The Hungarian Tragedy by Antal Ullein-Reviczky
When was the first time you decided to translate your father’s memoir? And what has influenced your decision?
We have to go a long way back for that one, to when I first met President Árpád Göncz at the Hungarian Embassy in London in 1992. The President was in London together with Foreign Minister, Dr Géza Jeszenszky, and they invited me to return home. It was then that the “homecoming” of my late father, Antal Ullein-Reviczky, was organised, with a Festival in Budapest, the Budapesti Pünkösdi Fesztival, May-June 1993, with President Göncz as Patron.
The event attracted hundreds of guests from all over the world, with many international investors visiting Hungary for the first time. President Göncz welcomed the guests with these words:
“I am very pleased to welcome you among the patrons of the 1993 Budapest Whitsun Festival. When I accepted the patronage of this Festival and of the Antal Ullein-Reviczky Award, I did this not only to pay tribute to someone who struggled for Hungarian independence, but also in the hope of creating new traditions adding to the glamour of our city and broadening the scope of its cultural offer. I trust that all of us will find the programs of this and future festivals satisfactory.”
The first edition of the Hungarian translation of Antal Ullein-Reviczky’s memoirs, Német háború – orosz béke, hardcover souvenir edition, was presented to President Göncz and to other members of the Hungarian Government who were on the podium. It then became clear to me that this very important story deserved an English translation.
Having such a close relationship to the author of the memoir is a very unique situation for a translator. Does it pose special challenges when carrying out the translation, or did it make it easier to find the right style and voice in the English language version?
It was indeed a unique situation, you could call it an example of the bond between father and daughter. I should like to mention that this is not only the rendering of text from French to English one word at a time, unexpectedly I also became the editor when Prof. Dr. Tibor Frank handed me this challenging task. I supplemented the text with additional material from the URA archive, footnotes, photographs and documents, so it is a new international version of the original 1947 French edition, “Guerre allemande-paix russe”. I am now considering a German edition “Deutscher krieg – russischer frieden”.
It has been almost 5 years since the English version was published. Can you tell us about the reception of the book? What kind of feedback have you received?
Well, the first thing people notice is the iconic book cover, everyone loves the photograph of father Telling a story to little Lovice about bad people who invaded Hungary (in his own handwriting on the original photograph).
The feedback has been five stars from all those I know as well as on reviews and from leading academics. Let me quote a few:
“One of the best, if not the best, historical memoir of Hungary in the disastrous years of 1938 to 1945 now published for the first time in the English language.” ( Amazon reader’s review)
“The Memoirs has been printed in three languages. This review is based on the most recent English edition, the translated by Ullein-Reviczky’s daughter Lovice Maria Ullein-Reviczky, and with a foreword by Historian Tibor Frank who specializes in Hungarian political history and Hungarian-English relations. The memoir has been supplemented with additional documents and photographs.” (Journal of Southeast European Studies)
“The new English edition of “German War-Russian Peace” the memoir of Hungarian diplomat Antal Ullein-Reviczky is allowing so many more readers to learn about Hungary during the fateful years that led to its demise as a free country after WWII. Deeply anti-fascist, Antal Ullein-Reviczky was a witness to history and as such his observations are extremely valuable for all those who are interested in Hungary. The book is highly readable and provides information that will enhance our knowledge of a period historians should study with an open mind. Antal Ullein-Reviczky was an outstanding individual with sharp insight combined with a strong sense of fairness, compassion and patriotism which clearly defines him as someone who tried to do the right thing against all odds.” (Amazon reader’s review)
“This is primary source material, in a highly readable form, with a very attractive presentation. It will interest historians and lay readers of history. It will especially interest those curious about the efforts made by the Hungarian government when it was trying to avoid the disaster the country was plummeting toward during WW II. It happened anyway, but not for lack of trying…”(Amazon reader’s review)
“A brilliant historical document. Superb quality presentation. Highly recommended. German War-Russian Peace is a fresh, intimate and revealing insight into what went on politically in Europe before and during the Second World War. A must for experts and armchair historians alike, this personal and honest reminiscence brings a great hero to light, and offers us food for thought about political systems past and future.” (Amazon reader’s review)
Please tell us how as more archival material has become available your father’s role in the events of WWII has changed or expanded.
