Exhibition: 11 November- 6 December 2019, Budapest
Shattered Memories, Living Objects: Workshops and Exhibition
With the HCZ project, the team of Eleven Emlékmű (Living Memorial) slightly modified its traditional methodology. While the public discussions traditionally organised by the group aim to counterbalance the official propaganda and fake news and create a space for ordinary people to speak up and engage in free public discussions, for the aim of the HCZ project we decided to concentrate our discussions on objects that carry memory.
First, a call was published asking for stories of remembrance related to objects of the last 100 years. Several dozens of objects and stories were thus collected including memories of the 1st and 2nd World Wars, the Holocaust, the Soviet occupation, the 1956 revolution, the Kadar-regime and the system-change in 1990. According to our traditions, we organised workshops during which several discussions took place where people presented their objects and told their stories. Each workshop event was followed by vivid interest and various problematic periods of the country’s history were debated in a peaceful and friendly atmosphere but not void of deep emotions. The stories and the debates were video recorded and in a follow-up series a dozen of longer interviews in the informants’ houses were also recorded on video.
Based on these objects and stories, in a 2nd period, a photo exhibition was organised with a booklet (in Hungarian) containing the stories written by the informants and further discussions took place.
Later, in November-December 2019 we organised an exhibition (Meghasadt Emlékezet – Eleven Tárgyak, Shattered Memories – Living Objects) with authentic 21st century technology: the exhibition contained 50 objects that were physically presented on the spot. They all had a number and a QR code but no explanatory texts. But for each object, its story (in written and in audio or video form), photos, films and other documents related to the objects were accessible with a specially elaborated web-design through internet and through tablets provided by the exhibition. The same content is still available on the web (also in English): http://kiallitas.elevenemlekmu.hu/en/. A video presentation of the exhibition was also recorded. During the exhibition, more workshops and discussions were organised focusing on problems of remembrance, on traumatic memories and narratives. All workshops have been video recorded and are available on the public webpage of the Living Memorial civic group.
The Tarnished Silver Cup
The tarnished silver cup was found among various other bric-a-bracs in the linen closet, when my father moved to a different flat. Nobody remembered where it came from, but we did not want to throw it away, either, so I took it with me. Once, when I was dusting it, the light fell upon it just so that I noticed an engraved inscription in Gothic lettering: Oberwarter Sonntags-Zeitung 1880–1904.
This realization weighed heavily on me: it was a message from the long gone Monarchy. It came from Felsőőr (Oberwart ‒ now in Austria), where my grandmother’s family was together for the last time with all of its members holding the same citizenship.
The cup could only have been owned by my great-great-grandfather, Hugó Ehrenwerth, who worked at the Oberwart printing press and who was the typesetter of the local weekly for 24 years, almost since the time the paper was founded. He may have received the cup at his retirement.
See more of this story: http://kiallitas.elevenemlekmu.hu/en/ No. 10.
The small statue of the watercarrier, “Hummel”, the symbol of the German city, Hamburg, was the cherished souvenir of our mother. After the fall of the Hungarian Soviet Republic (1919), her Jewish family had to flee Hungary and after a long roving, settled down in Hamburg where she grew up and felt happy. After the war, the family returned to Hungary, but our mother always dreamt of Hamburg.
When she could return to Hamburg for the first time as an adult, she bought this little statue of the watercarrier. Placed next to her bed, it kept reminding her of her happy childhood. We buried the little statue with her. Later, my brother went to Hamburg and bought this one.
See more of this story: http://kiallitas.elevenemlekmu.hu/en/ No. 15.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl from 1956
At the age of 14, I recorded the events of my life into a hardcover calendar. When I started writing it, I did not know that 1956 would turn out to be such an important year. My first entries were about my first love, my school, piano lessons, and dancing classes.
From the first day of the revolution, my twelve-year-old brother was going around the city. Asking for a ride on a truck, he went everywhere, where the events were unfolding. When my mother returned from work in the evening on 23 October, we went to the Marching Square, where a lot of people gathered waiting to demolish the statue of Stalin. When they finally managed to do so, there was a moment of silence followed by outbursts of joy and people giving each other hugs and kisses. All at once, some people started to sing the national anthem. Those were uplifting moments. The people’s desire for freedom burst out with elemental power. That memory makes me shiver up to this day.
