, I was miserable.

64It was the middle of summer, and the Szépmíves Céh was sending János to the Book Fair in Budapest. He did not want to take me along, but I really wanted to go. Besides, because of the bombings of Budapest, I was afraid to let him be alone. I once happened to be at Helikon, and during a conversation, I heard Sulika say that Laci Kovács, her husband, never went to a book fair without her. What is more, it came out that my hotel bill would be covered; after all, I would be selling books at the pavilion. The fact that he did not want to take me with him hurt me terribly; we had been married only three months, but I just thought the reason could be something he did not want to talk to me about.

65Then he suggested that I follow him two days later with my father, because it was too late to obtain a sleeping car ticket for me. That I, a young wife, should travel with my father and not my husband was so humiliating that I was ashamed to mention it at home. I replied that it would be a simpler solution for me if Pista Kovács accompanied me to Budapest, for he was willing to adjust his departure to mine. Pista was a good friend of mine from my childhood, in a pleasant, good-natured, comradely relationship, open toward me but also to the outside world. He never burdened me with his love, which he quickly forgot; then he fell in love with Ricuka after Irénke and married her. I requited him with a friendship that lasted a lifetime. A sleeping car ticket instantly appeared, but I do not think this episode can somehow be forgotten.

  • 4 József Nyirő (1889–1953) – a Transylvanian novelist and short-story writer, whose works portrayed (...)
  • 5 “Ildikó Nyírő was directly ahead of me on the class list; we took our oral examination at the same (...)
  • 6 “A Kolozsvár bon vivant – author’s note.
  • 7 Áron Tamási (1897–1966) – Transylvanian writer known for his stories of peasants fighting their la (...)

66A grand life went on in the pavilion in Budapest. I was a great favorite. Nyírő4 related to everyone how I had been his daughter’s classmate and the silly nonsense we whispered to each other at examinations.5 I told István Nagy6 that my entire class was in love with him. Of course, then came Tamási, János Kemény, and old Miklós Bánffy7 with his magnificent head and courtly manner. (Later Egon helped him to emigrate from Transylvania to Budapest, where he died very shortly thereafter.) I don’t know how János took my triumphs. He once spoke to me coldly and bitingly, “Straighten your hat, you look like a clown!” This put a damper on my spirits for hours. We glowed and were happy for the last time. In the reannexed Transylvanian book pavilion, I was the Transylvanian woman being celebrated heartily and cordially. He was the poet, a member of the Transylvanian Helikon and Szépmíves Céh. We were the bearers of books by Transylvanian writers.

67He frequently went his separate way; sometimes he gave a laconic account of where he had been.

68Kolozsvár had been carpet-bombed. We wanted to return immediately, but it was not possible—the entire railway line had been bombed, no trains were running. No telegram or telephone connections were available. We could not even get any news through the ministry. How are my parents, my friends? What has become of the city? What has happened to the ghetto?

69Finally we were able set out. At Szolnok, as I lowered the train window, a nauseating, strong odor swept in. It was the stench of burned corpses.

70Later—I no longer remember which station it was—cattle cars with barbwire-covered windows stood parallel to us. Jews were being transported from Transylvania. They begged for food. We handed them whatever we could instantly find. (Mami, János’s mother, had packed from rich Transdanubia, from the Esterházy manor house, for our journey.)

71Rough shouting exploded, that of gendarmes and possibly of soldiers, too, “Who did that? You are not permitted to go near the locked box cars.” They boarded our car to find the culprit. Since armed soldiers were patrolling between the two trains, they by and large took measure of the distance between cars. János, referring to his honor as an officer, protested and resented that they would suspect me and hold me responsible. “They will detach the car, they will not let the train leave until they capture the culprit.” Finally an air raid came, and they had to release the train. I stood at the window; a young woman from Kolozsvár recognized me. She pressed her face against the barbwire and shouted to me, “See you again!” “Right! In the hereafter!” a gendarme yelled at her. I knew János shared my feelings. I anticipated Kolozsvár with growing anxiety; combined, this was way too much for me, but I saw he did not want me to speak. I kept silent. He did not speak about anything, either, not a single word.

