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Nine Suitcases: A Memoir Hardcover – November 9, 2004
The Amazon Book Review
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From Publishers Weekly
Hungarian Jewish novelist and journalist Zsolt (who died in 1949) experienced more than his share of suffering, as documented in this Holocaust memoir published in English for the first time (it originally appeared in serial form in 1946 in a magazine Zsolt founded). Born in 1895, Zsolt was well known in intellectual circles during the 1920s and '30s as a liberal political journalist. This book highlights his years in Ukraine as a forced laborer for the Hungarian army, the months he spent in a ghetto in Nagyvárad awaiting deportation to Auschwitz and his escape from the ghetto in the spring of 1944 (he eventually made it to Switzerland with his wife). As one of the first Holocaust memoirs, this piercing account displays a raw freshness that is as vivid as it is horrifying. It lacks the genre's usual displays of hope and strength, focusing instead on humanity's basest instincts, as expressed by the brutal Hungarian gendarmes and by their Jewish victims as well. Noting his inability to write of the horrors he experienced, Szolt reports, "I resisted my own experiences with elementary force, like a man who tries to overcome a malignant tumor that pokes conspicuously through his skin by not looking...." Clearly, Szolt's writing capacity returned with a vengeance after the war; his powerful, poignant honesty shows little mercy to his readers' sensibilities.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* The author, a Jew, was born in northern Hungary in 1895 and moved to Budapest in 1920. During the next two decades, Zsolt became one of Hungary's most prolific writers, producing 10 novels and four plays. A sophisticated bohemian, he spent much of his life in the fashionable coffee houses among writers, artists, and intellectuals, conducting political and cultural campaigns. In 1942 he was sent to the Ukraine, but his influential friends in Budapest succeeded in bringing him home in 1943, where he was thrown into a notorious political prison and detained there for four months. In 1944 Zsolt and his wife escaped from a Hungarian ghetto, went underground, and eventually found a safe haven in Switzerland. They returned to Hungary in 1945. His mother, brothers, and sisters; his wife's parents; and her 13-year-old daughter by her first husband were murdered in Auschwitz. Nine Suitcases was originally published in weekly installments in 1946 and 1947 in a Hungarian journal; in 1980, the compilation was published as a book. Concentrating mainly on his experiences as an inmate of the ghetto of Nagyvarad and as a forced laborer in the Ukraine, the author provides not only a rare and perceptive insight into Hungarian fascism but also a horrifying exposure of the depths of the cruelty, indifference, cowardice, and betrayal of which human beings are capable. These horrors, interspersed with moments of grotesque farce, paint a nightmarish picture of a world without hope during the Holocaust--an important book, to be sure. George Cohen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Originally published as articles in a magazine, the force of the writing really slams into the reader from the beginning. M. Zsolt picks up his story in 1944 in the Nagyvarad ghetto. At that time, he had already been a slave ('forced labourer') for the Hugarian forces allied with the Nazis in the Ukraine, survived, freed, and then thrown into prison as a political prisoner. He is already in his late 40s, and a veteran of WWI.
What struck me in this memoir is the similarity of M. Zsolt's thinking about the horrors he endures and the writings of M. Wiesel. Both authors come to the conclusion that there are no words to communicate the experience, yet both realize they must attempt to do so.
I'm thankful that this memoir is now available in English (and the translator was actually with M. Zsolt in Bergen-Belsen as a boy).
The positive reviews are false-advertising, shill, reviews; I want my money back ! I have read over 50 Holocaust memoirs, which I praise.
Good Holocaust memoirs are:
"In My Hands"
"A Jump for Life"
"The Strange Ways of Providence In My Life"
"Destined To Live"
"Hiding in the Open"
Even in a Holocaust book where the Jewish survivor evaded the camps and lived comfortably under a false identity; there was still a loss of loved-ones and constant fear and terror during the war. All Jewish survivors were traumatized by the Nazi terror and industrialized-murders. It is a miracle that many of those who survived the horror in the camps went on to live productive lives and to raise children successfully. The Holocaust was planned & driven by Satan and his demons. The Nazis not only crippled people with beatings and starvation; in this instance, they crippled the author's mind with terror, murders, and torment; to the degree that the author is unable to say anything that makes sense, and just babbles meaninglessly. Only God can heal such severe damage. Many Holocaust books are interesting for the survivor describing family life before the war; a life of a loving, happy, family; working hard, smart, and honestly in a small business. The shill reviewers have lost that "honesty" virtue in writing misleading reviews to sell books.
The author, Bela Zsolt, was the stepfather of the famous teen Holocaust diarist Eva Heyman, who was killed at Auschwitz. Bela was a famous journalist and novelist before the war, and he used his wealth and connections to escape the ghetto with his wife at the eleventh hour. Both of their entire families perished. Bela returned to Hungary after the war and was elected to Parliament. His wife, Eva Heyman's mother, committed suicide shortly after Eva's diary was published. Bela died in 1949, not long after his wife. He was only in his fifties. Maybe it was a broken heart.
I quite enjoyed Zsolt's frank, sardonic writing style. It made me want to read his other works, but I don't think any have been translated into English, and I don't want to read them QUITE badly enough to learn Hungarian.
This memoir was about Zsolt's time in the ghetto in 1944, and also his experiences serving as a forced laborer in Ukraine earlier in the war. He has a way of capturing the personalities of minor characters in just a few lines. The book did end very abruptly though. In fact, there was really no ending at all. Perhaps this was due to the serial format it was originally written in; maybe he was contracted for a certain number of issues and no more, so he couldn't wrap things up properly. One wonders how he would have improved upon things if he had lived to edit his serial before it was published in book form.
I would recommend this book, particularly to those interested in the Holocaust in Hungary.