Alaine Polcz – Hungarian Writer and Psychologist

In her book, “A Wartime Memoir: Hungary 1944-1945,”Alaine tells about a life changing year that instead of being her downfall, became her life’s purpose. Sitting ducks with a changing guard, from Russian to German on an on-going, what seemed like a never ending basis, she travels from Transylvania (then hoping to remain with Hungary) to Csákvár, in Hungary and back again. In the end, you can imagine the frustration in knowing, if she had never left, her life would have remained simple an innocent.

What is beautiful about this book is that she is not talking like a psychologist but instead, goes back in her mind to re-live painfully traumatic experiences at the age of 19, as if she were that age once more. As a psychotherapist myself, I get the sense that she probably never went through her own course of treatment. This is because she continues to repeat over and over “I do not remember…” This is typical of a sexual abuse survivor or someone who was horribly traumatized at a young age and blocks the exact details of the trauma from their mind, for their own “assumed” well-being. Ironic, as she was a psychologist yet even today, people in this profession are closed off to doing their own work. It is important so that they can properly support others without transferring their own pain onto the client or confusing the client’s story with their own. I am not condemning her though because this was more typical of this time period. I grew up with Hungarians (refugees from the revolution), none of whom went into therapy and all of whom went through some of their own harrowing ordeals. Not least of which was fleeing their beloved homeland.

Alaine was born in Kolozsvár, when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (at this time known as the city of Cluj-Napoca). Now it is Romania and it was in 1944-1945 as well. This was a time of unrest between the Romanians and Hungarians, power struggles on the Romanian part that included violence and discrimination against the Hungarians who lived there. Alaine’s father gave her this male name because of two reasons. One, he did not know French and so unaware that it was a man’s name but Two, his only purpose was finding a name that was not able to be translated into Romanian.

At the onset of 1944, Alaine, at 19, was married to her childhood sweetheart János. Within a few months into their honeymoon period, he gives her gonorrhea. Amazingly, but not surprisingly, it is at this point when he detaches from her and begins to be an emotionally abusive husband. She has the luck of being a strong woman, though terribly naïve. His mother, Mami, happens to work for the Esterházy family, who are of noble origins. It is here that they will go to live and because of him that she follows the family as they escape into Hungary to live and work at another estate, which will be the beginning of the end of Alaine’s life as she knows it. In Csákvar, what seems to bring some peace and safety for a short time, ends up being the front lines, which means constant harassment or torture from either the Germans or the Russians. For women, as with all wars, she and other villagers will be gang raped on what appears to be a daily basis, and at this time, she is under the impression that her husband was executed. The most impressive lines that she writes of her first account of abuse goes like this:

He put the photograph [of she and her husband] on the nightstand and laid me down on the bed. I was afraid he would not give me the picture. When he was done, he took the picture into his hand and showed it to me again…

When she writes, she is not writing like a writer in this book.  She states facts, over and over. There are no pictures drawn and yet there is a story being told. Fuzzy memories are re-told and sometimes they are not even in order, so you have to re-read to catch yourself. It is as if you are sitting with her and she is telling you a story. When I got to the line “When he was done,” it came at me so quickly; I had to read it a few times to let it register. “Oh, okay,” I thought, this is how she is protecting herself and the audience. Even though she is not talking like a psychologist, she is consciously protecting throughout the book.

At some point, days, maybe a month or so later, she is escorted to a cellar, with 79 other Hungarians, who are doing their best to survive. They will go through days or months (you are never sure of the timeline but the book is only one year), of not bathing, very little food and at one point no water, ritual defecating and urinating (they can only go outside to do this during the 10 minutes of ceasefire which occurs daily at the same time), as well as lice and natural body odors. She is only with Mami and her dachshund “Filike,” who she holds at her breast, under a coat which no one notices until the end of her time there.

Alaine does spend a lot of time talking about blood and guts and waste, more than any other writer I have seen when it comes to war zones. One does wonder how people use the toilet during these times. When she mentions herself running away from a gang rape sequence, she talks about running through the snow with a slip on and blood being caked on her body and in her panties. She mentions being in the cellar when she pulls her shirt away from her body and a woman notices the skin of a sore coming with it. She is telling us about how you just keep going, no matter what, becoming oblivious to your own vanity.

