Digging Up Budapest’s Past with Nobel Prize Winner Imre Kertész
Lauded as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, Budapest, Hungary is a mishmash of Gothic and Baroque-style buildings, riverfront boulevards and atmospheric squares. As Hungary’s capital, it is a global city that straddles between the past and the present. Cobblestoned paths wind through its compact historical quarters while modern glass buildings stand tall by the river banks of the Danube. Amidst Budapest’s poetic beauty, it’s hard to imagine that this was the backdrop to two of the most tragic events in history – World Wars I and II.
When Austria-Hungary lost WWI, most parts of Budapest were severely destroyed. By the end of WWII, Budapest once again faced attacks from the British and American army, and thereafter the Soviet army and German troops. Thousands of Hungarian Jews were deported to the Holocaust concentration camp, including Imre Kertész, who lives to tell his story.
At the tender age of 14, Kertész was deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp. In his popular novel, Fatelessness, he details the experience of György, a teenager in the concentration camps. Although he claims that it is not a biography of his own life, his book truly depicts the fragility of life and the brutality of the past. In 2002, Kertész won a Nobel prize in literature for this powerful work.
Today, Budapest has moved on from its haunting past. Much of the wartime damage was repaired by the late 1980s, and Budapest underwent dramatic changes with the construction of new infrastructure such as the Budapest Metro and Brzébet Bridge. WWII memorials can be found along the river banks these days. Since democracy, Budapest has experienced peace and tranquility and has now flourished into a popular tourist destination.
The city stretches across the banks of the Danube River, dividing it up into Buda on one end, and Pest on the other. Budapest is also home to an endless list of World Heritage Sites, including the Buda Castle, Heroes’ Square and the Millennium Underground Railway. If that’s not impressive enough, this is also where you’ll find the world’s biggest thermal water cave system, the third biggest Parliament building and second biggest synagogue.
Photo | Alistair Young