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The Great Escape: Nine Jews Who Fled Hitler and Changed the Worldby Kati Marton
Synopses & Reviews
In this ground-breaking book, acclaimed author Kati Marton brings to life an unknown chapter of World War II: the tale of nine men who grew up in Budapest's brief Golden Age, then, driven from Hungary by anti-Semitism, fled to the West, especially to the United States, and changed the world. These nine men, each celebrated for individual achievements, were actually part of a unique group who grew up in a time and place that will never come again. It is Marton's extraordinary achievement to trace what for a few dazzling years was common to all of them — the magic air of Budapest — and show how their separate lives and careers were, in fact, all shaped by Budapest's lively cafe life before the darkness closed in.
Marton follows the astonishing lives of four history-changing scientists, all just one step ahead of Hitler's terror state, who helped usher in the nuclear age and the computer (Edward Teller, John von Neumann, Leo Szilard, and Eugene Wigner); two major movie myth-makers (Michael Curtiz, who directed Casablanca, and Alexander Korda, who produced The Third Man); two immortal photographers (Robert Capa and Andre Kertesz); and one seminal writer (Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon).
Marton follows these brilliant products of Budapest's Golden Age as they flee fascism in the 1920s and 1930s en route to sanctuary — and immortality. As the scientists labor in the secret city of Los Alamos in the race to build the atom bomb, Koestler, once a communist agent imprisoned by Franco, writes the most important anticommunist novel of the century. Capa, the first photographer to go ashore on D-Day, later romances Ingrid Bergman and is acknowledged as the world's greatestwar photographer before his tragic death in Vietnam. Curtiz not only gives us Casablanca, consistently voted the greatest romantic movie ever made, but also discovers Doris Day and directs James Cagney in the quintessential patriotic film, Yankee Doodle Dandy.
Ultimately, The Great Escape is an American story and an important, previously untold chapter of the tumultuous last century. Yet it is also a poignant story — in the words of the great historian Fritz Stern, an evocation of genius in exile...an instructive, moving delight. An epilogue relates the journey into exile of three members of the next generation of Budapest exiles: financier-philanthropist George Soros, Intel founder Andy Grove, and 2002 Nobel laureate in literature Imre Kertesz.
"Noted journalist and bestselling author Marton (Hidden Power) offers a haunting tale of the wartime Hungarian diaspora. The nine illustrious Hungarians she profiles were all 'double outsiders,' for, as well as being natives of a 'small, linguistically impenetrable, landlocked country,' they were all Jews. Fleeing fascism and anti-Semitism for the New World, each experienced insecurity, isolation and a sense of perpetual exile. Yet all achieved world fame. The scientists Leo Szilard, Edward Teller and Eugene Wigner, along with game theorist and computer pioneer, John von Neuman, spurred Albert Einstein to persuade Franklin Roosevelt to develop the atomic bomb. Robert Capa and Andre Kertesz became legendary photojournalists. Alexander Korda was the savior of the British film industry, and Michael Curtiz directed Casablanca. Arthur Koestler penned the monumental anti-Communist novel Darkness at Noon. Marton intricately charts each man's career in the context of WWII and Cold War history. Herself Hungarian-born, the daughter of journalists who escaped Soviet-occupied Hungary in 1957, Marton captures her fellow Hungarians' nostalgia for prewar Budapest, evoking its flamboyant cafes, its trams, boulevards and cosmopolitan Jewish community. Marton writes beautifully, balancing sharply defined character studies of each man with insights into their shared cultural traits and uprootedness. 16 pages of photos, map. (Nov.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright © Reed Business Information)