The war is at the end, in 1945, when this part of her story comes to a close. She returns to Budapest, still without her husband, to be reunited with family; who will then return to Kolozsvár. She is saved from being labeled a whore, as most women will be in this time period, because her family are good people and she finally denies what happened. By this time the gonorrhea and the life conditions she has just endured have taken its toll on her body. She is hospitalized for some time before she will recover and get some of her life back. The irony is that she will never be able to bear a child and this was the fault of her own husband. The sardonic twist is the realization that all those Russian soldiers had went home to their wives passing on her venereal disease to them.

She and János will part ways and soon she will meet her second husband Miklós Mészöly, who went on to become a famous Hungarian writer. Alaine will go on to become the founder of the first children’s hospice program and win two different awards. She receives the Tibor Déry Award in 1992 (for this book, which was written in 1991) and The Middle Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary in 2001. Alaine’s husband dies in 2001 and she will pass six years later.

Post-Script: What is horribly frustrating about the book is the writing and translation. Albert Tezla is the translator and having read a great number of translated books from several different countries, this is pathetic. You would almost think he didn’t speak English because the sentences come across as broken and unedited. I believe he is translating word for word, rather than trying to put it together in some organized fashion. It is also possible that Alaine was never edited since Albert was not either. I think this is embarrassing to both the writer and the country itself. While I am not a prolific writer myself and certainly need to be edited, I am self-published and have no professional acclaim to add to my repertoire.  I was disappointed to say the least. However, this story, edited or not, annoying with the redundancy or not, needed to be told. What I have noticed when I find anything about women in history, this is so often the case. It is sad because I can’t recall any time when I have seen the same about men.

Politically Correct Debate for Modern Thinkers

This is quite a fascinating debate series founded by Hungarian born Paul Munk in 2008 out of Toronto, Canada. Interestingly, I learned about this through a client recently. I find that I get many good resources from the people I serve almost as if it were providence. They did make me aware of who won the debate before I saw it, though it wasn’t that hard to figure out as it was quite obvious which side were more gifted in speech and somatic comfort. What is troubling, as always, are Americans abroad. They are just incapable of realizing it isn’t all about them.

Continue reading

Un Village Français

A French Village is set in German occupied France, World War II. We are being shown local townspeople being forced to make choices to survive. It is romantic, because there is always love when you are in a traumatic situation. It is not biased and so you see bad Germans and bad French. What is amazing is that the most important thing that you see is people at war. As you watch it, you have to try not to view this from the lens of an educated person who obviously knows what happened during WWII. You must try to behave as ignorantly as the characters are to have an ability to appreciate their choices and empathize with them. Some people you don’t empathize with such as the character Heinrich Müller, who enjoys putting cigarettes out on people. Including the one he loved.

Heinrich and Hortense

Today, I watched the first episode of the third season and was struck by the fact that I felt as I did when I worked in the county government for eight years. In this episode the head of the local government, the prefect (I believe he is called or deputy prefect) is handed a list of Jewish names to round up in the neighborhood. Up until this time, the city of Villenueve was protected and the Jewish people could more or less feel their lives were somewhat safe, although they were unable to run their businesses. In this tiny town, they assumed that the Prime Minister Phillipe Pétain, had the power to protect French Jews from being deported. In this episode we learn that this has now changed. When I worked for the county government our mindset was “What was in the best interests of the children,” until the recession hit. Then it was all about saving money and putting them in the cheapest places. I fought this and all the other changes that were going on until I was put on Administrative Leave for a year and then I finally quit. I quit because their evidence was lies or fabricated stories and I knew I would be fired if I stuck around.  I couldn’t believe that a huge agency like that would be so concerned about me (there were lots of people involved). So while, my personal situation with the government is a far cry from making decisions during World War II, I like putting things into perspective with the here and now.

