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1944 - A Year Without Goodbyes

Marianna D. Birnbaum is Professor emeritus of the University of California, Los Angeles where she taught Hungarian and Central European literature and culture. She is a recurring visiting professor in the Medieval Department of the Central European University.

Judith Flesch Rose (co-translator) is the author of The Red Zone and Other Poems (1991), A Soft Landing (poems, 2008), Inside Out: A Memoir (2012)

The recognized cultural historian and researcher of the Middle Ages relates about the gruesome year of 1944 in Hungary, as she has seen the events with the eyes of a small Jewish girl. The memoir describes life in Budapest and in Komárom, in the Hungarian countryside, in the preceding years before March 1944 when the German army marched in, and what happened thereafter.

Daisy Birnbaum and I were brought together by the pictures: by the moving pictures, that is, when she came to attend my film-club, with Csaba, her husband. It was as if a friend whom I had not seen for a long while had visited. She too felt at home, right away. During our subsequent meetings, we always talked about us being Jewish. She wanted to know the life story of a man who was born at Pécs three years after the Holocaust, how my parents had survived, how did they begin life anew. And how about Vera, my wife? Her family lived at Körmend, and a few years ago, Vera published a transcribed tape that contained her father’s recollections about the Marton family of whom more than fifty had been murdered.
In 2014, Daisy first mentioned that she wanted to write about 1944, and the preceding years, as she has seen the events with the eyes of a child. Perhaps our conversations encouraged her to believe that her story was interesting, that remembering was possible, and as a matter of fact, a duty.
Daisy’s album of memories contains the pictures of several small children. I too possess such a picture from the same period: it is of a little boy, Endrike. I grew up looking at this picture, mounted on a small marble block, standing on our mantelpiece. Endrike was born to my father in his first marriage and, on July 4, 1944, he was deported to Auschwitz with his mother. Both died in the gas chambers. What is it that Daisy and I share? We are both only children. Perhaps that is why we have many friends, filling in the sibling roles in our lives. And that is how I found an older sister in Daisy who had told me (and now wrote down) about life in Budapest, in Komárom, in the Hungarian countryside, before March 1944, and what happened thereafter.
I am delighted to have been a bit of a midwife at the birth of this book, and that Daisy, a cultural historian, and researcher of the Middle Ages, has shared with me her personal story. Now it belongs to both of us – and to the readers.
-- András Stark, M.D., Prof. of Psychiatry

March 19, 1944
The text below this subtitle can also be found on p.95 of my Variation for Mark. But this has no significance here; we don’t hesitate when it comes to intertextuality. In both texts, a lawyer friend of Daisy’s father, a Christian, called at dawn (suddenly I don’t quite understand why it is important that he was Christian, but it might not be essential, just simply a fact) to let him know that “the Germans had arrived.” “Can you tell me something encouraging?,” asked her father, turning pale. Thereupon his friend: “Only if I were a woman. Then I could tell you that I have no panties on.” Daisy, eavesdropping from her bed, did not understand it, but later she did. And never forgot it. Now I won’t either.
-- Péter Esterházy

It is not true that you can no longer write anything new about the Holocaust. All you need is an excellent memory, restraint, irony hidden among the lines, and know-how. The bulk of Marianna D. Birnbaum’s book is about her relatives, her childhood friends and their parents who have not returned. She attached photos of several of them; here and there the author too appears as a small child. Well-to-do adults, nicely dressed children: They ought to have lived out their days in peace. With a vision pointing toward the grotesque and using experience honed on literary criticism, the author avoids provoking our tears. That makes this book beautiful and true.
--György Spiró

Published by Corvina Books Ltd., distributed by CEU Press
120 pages, several black and white photos, 2016
978-963-13-6378-4 paperback
$30.00 / €24.95 / £19.99