The communist regime ruling Hungary persecuted Holocaust survivor and author Imre Kertesz precisely because the communists were merely a flip side to the fascists who imprisoned Kertesz and most of the rest of Europe’s Jews and systematically murdered millions of them. Fatelessness is Kertesz’s semi-autobiographical (largely biographical but for the...
The communist regime ruling Hungary persecuted Holocaust survivor and author Imre Kertesz precisely because the communists were merely a flip side to the fascists who imprisoned Kertesz and most of the rest of Europe’s Jews and systematically murdered millions of them. Fatelessness is Kertesz’s semi-autobiographical (largely biographical but for the author’s decision to inject semantic gamesmanship into his approach to writing this particular work) depiction of his experiences as a young Hungarian Jew in the German concentration camp system that was spread across Central and Eastern Europe during World War II.
Kertesz himself identified as a communist as a reaction to the rise and destructiveness of European fascism in Spain, Germany, and Italy, but fell afoul of Hungary’s post-war communist government by virtue of his unwillingness to draw distinctions between two kinds of totalitarian autocracy. Stalin’s rule, in short, was little different than Hitler’s except for the categories of humanity targeted for persecution. Kertesz himself addressed the issue in a 2013 article in The New Yorker:
The trouble was that under the Kádár regime it was extraordinarily difficult to get hold of any documentation—particularly during the Sixties, when I was writing “Fatelessness.” It was as though they were in cahoots with the Nazi past, the way that all documentation was hidden away: one had to pull out the mostly deficient material from the very back shelves of libraries, and publishing at the time drew a total veil over the past.
Kertesz’s point was that dictatorships of varying ideological affiliation were dictatorships nonetheless and, especially in the case of Europe’s fascists and communists, there was ample guilt to go around. Hungary’s ruling communist party was both ideologically in sync with that of the nearby empire that controlled it, the Soviet Union, and had, in fact, been installed by that nearby empire during the Soviet Union’s 1956 invasion of Hungary.
The Hungarian government feared that instances of collusion between fascists and communists in the period between the 1939 nonaggression pact between Hitler and Stalin and Germany’s invasion of Russia and this newer regime’s role in supporting Russia’s 1956 invasion of Hungary would be illuminated by dissident writings such as Kertesz’s book, Fatelessness. Kertesz had become a dissident and, consequently, was doomed to be persecuted by yet another autocratic regime. As with dissident works across the former Soviet Bloc nations, including Russia, Czechoslovakia, and Poland, Kertesz’s works were destined to be repressed. His 2002 Nobel Prize for literature was a belated recognition in post-communist Hungary of the book’s enduring value as a memoir of one of history’s worst periods.