Marcel Larcher, a communist

When you think of a soldier at war, doing what he or she is told to do, they really don’t have any choices of whether or not they like it. When the “team” loses, suddenly we turn on them, and everyone is punished; whether they really had a choice or not. This is something I keep thinking about as I watch this show. While the character may seem bad, you can recognize a corporate boss; eager to get a promotion. You can see a “company man” who does what he is told. When you are working for corporate America or government, this is how most people behave. Most employees don’t sit down and weigh the consequences of what their boss tells them or how it is going to affect people, business, employees, or the community at large. You just do it because that is what you are told. At the end of the day, you go home to your families and try to forget about what you heard.  I didn’t have a family to go home to, so I went home and thought about my day a little more. That was my problem, I thought too much!

As I have seen a trailer for the seventh and last season, I am aware of the fact that many of these people will be blamed for the choices that they made. Every episode has been and is going to be sad and tragic but that one will be the hardest to endure. The reason is that these characters who have lasted till the seventh season, their lives will have been disrupted to the point of forgetting who they are. Already we are seeing choices that are being made to help a Jewish maid, or a lover, or a business associate who is collaborating to stay alive. They aren’t trying to help a vast number of people though at times they try to get the list, for example, from 20 down to 10.

Daniel Larcher, The Mayor

It is really too bad that most Americans, especially liberals won’t see this TV show. As far as I am aware, the only way you can see it now is if you have MHz Choice which is an international channel you have to pay for and have to know it even exists. I was aware of MHz from PBS when they pretended to collect International Mysteries from around the world. After doing some digging I realized the guy on PBS was lying; all they did was purchase a channel. They had me going though for a while there. American liberals love to blame people and do it so loud that you feel nauseous having to listen to it day after day after day. I feel that most of the time it is very hypocritical and seems to lack in values. I am on the border of the left and right and can never seem to sit on one side.

Jeannine Schwartz

We are in an era now where people are being blamed who had ancestors in the Civil War. They want to take down a statue of a soldier in the South, General Robert E. Lee. He was a man who did his job and because he came from the south, chose this side so he wouldn’t be killing his own family. He was a soldier being asked to lead a team, a side of government. If the south had won, we would want to tear down a statue of General Ulysses S. Grant. I don’t see a need to tear down any statue because I am fond of history. General Lee wasn’t responsible for slavery as Adolph Hitler was responsible for the holocaust. It is apples and oranges; but here in America we are not reasonable people. We allow ignorance to prevail because we feel sorry for them (those in this mindset).

A French Village could teach Americans quite a great deal about having to make choices in a time of war.

Raymond Schwartz

Whether or not they would be able to focus on such a great historical show without finding it racist, I could not say.  The show even shows a shady Jewish character, could Americans handle this? This seems to be the new wave of lying to our children. We educate them with period pieces that have politically correct storylines rather than literal or factual storylines. If North and South, probably one of the last great American TV historical fictions made, were filmed today; it would be such a joke. No doubt they would not be able to create an honest re-make. The actors would complain that they could not do the show because they could not speak the historically accurate lines (which would mean they are terrible actors).

I cannot imagine how tense it must have been to be on the set of A French Village. These actors do not ever come out of character, so that we are able to feel as if we are there; with them. I feel transported into another time and place. I feel tense every moment, wondering what will happen to this person or that. So tense that I had to look it all up online to see who will live and who will die. I just couldn’t keep watching without this sense of relief because it is traumatizing to watch this TV show. I do know what happened and while I try to think like the character, I am not perfect. When you feel like these characters are real people and they actually existed, you know you are hooked and drawn in.

If you have read “The Nightingale,” by Kristin Hannah, published in 2015, you will no doubt appreciate A French Village. I had read it last summer and so it was fresh in my mind. Two completely different stories as Ms. Hannah’s book was a little more biased. I feel it is important that A French Village created a lack of bias so that you can wonder. So that you could have a discussion after watching the show and think a little more deeply about those times.

I grew up with a step-father who took political asylum in the United States in 1956. When I wrote a historical fiction about that time period, it was while I was on leave from the government. It was actually perfect timing to have a sense of communist Hungary. I remember a family member telling me that I was actually on house arrest from my job. At the time, I had no idea why I was being paid to stay at home and do nothing. My father raised me to fear Russians and communists. He told us all kinds of horrible stories. I tried not to be completely biased while writing because I knew some of that was his hatred of people who ruined his life and his family’s lives. As I did research, as most historians due, you read the facts and put together your own interpretation of what you see. This is blended together with the biased interpretations of the people who witnessed. I don’t say biased in a bad way either. No one can ever really know the whole story. A French Village seems to be saying this. They are showing you a broader perspective, 75 years later.

