Page 48 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 49

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
heartedly. One m ight have though t that theirs was the first —
and perhaps only — generation whose Magyarization was com­
plete and conflict-free. Yet, as con temporary critics reexam ine
their lives and works in a less inhibited atmosphere , more is
revealed about rarely articulated doubts and pains. For exam­
ple, T ibo r Dery (1894-1977), one o f the more significant H u n ­
garian prose writers o f the twentieth century, wrote an au to ­
biographical sketch, in jail, in the late 1950s, which was pub ­
lished for the first time last year. A disillusioned Communist
who was imprisoned for his role in the 1956 Hungarian Rev­
olution, Dery writes about his Jewishness with stunn ing candor:
I must sooner or later ask the question: By that right do I call myself
a Hungarian writer? My father came from a Jewish family in Szeged,
my mother’s people were Viennese Jews; all my relatives and friends and
acquaintances areJewish. My graduating class in the commercial college
I attended had some sixty odd students, out of whom only two were non-
Jews .
.. Naturally, I do not stand on racialist ground, but shouldn’t
I have rather written about things Jewish? But in what language? With
my mother I spoke German, with my father only Hungarian, though
I used the latter much less. Ever since I became a writer, Hungarian
has been my mother tongue. But even today how can my knowledge of
the language compare with that of [Janos] Arany, [Gyula] Illyes, Attila
Jozsef, [Zsigmond] Moricz, etc. ? The tragic duality of my life: with my
German-Jewish background I chose to become a Hungarian writer. I
was a proper bourgeois who bolted from the middle class in order to
become a Communist. What am I then? A cursed mixture with no firm
grounding in either race or class.7
Such sobering self-appraisals notwithstanding, much o f what
has been published in recent years on the Hungarian Jewish
experience is centered around notable Jewish contributions to
Hungarian cu lture and society. Victor Karady, a Paris-based so­
ciologist, has written the most pene trating and painstaking an ­
alyses o f the role played by Jews in shaping modern Hungarian
society. In a long interview published in the literary jou rna l
Mozgo Vilag
(Changing World), Karady surveys some o f these
achievements and stresses the importance o f the cultural climate
emancipated Hungarian Jews created in turn-of-the-century
Budapest:
7. Tibor Dery,
Bortonnapok hordaleka
(The Flotsam o f Prison Days). Budapest:
Muzsak Kozmuvelodesi Kiado, [1990], p. 28.