The Early Years
My earliest memory is being terrified after having stuck my head through a picket fence at my great-uncles house in Tokaj and could not pull it back. According to my mother they had to cut the slat to free me. I was about two and a half.
I recall living in many places during the first 6 years of my life. I remember staying in the family house in Debrecen, my brother Kalman digging a pit to play in, playing with Aga in the garden. I remember my father reading his translation of Tarzan to the family. This was probably about 1922 when he had nothing to do during the post-war inflation and depression. I recall spending time in Tura and my maternal grandmother playing with me (I called her segitolo nagymama, fanny pushing grandmother). I also fell off a tall ladder in one of the large rooms being painted; I explored it when nobody was there and started to come down the wrong way. I am told I had a mild concussion.
I remember very clearly reading the newspaper to my grandfather in Tura when I was about four (my sister, Aranka, partly taught me to read). This is much easier in Hungarian than in English since the language is completely phonetic and one can pronounce every written word without understanding them. My memories of Tura are very warm and pleasant, those of Debrecen very mixed. Dienes grandmother was not a very warm person. She adored Aga and her memories are probably very different.
I started elementary school at the famous Collegium in Debrecen. All I recal is that I was bored as I could read already. In 1925 we moved to Budapest into a 4th floor walk-up in O’Buda and I went to a school up a large hill way behind our building. It was a fairly long walk on a small deserted street and for some reason I was quite scared, a definitely unpleasant memory. We soon moved into a large apartment on SzentJanos -ter at the foot of the Castle and Went for two years to the elementary school on Krisztina-ter. No real special memories of this school except that I had excellent grades.
All this period I really had no companion of my own age and was a rather lonely child. We used to visit back and forth with Aga’s family and saw Gee and Zed occasionally. I also played some with Laci Heredy but he was really too young (by almost four years) for a close companionship. My own family, and the larger one, was warm and nurturing but I spent a great deal of time by myself.
There was a family tragedy in 1927 my brother Kalman died of a heart ailment at the age of 19. He had rheumatic fever as a child and just got over typhoid when his heart gave out. He was so much older than I that I did not really know him but could certainly feel the deep sadness in the family. My mother, whom I was very fond of and deeply attached to at that time, suffered terribly. My father was a rather reserved person and I did not react directly to his moods at that age.
In the fall of 1928 I entered the Verboczy Gininasium which was right next door to our apartment. I was not a particularly nice ten year old. I was overactive, easily bored in school although an excellent student and often looked for fights. The next three years or so were a period of high prosperity for the family. We had a box at the opera and I saw a number of performances. There were parties for Aranka and summer vacations in Italy and Austria. One summer (1928) I recall very vividly as it was spent in Abbazia ( near Fiume in Italy) together with Gee and Zed ( and Paul and Sari). We spent a lot of time together swimming and climbing up the mountain. I was the youngest but we got along extremely well and, although we did not see that much of ea’ other in Budapest, this was the beginning of long friendships. Traveling to Abbazia was memorable in anotl way. Coming across the mountains this was the first time I saw the ocean. It was a clear morning and it wa exhilarating experience I never forgot. I was not to see an ocean again until crossing the Atlantic in 1936 or way to the United States.
I had a mysterious and unidentified illness in the fall of 1929. I felt miserable, I did not want to go to school and my grades went way down. My parents even tried a sanatorium and this worked in an unexpecte and peculiar way. This so called sanatorium was full of boys retarded one way or another.I was not supposed to call home so after a couple of days I walked down the hill, went to a forward streetcar stop and went home. I announced that I was ready to go back to school. By the 1930 spring term my grades were agin up to all A’s. I also became much more serious and got into much fewer fights, may be puberty had something to do with all this. I want to mention here a young man, Bela Zalai, the son of a close friends of the family, who tutored me for a while to get back into the routine at school. He was very good at this as well as in talking a number of things, essentially as a big brother would. Some years later he became quite unstable and strand and finally disappeared from our ken. I remember him with affection.
