BUDAPEST - (JTA) — An Auschwitz survivor who recently was criticized for defending Israel became the first Hungarian to win the Nobel prize for literature.
The award to Imre Kertesz, 72, was announced Thursday. Hungarian Jews said the prize was gratifying to the entire community, while Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy told Kertesz that because of him, “the citizens of Hungary can be proud to be Hungarians.”
Kertesz was deported from Budapest to Auschwitz and from there to Buchenwald, where he was liberated in 1945. His books, all of which deal with the Holocaust, have been especially popular in Germany.
Among his most popular books are “Without Fate,” an autobiographical account of his experiences in the Holocaust, and “Kaddish for a Child Not Born,” in which he condemned a world that permitted the Holocaust.
Kertesz has been a frequent target of the Hungarian far-right. Far-right writer Istvan Csurka condemned Kertesz for saying that “my luggage is never unpacked, waiting in my house to leave Hungary.”
Kertesz has been an outspoken critic of the far-right, often writing in Hungarian newspapers to condemn the anti-Semitism espoused by the nation’s extremists.
This spring, after Kertesz visited Jerusalem for a conference of Holocaust survivors sponsored by Yad Vashem, he was criticized in a Hungarian literary journal for writing a pro-Israel article.
That criticism came from left-wing intellectual Istvan Eorsi, another Hungarian Jewish writer.
In his book Kertesz writes about what the likes of Robert Faurisson, David Irving and others claim never happened.
The short novel is described in the Library Journal, thus: “Like its author, Hungarian novelist Kertesz (Fateless, LJ 10/15/92), the narrator in this disturbing yet lyrical novel is a writer/translator and Holocaust survivor. Middle-aged and out of harmony with everyone, including himself, he makes a final effort to explain his disconnectedness to life and his refusal to bring a child into a world where horrors like the Holocaust can occur. He recalls the pivotal events of his unhappy past in a seamless burst of introspection that is painful in its intensity and despair. For him, life is nothing more than the process of digging his own grave, using his writing tools to draw closer to death. The work is well titled, for the narrator truly mourns his unborn child(ren), and there is in his powerlessness a faint reflection of the acceptance of divine will appropriate for a mourner’s kaddish. But he is a man without religious faith, numbed by the blows of fate, and his lament is not a doxology but a confession and a cry for death. Kertesz has re-created a memorable, frail life in a slender work that is occasionally rambling but always compelling in its exploration of identity and the will to survive. Recommended for all collections of contemporary literature.
The novel is very short its lyrical prose, however, is very powerful. While it treats ostensibly of the Holocaust of Jews in WWII it actually presents a bigger question, it deals with the world’s poor response to the massacre of Jews and by extension it questions the world’s lack of powerful response to all the other Holocausts around the world going on right now whether in Darfur, in Congo, etc, etc.
Imre Kertesz protagonist cannot not bring himself to father a Jewish child into a world that was totally apathetic to the Jewish plight, he is not religious man, he has a problem with a God who could allow such a massacre of his people. Yet just Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf’s protagonist could not in spite of his revulsion of the bourgeouis disengage himself completely from the bourgeouis pleasures, so the protagonist here could not step away from mourning the child he woiuld never have in a thoroughly religious Jewish way. A Jew, no matter how much he wants to tear the Jewishness from his heart… no matter his words, no matter his deeds… remains a Jew.
There was also another approach to life, adapted by the overwhelming majority of Holocaust survivors. My parents had another son, an older brother I never was privileged to meet, or be protected by, or fight with. At three years old he was murdered by the Nazis as they came into Lodz, where my parents lived at the time. Yet they after surviving the horrors of the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Treblinka when they miraculously met again they decided to start a new and have further children in a sign of defiance to Hitler and his hordes. Today, I the son of survivors who logically shgould not have survived I have five children of my own seventeen grandchildren, so far. That is my parents’ revenge! When Hitler wanted to annihilate the Jews, Jacob and Sofia (like many, many others) refused to accept it… as a result (unlike the Kertesz’ character who couldn’t wait to finish his genealogical line) Jews are spreading forth as Hitler and his cohorts twist and turn in agony, in Hell!
(Photo from: JTA.com)