Enormously, so much so that the archival material would fill volumes. Today Ullein-Reviczky’s reputation is unassailable, near sacred and almost inviolable, a Hungarian hero who deserves the name. His standing in post-Communist Hungary is arguably higher than it was during WWII when he struggled to save his war-battered nation. As Mother writes in her diary: Antal risked his life every day. Dr. Antal Ullein-Reviczky was also a statesman-soldier, as portrayed by Peter Czink in MAGYAR FRONT. To quote Dr. József Antall, the first freely elected Prime Minister of Hungary after the fall of Communism:
“Antal Ullein-Reviczky was brave enough to take up a stand against Hitler at a time when he risked his life by doing so, today we are aware of how many people Antal Ullein-Reviczky negotiated with at home and abroad in his efforts to secure enough help from Western powers for Hungary to be able to withdraw from the war. He was a political realist, a democratic figure whose life and work can serve as an example to all of us.”
The Raoul Wallenberg story was one that changed dramatically when it was revealed how close the link was between Wallenberg and Ullein-Reviczky (see Raoul Wallenberg Foundation: NOT A ‘NOBODY’: CHOICE OF RAOUL WALLENBERG IN 1944 NOT ACCIDENTAL 19-03-2012, by Susanne Berger, Dr. Vadim Birstein).
Every day something new surfaces. I just received this text from Susan Berger in February 2019: The new findings underscore your father’s central role in Stockholm – both with regards to Anglo-American contacts regarding separate peace negotiations, but aiding Swedish intelligence efforts in Hungary, to aid the resistance and with the overarching aim of countering the Soviet Union. The fact that all this occurred much earlier than previously thought raises important questions also about Raoul Wallenberg’s contacts with your father in Stockholm and Raoul’s ties to Swedish intelligence, they confirm our previous discoveries which is crucial. So, your father’s role in Stockholm attains even greater significance than previously known.
As David Amante writes:
“Antal Ullein-Reviczky is the fascinating man who guides Raoul Wallenberg behind the scenes in his rescue actions, in agreement with international authorities.” (Point of No Return Wallenberg, Milan, 2014)
The one very interesting thing is that your father mentions in his memoir that he first met U.S. intelligence representatives in Stockholm on December 1, 1944. In fact, he really hit the ground running, with first meetings already on October 23, 1944. This, too, is significant, because his arrival coincided with the appointment of Carl Bonde as head of Swedish Counterintelligence. And from that moment on, the preparations for a meaningful Hungarian intelligence operation was in full swing. We knew that discussions were under way, but not that there was such a coordinated, intense effort under way already in October 1943.
Please tell us about the Activities of the URA Foundation.
The Ullein-Reviczky Foundation was created to keep alive my father’s memory. He was a renowned Hungarian diplomat and academic, who did everything in his power during difficult times to combat Nazi infiltration of his native country. The Foundation dedicates itself to maintaining the positive moral values of my father, who in difficult times defended the inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled as a human being. As for its activities, where can I start? The foundation maintains and preserves the Antal Ullein-Reviczky Historical Archive; helps to further historical research based on the Ullein-Reviczky Archive; has implemented the Antal Ullein-Reviczky Award and Scholarship programme; manages the Antal Ullein-Reviczky Centre; provides an intellectual platform where fellow humans can share information on social,economic, cultural and political issues on a regular basis; organizes meetings and other events with leading national and international representatives in the fields of politics, diplomacy, economy, society, science, culture and religion; supports Hungary by keeping up its finest and most enduring traditions and making new ones.