I acquired a very good friend at this time, the son inthe Jobbagy family. His father was an engineer I think he and my father were at the Technical University together. I remember being very shy in meeting them but the two older girls and young Jancsi, who was two years younger than I, accepted me right away. Jancsi and I became very close friends, spent a lot of time at each other’s homes, and at their family cabin and small orchard in Obuda. This relation, my first close friendship with a boy of about my own age, ended in a way that hurt me deeply. When we came back from Russia in the spring of 1933 (see about Russia later) the Jobbagy family would have nothing to do with us. This may have been smart in the context of the political situation in Hungary but it was unnecessary and certainly gutless. I never saw Jancsi again! I did not realize, of course, apparently we were seriously tainted by communism because of our 8 months stay in Moscow during the heat of the depression.
Economic troubles started about 1931. My father invested his extra money in a bus line which failed as the depression hit. His own work suffered, his contracts for roads and bridges, his engineering specialty went to zero. He was heavily in debt and all of a sudden we were poor. The rugs and the piano were gone, we moved to a cheaper apartment where we even rented out one room. Yet, this was no special problem for me, perhaps because I did not fully understand what was going on. Our new apartment was close to Gee and Zed, and Aga, and we spent a great deal of time together. The skating rink was next door and it was a regular social meeting place during the winter.
Manet’s mother showed up in Budapest trying to salvage something out of her parents estate. I leamed quite a bit about Laj os and his family. Marcsa bought a few things from us, such as my mother’s diamond pendant, to help us out. Zed left for England late 1931 or early 1932. The Hungarian Gimnasium was not for him and also Paul was more than willing to have him join them in London. He was enrolled in a very modern school which apparently suited him very well. We kept up a quite regular correspondence.
In August of 1932 we moved to Russia. My father took a highly paid ( in rublesl) position as a consulting engineer. We spent several days in Vienna where all the travel details had to be worked out since Hungary and the Soviet Union did not have diplomatic representation. We stayed in Viemia very elegantly at the Bristol. I always loved travel and I thoroughly enjoyed the long train ride to Moscow through Warsaw.
After a couple of days in Moscow we were sent to Voronesh; to this day I wonder why! This tumed out to be a disaster. The hotel was filthy with rats running around at night. I do not know how forceful my father had to be but the next day we were back in Moscow. We were housed in a big hotel just off Red Square (I think the Metropole, no longer there) in two rooms. We acquired hot plates and set up housekeeping. We were promised an apartment, presumably very much like the one Laci and family lived in, but nothing happened. Much later we were offered housing in the country on a commuter line but this we declined. So we lived in this hotel the whole winter and until the spring of 1933 when we went back to Hungary.
We had a man who bought all the food for us at the special commissary which we were entitled to as foreign professionals. As far as I recall his fee was food he otherwise could not get. I quickly learned enough simple Russian so that I could communicate with this man. I was the only one in the family who leamed some Russian and all simple communication rested on me. In September I was enrolled at the same German speaking school where my cousins went. I saw quite a bit of them since every few days I would stop at their apartment to pickup our mail. We found it much better to do this than to send mail to the hotel. I managed the public transportation system quite well.
The school was not easy since knew very little German. Science and math were easy as I was actually ahead, but the rest was quite a struggle. They had some practices that were very strange to me. For example, the math teacher ( a Mrs. Braun a Hungarian) explained to me that she cannot give me an A in math because I have not been able to be of help the other students! School was a half a half a day, I was in the afternoon session.
I also had an escort duty. My mother was going to a German dentist quite far from our hotel. I never realized how limited her German was but she needed me to interpret with my elementary knowledge. Further more she could not, or would not leam her way around and I escorted her back and forth in the morning. My father realized that all this was a little too much and started to help with my homework. This was a great help. And so we struggled on through the bleak Moscow winter. My mother and sister were obviously quite unhappy. As I recall uncle Laci was sympathetic since he was not exactly in love with Russia, but his wife was quite outspoken in telling us what the women should do – get a job, leam Russian, there most be something you can do! This, of course, did not work.