72Kolozsvár at last. The station was completely unscathed; its environs were completely demolished. They had bombed the environs of the rail-road. A couple hundred dead, we were told. The newspapers admitted to just a few. The ghetto was hit. Egon went into the casualties area to meet Margitka and sneak a package to her. She had lost everything. Irén and I selected underwear and warm clothing from our things, my mother prepared some food. In 1988, in Kiriat Tiron, Margitka, now bearing the name of Miriam, related this to us in the following words: “Egon gathered the dead together, and I kept running alongside him (I did not even reach his shoulder, I was so little), asking him, ‘Why? Why? Why?’ He did not say a word, he did not look at me. His tears flowed continuously.”

73Everyone in the family was unhurt. I thought this was the most difficult day of my life. (Dear God, how mistaken I was!)

  • 8 Zoltán Jékely (1913–1982) – a poet, writer, playwright and outstanding translator; his translation (...)

74Transylvania was declared a theater of war. But we went about our lives. You, too, will remember how, theater of war or not, life bubbled merrily. Theaters and movie houses were packed; it was impossible to find an empty table in restaurants; outings and the entertainment of guests at home followed one another in quick succession. That was when Zoli Jékely’s piece entitled Angelit and the Hermits8 had its premiere. His wife, Adrienne Jancsó, played the leading role. It was, of course, a great event.

  • 9 A play by Emil Ábrányi (1815–1920). Though he wrote a number of successful plays, Ábrányi was bett (...)
  • 10 “We became closer friends later; his next wife, Aliz Basilides and I were girlfriends” – author’s (...)

75Then Páger came down from Budapest with Marci Kerecsendi Kiss to direct First.9 Marci was János’s classmate. A political tension existed between us, but we all tried to paper it over; we avoided sensitive topics as much as possible. We were once sitting on the terrace of the New York Café; the topic of conversation was Tamási’s divorcing Magdó. “Why, of course,” Páger said. “She is a Jew.” “She was a Jew when he married her,” I retorted. (Tamási10 put off the divorce until after the war; he even rescued Magda and her family.) I mean to say, skirmishes did occur, but I participated in them only very rarely and marginally. János did not like me to speak up in company, and it was impossible for me to discuss anything with him, either. My conduct came up for discussion only if it displeased him. No matter what I expressed, he remarked on it only when he objected to it. Even then, he offered no comment, just this: Don’t talk politics, you don’t understand it. Or: It would be better if you kept your mouth shut when you want to say stupid things.

76My natural openness and lack of inhibitions began to fade slowly. Even today I cannot dance loosely and easily because he pointed out to me, scoffing, sneering, that possibly I should not dance, because I move like an elephant. (Yet how I enjoyed and still enjoy dancing.)

77Since I loved János, and his opinion mattered to me, he shook my self-confidence very easily and quickly. Somehow I still could put up with this, but I found his coldness and sternness unbearable. After all, I had a loving nature. At home I was my father’s and mother’s darling and my siblings’ intimate friend; the servants, the dog, the cat—they all loved me. Add my friends to them. Miklós, you remember that when we were in Transylvania for the first time in ten years, with what love Böske Horváth showered me, and that when we wanted to board the train to return home, Pista Kovács was waiting at the train at midnight. He and Böske went to the train three nights, because they did not know when we were leaving and wanted to say good-bye one more time.

  • 11 Balázs Lengyel (1918–) – the noted linguist and literary critic and one of the founders of the per (...)

78Lonci was my friend since we were in kindergarten together. Berta Biró wrote me to go to her immediately when, after four months of marriage, her husband died in her arms, and she was left pregnant. (The son she was carrying then asked me recently how was the “gentleman” who wrote The Youth of Szeben11 because he had read about him in the newspaper.) Love and trust surrounded me like a mother’s warm embrace. Only János did not love me. I could not get used to that. But I could not complain to anyone. Not even to Berta who turned to me in her greatest crisis and whom I continue to love deeply to this day.

79For seven years I never spoke to anyone about my marriage and my problems. Even today I can only try to guess why. At the time I did not think about them; maybe I did not even notice them. Last summer I became more aware of them when Auntie Róza, my mother’s only woman friend and cousin, told me that my mother once lamented to her that she felt I was unhappy but I was not saying anything either to my family or to my closest girlfriends.