"Noted journalist and bestselling author Marton (Hidden Power) offers a haunting tale of the wartime Hungarian diaspora. The nine illustrious Hungarians she profiles were all 'double outsiders,' for, as well as being natives of a 'small, linguistically impenetrable, landlocked country,' they were all Jews. Fleeing fascism and anti-Semitism for the New World, each experienced insecurity, isolation and a sense of perpetual exile. Yet all achieved world fame. The scientists Leo Szilard, Edward Teller and Eugene Wigner, along with game theorist and computer pioneer, John von Neuman, spurred Albert Einstein to persuade Franklin Roosevelt to develop the atomic bomb. Robert Capa and Andre Kertesz became legendary photojournalists. Alexander Korda was the savior of the British film industry, and Michael Curtiz directed Casablanca. Arthur Koestler penned the monumental anti-Communist novel Darkness at Noon. Marton intricately charts each man's career in the context of WWII and Cold War history. Herself Hungarian-born, the daughter of journalists who escaped Soviet-occupied Hungary in 1957, Marton captures her fellow Hungarians' nostalgia for prewar Budapest, evoking its flamboyant cafes, its trams, boulevards and cosmopolitan Jewish community. Marton writes beautifully, balancing sharply defined character studies of each man with insights into their shared cultural traits and uprootedness. 16 pages of photos, map." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"In his wonderful book 'Danube,' a discursive, literary and historical journey downstream, the Italian writer Claudio Magris rightly called Budapest the most beautiful city on the whole river. Its story has also been fascinating and deeply troubled: While fin de siecle Vienna has become something of a standby for cultural commentators, Budapest had just as vivid a tale to tell. And, in either... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) case, it is largely a Jewish tale. A hundred years ago, both cities had Jewish populations of around 200,000, a tenth of Vienna's total but a fifth of Budapest's. In her very readable new book, Kati Marton tells the story of nine Hungarian Jews who left the country between the world wars and prospered. Whether four physicists, two moviemakers, two photographers and a writer have much in common apart from their origins and their brilliance may not really matter. No exaggeration at all is needed to stress the importance of these individuals, who really did 'change the world,' as the book's subtitle has it. The two filmmakers were Alexander Korda and Michael Curtiz. Characteristically, they lived in many countries, spoke many languages and usually had more than one name: Korda was born Sandor Kellner and died Sir Alexander. Having cut their teeth in the infant Budapest film business, they crossed Europe and the Atlantic; they made many movies between them, two unforgettable. 'The Third Man,' which Korda produced, is an exercise in Mitteleuropean nostalgia, and it's not far-fetched to think that Rick's in 'Casablanca,' which Curtiz directed, pays homage to his beloved New York Cafe in Budapest, which he remembered until the end of his life. The photographers were Andre Kertesz and Robert Capa. The exquisite landscape photographs for which Kertesz is remembered contrast with Capa's still more famous war photography. Marton didn't quite convince me that Capa's 'Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death' (1936) was genuine rather than posed, but there was nothing inauthentic about his amazing photographs of American GIs landing on Omaha Beach. Capa was ashore with the first wave of GIs on D-Day. He later achieved another, more melancholy distinction — as the first American journalist killed in Vietnam, in 1954, when it was still a French war. What linked the physicists Edward Teller, Leo Szilard, Eugene Wigner and John von Neumann was the creation of the atomic bomb. No false melodrama is needed for Marton to make this an intensely gripping story, from the early misgivings of Szilard and Wigner about what monster they might be unleashing to the electrifying moment in the spring of 1954 when Teller publicly denounced J. Robert Oppenheimer as a security risk. This led to what Teller called his final exile; he was ostracized by many colleagues and mocked on film as 'Dr. Strangelove.' But the father of the H-bomb had his revenge when he was honored by President Ronald Reagan and outlived all his contemporaries, surviving into his 90s and into the 21st century. Even by Central European standards, Arthur Koestler was strikingly capricious in his affections, by which I don't mean his amorous life (although the number of women who shared his bed must have made him a candidate for the Guinness World Records) so much as his political affiliations. Between the wars, some European Jews were attracted by a rightist brand of Zionism led by Vladimir Jabotinsky and some by communism, but Koestler was perhaps unique in passing from one to the other almost without blinking. His experience with both movements — and, more generally, an implausibly dramatic life story that no screenwriter would dare invent, from indoctrination as a