A Hungarian – Jewish-Russian made our acquaintance at the hotel. This man somewhat younger than my father, stayed in Russia afterl918 and apparently had some sort of a responsible job that kept him traveling between Leningrad and Moscow. In any case he would show up quite regularly for some Hungarian conversation. He also helped my father in translating some documents. He was really quite pleasant although I am sure he was assigned to keep an eye on us!
As I found out later, my father was also very unsatisfied. At his office he was given no real work to do (late 1932, early 1933 was the beginning of high suspicion of foreigners. I never heard of an open break at the Institute but the handwriting was on the wall with our overall feelings, I am sure, duly reported by our friend. The crisis came with our Hungarian passports that needed renewal before, as I recall, J une 1933. I don’t know whether it was the Austrian consulate that explained that we would have to mail our passports to Budapest and that, if the Hungarians refuse to renew, we would be stuck in Russia for good. Laci’s family was already in this situation of not having valid non-Russian passports and could not have left the country. And so we left and were back in Budapest about April 1. Financially what my father got out of the whole thing was that he kept the family going for 8 moths and earned a separation pay of 100 US dollars, which was quite a bit of money in 1933 but still the whole adventure could not be called a success.
The overall experience was not quite as bleak as the above would indicate. We got into the ballet and the opera several times, Aranka and I would wander around the city enjoying the fascinating architecture ofthe Kremlin and the truly lovely parks around it. As foreigners we walked into Lenin’s tomb – the soldier on duty had no idea where Hungary was.
The picture of my mother, given above, is too harsh. I was extremely fond of my mother and did not really get to know my father (he was always so much) until the Russian experience. Until then I was really Mama’s boy but all of a sudden I needed help she could not give. My mother was a very loving person completely wrapped up in her family. She was rather timid and easy upset. One of her biggest problems on all our travels was her inability to learn a foreign language ( Gee would label her an anti-talent). On many occasions this was a rather sever handicap putting extra burden on others.
My sister was better but also timid and rather fearful, I do not think she could have coped with the escort service I provided, she certainly did not help. Coming back to Hungary was not easy. All our fumiture and belongings were in Tura and after a few days in Budapest we settled there. We had been to my school and I was told that I can take an exam for the 1932-33 school year and then continue with no loss of time. There literary nothing to do in Tura. Grandfather was very nice but he was working at the bank (in his middle 8O’s) and had a little trouble adjusting to an active 15 year old. I finally made myself a sort of schedule of study and walking and one day went as far as Godollo and back. But certainly, in spite of grandfather, or may be because of we were strangers in this large peasant village, my father stayed in the city except on weekends obviously trying to put his profession together again. We moved back to Budapest in late summer. Lonci’s sister and husband ( the Beckoy’s) were living in her mother’s house on Csorsz utca. There was a tiny cottage on the property and Barnus helped us by arranging that we could stay there. For a little while I stayed at my cousin’s (Heredy) apartment nearby at night but spent the day at the little house. I got into trouble at the Heredy’s apartment complex by becoming the leader of the local teenagers and causing some problems. I was asked not to sleep there any more and stayed then in the tiny house with the family until we moved to a much better apartment. In September I went back to school. Beckoy was very nice to me – he had a Bugatti sport car and used to drive me down to school on his way to work.
