The last edition of The Hungarian Review (November 2013) included articles about two very different men who were caught up in the ‘whirlwind’ which was the Hungarian Holocaust of 1944-5, who are little known, at least outside Hungary. These were General Zoltán Álgya-Pap and the Jewish poet Miklós Radnóti. It is difficult to call them ‘heroes’, and neither would want that, but they were both, in different ways and to differing degrees of suffering, both victims of these events. One a victim in survival, the other in death on a death march.
The Hungarian General
Zoltán Álgya-Pap was the only Hungarian general in the second world war who received the coveted gold medal for extraordinary courage in the face of enemy fire. By mid-October 1944, his troops were completely dispirited, under Nazi High Command who had occupied Hungary in March in order to make its one million men fight on against far superior Red Army forces, and against the will of their own politicians, who had tried to surrender to the Americans. They were now fighting the Soviets on historic Hungarian soil west of the Carpathians. Between 23 and 26 October, Álgya-Pap rallied his troops by the old-fashioned means of personally leading them into battle. His surprise counter-attack is said to have saved the lives of his men. Although he was promoted to Lieutenant General for this action, it is an unremembered episode in the epic clash between Germany and Soviet Russia.
Álgya-Pap was an Unitarian, a Protestant denomination known for its tolerant attitude in his home region of Transylvania, where it was part of a broader culture of nonconformity, religious and secular, dating back to times before the Turkish and Hapsburg division of Hungary. Born in 1895, he had enlisted in the Austro-Hungarian army at the age of nineteen with the rank of lieutenant and was wounded fighting the Russians in the first year of the Great War. In the thirties he was sent to London and Washington as a military attaché.
In January 1944, as the Red Army pushed back the Axis forces, Lieutenant General Ferenc Szombathelyi, the chief of staff and architect of the clandestine peace negotiations with the US, sent Álgya-Pap to the Croatian border, hoping that, as an experienced diplomat fluent in English, he would negotiate a settlement with the American team set to enter south-west Hungary through Yugoslavia. In the event, Tito put a stop to the idea of a separate peace with Hungary and the German discovery of the Hungarian ‘plot’ against them led to Szombathelyi’s arrest following their occupation of Hungary. The Germans also forced the removal of Kállay as PM, because he refused to allow the deportation of Hungary’s Jews, and then proceeded with their plans, drawn up with their partners in the new pro-Nazi Hungarian government. Álgya-Pap therefore lost his opportunity to become a hero of the Hungarian Independence Movement and was sent by the new Nazi regime to help administer Sub-Carpathia, where tens of thousands of Jews lived in small towns and villages.
Álgya-Pap was assigned the military’s representative on the special commission set up to administer the region, but when he chastised the gendarmerie for their inhumane methods in “corralling” the Jews and was removed from the special commission within forty-eight hours. Although he was present at a top-level meeting (12 April) on the implementation of the anti-Jewish laws in Sub-Carpathia, it is unclear what role, if any, he had in the deportations from mid-May to when his post officially ended on 1 June. Imprisoned by the Soviets at the end of the war, he was released from hard labour in 1955, but arrested and imprisoned under the Rákosi regime until he was released again just before the Uprising of October 1956. He fled to the west, and was given asylum in the Netherlands, from he went to India to work for the Theosophical Society.
The author of this article, Charles Fenyvesi, met him in India and commented that:
The one subject Zoltán avoided discussing was the Second World War, which he characterised as “the deepest pit of inhumanity”. He was not the only Hungarian Gentile I know who refrained from talking about having done something to help the Jewish population…it occured to me that he might have objected to public recognition for his defiance of Nazi policies. There are people who do not wish to have themselves identified as heroes, perhaps because they do not feel that they lived up to their definitions of a hero or they could not accept being celebrated when so many were killed without anyone attempting to rescue them. But I also know that silence can serve as an alternative to admitting guilt…. I regret that I may never know what went through his mind when the first train packed with Hungarian Jews left Sub-Carpathia for the then unknown village of Oswiecim – Auschwitz in German… I cannot ask my Krausz cousins what they thought of the Hungarian officials who ruled over their lives because out of fifty-five of them only a single one returned alive from Auschwitz, and she was too young to know about local politics. A subject of Dr Mengele’s medical experiments, Kati Krausz could no longer bear a child. By now, she too is dead…. I cannot bring myself to believe that as a general, Zoltán bácsi was an enemy of my people – or of any other people. But he ordered his troops to kill and he might have even initialled the papers that sent thousands to Auschwitz…
Forced March and Poems from a Muddy Notebook
In the Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem, the official memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, there is no mention of Miklós Radnóti. The great Hungarian poet was born into a Jewish family in Budapest, later converted to Catholicism, but that didn’t stop him from being drafted into a “labour battalion” in the Second World War. He was killed on a death march from Bor in Serbia to somewhere in Germany. Too weak to continue, he was shot by Hungarian fascist troops into a mass grave near the village of Abda in northwest Hungary. Some witnesses said that he was severely beaten by a drunken soldier for “scribbling” in his small notebook. This was found in the mass grave, in his raincoat pocket. The poems that it contained were published later with the title ‘Camp Notebook’.
