Tag Archives: Hungary

Jaap Scholten talks about Comrade Baron

Dutch writer Jaap Scholten knows a good story when he hears one. In the early 1990s, when his Hungarian wife’s grandmother began telling him about life before communism, he was entranced. This was the beginning of the road to writing “Comrade Baron: A Journey Through the Vanishing World of the Transylvanian Aristocracy,” Scholten’s first work of non-fiction and the first to be published in English, launched May 5th.

“I have enjoyed this book so much – such a great tale, with brilliant original research and source material, and so many stories, tragic, humiliating, painful, yet all engrossing and highly readable” Petroc Trelawny, BBC presenter and journalist.

“This is a classic in the lines of Patrick Leigh-Fermor and it should be on the shelves of anyone interested in Mitteleuropa.” Norman Stone, Professor of Modern History, Oxford.

You can buy Comrade Baron: A Journey Through the Vanishing World of the Transylvanian Aristocracy here.

The launch event for the book, hosted by Petroc Trelawney will take place on Wednesday 4 May 2016 at 7pm at the Hungarian Cultural Centre, 10 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, London WC2E 7NA. Attendance at the event is free but booking is required on bookings@hungary.org.uk.

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Comrade Baron: A Journey Through the Vanishing World of the Transylvanian Aristocracy by Jaap Scholten

baronI am very excited about this and I know that some you will be too as you have asked about it on many occasions.

Comrade Baron A journey through the vanishing world of the Transylvanian aristocracy, is written by Jaap Scholten and will be published for the first time in English on 5 May 2016. The book was winner of the Libris History Prize 2011 and shortlisted for the Bob den Uyl Prize for best travel book 2011.

Comrade Baron will be launched at an event, hosted by BBC presenter, Petroc Trelawny, at the Hungarian Cultural Centre, London, on 4 th May. A best-seller in The Netherlands with more than 30,000 copies sold, Comrade Baron has been translated into French, Hungarian and Romanian. An extraordinary, passionate and important work, Comrade Baron is “in part, an oral history of a group we know little about, in part the account of a journey through one of the most beautiful and mysterious regions of Europe and in part a record of a Dutchman’s impressions on finding himself in an extraordinary milieu in the company of some exceptional families.”

In the darkness of the early morning of 3 March 1949, practically all of the Transylvanian aristocracy were arrested in their beds and loaded onto trucks. That same day the Romanian Workers’ Party was pleased to announce the successful deportation and dispossession of all large landowners. Communism demanded the destruction of these ultimate class enemies. Taken away with just the clothes they stood up in, what happened to these once mighty families? Their stories, as told first-hand in this fascinating and enlightening book, are ones of hardship and fear but also of determination, solidarity, family tradition, resilience and indomitable spirit…

Jaap Scholten lives in Budapest, which is where, in 2006, he first heard about the nocturnal mass deportation of the Transylvanian nobility. Fascinated by their plight, he determined to track down as many of the older members of the former aristocracy as he could, recording their stories before they were lost forever. His journey took him the length and breadth of Transylvania (a magical land that comes to vivid life through descriptions in the book), to apartment blocks, slums and ruined castles, and brought him face-to-face with a group of rare and fascinating families with an extraordinary tale to tell.

Supported by a selection of black and white photographs and told through poignant and illuminating first-hand conversations, Comrade Baron is their story – from the days that preceded communism to after the communists came to power and through to the modern day.

Grand houses were exchanged for homes in cellars, attics, laundry rooms and sculleries and pleasure-seeking lifestyles for work in quarries, steelworks or domestic service. Interrogation was a daily occurrence and many were sent to hard labour in the Romanian gulags. Yet despite living under terrifying conditions, inflicted upon them firstly by Gheorghiu-Dej and later Ceauşescu, the aristocrats were leading a double life. Secretly gathering at night, they maintained the rituals of an older world – “they carried on kissing hands and using other formal gestures, their conversations were governed by long established rules… They met in cellars to play bridge, rummy and canasta. They read poetry aloud and made music. The older aristocrats taught the children foreign languages and gave them music lessons.” In contrast, as Jaap travels through Romania and observes the behaviour of the new Romanian elite –extravagant behaviour at parties and restaurants, driving their Mercedes and SUV’s – he recognizes what has been lost and consider how best to rebuild a country in a moral vacuum.

Jaap Scholten studied Industrial Design at the Technical University in Delft, Graphic Design at the Willem de Kooning Academy of Arts in Rotterdam (BA), and Social Anthropology at the Central European University in Budapest (MA). He is the award winning author of seven books, novels and short story collections. Comrade Baron is his first non-fiction book. Jaap has lived in Budapest since 2003. His Hungarian wife is of noble descent and distantly related to some of the families in the book.