Cica from Boston shoved up in Budapest about this time on her grand tour of Europe following her graduation from Barnard. We all liked her very much. Her Hungarian was very good but she needed some help on local usage and some elementary slang. Gee and I were delighted to help out. I cloud write a great deal about her stay in Budapest, her faxnies and her bad choice of boyfriends. I remember going to the theater with her and being surprised that she needed help with the dialogue. It wasn’t until I was struggling with English that I realized how difficult the theater can be. Overall I always remembered fondly the times spent with her and I must assume, so did she since she was quite instrumental in bringing me to the US a few years later. Late in 1933 we moved to a nice apartment at Boszormenyi ut 44 which became the family homestead with its incarnations. I was beginning to acquire some very close friends, Zoltan Garzo in particular, and led during 1933-34 a rather placid teenage life – lots of skating and some skiing during the winter, vacations at lake Balaton during the summer and a rather easy time at school. Mathematics and physics were easy for me and I did a little tutoring ( with no charge to Zoli who was terrible at math). I remember deep discussions about literature, politics ( the Nazi menace), career choices etc.
My father arranged for me to spend the summer of 1935 with a family in Innsbruck in Austria to improve my German. I saved some money from my tutoring and I plarmed my first solo trip with great care. On the way I managed to take a sidetrip to Bad Ischl and to stop in Salzburg before reaching Innsbruck. There were two girls in the family in Inssbruck and the older one Heidi (last name long forgotten), became my first serious love. We had a fine time biking, swimming, mountain climbing and dancing together, the sex part came late in the summer as we rather fumblingly seduced each other. I was genuinely in love with Heidi, at least While together, but attachment faded rather fast after I got home. On the way home I visited the Bodensee and spent a night in Munich, where I had my first encounter with being accosted by young men. I found out later that Munich was famous for gays in the 30’s, I am surprised I was not warned by my family.
In any case I escaped unscathed. On the way home I took the Danube steamer at Linz and arrived in Budapest with enough change to call my family and rather hungry as I did not eat for over 24 hours having run out of money. It was a very fine summer and the last serene one for some time to come.
The stormy years of l935-36 are already Written up as 1936 – Leaving Hungary. I only want to add here that leaving family and friends, including Gee and Aga, Zoli G. was not easy. I was full of looking forward to a great adventure and it was probably much easier for me that for the family.
1936 Leaving Hungary
I was strongly advised ( forced !) to leave the Gymnasium in my senior year during the spring of 1936. It was a long series of events that led up to this virtual expulsion. I was always an outspoken person and enjoyed arguments and discussions. I was also one of the brightest students. I also found Hitlerism in Germany absolutely abominable and did not hesitate to say so. Many of us did not realize the slow infiltration of fascism into Hungary. All of the above in combination with my family background started giving me trouble in the spring of 1935.By family back-ground I mean the following. It was well known that our communist uncle laci was living in exile in Moscow. Further, we spent six months in Russia during 1932-3 at the height of the depression trying to keep body and soul together. Even though we came back clearly disillusioned, the simple fact of having been to Moscow was a real black mark by the middle thirties.
Now comes a real coincidence. We got a new teacher of religion (Calivinist Reformed Church) by the name of Sipos in the 1934-5 school year. It should be remarked that religious instruction was compulsory in Hungary as was attendance at Sunday services (this point would deserve an essay). He started needling me quite regularly about my lack of interest in religious studies, parentally excused absences from Sunday services, and with snide remarks in class about my presumed lack of patriotism since so many of my relatives lived in exile. He knew all about Paul in England, Lajos and Barnus in the US in addition to the “Moscow connection”. It was only much later , in 1936, that we found out that Sipos had a run in with Barnus in Pittsburgh. He was on a fellowship of some sortas a protestant minister visiting the Hungarian Reformed Churches. He was apparently preaching wild Hungarian nationalism in obvious opposition to Barnus (and many others) who always taught that this is our new home and we are first of all Americans. At some point Reverend Sipos was shipped back to Hungary and, as fate would have it, became my teacher at the Gymnasium. The rouble is cearly shown in my school record as he barely passed me in religion in the spring term of 1935 (grade C to a student of all A‘s!).
