Imre Kertész Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Born of Jewish ancestry, Imre Kertész (KUR-teez) was raised in Budapest, Hungary. For his tenth birthday, his parents gave him a diary that served as a launching pad for his future writing endeavors. When the Germans began exterminating Jews in Hungary in 1944, Kertész was deported at the age of fourteen to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. A short time later, he was sent to the Buchenwald camp in Germany. In spite of the dire conditions in both camps, he survived. Kertész was liberated by the Allied forces in 1945.

During the years between 1949 and 1951, Kertész was a journalist for the Világosság newspaper in Budapest. When the paper adopted the Communist point of view in 1951, he lost his job. After serving in the Hungarian army from 1951 to 1953, Kertész devoted his life to writing. Unable to write freely in a Communist-ruled country, he translated the works of many German authors, notably Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Elias Canetti, Joseph Roth, Arthur Schnitzler, Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, and Ludwig Wittgenstein, in order to support himself. Kertész also wrote musicals for the theater. For approximately thirty-five years, he and his wife lived in a one-room dwelling in Budapest, where he continued to write with little hope of having anything published.

Kertész completed his first novel, Fateless, in 1965. Although he said that it was not an autobiography, it provided a detailed account of a teenage Jewish boy who lived through experiences similar to those of Kertész himself, surviving within German concentration camps during World War II. The novel was...

(The entire section is 670 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Imre Kertész (KEHR-tays) was born to a Hungarian Jewish couple in Budapest on November 9, 1929. His father owned a small factory and his mother was a housewife. In 1944, between 500,000 and 600,000 Hungarian Jews and Gypsies were belatedly sent to Nazi labor camps after the German army occupied Hungary, a wavering ally, in the spring of that year.

Kertész was fourteen years old when, on June 30, 1944, he was rounded up on a city bus with others wearing the mandatory yellow Star of David on their clothing. In a freight car carrying sixty people, he was first sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp in occupied Poland and then to the Zeitz and Buchenwald camps in Germany. Earlier, his father had been shipped to the Mathausen labor camp in Austria. The year young Kertész spent in the concentration camps was to be the signal event in his life and later writings.

Liberated by American forces in May, 1945, Kertész returned to Budapest to find that his father had died at Mathausen, his stepmother had remarried, and strangers were now living in the family’s former home. Even more shocking to the repatriated Kertész, according to his autobiographical novel Sorstalanság (1975; Fateless, 1992), was the indifference, even hostility, Hungarians showed to the returning prisoner, who was still wearing his striped camp uniform, as he searched for his mother. Being a secular Jew, he had never given much thought to his Jewishness until, he explained, it was foisted on him by the Holocaust. Even in the concentration camps he was sometimes derided because he did not speak Yiddish, the language of Eastern European Jewry, or Hebrew, the language of their faith.

After completing high school in 1948, Kertész found work with a newspaper, Világosság, in 1949, but he lost his job in 1951, when the newspaper adopted a strictly Communist and Stalinist editorial policy. By then, Hungary had a large Soviet military presence and was part of the Soviet empire. Kertész did a...

(The entire section is 823 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The Holocaust and the subsequent rise of Communist totalitarianism are the major themes of Imre Kertész’s work. While specifics may change, he believes such events will recur because they are generated by ever-present ideological, cultural, historical, and human reasons. Some individuals caught in these events are able to survive, while others do not, their lives liquidated by a totalitarian public authority or by their own hands. To Kertész, the Holocaust is not a morality tale but merely a specific example of history’s many cruelties.