“I have enjoyed this book so much – such a great tale, with brilliant original research and source material, and so many stories, tragic, humiliating, painful, yet all engrossing and highly readable” Petroc Trelawny, BBC presenter and journalist.

“This is a classic in the lines of Patrick Leigh-Fermor and it should be on the shelves of anyone interested in Mitteleuropa.” Norman Stone, Professor of Modern History, Oxford.

You can buy Comrade Baron: A Journey Through the Vanishing World of the Transylvanian Aristocracy here.

The launch event for the book, hosted by Petroc Trelawney will take place on Wednesday 4 May 2016 at 7pm at the Hungarian Cultural Centre, 10 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, London WC2E 7NA. Attendance at the event is free but booking is required on bookings@hungary.org.uk.

Angéla’s fate

In this extract from a longer work on Patrick Leigh Fermor and Budapest, Michael O’Sullivan looks at the fate of one of Paddy’s girlfriends in Budapest under communism and also solves the riddle of a postcard Paddy received about his stolen rucksack. The extract is part of a book Michael is working on called Between the Counts and the Comrades which looks at the fate of some of the old Hungarian noble families under communism.

Michael tells me that he has “… traced many of the descendants of the families he stayed with in Hungary especially his first port of call here which was with Baron and Baroness von Berg at Uri Utca. He tried to get access to the house on his last visit to Budapest and there is a rather sad photograph of him at the closed door.”

The best dreams of an ancient lineage are often had on beds of straw. This is the thought that engages me as I stand outside the house in Budapest where Patrick Leigh Fermor’s ex-girlfriend strangled her flatmate in 1969. This end of Budapest’s Pannonia Street is more chipped and faded in appearance than the more prosperous commercial stretch further south which is guarded by the elegant facade of the Vigzinhaus – the city’s Comedy Theatre. This neighbourhood of the XIII district called the Újlipótváros or New Leopoldstown was still a very new part of the city when Leigh Fermor first came to Budapest in 1934. It soon established itself as home to the literary and artistic set and also formed part of the residential area favoured by some of Budapest’s Jewish community. Today, according to recent census information, some of the capital’s Jewish community is again reestablishing itself here. Standing outside 48 Pannonia Street, I imagine it has changed very little since Xenia Cszernovits moved here in 1957, soon after the revolution which tried to end Soviet rule in Hungary. I am trying also to imagine how this woman of distinguished lineage, born into a family of landed gentry in 1909, coped with the ‘class enemy’ status imposed on her by Communism and how she coped too with being sent to work as a labourer in a textile factory.

Xenia Csernovits de Mácsa et Kisoroszi was a ravishing dark-haired beauty. She was the daughter of a Transylvanian land owner from Zam, Mihály Czernovits. The family was of grand Serbian origin. Xenia married Gábor Betegh de Csíktusnád, scion of an old Transylvanian noble family, while still in her early twenties but at the time she met Leigh Fermor in 1934 the marriage was going through a turbulent phase. It later appears to have settled down again because they had a daughter two years after Xenia’s tryst with Leigh Fermor.

Xenia’s niece by marriage, Stefania Betegh, doubts that the [Paddy’s] affair with Xenia ever happened. She has no particular reason to defend Xenia’s honour. She is not, after all, a blood relative. There is also the issue of the confused manner in which Leigh Fermor attempts to disguise, and yet not disguise, Xenia’s identity in Between the Woods and the Water. At one point in the narrative he gives her full name, the location of her family house at Zam and enough detail for us to know exactly who she is. Then he disguises her as ‘Angela’ and even adds a footnote about the need to ‘alter names’ having already made her one of the most identifiable characters in the book. She seems not to have been bothered by this and when, in her seventy sixth year, she read a translation of the book in Hungarian by her relative, Miklos Vajda, she wrote to Leigh Fermor to say how much she had enjoyed it.

Leigh Fermor’s attraction for women and his success as a seducer are well known. The balance of probability, in the seduction stakes, most likely rests with his success with Xenia. It was one of the last happy periods of her life. Miklos Vajda, recalls her as a free spirit and ‘a woman with something of the exotic gypsy in her looks and nature’. Men found her irresistible and the regular absence of her husband on business trips enabled her to have frequent liaisons with various male admirers, amongst whom Leigh Fermor is the best known.

Once Hungary had become a postwar Soviet satellite state, her life was altered in a way that was unimaginable in 1934. As a ‘class enemy’, she was sent to do menial work as a house painter and later in a textile factory in Budapest. She ended her days in a squalid little basement flat which she moved to after she strangled her former flatmate in a fit of rage in Pannonia Street on 20 December 1969. Such was her popularity with her neighbours that many of them testified in court to the justification of her actions, claiming that the victim was an unbearable woman, thus leading to a reduced charge of manslaughter.