I had no particular trouble with Sipos during the fall term of 1935, the beginning of my senior year. I am not sure I understand why since the political situation was deteriorating with increasing German influence. Perhaps there were some pressures on Sipos that I do not know about. In any case my grade in religion went up to B for this term. In other respects late 1935 and early 1936 were rather stormy for me. There was anti Jewish activity even in school. We had only three Jews in my class. One of them, a slightly built very talented boy was a close friend of mine (I found out in 1986on our trip to Budapest 50 years later that all three of them disappeared in 1942-5). One morning, as I came into class, some of the boys were gauging up on these three. I made a rather impassioned speach about the unfairness of it all and exhorting them to stop and fight me if they wished. Things quited down and I never thought that this incident later on would be referred to by Sipos as proving my atheism, communism, pro Jewishness and being a traitor to my Hungarian heritage and class.
It was apparently this incident that triggered a whole series of events.What went on in the school director’s office I do not know. My father was finally called in and, as noted above, I was accused of being an atheist, a communist, an anti-Hungarian (by being anti-German), an agitator. My father pointed out that there was no proof of any of this and just what it is they were going to do to an A student. The school administration was ready for this. As they considered me an agitator they were going to fail me in “deportment”. In the Hungarian system of that era this was very serious. An unsatisfactory report in deportment meant no admission to the University. My father had no choice but to take me out of school with the understanding that I can take a private examination in September for the matura, the Gymnasium diploma. This way, of course, there would be no grade in deportment.
This agreement was honored in the breach as the sequel will show. Thus, I left the Gymnasium on April 30, 1936.
Two questions remained. First, with such a record will I be admittted to the University. The rector of the Technical University at that time was a second cousin of my mother’s and was wll known to my father. We went to see him and he said, yes, he will certainly admit me but he warned that he could by no means guarantee that I would not be beaten up and forced to leave. Such was the political climate in Budapest in l936!He strongly advised that I should go abroad for my higher education. The second question had to do with my diploma. Could Sipos fail me in religion on a private exam and keep me out of the University that way?We certainly did not want to let him close the door to the University even though by now we were seriously considering education abroad. I know that Barnus (who was the equivalent of a bishop in the Hungarian Reformed Church in the US) was by then in contact with the Church authorities about Sipos. The upshot of it was that I went to see another minister of the Reformed Church who was to examine my religious knowledge. He suggested that we take a walk, talk about my future plans, and finally urged me not to hold my troubles againstthe Church , and sent a grade of A in religion to the examination committee.
The family in the US came to my help, to a large extent through Cica’s agitation on my behalf. She knew me quite well from her visit to Hungary and could assure the family that I was very bright. Manet was already accepted at MIT and she did the ground work for my application there. I was admitted without any examination on the basis of my school record of 1935. Thus, the decision to come to the US, the best thing that ever happened to me.
The importance of the Hungarian diploma diminished but was still essential to obtain it for a variety of reasons. For example, if ever forced into the Hungarian army, a graduate of a Gymnasium was automatically an officer. I spent part of the summer in Austria improving my German and preparing for the September exam. I passed all right but was given C’s in history, German, science and mathematics! Only the young teacher of French refused to be browbeaten and gave me an A. His comment was, as reported to me second hand, that they really did a hatchet job on an A student!
I obviously had good reasons for leaving Hungary. I found the US to be my kind of country with its basic freedom and openness. It quickly became my country and I have been a happy and proud American citizen. The Hungarian experience has faded into the background.However, the 1986 trip reminded me of many things and I thought it worthwhile to write down these events as I had already written about the summer of 1939. I must admit that I have a certain bitterness toward the Hungary of the thirties with its political and social outlook much influenced by fascism. People were scared of this bunch and nobody had the guts to come to my defense openly. They were so afraid as to be gutless cowards, and many were indeed antisemitic bigots who judged me to be a traitor to my class. Hungary has paid dearly for its political troubles. In 1986, 50 years after graduation from Gymnasium only one third of my classmateslived in Hungary; one third lived abroad and one third had died.
