Istvan Pogany is currently completing a memoir entitled: Modern Times: A Family Memoir. The book draws on detailed interviews with family members who are now dispersed across Hungary, Canada and the Netherlands. The memoir is also grounded in the extensive literature on the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, on the rise of fascism in inter-war Hungary. and on the Holocaust.
The memoir traces the history of the Weisz and Frankl families as they move from the Hungarian provinces to the capital, Budapest, in the closing years of the 19th century. Bertalan Weisz, my maternal grandmother's father, became the proprietor of a bar in Budapest's Jókai Square. Adolf Frankl, my maternal grandfather's father, was a printer. By the eve of World War One, Adolf had changed his name to Faragó, out of patriotic sentiment, and had left the capital to settle in a small spa town on the northern shores of Lake Balaton, Balatonfüred. Here, he established a local newspaper, a gift shop and an open air cinema.
Like other families in East Central Europe in that period, whether Christian or Jewish, the Weisz and Faragó families were caught up, successively, in the maelstrom of World War One, in the bloody dissolution of Austria-Hungary and in the ensuing great depression. Most of Adolf Faragó's businesses failed; only the little gift shop survived. By 1930, Bertalan Weisz had died and his bar had been sold to cover debts.
The memoir follows the lives of my maternal grandparents, Miklos and Etus, as they struggled to raise a family in inter-war Budapest. Miklos, who had been severely wounded in World War One, eventually found work as a petrol pump attendant. Etus, raised in a comfortably-off, middle class family, ran errands for some of the women with whom she had been friendly in her youth. Miklos, Etus and their two children lived in a one room apartment.
In addition to their economic difficulties, my grandparents faced the growing challenge of officially sanctioned anti-Semitism as the Hungarian state aligned itself with Hitler's Germany in the 1930s. Subject to a raft of exclusionary anti-Jewish laws, from 1938 onwards, Miklos and Etus faced the arbitrary terror of the Szálasi regime, that seized power in Hungary in October 1944, with German support. The book traces the fate of Miklos, Etus and of their children, Vera and Bertalan, in the critical months before Soviet forces occupied Budapest, defeating Szálasi and his German allies.
Sample chapters from the memoir page
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