There has been much talk in Budapest recently about the publication of the final installment of Leigh Fermor’s account of his walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople. In the third volume The Broken Road he moves onward through Rumania and it is his favourable view of the old enemy that has irritated some amongst his admirers in Hungary. Presenting the Rumanian nobility as better read and more cosmopolitan than their Hungarian neighbours has not endeared him to some of the descendants of his former hosts. ‘No good deed goes unpunished’ is how one of them put it, at a recent event to mark the anniversary of the 1956 Revolution. But despite this he is remembered with great affection in Budapest where his friend, writer and translator, Rudi Fischer, now in his 90s, still lives.

Meeting him one can see how Leigh Fermor admired him and came to rely on his extraordinary knowledge of Hungarian history and culture. Fischer recently solved a Leigh Fermor conundrum when he admitted authorship of a hoax postcard addressed to Paddy from Kirchstetten, W.H. Auden’s Austrian retreat. In it he claimed that it was his grandfather, ‘Alois Schoissbauer’, who stole Paddy’s rucksack containing his money, passport and travel journal, from a Munich hostel in 1934. To add veracity to the hoax Fischer claimed that the author of the postcard later inherited the rucksack and that it was stolen again by ‘an Australian hippie’ as he travelled across Asia to Peshawar. He signed it ‘Dr Franz Xavier Hinterwalder, Professor of Farsi and Pashtoo, Firdausi School of Oriental Languges, Kirchstetten Lower Austria. The card was written after a bibulous lunch at the Traveller’s Club in Pall Mall. Paddy enjoyed it enough to copy it to Debo Devonshire.

There are plans in Budapest to raise a plaque in the city to mark Patrick Leigh Fermor’s 1934 visit and plans too for a commemorative lecture about his time in the city.

Summer reading – The Transylvanian Trilogy by Miklós Bánffy

New BanffyMore Miklós Bánffy propaganda to make you go out and buy these fantastic books! They have recently been republished by Everyman’s Library.

You can buy them here. They were counted.The Transylvania Trilogy. Vol 1.

And of course, Elisabeth Jelen Salnikoff,  the elder granddaughter of Miklós Banffy will be speaking about her grandfather, his life and work at the exciting Transylvanian Book Festival 5-9 September; see you there!

by Julian Glover

First published in The Guardian , 5 August 2011

A few years ago a friend sent me three very large paperback novels – a trilogy about Hungary before the first world war – which he said I should read.

The Writing on the Wall, as the books are known (better than “the Transylvanian Trilogy”, the inadequate English alternative), did not look promising. Their covers were relatively austere and their author was a dead Hungarian aristocrat of whom I then knew nothing. They sat ignored until, by chance, I took the first of them to Spain one summer and, having nothing else to read, opened it.

Since then their author, Miklós Bánffy, has never been far from my mind. The elegiac wisdom of his writing makes him one of those people whose life you wish could have ended in something other than calamity. His three great novels, which are really one and should be read as such, are significant and addictive works. Word of their excellence is spread largely by private recommendation. I know no one who, having begun them, has not charged through to the end.

The three books – They Were Counted, They Were Found Wanting and They Were Divided – are at one level a sort of Austro-Hungarian Trollope, with sleigh rides in place of fox hunts and the Budapest parliament instead of the House of Commons. So far, so dull, you might think – except that Bánffy was a great storyteller (his factual account, in his book The Phoenix Land, of the 1916 coronation of the last Hungarian monarch is spellbinding), and wrote as a member of a class and the citizen of a country that had both been brought to ruin.

Bánffy published his books in Hungarian between 1934 and 1940. By then, the pre-first world war aristocratic tradition he describes was dead; or at least the political part of it, for the trappings lingered on – not least at Bánffy’s own great family castle of Bonchida, by then in Romania and destined to be partly destroyed by the Germans in 1944.

Bánffy died in 1950, his papers burned, his books out of print. One of the connected delights of this trilogy is that his daughter was one of the joint translators, and Bonchida (thinly disguised as Denestornya in the novels) is being brought back from a roofless ruin.

That will not return to us the Hungary of which it was once a part, and only a third of which remained in Hungarian hands after the 1920 Treaty of Trianon (an ill-deserved robbery). As Bánffy describes, some of this disaster was his fellow citizens’ fault – the product of their incestuous politics, their semi-subservience to the emperor in Vienna, and above all the closed nature of Hungarian society, which did not know how to deal with the continent beyond its borders. That remains true today: there is something mysterious about Hungary, and not only because of its isolated language.