There was only one bit of excitement during my trip to New York. The only way to get some foreign currency out of Hungary was to buy it on the black market and smuggle it out. I had three hundred dollars in my pocket crossing the border; had I been searched I would have spent many years in jail. I took the train to London where Gee, who happened to be at his father’s, met me at the train station. I spent a couple of days in London renewing my acuqaintance with Zed , Paul and Sari. I boarded the Europa in Sothampton and arrived safely in New York late September 1936 and headed directly to Boston.Cica, Piri and Manet met me at the railroad station and, as I recall, I registered at MIT that afternoon.
The Summer of 1939
I spent the academic year for a student visa to the for my senior year. I was visa will be granted upon US in order to return to Carnegie 1938-1939 in London. In May of 1939 I reapplied Tech told by the US consulate in London that such a presentation of a passport valid for one year. This is when the trouble started. The Hungarian consulate in London refused to renew my passport. I was told that,as I was of military age, only in Budapest could I petition for the renewal of my passport. There was no appeal from this ruling and I had to go back to Hungary.
I arrived in Budapest on June 27, 1939. I went right away to the US consulate and applied for the renewal of my student visa. I was assured it would be granted as soon as I presented a valid passport. I also started right away the procedure for passport renewal. My petition had to go through the War Department since I was liable for military service. Not only was I liable for military service but I was actually inducted into the Royal Hungarian reserves during July. By late July it was obvious that my petition was languishing in the War Department and I was not getting anywhere in trying to get back to the US.
My father decided at this point that we had to find somebody who could push my case. In his phrase “we’ve got to dig up a general”. Fortunately my mother’s youngest sister, Lenke, Laszlo Heredy’s mother, knew very well, through her late husband, a general on duty at the War Department ( I do not recall his name) I had an appointment to see the general the first week of August. As I recall I met him about 9 AM, told him that I was anxious to go back to the US to finish my technical training. With what I took assured that after this one year abroad Iwould return ti Hungary. I stated my intention to do so. At this point he called for my petition and taking it and me by the hand started us on our rounds of a number of offices. He explained to me that a number of signatures were necessary before my petition could be granted ( of the order of 8 as I recall).
He took me from office to office where his speach to the generals was, essence, as follows: “Joe, I have here a young friend of the family, a young man from an excellent old family, who has been studying science and engineering in the US. He is very anxious to complete his studies, which will take one more year, at the world famous Carnegie Institute of Technology. A well trained young man speaking fluent English can be of tremendous help to Hungary in the years ahead. How about signing his petition for permission to leave the country. Fine, thank you Joe!”
My benefactors brief campaign was completely successful. According to my old Hungarian passport it was renewed for one year on August 16, 1939. The same day I was granted the US student visa and transit visas, valid for one month, through Belgium and England. My travel plans were as follows. My father could pay in Hungarian currency for travel to London through Germany and passage to New York on a Nord-deutscherLloyd ship. We chose the Bremen sailing from Sothampton on September 2. I was planning to leave Budapest the end of August and spend a couple of days in London before boarding the Bremen. I had in hand the transatlantic ticket and a second class railroad ticket through Germany to Ostend in Belgium, channel crossing to Dover and up to London.
By the middle of August the news in Europe was ominous indeed but still most people did not believe that war was im inent. I spent my days seeing family and friends, playing some tennis and doing some technical reading ( I was digging into Piaggio’s Differential Equations).
A friend of the family ( my memory says somebody at police headquarters) alerted my father the morning of August 25that I’d better leave right away because the Hungarian border will most likely be closed that night. After a brief family conference it was decided to change my railroad ticket to Zurich in Switzerland as travel through western Germany may become impossibl. In case there was no real problem, we also bought a ticket from Zurich to Ostend through Germany ( again because this could be done for Hungarian currency). I was allowed to take out from Hungary three English pounds as hard currency. With the three pounds in my pocket I left Budapest about 5 PM on August 25 ahd crossedthe border about 8 PM. I crossed Austria, at the time a part of Germany, and breathed a huge sigh of relief as I crossed into Switzerland about midday of August 26.