Some of Radnóti’s poems have been translated into English, but these last poems are only now available in translation. Painstakingly translated by Francis R Jones (here in conversation with Attila Balázs), they have been published in a bilingual book, Camp Notebook, by Arc Publications, an independent publishing house in the UK. Here is one of the four poems which appear in this article:
It’s a fool who, fallen to earth, gets up and trudges on,
flexes his ankle and knee, a single walking pain,
but still, as if lifted by wings, sets off again on his way,
and ignores the ditch’s call nor even dares to wait
and if you ask, why not? who might just find the breath
to say there’s a lady waiting and a wiser, finer death.
But the poor fellow’s a fool: back there, since time out of mind,
swirling over each house there’s only the scorched wind.
The plum-tree is shattered, the house wall is felled
and all those homely nights are matted thick with dread.
If only I could believe that everything still worthwhile
were not just stored in my heart, and homecoming might be real;
if the bees of peace were humming now, like then, out loud
while the plum jam stood cooling in the old veranda’s shade,
if the late summer’s silence still basked on the drowsy garden
and, swinging nude in the leaves, the fruit were starting to ripen,
if Fanni were still waiting blonde by the reddening hedge
and the slow forenoon still writing the shadow’s slow edge –
yes,it might still be! The moon today’s so round!
Don’t leave – just give me a shout and I’ll get up, my friend!
Bor, 15 September 1944
Charles Fenyesi, The Three Lives of a Hungarian General in Hungarian Review. Budapest: Volume 4 No. VI (November 2013).
Francis R Jones & Attila Balázs, Forced March and Poems from a Muddy Notebook, HR, op.cit.
Miklós Radnóti: Poems from ‘Camp Notebook’, HR, op.cit.
Burns Night, 25th January
English: Robert Burns Source: Image:Robert burns.jpg Replacement of existing commons image with higher res version (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It is agreed by most Scots that Robert ’Rabbie’ Burns was the greatest Scottish poet, especially since many of his poems were written in Scots, a northern variety of the language of the Angles who settled in Northumbria and occupied the south-eastern lowlands of modern-day Scotland in the seventh century. The Scotti were another Celtic people, originally living in Ireland, one of the five ethnic groups who settled in northern Britain in the Dark Ages, also including the Picts, the Britons, and the Norsemen. Each group had their own distinct language, but Scots emerged as the strongest, until in the seventeenth century it began to be replaced by English, due to the Scottish King James VI’s (James I of England) insistence on the use of his ’Authorised Version’ of the Bible in the Scottish ’Kirk’ (Church). In fact, the Kirk had already provided a Scottish translation into English, following the Geneva Bible, which had been distributed to every significant ’householder’ by a law of 1579.
A map of Scots dialects. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The themes of Burns’ poetry are nature and the humanity of nature. In ’To a Mouse’ (1786) he shares the problems of the mouse whose home is lost when the farm worker destroys it by accident. These lines have become particularly famous, partly through their use by the twentieth-century American writer, John Steinbeck, in the title of one of his novels:
The best laid schemes
Of mice and men
Gang aft agley
(The most carefully planned projects…often go wrong)
Burns was himself a farm-worker, born in Ayrshire in 1759, only later becoming a tax-collector, or ’exciseman’. Growing up on the land and living the hard life of a farmer, he had great sympathy for the life of country people and this, plus the sense of humour they needed to survive such a life, comes across to the reader of poems like, ’The Cotter’s Saturday Night’ (a ’cotter’ was an old word for a farm-worker, giving us the word ’cottage’ for a traditional, small village house, usually made of wood and thatch), ’The Twa Dogs’ and ’Halloween’. He was an immensely likeable, charming man, who enjoyed the company of women and, later in life, good living. After his poems became successful, he moved to Edinburgh and was able to live off his writing and his pension as an ’exciseman’ when his farm failed. His ’A Man’s A Man for A’ That’ (A’ = All) catches the mood of the times with its ideas of common humanity. Most of his compositions were now songs, which are still well-known, either new or adapted; ’A Red, Red Rose’, ’Scots Wha Hae’, ’Comin’ thro’ the Rye’, ’The Banks of Doon’ and ’Mary Morrison’. His hard-living lifestyle and a week heart got the better of him, and he died in 1796, aged only thirty-seven. He continued to be admired by the Romantic poets who saw him as the first of them, but he is remembered now as the first major figure to write in the Scots language as well as in English, a country poet with world-wide appeal. Throughout his life he was capable of both speaking and writing in formal English. Though well-educated, however, Burns was of peasant stock, close to the land, its customs and people. His genius was his ability to draw on the despised Scottish tradition, half folk ballads and half Court poetry. Burns fused these two styles into one with colour and eloquence.