Maria Callas

My first time to hear the name Maria Callas was in a movie about her life. This was called “Callas Forever,” (2002) starring Fanny Ardant and Jeremy Irons. I was intrigued with the personality and captivated by her voice (which was dubbed in). At this point she was long passed (1977 in Paris, France) and there was no chance of seeing her in concert. I began to immerse myself in everything I could find about her. Documentary, video clips of her singing, and I read Arianna Huffington’s book “Maria Callas: The Woman Behind the Legend,” which also came out in 2002. The funny thing is; I don’t really like opera. When I was reading Ms. Huffington’s book, I kept wondering what an aria was. Somehow I missed the part where she had explained that this is what you call an operatic solo.

I have since attended a couple of operas and I have tried listening to other sopranos but I just don’t get the same feelings as I do when I listen to Ms. Callas. It is hard to explain. It seems to be that I am in love with the person, not the genre and the passionate way she projects herself. I get the same feelings when I listen to a gypsy violin, especially when it is played to sound like a bird singing. This is when the violin is transformed to become another entity as if it is shapeshifting. I like other instruments (except the flute) and I appreciate other violinists but not quite as much as a gypsy violin player.

Her story is rather romantic. Father leaves, mother pushing her daughter to sing from the age of three, her great love marries Jacqueline Kennedy. What is also sad is the bracelet that Aristotle Onassis gave to I believe four women, including Ms. Callas and Kennedy, which all said the same thing and looked the same as well. This did not make me think too highly of him as a partner. At the end of Ms. Callas’s life, she died alone. Perhaps her life could become an opera on its own. 

My favorite fairy tale moment (though it is said to be true), in Ms. Huffington’s book was a time when Ms. Callas had been practicing on the terrace of her mother’s home. Suddenly a man’s voice could be heard, with an equally gifted sound, singing from behind a hedge or was it a tree in the distance. Evidently she never did meet this person but the singing took place a few times and with a particular song which I do not recall.

When I was a young girl, my best friend used to play classical music records at the highest volume so that they could permeate our environment and I was forced to immerse myself in a genre that, at that time, I did not appreciate. Most kids our age were doing this with head banging music, which neither of us liked. Now, I find myself doing this with Ms. Callas’s music. If it is not loud one cannot hear it upstairs while on the computer.

One documentary that I saw, Maria Callas: The Callas Conversations, had interviews with various journalists. In order to sing opera, one has to become something of a linguist and she spoke quite a few languages besides her native Greek dialect. One can learn so much about the art of speaking a language by watching Ms. Callas talk. When she was speaking to a British journalist in English, she was in a very conservative room and she was more subdued or composed in her body language. A lot like my grandma used to say “Sit up straight, legs crossed, hands folded in the lap like a lady.” She even spoke with a British accent (and an American one with another interview on YouTube here in the US). When she was speaking to an French journalist, the room had a more dramatic look to it and suddenly her command of this language was accentuated with hand gestures and a stronger voice. This is quite a talent to envy. 

From what I understand, she was a difficult woman to deal with. At the same time, one can imagine that because her life was a never ending drama, it must have been hard to leave the stage. Today, we talk about famous women being divas. All the same, when I hear this, I wonder how appropriate it is for the person, or shall I say are they just doing it on purpose. There are also famous women who aren’t divas, including great singers. When we make a word out to be a given, it loses its luster. It is taken advantage of.

If you haven’t had a chance to immerse yourself in the aria’s of Ms. Callas, make it a point to do so. She had a lot of critics, just as most famous people do and so it might not be to your liking. If you are not a fan of opera, you might find yourself opening up to a new sound in your home.

Women of Exceptional Taste

Women of exceptional taste in todays society are multi-faceted. They are sophisticated, successful in a career, have good taste in clothing, don’t use plastic surgery (if over 40), are involved in various philanthropic efforts and are admired by women around the world. Some of these women speak more than one language a commendable trait.  Many of them have children or grandchildren as well and this is an aside. What is remarkable about our generation is that these type of women can now choose not to have children or wait until they are ready to have children.

Continue reading