In Zurich I went to a small hotel on a charming little square near the railroad station. I explained to the manager (owner?) that I am trying to get to England, that I am sending a cable to my uncle in London for some money, and that I only had one pound on me ( used up two pounds eating on the train and for transfer in Vienna).This Swiss manager belied the “mercenary” reputation of the Swiss. He told me not to worry, my money will surely come, and until then they will house and feed me. By the morning of the next day, August 27, it was clear that I could not get to England via Germany as much of the civilian train service was supended. Somehow I had to go through France.My ticket_through Germany was useless.
Uncle Paul wired me 50 dollars ( my money via the US) paid out to me in Swiss francs. This was enough for my expenses in Zurich and the train fare from Zurich to Brussels via France. I could do nothing until the next morning, August 28, when I went to the French consulate to plead for passage across France. The French consul did not speak English and my French was not up to such a negotiation and, thus, the conversation was in German, which I guess was really quite normal in the German speaking part of Switzerland.
Seeing all my proper documents the consul was very sympathetic. He told me that he will try to let me go through France but that I can not go through Paris. I told him of my love for Paris but if it is barred to me at this time, so be it. After some further discussion he granted me a Visa sans Arret, valid from August 28 to 31, for a single passage from Basel to Brussels through France. I immediately bought the necessary rail ticket and left Zurich on the evening of August 28. This particular incident and the French permission was always a puzzle to me since this train trip went right along the French Maginot line. Perhaps the military traffic at this time was such that this was the least troublesome way to let a foreigner through.
The journey across France was hardly a pleasure trip. It lasted all night with frequent long stops during which soldiers searched the train, a process which included sticking bayonets under the seats. They reminded me at every stop that my visa was sans arret and that I’d better not try to get off the train. I didn’t!
Belgium was quiet and the Belgians raised no fuss about my transit visa. Arrived around lunch time at Ostende and left on the cross channel ride about 1 PM. The rumor on the boat was that service would be suspended as war appeared imminent. And so I was back in England the afternoon of August 29. A potentially disasterous problem arose at Dover. The immigration inspector informed me that transit visas have been cancelled. However, he didn’t see what England could do except let me in for a limited time. I was asked ( mind you, “asked”!) to report once a week to police headquarters on Bond Street. He didn’t think that I could leave for the US by September 2 (the Bremen‘s sailing date) and extended my visa for one month from date of issue (August 16 to September 16) and assured me that further extension will be granted if necessary. So I proceeded to London to our joint apart- ment with Paul on Muswell Hill.
Paul was with Zed and family (Corinne was about l)near Oxford but came back to London the next day (August 30). We discussed my plans which had to be completely revamped because the Bremen was stuck in New York ( and went to Russia later) and would clearly not sail from England to New York. As I suspected, my transatlantic ticket was useless ( my father eventually got the money back). My monthly $50 had arrived from the US but this would clearly not be enough for passage to New York. As I recall we cabled Lajos in Boston for another $50 and Paul was also going to find some money he could spare. I had some money left in Swiss francs on which I made a profit since the pound was devalued 20 Z since I left Zurich. I put in a call to Cook’s asking for passage to New York. I was told that all US ships were reserved for US citizens and that they’ll put me on the non US list right away. They had no idea when space would open up and I should be ready at a day’s notice with cash in hand for the passage.
Paul told me that he’d be spending a lot of time at Zed’s until the opening of the University but will keep in touch by phone. He also told me that Sari left for New Uork during the summer and as far as he was concerned she was no longer his wife. I wasn’t sure whether he cared. On September l war was officially delared. Gas masks were distributed through the local police stations. I slept through the first air raid alarm which turned out to be a false one. I registered at the police station on Bond Street and settled down to await developments.
