Wednesday, 19 March 2014

SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING

Budapest, the night of 18-19 March 1944

Years later, living in the United States and writing first in Esperanto, Tividar Soros recalled –
March 19, 1944. A day like any other. Nice weather. It was a little chilly, but there was a touch of spring in the morning air that warmed the heart. I was sitting in a café, at a table with a pleasant view. Breakfast was neatly laid, as always. But there was one difference: as the waiter gave me the morning newspaper, he whispered, 'Have you heard? During the night, the Germans took
over.'
I hadn't heard. For years the threat of occupation had been hanging over our heads – in fact for so long that we had forgotten all about it. The news took me completely by surprise...
On March 18, the day before the occupation, the BBC had summarized matters as follows:
The Russians have reached the Romanian border. Ten German divisions have been destroyed. In the Ukraine the encirclement and mopping-up of German troops is proceeding. The American air force has launched bombing attacks on Germany.
But, the report added,
Not only has the military position of Germany been radically weakened on the Eastern front, but the continues allegiance of Germany's eastern satellites is now more in question.
It was this problem that precipitated the decision to occupy Hungary... Hitler had already learned the bitter lesson of Italian betrayal and, at the very least, he wanted to postpone, if not avoid, a similar setback.
In the night of March 18, 1944, he acted.
There was no apparent resistance... Hitler generally timed his initiatives for weekends. The Hungarian occupation took part on a Sunday night. The Sunday papers were already printed, and there would be no further editions until Monday, Without newspapers the city was full of rumours... there were no signs of Germans in the city. The sun shone, seemingly oblivious to the historic nature of the occasion; the city streets slumbered in the peace of a Sunday morning...
As the morning progressed people came out to stroll through the streets and the parks, as they usually did on a Sunday, but their faces wore puzzled expressions. Both the Jews and the more progressive of the non-Jews, socialists for example, were full of uncertainty and foreboding... How prudent were those who had had the sense to flee long since, while the going was good!
(Maskerado, pp. 4-6, passim)
The first day was full of foreboding. Yet the beautiful spring weather belied the gloomy future.
But then came the second day...
(ibid., p. 11)

Maskerado

Altogether coincidentally I had spent the day before yesterday reading Tividar Soros's Maskerado, the memoir of his family's life under German rule during the months of March 1944 to January 1945, from which the above quotations have been exerpted.  

Tividar Soros (1894-1968) is best know for being the father of the financiers Paul and George but seventy years ago he had been a lawyer living an easy, prosperous life in Budapest. He was also a Jew, and an innovative survivor. Maskerado tells how he and his immediate family survived.

This is another very 'Hungarian' book, chock full of its authors relatives and of the people whom he knew and whom he met along the way and brimful with detail. Despite this I did not come across anyone whom I had met in similar memoirs nor walk down the same streets. I saw no specific reason to think that Tividar Soros's extensive circle had intersected that of his contemporary, András Pető. I do not necessarily think that the two men's personal experiences of those months had much specific in common. But the background against which their lives were lived were the same, the reliance on friends and contacts, the corruption, the arbitrary danger from the Arrow Cross, and the chutzpah and sheer dodginess needed to enhance your luck and survive – these two were part of the same mad, mad world.

This book was first published in Esperanto, in 1965. This English edition first appeared in 2000. I am ashamed to admit that I heard of it only a week or so ago. I am very pleased to report, however, that Amazon has a good store of mint new copies of Maskerado, at minimal prices:


German, Hungarian and other editions are also to be found.

Reference

Soros, T. (2000) Maskerado: dancing around death in Nazi Hungary, Edinburgh, Canongate

1 comment:

  1. In Hungary this anniversary seems publicly muted and politically muddled, with so far anyway very little in the press. There will, however, be a big gathering this afternoon at the Great Synagogue, with about five to seven thousand people expected.

    Open invitation –

    '70 years ago, on 19 March 1944, the Nazis invaded our country, unopposed. The date 19 March was the beginning of the Holocaust,the cruellest tragedy of the twentieth century.

    'We shall not forget the destruction of Hungarian Jewry and the humiliation of virtual extermination.

    'Therefore remember the tragedy of seventy years ago, the victims, children, adults, men and women, the prey who became sinless sinners....

    'On 19 March, therefore, we remember alongside all people who respect life and their fellow human beings.

    'And so please fellow countrymen of good will, please come to pay your common respects at Dohány utca Synagogue!

    'Let us remember our dead together, because of our common past, we are here together!'

    http://nol.hu/belfold/megszallasi-evfordulo-erdo-biboros-elfogadta-a-mazsihisz-meghivasat-1450583

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