Imre Kertesz

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The native form of this personal name is Kertész Imre. This article uses the Western name order.
Imre Kertész
Kertész Imre cropped.jpg
Imre Kertész in Mandalay (2007)
Born November 9 1929(1929-11-09)
Budapest, Hungary
Died March 31 2016 (aged 86)
Budapest, Hungary
Occupation Novelist
Notable award(s) Nobel Prize in Literature

Imre Kertész (IPA: [imrɛ ˈkɛrteːs]) (November 9, 1929 - March 31, 2016), was a Hungarian Jewish author, Holocaust concentration camp survivor, and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2002 "for writing that upholds the fragile experience of the individual against the barbaric arbitrariness of history."

The Holocaust was a defining moment not only for Jewish people but for Western civilization in general. The history of Jews in Europe was problematic, from the Spanish Inquisition to the Russian pogroms, creating conflict within the Jewish community over remaining separate or assimilating as a strategy to deal with anti-semitic hostilities. However, the incomprehensibility over the horrific nature of the Holocaust both shook the faith of many, while also giving impetus to the creation of the state of Israel.


Imre Kertesz was born on November 9, 1929 in Budapest, Hungary. At age 14 he was deported with other Hungarian Jews during World War II to the Auschwitz concentration camp.

In his youth Kertész experienced the horrors of the Nazi system. Germans occupied Hungary in 1944 and began exterminating Jews and Gypsies. Kertész was deported together with 7,000 Hungarian Jews from Budapest to Auschwitz and from there to Buchenwald. "I am a nonbelieving Jew," Kertész has said in an interview, "Yet as a Jew I was taken to Auschwitz. I belong to those Jews whom Auschwitz turned into Jews."[1]

In the factory of death Kertész suddenly realized that he could be killed anywhere at any time. This existentialist moment became crucial for him as a writer.

Did you know?
Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2002, Imre Kertesz, was a Holocaust concentration camp survivor

In 1945, Kertész was liberated by the Allied forces. After returning to Hungary, he worked as a journalist for Világosság, a Budapest newspaper. When the newspaper adopted orthodox Communist ideology, Kertész was dismissed. Between 1951 and 1953 Kertész served in the army, and then devoted himself entirely to writing.

Kertész' best-known work, Fatelessness (Sorstalanság), describes the experience of 15-year-old György (George) Köves in the concentration camps of Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Zeitz. Some have interpreted the book as quasi-autobiographical, but the author disavows a strong biographical connection. His writings translated into English include Kaddish for a Child Not Born (Kaddis a meg nem született gyermekért) and Liquidation (Felszámolás).

A film based on his novel Fatelessness was made in Hungary in 2005 for which he wrote the script.[2] Although sharing the same title, the movie is more autobiographical than the book. The film was released at various dates throughout the world in 2005 and 2006.

From the beginning, Kertész found little appreciation for his writing in Hungary, and he moved to Germany where he received more active support from publishers and reviewers, along with more appreciative readers. After his move, he continued translating German works into Hungarian, notably The Birth of Tragedy, the plays of Dürrenmatt, Schnitzler, and Tankred Dorst, and various thoughts and aphorisms of Wittgenstein. Kertész also continued working at his craft, writing his fiction in Hungarian, but did not publish another novel until the late 1980s. But from that point on, he submitted his work to publishers in Hungary until his death in March 2016. Grateful that he had found his most significant success as a writer and artist in Germany, Kertész left his abatement to the Academy of Arts in Berlin.

In November 2013, Kertész underwent successful surgery on his right hip after falling down in his home. However, he continued to deal with various health concerns during the last few years of his life. He was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, and was again suffering from depression, reported to have been a recurring battle in his own life. In fact, Kertész had struggled with this same issue through his art, as the main character of his 2003 book Felszámolás (Liquidation) commits suicide after struggling with depression.

Kertész died on March 31, 2016, aged 86, at his home in Budapest.


Fateless or Fatelessness (Hungarian: Sorstalanság, lit. "Fatelessness") is a novel by Kertész written between 1960 and 1973 and first published in 1975.

The novel is a semi-autobiographical story about a 15-year-old Hungarian Jew's experiences in the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps. The book is the first part of a trilogy, which continues in A kudarc ("Fiasco" ISBN 0810111616) and Kaddis a meg nem született gyermekért ("Kaddish for an Unborn Child" ISBN 1400078628).

The book was first published in English in 1992 as Fateless, while in 2004 a second translation appeared under the title Fatelessness.

Plot summary

The novel is about a young Hungarian boy, György "Gyuri" Köves, living in Budapest. The book opens as Georg's father is being sent to a labor camp. Soon afterwards, Georg receives working papers and travels to work outside of the Jewish quarter. One day all of the Jews are pulled off of the buses leaving the Jewish quarter, and are sent to Auschwitz on a train without water. Arriving there, Georg lies about his age, unknowingly saving his own life, and tells us of camp life and the conditions he faces. Eventually he is sent to Buchenwald, and continues on describing his life in a concentration camp, before being finally sent to another camp in Zeitz. Georg falls ill and nears death, however, he remains alive and is eventually sent to a hospital facility in a concentration camp until the war ends. Returning to Budapest, he is confronted with those who were not sent to camps and had just recently began to hear of the terrible injustices and suffering.