80Once a small pimple appeared on my inner labium. I was uneasy for days; I finally mentioned it to János, very ashamed. He immediately turned very gloomy and promptly sent me to the doctor. It was diagnosed as gonorrhea. (Today, many are, I know, uninformed about this disease; unfortunately, I am not. It is a venereal disease, but it is not syphilis.)

81At the time we still had our beautiful Alsatian, Fritz. At nine months, he was as big as a calf. János did not go to the doctor with me; I took Fritz along. I do not know why, but I think I was apprehensive. The doctor had a tiny, white Pekingese. This wild beast Fritz, who attacked man and animal if he was not restrained, stopped in front of this puny, miserable white ball and quivered; he was afraid and did not budge; he let the Pekingese attack his legs viciously. The doctor and I were both astounded.

82How does it feel to lie on the examining table with thighs spread to let someone reach in and look inside you when you are nineteen (you get used to it in time) and to answer embarrassing questions, so you can be told you have a venereal disease?

83I cannot put it down in writing. Maybe a man cannot even imagine it.

84Oh well, I did not say anything. Then the doctor said, “This is not the typical form in which the disease manifests itself. The skin here is still young and overly sensitive, as is the case with every young girl. Moreover, it is my duty to advise you that this is grounds for divorce. I have recorded it in my journal, and I am ready whenever you wish to issue the official confirmation. The court accepts it in every case.” “Why should I get a divorce?” I asked in amazement. “Because your husband picked this up somewhere.” “But what if I was the one who got it?” “Yes, if you are living with several men at the same time, then this is not really a cause for divorce now, is it?” he said, seemingly greatly amused by what he had said.

85Then, probably from the idiotic look on my face, he realized it was not that which I had in mind, and he stated that something like this can be caught only by contact. “Maybe from the toilet seat,” I said. At which he jokingly said, “Possibly, but it is highly uncomfortable.” I did not understand him. He must have felt sorry for me, because he talked to me at great length. “Young lady, you are even younger and more innocent than your actual years. Where did you get such naiveté and trust from? Apparently you have fallen into the hands of a scoundrel, because nobody else could have done this to you. Take my word, accept the certificate, and institute divorce proceedings; if you do not, you will pay dearly for this marriage.”

86I became so indignant at this that I did not say a single word in reply. I paid and left. I went to another doctor for treatment, so I would never see him again.

87I understood the toilet-seat innuendo while on the way home. I was completely alone on the darkening promenade, but I blushed and ran home the length of Rákóczi Road. Then I began to grow suspicious; yet, in a curious way, it was not the facts that hurt but how much the both of us were at the mercy of a third party, the doctor. At home, I told János in a few words what had taken place; then I took hold of his head, turned his face toward mine, so we could both look straight into each other’s eyes, and I implored him, “I am not mad at you, but in God’s name, tell me the truth. Did you catch it from someone else? If you lie to me now, I won’t be able to bear it.” (I only have to close my eyes to see his look, his eyes.) He had beautiful greenish gray eyes and a high forehead; he looked very sincere and said somehow with strength from within—but, of course, you have to look with such great sincerity and shock when you are lying; when horribly embarrassed, you can do nothing other than muster all your strength. “How silly are! Of course I did not bring it home from someone else. Remember, you yourself complained how you lost your balance and flopped onto the public toilet at Kolozsvár, and had to wash yourself afterwards. That is when you must have got it.”

88Later, I tried to find an excuse for him, that the lie was justified from his viewpoint, but to no avail. This is what I felt to be his true and indelible betrayal: his look. (What is the wound that cannot be healed? Well, to me it is that sincere look. I can forgive, indeed forget, every deception, boorishness, betrayal, anything. Which is no reason, of course, to take advantage of it. But when offering everything, when I meet everything head on and ask only for sincerity—it’s like some form of mental disorder—I want the truth, I am unable to forgive a lie.) A few days later, signs of the disease also broke out on him. I plunged into despair, thinking I had infected him. Painful days and weeks followed. I won’t not go into details. He recovered quickly; men do not have the sensitive structure that supports childbirth and is so entirely exposed to disease. I could not receive treatment by injection, which generates a fever, because of my heart. It wasn’t even a drop in the bucket for him; he recovered. Naturally we did not have any intercourse; we did not feel like it.

