The “religiously and historically turbulent landscape of Jews and Christians in the century of the Holocaust” is explored in this tale of twin brothers (of different faiths) living through the wartime turmoil in Hungary—as narrated by one of their sons.
It was a not uncommon for Hungarian Jews to convert to Catholicism in pre-WWI Europe, even though it “was certainly a prosperous and creative era for Jews in Hungary.” Psychologist Pogany’s grandparents became devout Catholics at this time, and they raised their two boys—Gyuri (later to become George) and Miklos (the author’s father)—as such. George became a priest and was in Italy when WWII erupted. He took sanctuary in a monastery, but there was no port in the storm for Miklos, trapped in Budapest, who was considered a Jew by the state authorities and was packed off to Bergen-Belsen along with his wife. Pogany’s family history proceeds through those desperate days, the years of roving afterwards in search of a homeplace, and the contentious relationship of the brothers as they stake out ethical terrain and justification for their subsequent cultural and religious beliefs—George remaining a Catholic, Miklos reverting to Judaism. Pogany tells the story of these men from their own perspective, inhabiting their thoughts and shaping words for them—which is powerfully atmospheric but given to a sameness of tone and a disturbingly similar call-and-response to spiritual questions, regardless of their differing paths. Despite these shortcomings, however, Pogany does evoke with concision and pathos what life was like in Eastern Europe at the turn of the century and for the next 50 years.
A memorable family story, full of vivid atmosphere and stirring incidents.