Strong lines can also be drawn to Franz Kafka's writings, especially his famous novel, The Trial. Georg's justifications of all that is happening around him bears a striking resemblance of Josef K.'s eventual acceptance of his own fate. They both document the fragile life of an individual caught up in a system that is beyond their control, a system which is irrational and inhospitable to the human spirit, but which requires the individual to try to make some sense of in order to avoiding descending into total madness.


Kertész was a controversial figure within Hungary, especially since being Hungary's first and only Nobel Laureate in Literature, he still lived in Germany. This tension was exacerbated by a 2009 interview with Die Welt, in which Kertész vowed himself a "Berliner" and called Budapest "completely balkanized."[3] Many Hungarian newspapers reacted negatively to this statement, claiming it to be hypocritical. Other critics viewed the Budapest comment ironically, saying it represented "a grudge policy that is painfully and unmistakably, characteristically Hungarian."[4] Kertész later clarified in a Duna TV interview that he had intended his comment to be "constructive" and called Hungary "his homeland".[4]

Also controversial was Kertész's criticism of Steven Spielberg's depiction of the Holocaust in the 1993 film Schindler's List as kitsch, saying: "I regard as kitsch any representation of the Holocaust that is incapable of understanding or unwilling to understand the organic connection between our own deformed mode of life and the very possibility of the Holocaust."[5]


Imre Kertész was awarded the Brandenburger Literaturpreis in 1995, the Leipziger Buchpreis zur Europäischen Verständigung in 1997, the Herder-Preis and the WELT-Literaturpreis in 2000, the Ehrenpreis der Robert-Bosch-Stiftung in 2001, and the Hans Sahl-Preis in 2002.

Kertész won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2002, "for writing that upholds the fragile experience of the individual against the barbaric arbitrariness of history." [6]

His works have been translated into numerous languages, including German, Spanish, French, English, Czech, Russian, Swedish, and Hebrew.


  • Fateless (Sorstalanság) 1975. English Translations:
  • A nyomkereső 1977.
  • Detektívtörténet 1977.
  • A kudarc (1988)
  • Kaddis a meg nem született gyermekért 1990. English Translations:
  • Kaddish for an Unborn Child, tr. Tim Wilkinson, 2004, ISBN 1400078628
  • Kaddish for a Child Not Born, tr. Christopher C. Wilson and Katharina M. Wilson, 1999. ISBN 0810111616
  • Az angol lobogó 1991.
  • Gályanapló (1992.
  • A holocaust mint kultúra : három előadás 1993.
  • Jegyzőkönyv / Imre Kertész ; Élet és Irodalom / Esterházy Péter 1993.
  • Valaki más: a változás krónikája 1997.
  • A gondolatnyi csend, amíg a kivégzőosztag újratölt 1998.
  • A száműzött nyelv 2001.
  • Felszámolás {Liquidation) 2003.
  • K. dosszié (2006)
  • Európa nyomasztó öröksége (2008)
  • Mentés másként (2011)
  • A végső kocsma (2014)
in English
  • Fatelessness. translated by Tim Wilkinson. New York: Knopf, 2004.
  • Fateless. translated by Christopher C. Wilson and Katharina M. Wilson: Northwestern University Press, 1992. ISBN 0810110490
  • Kaddish for an Unborn Child. translated by Tim Wilkinson: Vintage, 2004. ISBN 1400078628
  • Kaddish for a child not born. translated by Christopher C. Wilson and Katharina M. Wilson. Evanston, IL: Hydra Books, 1997. ISBN 0810111616
  • Liquidation. translated by Tim Wilkinson: Knopf, 2004. ISBN 1400041538
  • Detective Story. translated by Tim Wilkinson: Harvill Secker, 2008. ISBN 1846551838
  • The Pathseeker. translated by Tim Wilkinson: Melville House, 2008. ISBN 9781933633534
  • Dossier K. translated by Tim Wilkinson: Melville House, 2013. ISBN 978-1612192024


  1. Pablo Gorondi, Imre Kertesz, Hungarian author who won Nobel Prize, dies at 86 The Washington Post, March 31, 2016. Retrieved January 16, 2020.
  2. Alan Riding, The Holocaust, From a Teenage View The New York Times, January 3, 2006. Retrieved January 16, 2020.
  3. Tilman Krause, Ich schreibe keine Holocaust-Literatur, ich schreibe Romane Die Welt, November 7, 2009. Retrieved January 16, 2020.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Kertész birthday interview causes controversy Hungarian Literature Online November 13, 2009. Retrieved January 16, 2020
  5. James McAuley, Imre Kertész, Nobel-winning novelist and Holocaust survivor, dies at 86 The Washington Post, March 31, 2016. Retrieved January 16, 2020.
  6. The Nobel Prize in Literature 2002 The Nobel Prize. Retrieved January 16, 2020.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Molnár, Sára. "Nobel in Literature 2002 Imre Kertész's Aesthetics of the Holocaust." CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture 5.1 (2003) ISSN 1481-4374
  • Tötösy de Zepetnek, Steven. "And the 2002 Nobel Prize for Literature Goes to Imre Kertész, Jew and Hungarian." CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture 5.1 (2003) ISSN 1481-4374
  • Tötösy de Zepetnek, Steven. "Imre Kertész's Nobel Prize, Public Discourse, and the Media." CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture 7.4 (2005) ISSN 1481-4374
  • Vasvári, Louise O., and Steven Tötösy de Zepetnek (eds.). Imre Kertész and Holocaust Literature. West Lafayette: Purdue University Press, 2005. ISBN 9781557533968

External links

All links retrieved January 16, 2020.


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