Holocaust stories from another view
George and Mari Gomori have collected together a new volume of poetry on the Holocaust by Hungarian poets
The first thing I see when I step into George and Mari Gomori’s Hampstead home is a room full of books. Lined up along the walls, they seem to be holding the house together. George tells me it is his library. I assume it includes his prolific contribution to the field of poetry and Hungarian literature analysis - as we sit down to talk Mari tells me the most recent book is George’s 52nd
Book 52 is I lived on this Earth, a collection of poems on the subject of the Holocaust written by Hungarian poets translated into English. The pair, who have been married for 31 years, have edited and translated this volume together. The book includes work from 18 poets spanning three generations. Some write from experience, others from a connection with events of the past through lost relatives. “We both feel that when you talk about 6m killed, it is so vast it is almost meaningless- you can’t absorb that fact,” says Mari “The poems are from individuals, they are vignettes almost, that are personal, both from people who suffered in the Holocaust, and second or even third generation people talking about their parents or grandparents,” says Mari. Both George and Mari lost family during the Holocaust and both have experienced displacement themselves: George left Hungary after arranging a student march in 1956 which escalated into the Hungarian revolution. Mari left Hungary in 1951 aged five, after her family were deported by the communists for being ‘class aliens’.
The Gomoris are hoping that presenting individual and personal experiences will help to bring the horror of the Holocaust back into perspective, in a climate of Holocaust denial and simmering racial tension in Hungary. “It happened in Europe in the 20th century and the country who started it and perpetrated it is the country that could produce a Beethoven, and a Goethe. That’s the juxtaposition: one of the highest western civilisations and cultures could create a policy to exterminate a race,” says Mari.
There are some well-known voices in the book- the volume begins with Mikl�s Radn�ti, who died in a death march in 1944 and whose various homes before death have now become places of pilgrimage. An important departure though, is the inclusion of non-Jewish and Gypsy poets- voices that have previously gone unheard. “It was very important for us to include non Jewish poets who are looking at it as observers and also Gypsy poets because many Gypsies were killed by the Nazis as well,” says Mari. There is a rough figure of 20,000 gypsies killed in Auschwitz, George adds.
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In creating the volume, the Gomori’s have painted a picture of the Hungarian experience of the intolerable reality of the Holocaust. An estimated 200,000 Hungarians died during the purges as the Nazism plague swept Europe, but those who survived and their later generations were prolific in recording their experience. “Not necessarily because Hungary behaved particularly well during that period, the largest Jewish community survived in central Europe, in Budapest. In Budapest something like 100,000 people survived and lived in the Ghetto and there was a continuous tradition” says George.
At the launch of the book, readings from George and Dame Janet Suzman will be accompanied by a music concert of work by composers from the period. Mari, who was a concert promoter before retirement, plans another event.
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Historian Sir Martin Gilbert notes in the foreword to the book: ‘How does one reflect on the Holocaust years? How does one draw conclusions?’. It’s difficult to know. What is certainly true is that in drawing attention to the personal experiences that a handful of people faced, the Gomoris present a picture of suffering that it important we don’t forget.
I lived on this Earth, funded by the Joir and Kato Weisz Foundation, will be available at Blackwells in Charing Cross Road or from firstname.lastname@example.org