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  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: January 2014

Chapter 2 - On Being Jewish

from Part Two - A Memoir


Questions with vague answers.

The fact that my Jewish background is mentioned on the very first page of chapter 1 is the result of decades of coming to terms with my origins, a process still in progress.

My parents were born in the Mosaic faith but were brought up in secular families. My father mentioned once that as a child he had heartily hated religious education at school. It was a casual remark, quickly passed over. In 1937, my parents and my one-year-old brother converted to Calvinism in the expectation that anti-Jewish legislation, which was making everyday life increasingly suffocating, would not apply to them. I was baptized a Calvinist at birth; however improbable it may sound, I seem to remember being lowered into the font by Bishop László Ravasz, a man of tremendous authority at the time, and looking up at his receding face above me.

Our Christian faith notwithstanding, we were sent to the ghetto, and, as mentioned earlier, my father was taken to a labor camp. For the world outside, we counted as Jews.

My memories of the ghetto are hazy. At the age of three, I found it fun to share our apartment with many other people. One night my mother picked me up from my crib, wrapped me in a blanket, and took me to the air-raid shelter amid sirens shrieking like mad. I was too drowsy and too young to be aware of any danger.