89My mother had left for Auntie Rózsika’s in Kecskemét to rest after her thrombosis, but she was no longer able to return because Transylvania was sealed off; we really became a theater of war. One morning, we woke up to the sound of heavy cannon fire; we observed the muzzle fire on Feleki Peak. In short, Romania left the coalition on August 23.

  • 12 “This is how I heard the events occurred” – author’s note.

90And it did so in its own fashion. The chief staff officers or the leaders of the nation invited the German chief officers to a champagne dinner. They got them drunk, then murdered and hacked them into pieces. In the chaos, they routed the rank-and-file, captured them, and upon their surrender, gave them their orders and they “deserted”, thus leaving the coalition.12 How painstaking and clumsy Hungary was with its badly disguised, badly organized attempts at withdrawal!

91Romanian artillery, a Romanian army stood on Feleki Peak. At their feet was Kolozsvár, full of Germans. Airplanes patrolled above us; sometimes they strafed the streets with their machine guns. I looked at the traces of bullets lodged in the asphalt at the head of Ferenc Deák Street.

92So, Romania allied itself with the Soviet Union on August 24, 1944, and the front-line stretched to the mountain peaks above Kolozsvár. The Germans applied their usual, tested tactics: with respect to Romania, now declared an enemy, they allowed Hungarian armed forces to occupy the territory and annex it to the motherland. (An inspiration of Lucifer’s, wasn’t it?) They recaptured Torda in twenty-four hours at the cost of horrible casualties. We observed the gunfire of this battle on Feleki Peak. With this tactic they poured fresh fuel on Romanian and Hungarian hatred; the Romanians came raging to re-occupy Kolozsvár. It would be the only excuse, later on, for the arrival of the Soviet army there.

  • 13 “The family of Count Móric Esterházy” – author’s note. In 1917 Móric Esterházy (1881–1960) served (...)

93Long before the Romanian attack, the Esterházys13 wrote to my family, advising them to send me to Csákvár ahead of the Russians. My mother-in-law was serving as their head housekeeper. At the time, their manor house was already under the protection of the Swiss Red Cross. “Here in Transdanubia there will not be any warfare, English occupation, and so on.” I will be completely safe. My family and János made desperate efforts to get me to go, but I resisted stubbornly. (We really did know we had to lose the war, but even we did not imagine that defeat would be burdened by a spiteful and triumphant Romania.) I did not want to leave while my family and János were in Transylvania. Suddenly it seemed that we were caught in a rat trap in Kolozsvár. It was a major question as to whether the Germans wanted to hold on to the city or to abandon it. Obviously, it was indefensible militarily, but what did it matter to the Germans that a city was to be shelled to bits to gain them a few hours’ delay.

  • 14 Lajos Dálnoki Veress (1889–1976) had a successful military career under the Horthy régime. See not (...)

94We went along the streets. Giant posters. “I order the material and personal evacuation of the city. Signed, Lajos Veress14, Commander of the Romanian Army Corps.” And a terse sentence, “Escape trains departing.” Who has to leave the city? Inhabitants, or soldiers? If soldiers, then why the posters? If inhabitants, then what does “material evacuation” mean?

95We did not reflect for long; airplanes pounded the street with machine guns from one end to the other wherever people gathered.

96A dreadful afternoon. I was glad I had not left, and I awaited the future with a strange, breath-constricting anxiety.

97The family—father, Egon, Irénke, János—decided we should go, we must escape. I too wanted that; I guarded János jealously. He did not know a single word of Romanian; he had come from the motherland. We had a concern with and a right to Transylvania in one way or another. But I did not want the Romanians to find him there.

98On the day of our flight Böske Horváth came out to our place: we had hidden her belongings. She asked us to stay. She had Romanian and Communist friends, she would protect us. I did not want to. Now she took one or two of my things with her to take care of for me.

99My father and Egon scolded me for not leaving sooner. Now, what will they do with me? János said, “I should have been more firm. But drop it, it doesn’t make any difference now.”

100Egon obtained a German truck for two paintings, some food, gasoline, and gold. “It is coming for us at midnight.”

101We began to pack feverishly, everything valuable in large cases. Even bedclothes and pictures. Then we sat and waited. The family prepared comforters and big pillows for me to lie on in the truck. (I still had not recovered completely.)

