Miklós Radnóti, one of the greatest Hungarian poets of the twentieth century, was called up for forced labor three times.

For the first time he was commanded between 9 September and 18 December 1940 to Transylvania, recently returned to Hungary, to clear away the wire fences of the former Romanian border.

For the second time he worked from 1 July 1942 to April 1943 on earthworks in Transylvania and later in the sugar and machine factories of Hatvan.

For the third time he joined up on 20 May 1944. They were taken from Hungary, at that time already occupied by Nazi Germany, to the German labor camps around Bor in Serbia – Lager Berlin, Lager Heidenau, Lager Brünn – to work in the copper mines and on railway building. At the advance of the Red Army on 17 September they set out on the march on foot towards Hungary.

On 19 May, the day before his last joining up he wrote his Fragment.

Oly korban éltem én e földön,
mikor az ember úgy elaljasult,
hogy önként, kéjjel ölt, nemcsak parancsra,
s míg balhitekben hitt s tajtékzott téveteg,
befonták életét vad kényszerképzetek.

Oly korban éltem én e földön,
mikor besúgni érdem volt, s a gyilkos,
az áruló, a rabló volt a hős, -
s ki néma volt netán s csak lelkesedni rest,
már azt is gyűlölték, akár a pestisest.

Oly korban éltem én e földön,
mikor ki szót emelt, az bújhatott,
s rághatta szégyenében ökleit, -
az ország megvadult, s egy rémes végzeten
vigyorgott vértől és mocsoktól részegen.

Oly korban éltem én e földön,
mikor gyermeknek átok volt az anyja,
s az asszony boldog volt, ha elvetélt,
a élő irigylé a férges síri holtat,
míg habzott asztalán a sűrű méregoldat.

Oly korban éltem én e földön,
mikor a költő is csak hallgatott,
s várta, hogy talán megszólal újra -
mert méltó átkot itt úgysem mondhatna más
– a rettentő szavak tudósa, Ésaiás.
I lived on this earth in an age
when man became so debased
that he killed on his own, with lust, not just on orders,
and while holding false beliefs and foaming raving, lost,
wild obsessions braided, choked off his lot.

I lived on this earth in an age
when in informing lay merit and murderers,
backstabbers and muggers were your heroes –
and the man who kept silent and was loath to applaud,
they hated even him, as if he carried the plague.

I lived on this earth in an age
when the man who spoke up could go into hiding
and could there gnaw on his clenched fists in shame –
the country went wild and at a terrible fate
gloated, reeling drunk from blood and from filth.

I lived on this earth in an age
when a mother was a curse to her child
and the woman was happy to miscarry,
the living envied the worm-eaten dead their prison,
and on the table there foamed a thick drink of poison.

I lived on this earth in an age
when the poet too just kept his silence
and waited, maybe to find his voice again –
for, surely, no one else could utter a worthy curse
but Isaiah, learned master of terrible words.

Translated by Emery George

On the same day someone else wrote for Radnóti, too. Their cleaning woman left a letter on the table.

Dear Mr Dr
I am sorry that I could not personally say goodbye. I wish to Mr Dr all the best, good strength and health to endure this terrible change, and I will also pray so I could see again in good strength and health Mr. Dr.

Radnóti still could read this letter. He filed it together with the manuscript of his poem among his documents. Not for nothing he had studied in a school of commerce: he always kept an accurate order among his papers as well as a precise account of both their daily expenses and the publications of his poems.

This manuscript and this letter came to the Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences together with the complete bequest of Miklós Radnóti in 2009 as a donation of his wife Fanni Gyarmati. She was ninety-seven then, while Radnóti would have been exactly a hundred years old. The Library organized a studio exhibition for the centenary from the just arrived, not even cataloged bequest. Both this manuscript and this letter were on display.

The web version of this exhibition has been just completed in collaboration of the Library and Studiolum, both in Hungarian and in English. Its solemn presentation will take place within a week, on 24 February in the Library, and then it will be opened on the net. Our readers will get first-hand information on it.

Miklós Radnóti’s membership card in the Writers’ Economic Association. It was found together with his documents and his last, greatest poems in the mass grave of Abda
where he was shot dead on 4 November 1944.

2 comentarios:

Πόλυ Χατζημανωλάκη dijo...

We, your readers, are very proud of you!

“Smajd igy tűnődöm…!”
I have searched the comments in my blog and found that it was last August that you had mentioned Miklós Radnóti, the Hungarian Garcia Lorca
You have finally accomplished another ambitious endeavour and his work will live on.

The verses in English are sensational!

Studiolum dijo...

Dear Poly, that’s fantastic that you have still remembered it.

Yes, it was around that time that we started to work on this material. There’s still much to do with it, but already this first summary will give a basic impression on his life and works, I guess.

Thank you for your good words and encouragement. I know that much more could have been presented and I hope we will manage to do it in the next years, but I’m convinced that already this concise presentation will be an important place of a first encounter with Radnóti for several people, especially for non-Hungarian speakers.

There are but a handful of good English translations of his poems on the net. Here, for example (however, with several errors in his biography), which also includes his last, shocking poem written only some days before his death:

I fell beside him and his corpse turned over,
tight already as a snapping string.
Shot in the neck. "And that's how you'll end too,"
I whisper to myself; "lie still; no moving.
Now patience flowers in death." Then I could hear
"Der springt noch auf," above, and very near.
Blood mixed with mud was drying on my ear.