Monday, November 1, 2010
In My Brother’s Image: Twin Brothers separated by Faith after the Holocaust by Eugene L. Pogany, 2000
Eugene Pogany (born in 1951) has a fascinating family story to tell and this memoir reads like a novel. After World War I in Hungary Pogany’s Jewish paternal grandparents both converted to Catholicism and their children, identical twin boys and their younger sister, were raised as practicing Catholics. Their father, Bela, had converted to make it easier to get a civil service position, but the church became the focus of their mother Gabriella’s life. One twin, Gyorgy, grew up and became a priest; the other, Miklos, married a distant cousin who identified as a Jew. Miklos is the father of the author.
Pogany sets up this story in great detail to prepare the reader for what happened next: when World War II broke out the priest managed to get to Italy where he was protected by the church. Miklos, the author’s father, was originally forced to work in a labor detail made up of converts but was eventually transported to Bergen-Belsen where his wife was also a prisoner. The twins’ father, Bela, died before the war. Their mother, Gabriella was gassed at Auschwitz. Several witnesses said she was transported to Auschwitz clutching her crucifix.
The author’s parents miraculously survived the camp and eventually they moved to New Jersey in the 1950’s as did Gyorgy where he became a parish priest. By then the author’s father had reclaimed his Jewish religion, and the rest of the memoir deals with the tense relationship between the two adult brothers because of their opposing views on religion and their different experiences during the war. Neither understood the other. Miklos was bitter because he felt Gyorgy had been sheltered from the war in convenient ignorance of what was happening to the Jews and there was minimal outcry from the Church. At the same time Gyorgy could not get past the fact that his twin’s soul was in jeopardy because he no longer believed in Jesus as his savior.
The author, a practicing psychotherapist, makes insightful observations about the uneasy relationship between his father and his uncle. Their relationship fascinated him. He was especially troubled by what they did not talk about, the sorrow and tension that mysteriously hung in the air. This ties in to a discussion of aspects of his relationship with his father. Like the children of many Holocaust survivors, Pogany grew up in a house with many silences; he knew that certain subjects – like what happened to his grandmother - were off-limits.
Pogany concludes by delving into the subject of grief. He travels to Hungary first with his family and then just with his father, locating the site of his father’s grief in Svarzas, the small town where his father had last lived with his parents before the war.
Earlier in the story, to bring the characters to life, Pogany re-creates conversations and imagined motivations between ancestors he had never met (his grandparents, for example) that often seem self-consciously novelistic. He explains his motivation in his introduction, stating that though he was obviously not privy to the private moments of their lives, he felt comfortable re-creating them since he knew that the circumstances surrounding these conversations and private musings were not fiction. However, in these last chapters when Pogany becomes a character in the story, when, as an adult, he tries to get to know both his uncle and his father, the language flows, the emotions and conversations ring true.
Pogany has woven a lot of the history of the Jewish population in Hungary leading up to and during World War II seamlessly into his memoir as well as research on the role of the Catholic Church during World War II. He includes explanatory notes for each chapter and also includes photos.
To read an interesting article about Raoul Wallenberg and his mission to save Jews in Budapest click here.
Regina Pogany – Bela’s mother
Bela Pogany (former Popper); married Gabriella Groszman; had grandfather named Adolph
Gyorgy (Gyuri, George) Pogany – son of Bela and Gabriella; twin of Miklos
Miklos Pogany–son of Bela and Gabriella; twin Gyorgy; marries cousin Margit, daughter of Elizabeth
Peter Pogany - son of Bela and Gabriella
Eugene Pogany – son of Bela and Gabriella; married Judy; author
Ben and Elias Pogany - sons of Eugene and Judy
Klari (Ellen) Pogany-daughter of Bela and Gabriella; married Max
Laura Pogany –daughter of Regina; married to Karoly (Karl) Schneider
Louie Pogany - son of Regina
Koroli (Karcsi , Eddie) Pogany – son of Regina
Bertha – Regina’s sister; married to Henrik
Elizabeth (Elza) – daughter of Bertha and Henrik; married to Laszlo (Lester) Deutsch
Margit (Muci)- daughter of Elizabeth and Laszlo; marries cousin Miklos Pogany
Rosi- daughter of Bertha and Henrik
Josi – son of Bertha and Henrik; married to Mariska
Laszlo (Laci) and Kroly (Kari) – sons of Josi and Mariska
Charles – son of Bertha and Henrik; married Helen
Gyorgy Szanto – cousin of Miklos Pogany
Sigmund Popper – uncle from Vienna
Sigmund Berenyi - uncle
Robert Buday - relative
Morris Groszman – married to Rosa (his second wife); Gabriella’s step-mother
David Deutsch – grandfather of Margit
Laszlo – his son; husband of Elizabeth
Alexander – his son; married to Munci
Arpad – his son
Galgocz, Slovakian region of Austro- Hungarian Empire
Bor, Czech Republic
Theresienstadt, Czech Republic
East Orange, New Jersey
Newark, New Jersey
Irvington, New Jersey