102At two in the morning, a smaller vehicle arrived. Repacking. One packing case per family, four suitcases per person.

103We repacked and waited.

104Day broke. The truck did not come. As I opened the cases on this slowly breaking dawn, I rearranged the apartment exactly as it had been. I even put back in their places the pictures, the tablecloths, the vases, as if nothing had happened, as if I were not preparing to leave and abandon my home forever whoever would come and occupy it.

105I turned on the lights behind the lowered shutters and surveyed all the rooms. Everything was in order, the kitchen, too. I washed the demi-tasse cups and put them in their place. (The suitcases were standing outside the door. They contained mostly personal belongings.)

106At seven o’clock in the morning, Egon entered, sweating and desperate: This truck was not coming, either. He had got hold of a pushcart.

107Repacking and loading up in less than thirty minutes all it could carry from the possessions of two apartments and five persons and pushing it ahead of us, we set off for the station to plead to be taken aboard the train for refugees. (I could discard only wrapped things; as I tossed them away, a box of photographs broke apart and pictures flew in different directions onto the floor, the table, and the sofa; the sun shone in powerfully.) Throughout, János did not say much. He was surly and withdrawn. He did not interfere with the packing. He didn’t even help.

108A terrible pandemonium reigned at the railroad station. Army trucks passed by its front ceaselessly. The refugee train was nowhere in sight. We unloaded our possessions in one of the waiting rooms amid shattered glass and debris.

109My father said he was hungry, he’d seen some fruit in one of the shops, he will locate it, and he headed back to the city.

110Egon and Irénke hunted for some kind of suitable motor vehicle and took their possessions with them on the pushcart, so they could stake out a place immediately and then come back for us. I stood guard over our belongings. János started off to the left, in the direction of the garrison headquarters.

111Suddenly a horrible shouting broke out; everybody scurried and fled. An old railway man stood on the platform pointing to the sky, “Bombers!” Then his face turned pale, “Look, there come the bombers!” Three formations of what looked like three specks were descending above the buildings. I ran toward garrison headquarters. I found János there; we ran, holding hands, to an emergency air-raid shelter. It was a sort of corridor for an underground bunker; we had to climb down an iron ladder into the shaft. People pushed and pulled each other frantically. At the moment a plane flew directly above us. I stood to the side, spellbound. I was astounded that a formation of three specks was diving directly at our heads. Somebody howled like an animal, “We are done for!”

112There was no time to climb down. János grabbed me, picked me up, and threw me into the shaft, then jumped in after me. By this time, bombs were exploding outside. I fell on people, my wrist became wedged in a crack in the wall. Actually, and in every sense of the word, János saved my life, because I did not even try to move. In a strange way I never felt grateful to him. I was amazed, however, at his presence of mind.

113We stood leaning against the wall in this narrow concrete corridor, many of us. A great faintness overcame me; I did not dare turn my head to the side to look at those who had remained outside and were now being brought down, horribly torn to shreds, but still alive. One kept trying to say something but could not speak. He articulated something time and again with an unintelligible rattling in his throat. They closed the concrete cover of the shaft. The bomb hits could be heard, the bomb hits, every one of them close. At times the ground shook around us. A railroad man stood at the extension phone, signaled for silence, and said, “We have casualties. Send first aid!” The same thing ten times over. Then, “I understand.” A long pause, he is paying attention. He wipes his brow, “They cannot help us.”

114Then he goes to some device to start the air circulation. It fails to function. He struggles with it; others come to his aid, but the device does not work. The concrete lid that covers the ladder to the shaft has to be opened because the air is being used up rapidly. We will suffocate. The railroad men say, “This is the service shelter, the air-raid shelter; civilians and soldiers must get out, we cannot leave our stations, we cannot run off. A few of you must climb out between bombings and run to the buildings across the street.”

115Wild squabbling, “Don’t you have any humanity?” “Do understand, there is no air, we will all choke to death here. “

116An officer takes out his revolver, raises it, ready to fire, “Soldiers! The first group get moving!” The railroad man beside the telephone, “The rescue train has been hit! The qualified, the stretcher bearers get going!” Without thinking I step forward. János pulls me back, “What are you doing?” “I am a trained nurse,” I reply. At that, he restrains and holds me tightly, “Nobody here knows that.” “But I do,” I answer, at which he covers my mouth. The first group starts off. They climb up the ladder. The concrete lid cannot be removed. We are buried alive. What will become of us?