Map of the areas where the Scots language is spoken. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Scots is a language you hear now in its full richness only when Burns is quoted. He gave his nation back its tongue and its pride. When Scots celebrate ’the immortal memory’ on Burns Night, they are honouring the writer who showed them that it is the loyalty to the Scots language and culture that is the best and most lasting assertion of Scottish patriotism. After his death, the process of Anglicisation took hold, though first Sir Walter Scott and later Robert Louis Stevenson continued the tradition of re-discovering Scottishness through a literature which drew on the authenticity of ’the Guid Scots Tongue’.
Burns Supper (Photo credit: thorland2006)
The Burns Supper, held on our around the bard’s birthday on 25th January, is a major institution of Scottish life: a night to celebrate the life and works of the national Bard. Suppers can range from an informal gathering of friends to a huge, formal dinner full of pomp and circumstance. The celebration begins with ‘Piping in the guests’ with some traditional music, played, at bigger events, by a bag-piper in full highland dress. The audience stands to welcome arriving guests: the piper plays until the high table is ready to be seated, at which point a round of applause is due. At a more informal gathering – with no high table – the Chair simply bangs on the table to draw attention to the start of the evening’s proceedings. He/She then warmly welcomes and introduces the assembled guests and the evening’s entertainment.
A short but important prayer is read to begin the meal, The Selkirk Grace is also known as Burns’s Grace at Kirkcudbright. Although the text is often printed in English, it is usually recited in Scots:
Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit.
(Some have meat, but cannot eat, and some would eat but lack it; but we have meat and we can eat, and so the Lord be thanked).
Dr Bob Purdie addressing the haggis during Burns supper, St Columba’s United Reformed Church, Oxford, 2004-01-24. Copyright Kaihsu Tai (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Guests then stand to welcome the dinner’s star attraction, delivered on a silver platter by a procession comprising the chef, the piper and the person who will give The Address to the Haggis. At bigger parties, a whisky-bearer is also on hand to ensure that the toasts are well-lubricated. During the procession, guests clap in time to the music until the Haggis reaches its destination at the table. The music stops and everyone is seated in anticipation of the address.
The honoured reader now seizes their moment of glory by offering a fluent and entertaining rendition of To a Haggis. The reader should have his knife poised at the ready. On cue, he cuts the casing along its length, making sure to spill out some of the tasty meat within. This distribution of bits of haggis about the assembled company is regarded as a part of the fun.The recital ends with the reader raising the haggis in triumph during the final line ‘Gie her a haggis!’, which the guests greet with rapturous applause. Prompted by the speaker, the audience now joins in the toast to the haggis. They raise a glass and shout: ‘The haggis!’ Then it’s time to serve the main course with its traditional companions, neeps and tatties (potatoes). In larger events, the piper leads a procession carrying the opened haggis out to the kitchen for serving; audience members clap as the procession departs.
Served with some suitable background music, the sumptuous ‘Bill o’ Fare’ includes:
· Starter: Traditional cock-a-leekie soup;
· Main course: Haggis, neeps & tatties (Haggis wi’ bashit neeps an’ champit tatties);
· Sweet: Clootie Dumpling (a pudding prepared in a linen cloth or cloot) or Typsy Laird (a Scottish sherry trifle);
· Cheeseboard with bannocks (oatcakes) and tea/coffee.
Variations do exist; beef lovers can serve the haggis, neeps & tatties as a starter with roast beef or steak pie as the main dish. Vegetarians can of course choose vegetarian haggis, while fish-lovers could opt for a seafood main course such as Cullen Skink.
To drink: Liberal lashings of wine or ale are served with dinner and it’s often customary to douse the haggis with a splash of whisky sauce, which, with true Scots understatement, is neat whisky. After the meal, it’s time for connoisseurs to compare notes on the wonderful selection of malts served by the generous Chair.
The nervous first entertainer follows immediately after the meal. Often it will be a singer or musician performing Burns songs such as:
My Luve is Like a Red Red Rose:
O my Luve’s like a red, red rose,
That’s newly sprung in June:
O my Luve’s like the melodie,
That’s sweetly play’d in tune.