The details of the events in 1956 are recorded in my diary seen by the eyes of a fourteen-year-old girl. I even have a drawing about the demolishment of the Stalin statue. His boots were left in the square for a long time, because the statue could be cut off at that level. One night, someone wrote a graffiti on them: “Boots Square”.
Mária Weltz Fülöpné
See more of this story: http://kiallitas.elevenemlekmu.hu/en/ No. 7.
The Stencil Duplicator
This is a Roneo stencil duplicator, the greatest advantage of which is that it is portable. In the 1970s there were several Hungarian authors who were not able to publish: publishing houses did not accept their writings, or the works of sociologists who focused on issues like the Roma or poverty. Initially, these writings spread in manuscript form or type written.
Later, the printed samizdat appeared. The first machine was brought in pieces by western journalists, and sculptor István Haraszti, also known as “Sweetie”, assembled it and manufactured the missing parts. We used it until the first search of the premises by the police in December 1982, when it was seized. It was then that we received this Roneo. We were searched several times and sometimes caught red-handed, but this machine was never caught.
Gábor Demszky and Róza Hodosán
See more of this story: http://kiallitas.elevenemlekmu.hu/en/ No. 45.
The Chequered Notebooks: A Young Man’s Diary 1938–1944
“My backpack is packed, everything is prepared, the car can leave. Tomorrow, I will join my unit again. Along with me, all the other Jews between the age of 18 and 40 have also been enlisted. I have no idea whether I will be demobilized. If not, Mom, Margó and the two kids will need to face the journey to the ghetto on their own. Oh, Lord, you have hardened me with the many unexpected and meaningless slaps of fate, yet I entrust to you whether we will survive or perish. […] I am awaiting the unknown with inhuman curiosity. My dear Mom, God bless you!”
Laci is only 17 when he begins to write his diary, and the entries follow his maturation in a period of intense changes, full of emotions and events. The fact that the author started to write this diary because of and on the day of the Anschluss makes the chequered notebooks remarkable. The thick notebooks outline an image of Laci as a well-informed young man with a lively spirit, who paid attention to details, was interested in politics, and saw things clearly. The diary also tells about his private life, including all its major and minor incidents.
See more of this story: http://kiallitas.elevenemlekmu.hu/en/ No. 40.
The Drink of Imperialists
In the fifties, the Hungarian public heard a lot about the licentiousness and moral debauch rampant in Western countries. Coca-Cola was an emblematic symbol of all this. It could not be obtained in Hungary, where the “favourite” of the masses was a soft drink called Bambi, which was allegedly made of tar.
My father was the director of a large industrial company. His company had connections in Austria, and in October 1956 he was sent on a business trip in Vienna, conducting negotiations with his partners. He returned on 22 October, and brought back a bottle of Vita Cola, the Austrian version of Coca-Cola.
On 23 October, our family of five sat around the dinner table with considerable excitement. Events of a different nature were unfolding in the city, but we did not know about them at the time. My father opened the magic bottle, and all of us, including the children, were given a teaspoonful of the “imperialist poison”, i.e. the Cola, and we waited for its effect, the ecstasy we had heard so much about.
See more of this story: http://kiallitas.elevenemlekmu.hu/en/ No. 2.
Postcards from a Captive German Soldier
I was born in 1942, in the middle of bombing attacks on Munich. My mother and I were very sick and had to stay in hospital for a while to recover. After we felt fit enough, we went to live in a small village on the outskirts of Munich, where my grandparents had a cottage.
We were nearly untouched by the war, but we could see U. S. airplanes flying towards Munich to unload their bombs on the city. When they came back, they dropped bombs into the nearby forest. As children, we were strictly forbidden to go near the woods.
My father was fighting in Russia, as many others. I did not know him, and I did not miss him. He was fighting with the 6th army in the battle of Stalingrad. As a doctor of a whole company he survived in the “Theaterkeller“, was taken prisoner in 1943 and together with 100 000 comrades, they disappeared in Russian prison camps behind the Ural. Sometimes the prisoners were allowed to write a few words on cards and receive news from home. All letters were read and blackened in places where details about the camp were passed on. In my first years I received postcards from my father with some self-made drawings on them. One of his few belongings during the war was a little box with 6 watercolours, and sometimes he found the time to draw landscapes or little Russian dachas.
Later my father was said to be missing for three years and all letters my mother kept writing again and again came back with the note “zurück“.
In 1947, after a long time with no word from my father, my mother got the news that he was still alive in a camp in far-away Siberia. It was not until summer 1949 that my mother could take him into her arms at Munich “Hauptbahnhof”.