117Others fiddle with the pump; meanwhile, the railroad man telephones, “There is no air! There is no air! We are buried, send help, send help!” Then he issues orders, “Don’t talk! Don’t move! That way we use less air. Let’s all breathe even, shallow!”

118We stand in silence, like sardines; we sweat and breathe desperately because there is still some air. (If I take a deeper breath now, then maybe I will be able to bear it longer.) The telephone was the most frightful. In the deadly, sweaty silence, only the sound of the rattles issuing from the throats of the injured could be heard. “There are seventy of us, we can last only ten to fifteen minutes longer.” Then, “The telephone is not working.” He lowered his arm together with the receiver.

119I leaned toward János’s face (he was holding me in an embrace), “I don’t want to die.” He replied with a significant smile, “The others don’t, either.”

120Somehow this lessened my concern. “Maybe a bomb will strike here and squash this bird cage.” By the time I said this, I shuddered: I could feel the shattered walls falling on me. János noticed, because he whispered, “I will lean over you. Don’t be afraid, only I can fall on you.” Somebody shouted at us to stop talking. The terror of the previous minutes continued. We waited... Then I began choking, then everything turned black.

121When I opened my eyes, I saw a black aperture, a palm-sized aperture in front of my face with little green plates revolving in it, like the tuning eye of a radio. Air came slowly seeping in. I was being held up to the height of the low ceiling, so I could get some air directly, in front of a vent of the air pump, which had somehow started up. (I had lost consciousness so quickly because the tuberculosis from which I had suffered had reduced my lung capacity.)

122But enough about this day. We were under fire in this concrete corridor from nine in the morning until six in the evening. When they somehow opened the concrete lid, every time we crawled out, after two steps, back we went. And more horrors occurred, but I do not want to go on relating them in detail. Like cattle, like dumb animals, we did not have an inkling, in this concrete hole, that only the railway station was under fire in the entire city. The escape train was also shot up; the wounded and the dead lay alongside the tracks. János behaved nobly throughout it all, in the true sense of the word.

123We got away toward dark. We located our luggage in the ruins. The others were nowhere to be found. Away quickly, away from here; let’s not have to crawl back there again.

124It was not possible to go back to the city; we were told that Szamos Bridge had been blown up. We found a drunken carriage driver who did not know where to go or what to do with himself. For a large sum of money he accepted the terms that we would go with him wherever his horse took him. Quickly, up with the luggage.

125The frightened, scrawny horse started off at a gallop. We soon reached the highway in the direction of Szucság. There he dropped us off and, walking, he led his horse into the fields. We hid under the bushes of an embankment because planes attacked the road frequently. This was the direction in which the military was retreating.

126We waved our arms in vain; not a single vehicle stopped. Then I said to János, “Just hide in the bushes; they will stop for a lone woman, and then they won’t say they won’t pick you up.” Angrily but without a word, he slipped into the bushes. (I respected him for that very much; he handled it without getting on his high horse; he did not start strutting around like a rooster.)

127The first military truck stopped, and every one thereafter. But not one of them took as aboard. “We can’t, we can’t. There’s no room; it’s a truck, it’s not fit for a woman.” Half-empty personnel carriers did not pick us up, either. I grew very desperate. I hung on to the side of the next vehicle and pleaded, “Don’t you have any heart? Don’t you have a mother? A sister?”

128The driver suddenly leaned out of the vehicle. “We can’t pick up anyone, it’s an order. Don’t waste your time. Escape as best you can. I say this because I do have a mother and a sister.”

129I went and hid with János in the bushes. “Do you understand this? They can’t pick up refugees. What is going on?” “Bureaucracy,” he said, then when he saw I didn’t understand what he was alluding to, “The military, orders, orders! There is no point fretting about it, everything must be accepted as it comes... nothing can be done about it.”

  • 15 Veress was sentenced to death by hanging on April 16, 1947 for “rightist” activities, but the Nati (...)