Comintern agent to narrowly avoiding execution during the Spanish Civil War — gave him the materials for two deathless political novels. They were 'Thieves in the Night' (about Zionism) and his 1941 masterpiece, 'Darkness at Noon' (about communism). Marton spent her own earliest years in communist Hungary before escaping with her parents soon after the anti-Soviet uprising of 1956, and she describes Koestler's immortal political novel about the Moscow show trials with controlled but strong emotion. Her technique here is episodic — almost cinematic, jumping from one character at one moment to another at another. It is unusual to complain that any book is too short — most books nowadays are the opposite — but sometimes the jump-cuts can be a little confusing. And her broader history is not faultless. It's misleading, for instance, to call Adm. Nicholas Horthy, the dictator of interwar Hungary, a fascist. He was an authoritarian and a reactionary, but Hungary was the only country in Central Europe to preserve something like a rule of law in those years; Hungary witnessed a rising tide of anti-Semitism, but it stopped short of violence. Horthy promised to protect the Hungarian Jews and did so until the hideous summer of 1944, when Adolf Eichmann arrived to complete the Third Reich's task. Nevertheless, for a European, this story — with its reminder of horrors still within living memory — is painful as well as absorbing to read. These nine extraordinary men were part of a huge self-inflicted wound by Europe; your gain, but our loss. Geoffrey Wheatcroft is a British journalist whose books include 'The Controversy of Zion,' 'The Strange Death of Tory England' and 'Yo, Blair!,' to be published in February." Reviewed by Geoffrey Wheatcroft, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Kati Marton's wonderful book celebrates what is glorious and eternal in the human condition." Elie Wiesel, Nobel Laureate and Professor of Humanities, Boston University
"Just when you thought you'd heard all the stories about World War II, along comes The Great Escape, a great read and a long overdue account of the remarkable lives of a small band of greatly gifted Hungarians who made profoundly important contributions to the American effort. Kati Marton tells this astonishing story with grace and passion, a sharp eye for the telling detail and the broad sweep of history." Tom Brokaw, author of The Greatest Generation
"Kati Marton captures beautifully the genius and flair, as well as the insecurity and essential loneliness, of nine brilliant Jewish refugees from Hungary. Not only is this great biography, it gives a touching insight into human nature and the wellsprings of creative ambition." Walter Isaacson, author of Benjamin Franklin
"Hungarians, those men from Mars, escaped west in the years before World War II and gave us great scientists, filmmakers, photographers, and engineers. Kati Marton's lively, engaging group portrait recovers for us the lives and work of the extraordinary men who invented Hollywood and the atomic bomb." Richard Rhodes, author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb
"In this insightful, moving, and deftly researched book, Kati Marton writes about nine Hungarians whose experiences are a prism through which we can see the quest and ultimate triumph of humanity seeking the right to dream and the freedom to create." Vartan Gregorian, President, Carnegie Corporation of New York
"Marton, who fled Hungary as a child in 1957, illuminates Budapest's vertiginous Golden Age and the darkness that followed (a darkness that some of her subjects, notably Arthur Koestler, never shook)." The New Yorker
"...Marton...offers a competently written treatise that is light on theory but long on description......More a nicely assembled collection of anecdotes than a sustained narrative." Kirkus Reviews
From the author of Hidden Power comes the story of the breathtaking journey of nine extraordinary men from Budapest to the New World, what they experienced along their dangerous route, and how they changed America and the world.
About the Author
Kati Marton, an award-winning former NPR and ABC News correspondent, is the author of Hidden Power: Presidential Marriages That Shaped Our History, a New York Times bestseller, as well as Wallenberg, The Polk Conspiracy, A Death in Jerusalem, and a novel, An American Woman. Mother of a son and a daughter, she lives in New York with her husband, Richard Holbrooke.
Table of Contents
INTRODUCTION * MAGIC IN THEIR POCKETS
PART ONE * PLENTY
PART TWO * HARVEST AT TWILIGHT
PART THREE * DARKNESS
PART FOUR * FALSE DAWN
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