If I have made these sound sour books, or purely political ones, then I have misled you. More than anything, they are human, and beautiful, and descriptive, and rooted in a land and its natural environment that are both gone forever and less far away than we might think. “The radiant afternoon sunlight of early September was so brilliant that it still seemed like summer,” the trilogy begins. This summer I urge you to read on …

Related articles:

Read more about Miklós Bánffy on the blog by clicking this link.

House in Wales

Cliff Cottage - Fforest Farm - Newport

Cliff Cottage – Fforest Farm – Newport

There is so much to discover about Paddy and Joan’s life. The detectives are always at work, and I thought I would share with you this note I received from Alun Davies, an ex-Army man like myself who somehow has become the Honarary Consul in Wales for Hungary. How do these things happen? 🙂 Please share with us your memories or investigations. You can always contact me at tsawford [at] btinternet.com and I promise to reply, ever so slowly!

Dear Tom – here is a small piece of the jigsaw of Paddy’s life which you might enjoy. Each summer we go down to West Wales as a family and stay at Newport in Pembrokeshire. When I read In Tearing Haste I noticed a reference to Newport and asked Artemis if she knew more.

The long and short of it is that I have located the cottage in which Paddy and Joan stayed in the summer of 1961. This was not exactly difficult as on page 83 of ITH he gives the address as Cliff Cottage, Fforest Farm. In fact I know Fforest Farm but the property is now called Fforest Cottage.

I spoke to Joanna Ward who now owns the cottage – picture attached – who told me that her father had bought the property in 1963 from Rex Warner’s wife after he had died.

The footnote on page 84 of ITH says:

PLF had borrowed the house from Barbra Ghika (1911-1989), nee Hutchinson, who married the painter Nikos Ghika in 1961. She was married previously to Victor, 3rd Baron Rothschild 1933-46 and to Rex Warner, writer, painter and translator of Greek tragedies, in 1949.

I am wondering if Charlotte Mosley was right in thinking that the house was borrowed from Barbra when it seems to have been owned by Rex Warner and his later wife. Given Rex’s background in Greek classics, and the fact that he was the director of the British Institute in Athens after the war, Paddy must have known him well.

I realise this is not necessarily of great interest – but as I know that area well I found it interesting to follow up the lead.

Best wishes

Alun

Miklós Bánffy’s Transylvanian trilogy to be published in new edition by Everyman’s Library

Count Miklós Bánffy

Count Miklós Bánffy

Many of the longer term readers will know that I am a true fan of the work of the great Hungarian-Transylvanian writer and statesman Miklós Bánffy. His Transylvanian trilogy is a masterpiece, and the autobiography, The Phoenix Land, re-published last year offers an insight to the character and soul of this intelligent, hardworking, and resourceful man.

Read more about Miklós Bánffy in the articles on the blog which you can find at this link.

I was recently contacted by blog reader Scott Walters from San Francisco who informed me about a new version coming out in 2013.

As you seem to be the go-to resource for all things Patrick Leigh Fermor, I thought you might be interested to know – assuming you haven’t heard already – that the English translation of Miklós Bánffy’s Transylvania trilogy (They Were Counted, They Were Found Wanting and They Were Divided), for which Paddy wrote an introduction and which you’ve blogged about on occasion – is going to be reissued this summer in hardcover by Everyman’s Library. Publication date is in July.

I’m thrilled about this – I’m a great fan of the trilogy and have long bemoaned the price of the existing paperback editions, which despite being reissued in 2010 still seem difficult to obtain at a reasonable price (though a Kindle edition is now available). That Everyman’s Library has opted for the work suggests that it’s finally attained the recognition it deserves. I posted an announcement on my blog, but should you put one on your Fermor blog I expect word will get out to more people who may be interested. All best, and a very happy new year.

I am grateful to Scott for getting in touch. Not so sure about the price issue as it affects UK readers. You can buy good copies of his work on eBay for around £8-£10. The Everyman versions appear to be coming out in July 2013 with a website price tag of $26 for a hardback edition.

All I can say is it is great that more people will read Bánffy, and that prices of books vary enormously depending upon where you are. Moral of the story is look around for bargains and read some Bánffy now!

Literary and Historical References – Between the Woods and the Water

The last in the series which presents the work of members of the Royal Geographical Society which analyses chapter by chapter, literary and historical references from some of Paddy’s key works.

This was presented at the RGS in the afternoon talk on 12 December 2012,”Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Appreciation by Alexander Maitland, FRGS”.

My thanks to the Royal Geographic Society for permission to present this.

Download a pdf of this document here.

Related article:

Literary and Historical References – The Traveller’s Tree