130I was very worked up, and I really would have loved to look right into the eyes of Lajos Veress,15 the commander of the Transylvanian army corps, and ask him how he could be so cruel. What could he possibly say? He issues the order to flee, then does not allow us to escape. (I had no idea that on one occasion I would converse with him for hours, and tell him I understood this order of his and respected him for it as well as other things. Five years later, he was condemned to death because of the first Communist conspiracy, but, as I remember, he was pardoned.)

131The first German truck I hailed stopped to pick us up. It was a truck with exceptionally high sides. We were unable to climb up, but a Hungarian vehicle coming behind it stopped immediately; they flung János up somehow and then handed me up to him, then the luggage, very quickly. We were instantly on our way, for the road was under attack.

132A small package remained behind; it contained two kilos of coffee, one kilo of tea, and a gold cigarette case. One of the Hungarian infantrymen ran after our truck; taking a full swing, he hurled it after us. We could not catch it. He picked it up from the ground, and running at break-neck speed, he threw it again with all his might. It fell to the ground. I leaned out, and cupping my hand, I shouted to him, “It’s yours, enjoy it!” This was my first moment of abandon, and I thought, how nice, poetic justice—that life can, after all, be good, for destiny repaid this soldier’s warm and devoted help by having this package remain behind. No matter how hard he tried, it stayed in his hands. (Do any of you today know what so much coffee and tea meant back then?) “How surprised he will be when he discovers the gold cigarette case,” I laughed at János. He knit his brows, looked at me thoughtfully, and said coldly and sharply, “He’ll be as happy as a blind horse with half an eye.” The truck took us to Nagykároly. They dropped us off at the side of the road. I sat on the suit-cases on the road; János began looking for a place where we could rest a bit. People surrounded us and stared at us, “Look, refugees.” They knew nothing about Kolozsvár and the front. We reached Debrecen in a couple of days by means of military vehicles. Finally, we were in the longed-for, the trustworthy motherland where there is only one enemy, or rather two, not three, as back home.

133We were pretty shabbily welcomed in Debrecen. The townspeople had survived a heavy air attack the day before. They were furious and afraid. I had not experienced anything like it anywhere.

134No one wanted to take us in, even though we were exhausted to death by now. In his rage, János would not speak, even to me. “Then I will do it,” I said. I went into a house and begged our way in with great difficulty. They let us in and provided a bare sofa for us. (There were only bare pieces of furniture in the house. Were they storing everything in the cellar?) They sat there themselves. We tumbled onto the sofa without taking our clothes off and fell asleep. Then they woke us up, “Air-raid alert, come with us.” Fine, but not until the planes come.

135I was barely alive from exhaustion. No, they are responsible, we have to go down right now. The wretches! But they did not give me a place to sit. I was unable to stand, I told them. I told them I was going to the toilet, and I stretched out in the grass in front of the air-raid shelter and fell asleep. They shook me awake in the morning and cursed me within earshot, saying how rebellious these Transylvanians are. (An alert is not the same as an attack; why shouldn’t I be able to sleep in front of the shelter?) János didn’t utter a word. He stole a pair of goggles from them; the dust and wind in the open trucks had done my eyes in badly. The corneas were red, swollen, and inflamed. We left Debrecen during an air-raid alert. Again it was the Germans who gave us a lift. The trailer was a mammoth petrol tank; János sat on it. It was an uncomfortable and smelly place. It wasn’t possible to hang on to the top of the cylinder. It was for this reason that a German soldier took me off and seated me next to him on the driver’s seat. We couldn’t converse. Low-flying planes swooshed—the hell they swooshed, they zoomed and stormed like the wind above us—and took us under fire.

  • 16 “I did so. If a truck was hit, two or three trucks could collide” – author’s note.

136To my greatest shock, we didn’t stop and run for our lives; we didn’t even accelerate to top speed, but continued to jog along at a very reduced, even tempo—the entire line of trucks. (I really must ask a soldier what purpose this serves...)16 This German couldn’t answer any question posed in Hungarian; he just shrugged his shoulders and kept his eyes glued to the road. So intense a fear seized me that I felt like screaming or praying aloud.—Not as I had in the bunker, that was different. The thought of János sitting atop the petrol tank alone when he might be killed was driving me crazy.

137I didn’t move or speak, but I swore that if we escaped with our lives, I would never tell a lie again, I would not acquire anything for myself, I would never wear silk stockings. (Today I can only laugh at this or feel pity for myself at how little I had to pledge from my meager life.)