As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry.
Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.
And fare-thee-weel, my only luve!
And fare-thee-weel, a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho’ ’twere ten thousand mile
Alternatively it could be a moving recital of a Burns poem, such as Tam o’ Shanter or ‘For a’ that and a’ that’.
Following the songs and recitals, the keynote speaker takes the stage to deliver a spell-binding oration on the life of Robert Burns: his literary genius, his politics, his highs and lows, his human frailty and, most importantly, his patriotism. The speech must bridge the dangerous chasm between serious intent and sparkling wit, painting a colourful picture of Scotland’s beloved Bard. The speaker concludes with a heart-felt toast: To the Immortal Memory of Robert Burns!
The chair next introduces more celebration of Burns’ work, preferably a poem or song to complement the earlier entertainment. Then follows the humorous highlight of any Burns Night comes in the Toast to the Lassies, which is designed to praise the role of women in the world today. This must be done by selective quotation from Burns’s works, building towards a positive note. Particular reference to those present makes for a more meaningful toast.
The final course of the evening’s entertainment comprises more Burns readings, followed by a Reply to the Toast to the Lassies, revenge for the women present as they get their chance to reply. A ‘vote of thanks’ is the Chair’s last act in the proceedings, as he now climbs to his/her potentially unsteady feet to thank everyone who has contributed to a wonderful evening and to suggest that taxis will arrive shortly. He/She closes the proceedings by inviting guests to stand and belt out a rousing rendition of Auld Lang Syne. The company joins hands and sings as one, having made sure to brush up on those difficult later lines. At some gatherings, the evening will continue with Scottish Country Dancing.
Robert McCrum, William Cran and Robert MacNeil, The Story of English: Penguin, 1986.
Ronald Carter and John McRae, The Penguin Guide to English Literature: Britain and Ireland: 1996
BBC Online Guide to Burns Night.
Martin Luther King leaning on a lectern. Deutsch: 1964: Martin Luther King Português: Martin Luther King (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The third Monday in January is marked as a federal holiday in the United States, in memory and recognition of the Civil Rights activist and President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was born in Atlanta, Georgia on 15 January 1929 and died in hospital on 4 April 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee, from an assassin’s bullet which struck him as he walked outside his hotel room. He married Coretta Scott King in 1953 and they had four children, one of whom, Dexter Scott King, manages the King Center in Atlanta. Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was with Dr King when he died, twice stood for election as President. Later he worked for President Clinton, who in 1998 gave the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Rosa Parks, who had sparked the Civil Rights Movement into action by her simple act in 1955, of refusing to give up her seat to a white man in Montgomery, Alabama, . Her arrest and subsequent imprisonment led to a mass boycott of the public buses in the city coordinated by the NAACP, the black civil rights group, with King, then a local Baptist minister in the city. When she met Nelson Mandela in 1990, he told her of how her brave action often inspired him during his long imprisonment. However, Dr King’s dream has not yet come true. Blacks and whites are not yet equal, except in law, and large numbers of young black Americans have grown up without jobs, since the 1980’s, in cities like Chicago, where President Obama worked in social programs at that time. Many went to prison, or died in street violence from shootings and stabbings which are part of the gang warfare of the cities. Five times as many blacks are victims of this violence than are whites, and the proportions of black prisoners to whites is roughly similar.
Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The advent of a ‘colored’ man to the White House does not, yet, seem to have had much effect. Perhaps President Obama’s new-found determination to tackle the problem of gun ownership will have an impact on these figures. However, there are still less than 60% of blacks registered to vote.
For thirteen years, Martin Luther King was the leader of a people on a long road to freedom. He was a great speaker, preacher and writer, and his philosophy and strategy of non-violent direct action, inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, has, in turn inspired many civil rights movements and campaigns throughout the world. In 2005 Condoleezza Rice succeeded Colin Powell as the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, the first two African-Americans to hold senior office in the Federal government. At a meeting in Black History Month, she talked about what Dr King’s ideas meant to her:
Black Americans, African-Americans, have always believed in America, even in the darkest times. They believed in America when America didn’t believe in them. Martin Luther King told America that it should be true to itself. And finally America did the right thing by African-Americans.
I have put together a PPP here, which can be accessed via the link below. It can be used by students working in English, at intermediate level (with about a thousand words) and above.
Martin Luther King
Alan C McLean, Martin Luther King: Oxford Bookworms Factfiles. OUP: 2008
Malkoc, Smolinski & Kral (eds.), Celebrate! Holidays in the USA. Office of English Language Programs (englishprograms.state.gov), Washington DC: 2007 (second edn.)
Martin Luther King, Strength to Love. London (Hodder & Stoughton): 1964