See more of this story: http://kiallitas.elevenemlekmu.hu/en/ No. 23.
Handmade Carved Cigarette Case from the Russian Captive
I retain a handmade carved cigarette case from the time of World War I. Between 1914 and 1918, several hundred thousand Russian prisoners of war resided in Hungary. Many of them were employed in agriculture, staying with families in the villages. Often the relationship between the Russian prisoner of war and the Hungarians hosting him was quite close and intimate, like between members of the same family.
The style of the words carved on the case (HABORU EMLEK) indicates that the person who produced it was not a native speaker of Hungarian.
See more of this story: http://kiallitas.elevenemlekmu.hu/en/ No. 9.
The 71 Notebooks of János Székely, Surgeon
János Székely, surgeon (1920–2005), and his wife, Zsuzsanna Barna, lexicon editor (1922–2003), were both Jewish, and they were my godparents. Although this may seem to be paradoxical, the two facts are connected: my parents asked childless couples to be the godparents of their children, to make up for the fact that they could not have children of their own.
Before his death, Jancsi asked me what I wanted to inherit from him. I tried to change the subject, but he insisted. At last, I asked for his desk. “Fine,” he said, “you will find some notebooks in the bottom drawer. Burn them.”
I found 71 small calendar books in the drawer, but I could not bring myself to burn them. I think the reason why he did not burn them himself and why he entrusted them to me, maintaining a bashful silence about their contents, was that he wanted me to read them. Jancsi started recording what happened to him each day in 1935, when he was fifteen, and wrote the last entry three days before his death. The entries for the period of 1939–1945 and the year 1956 are of special importance.
The pages of the calendar were left empty from October 1944 to February 1945. There are only two entries for January and February 1945, obviously added later: “liberation” and “home from the ghetto”.
See more of this story: http://kiallitas.elevenemlekmu.hu/en/ No. 20.
Pál Rózsa, a professor of matrix theory, was born in Budapest in 1925. His parents were teachers. After high school, the Anti-Semitic laws prevented him from going to university. He was conscripted for labour service.
Since his closest family had been killed, after the war, he stayed with an aunt in Budapest for a few years. He confessed to her that his wish was to study mathematics at the university. However, he needed money to do so. The aunt asked for a few days of patience, then told him that he could start his university studies, as “some people” would help him financially. Accordingly, he received an envelope with money every month, until he got his degree at the Budapest University of Technology.
Uncle Pali never learned the names of his benefactors. All that he could find out was that these people had been the friends of his deceased father. Before World War II, his father had been a freemason, so the mysterious and anonymous supporters were also likely to be freemasons. Uncle Pali became an acknowledged mathematician and the beloved professor of many generations. As soon as he was informed that the freemason movement was relaunched in Hungary, he applied for membership, following the steps of his father and his benefactors.
See more of this story: http://kiallitas.elevenemlekmu.hu/en/ No. 4.
Cotton Stolen from a Concentration Camp
At the age of 16, I was deported together with my mother, my grandmother, and my nine-year-old sister. My father was taken to labour service long before, and he “did not return” (as we euphemistically said for decades). When we arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau, I was herded into the camp, while my grandmother, my little sister, and my mother, who would not let go of her little daughter’s hand, were gassed immediately. I became a “Schreiberin”, because I spoke German like a native.
Later, with other Häftlings, we were transported to work in a large textile factory. My friends urged me to steal some yarn, as I was the only one who had the opportunity to do so. It was a very cold winter and we were freezing. Our idea was to knit underwear with rods used to prop open the windows. We did not manage to finish our plan because the front came near and we were evacuated.
See more of this story: http://kiallitas.elevenemlekmu.hu/en/ No. 17.
A Present from the Grandfather Who Had Emigrated to Chicago
At the beginning of the 20th century, a Hungarian youth went to work in Austria and there he fell in love with an Austrian girl.
The girl’s parents insisted that the young husband should emigrate to America to ensure a better life for his family. He missed the Titanic, and travelled on the next ship, leaving his wife and young children behind. He struggled to learn the language and the unfamiliar work processes. He sent the 3D-kit to his family in 1905. He entrusted three ship tickets and the money he had been putting aside for years to an acquaintance who was travelling back to Europe. The acquaintance never contacted my grandmother. She never met her husband again.
Vincencia Sullai Terényiné
See more of this story: http://kiallitas.elevenemlekmu.hu/en/ No. 8.