138Then a hit behind us, a hit to the side, “Dear God, if you have any mercy in you, grant that the bomb should land here and not on the trailer. If it falls here, I renounce everything; I will lead the life of an ascetic to the end of all my born days.” Well, something like this.

139In my great anxiety, it never occurred to me that if I summon death, I cannot make any pledges on my life. Nor could I think through the notion that if the gasoline truck behind us exploded, we would also be blown sky-high—no need for pledges. If we got the direct hit I prayed for, János would not escape atop the benzene tank, either.

140Well, no matter, a human being sometimes walks on the edge of insanity. Be that as it may, I arrived at a conclusion: I would never again sit apart from him in a vehicle. (We then quarrelled a lot over this.) This is how you are, if you love someone deeply.

141Am I talking too much about the air raids? Even today my stomach and intestines churn a little at the drone of an airplane. To me, the thought is reassuring, and it dissipates my fear, if I know that the atom bomb will be released at a great height and fall silently. And if then the roof, the house, the concrete will not bury anyone, there will be no detonation, no throat rattle, no death cry, and our limbs will disintegrate in silence... We will turn into dust. It is only to be hoped for.


1 “A Transylvanian writer” – author’s note. Kádár (1894–1972) founded the Erdélyi Szépmíves Céh in 1924 and served as director of the Hungarian Theatre in Kololzsvár 1933–40). He turned to Protestant theology in 1940, and he settled in Hungary in 1944, where he taught theology from 1952 and edited the Theológiai Szemle (Theological Review) from 1958.

2 “A highly reputable ear, nose and throat specialist, my brother’s partner” – author’s note.

3 “Later, this came to pass” – author’s note.

4 József Nyirő (1889–1953) – a Transylvanian novelist and short-story writer, whose works portrayed people living in a state of nature, claiming this state to be the source of human happiness. His writing were strongly influenced by expressionism and filled with strong poetic feeling.

5 “Ildikó Nyírő was directly ahead of me on the class list; we took our oral examination at the same time” – author’s note.

6 “A Kolozsvár bon vivant – author’s note.

7 Áron Tamási (1897–1966) – Transylvanian writer known for his stories of peasants fighting their landlords, poverty, and nature, often done with much wit and humor. János Kemény (1903–1971) – a novelist, who before World War II, headed Erdélyi Helikon, an organization of Hungarian writers living in Transylvania. The child of an impoverished baron, he was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and returned to Transylvania with his family. Miklós Bánffy (1873–1950) – count, member of a noble family that played a major role in the history of Transylvania, politician, writer and dramatist best known for his Transylvanian Stories trilogy.

8 Zoltán Jékely (1913–1982) – a poet, writer, playwright and outstanding translator; his translations include the works of Dante, Racine, and Shakespeare. His writing are concerned with philosophical questions. His poems are elegiac and nostalgic, and his early novels are based on autobiographical materials, his later ones on adventure.

9 A play by Emil Ábrányi (1815–1920). Though he wrote a number of successful plays, Ábrányi was better known as a poet and translator, Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac being considered his most successful translation. The First premiered at the National Theater in Budapest on January 13, 1882.

10 “We became closer friends later; his next wife, Aliz Basilides and I were girlfriends” – author’s note.

11 Balázs Lengyel (1918–) – the noted linguist and literary critic and one of the founders of the periodical Új Hold [New Moon], the progressive literary and critical journal of young writers first published in July 1946 and banned by the communists in May 1948 for its failure to abide by the principles of socialist realism.

12 “This is how I heard the events occurred” – author’s note.

13 “The family of Count Móric Esterházy” – author’s note. In 1917 Móric Esterházy (1881–1960) served as Prime Minister for a few months.

14 Lajos Dálnoki Veress (1889–1976) had a successful military career under the Horthy régime. See note 15.

15 Veress was sentenced to death by hanging on April 16, 1947 for “rightist” activities, but the National Council of the People’s Court converted the sentence to life imprisonment. He was released during the 1956 Revolution, and he left Hungary and lived out his life in London.

16 “I did so. If a truck was hit, two or three trucks could collide” – author’s note.

© Central European University Press, 2002

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