To me the war was still unreal. I was still European enough to be deeply involved, particularly after a very European one year in London, and not wanting to believe that insanity could rule again. I was violently anti Hitler ( after all I had to leave Hungary in 1936 because of my general attitude, but that is another story), I was lucky enough to get out of Hungary as I had no intention of fighting on the German side, and I had to agree that Hitler must be destroyed. But I could not be anything but deeply depressed about the fate of Europe and the coming slaughter and destruction. At the same time I was American enough by now to desparately want to go back to the US and get on with my studies. Incidentally, this is precisely what Natasha urged me to do saying that there was a far better future for me in the US than in England.(My relation to Natasha, and my ” dormant” relation to Manet, deserves a separate chapter). Paul also urged me to go back to the US even though he was quite sure that I would not be interned and could go on studying and possibly working in England. He himself was determined to stay in England ( Sari was urging him to come to New York) which he felt was his real home and that of his grandchild.
My recollection of the money problems is a little vague. I think Lajos cabled another $50 and, as already noted, Paul was arranging for a small loan. In any case I only had about $100 on hand when I had a call from Cook’s that space was available for passage to America the next day ( about September 8 or so) for $140. I had no way of putting the money together in less than a day and had to turn this one down. My luck was still with me! It became clear in a few days that I would have been on the Athenea which was sunk off Ireland with rather heavy loss of life.
Another call came the morning of September 13: passage available on September 14 for $125. I dashed to Cook’s to sign up leaving me with about $15. I was only told that the ship (unidentified!) was going to America ( North or South unidentified!) with port of arrival, or even departure, unspecified. Take it or leave it!I took it!Journey to start 10 AM September lb from Waterloo station, indicating, of course, Southampton as the port of departure. Paul came up to London for the afternoon. Natasha stayed the night and came with me to the railway station. With $5 in my pocket I got on the train and embarked at lunch time on the Mauretania in Southampton bound for some part of the Western hemisphere.
The Mauretania was a fast ship and sailed without an escort. There was no music, complete black out at night, and rapid zig-zagging day and night. I have forgotten many trivial parts of the trip, but as I recall there were four of us in a cabin in tourist with the passangers in tourist ranging from returning college kids to professional and business poeple. Card games started the second day out and I was right away in a small poker game with my S5. It was probably about the middle of the trip that three young men came down from first class and asked if they could join one of our games. They said it was terribly boring upstairs. They and several of us started a somewhat hinher stakes game (I probably had about $10 at this point).I was lucky enough, and perhaps skillful enough compared to the others, to end the evening with about $80. The major loser from first class turned out to be John F. Kennedy. He and his friends played rather losely and the money involed clearly meant very little to them. J.F.K. was a handsome and friendly young man ( six months older than I) on his way back to the US from England ( he did something for Joseph P. during the summer at the Embassy). This was the only significant game of the trip. I played more poker with insignificant financial changes. As I recall I tipped the stewart and got off in New York with $75.
We must have gone quite far North as we saw a fair number of icebergs. At this point we were pretty sure we would land either in Canada or the US. We arrived in New York on September 20 and were off the ship in the late afternoon. The $75 came in real handy as I had to show $25 on arrival in going through immigration. Further I clearly had plenty of money to go on to Pittsburgh instead of phoning or wiring Lajos. It was just a little over a month since I left Budapest and New York looked awfully good.
I spent the night of September 20 at the apartment of the parents of a young man I knew from Carnegie Tech ( he as graduated in 1939 and was looking for a job; I wish I could remember his name). The next day I looked up Sari who was sharing an apartment with a very rich English woman. She wanted to know all about the family in England and was still hoping to persuade Paul to come to the US. She had no intention of going back. In the afternoon my friend and I went to the World’s Fair and in the evening he asked me to go with him to a political meeting. This turned out to be a communist one ( his father was getting rich in advertising!?) where I said something about England holding the fort of civilization and was duly denounced for supporting the captalist warmongers. This was, of course, during the infamous Hitler-Stalin pact, but I wonder whatever happenned to the shortsighted dopes and dupes of that little meeting. I went on to Pittsburgh and Carnegie Tech on September 22.