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Kaddish For A Child Not Born
(Imre Kertesz)

Imre Kertesz was born in Budapest into a family of Jewish descent. According to an anecdote, he received at the age of ten a diary as a birthday present, but its white pages scared him. In his youth Kertesz experienced the horrors of the Nazi system. Germans occupied Hungary in 1944 and began exterminating Jews and Gypsies. Kertesz was deported together with 7,000 Hungarian Jews from Budapest to Auschwitz and from there to Buchenwald. I am a nonbelieving Jew, Kertesz has said in an interview. Yet as a Jew I was taken to Auschwitz. In the factory of death Kertesz suddenly realized that he could be killed anywhere at any time. This existentialist moment became crucial for him as a writer.
In 1945 Kertesz was liberated by the Allied forces. After returning to Hungary, he worked as a journalist for Vilagossag, a Budapest newspaper. When the newspaper adopted orthodox Communist ideology, Kertesz was dismissed. Between 1951 and 1953 Kertesz served in the army, and then devoted himself entirely to writing.
During the Hungarian uprising of 1956, some 200,000 people fled to the West. Literary life did not return to normality until 1963. Like a number of dissident writers in European countries under Communist dictatorship, Kertesz supported himself as a translator, focusing on such German-language writers as Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Elias Canetti, Joseph Roth, and Arthur Schnitzler, and such thinkers as Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. For the theatre he wrote musicals and other light pieces. Kertesz did not have a typewriter. He first wrote with a pencil, then with a ballpoint pen.
Kertesz never joined the official Writers' Association and did not have any privileges. With his wife he lived in a small one-room flat, writing in his voluntary prison cell without much possibilities getting his books published. At the Lukacs bathing establishment, where he could discuss relatively freely about literature and politics, he swam daily for nearly 40 years. Among the modern novels which influenced him deeply was Albert Camus's The Stranger (1942), found from a second-hand shop.
Kerteszs first book, Sorstalansag (1975), was a detached account of a fifteen-year-old Jewish boy's experiences in concentration camps. Kertesz do not regard this as an autobiographical work. In an interview he has said, that he has never wanted to tell about his own life. Sorstalansag was completed in 1965, but not published until 10 years later in a limited edition. The work was treated with silence, perhaps because of the subject, the deportation of Jews, a shameful episode in Hungary's recent history. However, it started a trilogy, which continued in A kudarc (1988), and Kiddies a Meg new szuletetett gyermekért (1990, Kiddush for a Child not Born), written in a stream of consciousness technique. The protagonist is a middle-aged survivor of the Holocaust, whose literary career has been unsuccessful. His marriage has failed and his ex-wife has a new family and children. The tremendous truth of Auschwitz is revealed to him in the figure of a father, and he tells to his friend that he does not want to become a parent in a world, which has given birth to the Holocaust.
The young witness of the Shoah in Sorstalanság is physically imprisoned in a concentration camp, but he argues that it is true that our imagination remains free even in captivity. I could, for instance, achieve this freedom while my hands were busy with a shovel or a pickax - with a moderate exertion, limiting myself to the most essential movements only. The Holocaust survivor of A kudarc is Kertész's alter ego, György Köves, who lives in a totalitarian state. He has finished his first novel, a memoir about Auschwitz, which has been turned down by the publisher, and he works on his second book. I want to flee but something holds me back, he thinks. During a political crisis - the Hungarian uprising? - He is allowed to leave the country,he decides to stay.
Thinking he is too old to learn another language, Kertész also decided to stay in Hungary. The author has once said that infantile language is the only means of expression in dictatorship. In his search for the meaning of Auschwitz in a wider historical and political context, Kertész followed the example of many intellectuals in European Socialist countries, who disguised their writings about totalitarianism as potrayals of Nazism. But for Kertész there is nothing incomprehensible in concentration camps. Evil in the world is not a mistake or accident, but a result of rational acts of individuals. Good is not rational; it has no explanation.
In the early 1980s Kertész was still relatively unknown writer in his own country. He was not mentioned in A History of Hungarian literature, edited by Tibor Klaniczay (1983), and Lóránt Czigány mentioned him only in passing in The Oxford History of Hungarian Literature (1984). Since the quiet revolution of 1989, Kertész's work started to gain international attention. His books were translated among others into French, Swedish, German and English. For a time Kertész was a member of the Hungarian Writers' Association, but he then resingned in protest; the organization was accused of Anti-Semitic statements. A leader of the governmental party, the poet Sándor Csoóri, wrote in a right-wing journal, Liberal Hungarian Jewry intends to 'assimilate' the Hungarians to their style and thinking.

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