Book Reviews

Anima Rerum - A Dolgok Lelke
Eva Fahidi

Review - Peter Guti

Anima Rerum – A Dolgok Lelke is a new book, by author Eva Fahidi, published a little over a year ago in Hungary.

In 2005, on the 60th anniversary of the Holocaust in Hungary, hundreds of books, memoirs, diaries, novels, novellas and papers were published. All of them verify, document, confirm and attest to the largest mass murder in Hungarian history. They also make us keenly and painfully aware that Hungarian society at large has not yet come to terms with this enormous national tragedy. The publications caused no societal reverberations either – it seems they were intended only for narrow family circles- even though most of the writings are serious, thought provoking and immensely timely. I include among these Eva Fahidi’s profound work of her recollections.

“The Twenty Third Hour” – Who else Remembers?” The first few pages introduce the reader to Auschwitz-Birkenau with many of its unsentimentally described, sordid details – a glimpse of life in hell.

While Eva Fahidi experienced Auschwitz-Birkenau with all its trials and tribulations and survived it – still - this is not an “Auschwitz-booK”.  Rather, it is personal, family, Debrecen, human and Hungarian history. The Nazis caused it to be also a Jewish story.

“While I am not religious, I am a self-respecting, very-much-aware Jew. With an Auschwitz-Birkenau experience – what else could I be?” declares Eva Fahidi. 
Perhaps, after Auschwitz every decent person ought feel a bit Jewish.

Eva’s childhood and adolescence were fabulous years. She attended the legendary Svetits high school in Debrecen, where the academic and cultural standard was higher than in many university faculties today, not to mention the institute’s humanitarian outlook and attitude.

From Fahidi’s book we will learn, with delightfully elaborate descriptions, how in their hamlet in the countryside the gomolya cheese was made; the workings of the telephone; coping with a typical laundry-wash-day; the preparation of the many and varied foods and dishes; the slaughter of a pig; the gleaming items in the china cabinet; the variety of oil lamps; other fascinating aspects of life in the Hungarian countryside and the prevailing fashion of the era. 

“I never saw my mother without a corset – she was wearing one of her favourite corsets as she was herded towards the gas chamber in Birkenau.”

Eva’s meticulously researched and amply illustrated, with precious photographs and documents, the life of her very large extended family who had roots even in territories, called today Slovakia. “For us, the peace treaty of Trianon after the end of WWI, was a personal and family tragedy. 
The newly created borders tore apart our family members, both on my mother and father’s side. We had endless discussions and complaints about the disgraceful fact of needing passport if we wanted to visit relatives by crossing borders that were non-existent only yesterday but here they are today. For us, it was the same Hungary – on both sides of the border.” The family members’ wartime correspondence indicates this and the unending worry about each other’s well being.

A few years ago, the President of the World Association of Hungarians had the temerity to state that: “Trianon for the Hungarians is the same as the Holocaust for he Jews.” It is simply amazing how much rubbish, absurdity, lies, and profound anti-Hungarian sentiments are rolled into these few words. This is a civil war declaration.  For the sake of our children it needs to be mentioned repeatedly the role of the Hungarian gendarmes being the chief instruments in herding the Jews into cattle cars for deportation, after their total degradation, humiliation and soul-destroying Jew-baiting as a result of the numerous anti-Jewish laws and edicts. Eva Fahidi minces no words in her book when she talks about the gendarmes:

”Historical research still owes us an explanation as to why was the Hungarian gendarmerie, deeply steeped in so much hate and brutality which surfaced during the time of the deportations? The gendarmes were beating, slapping, kicking and cursing us constantly. These deplorable acts were not in the official ordinances. This was an added, conscious albeit voluntary collaboration with other societal efforts.

Eva Fahidi was eighteen years old when, together with her family in Debrecen, was herded into cattle cars heading for a death camp. Her Mother and eleven-year-old sister, Gilike, were instantly murdered in Auschwitz. Her father bore the hard labour for a few weeks only. Eva spent six weeks in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Then she was shipped, with one thousand other women, to Allendorf in Hesse, (Münchmühle), a slave-labour sub-camp of Buchenwald. Here, the women had to work with harmful chemical agents, “without protective gloves or masks; we inhaled all the dangerous vapour and walked in saltpeter up to our knees”, twelve hours a day, incredibly hard work, “but in comparison with a death camp it was a better option”, says Eva. Here, being able “to maintain a reasonable hygienic standard; in times of great need being able to help each other”, dignified their lives and contributed to survival.

We learn how Eva was liberated, lived, and lived on.

Actually, she didn’t survive, was never liberated, didn’t live and could not live ever again as – before. She could never reconcile with losing Gilike. Eventually she memorializes her in an unusual way.

In this thick book not a word about what happened after; what was she doing; how did she make a living; with whom did she live, and little about where and how? Only at the end she mentions four grandchildren: Marci, Zsofi; Mihaly and Luca.

In 2004, 59 years later, Eva returned to Auschwitz. It was a “homecoming” as she says. After all, home is where the bones of one’s ancestors have turned to dust – and so are the bones of almost fifty members of Eva’s family - turned into ash.

“I was never here,” exclaims Eva’s as she observes the shocking difference between the past and the 'now' - how idyllic and lovely Auschwitz looks today with green lawns, in contrast to during its frightful and frightening past when she arrived fifty-nine years ago. “Where is the heavy, putrid odour of the burning cadavers, the screaming and yelling of the guards, the trucks coming and going?” She walked around the entire camp, looked at every single thing, registering them in her mind. “Whereas, at that time, not even a blade of grass was growing, now nature is the ultimate ruler.”

She also did a “walk” around the whole question of her own and approximately fifty thousand other labourers, enslaved by the Flick Family.

In 2004, in Berlin, there were two exhibitions: one, exhibited by the heir of the Flick Family’s inherited, fabulous collection of fine arts and the other one how exactly that fortune was created which could establish the foundation of this extraordinary collection?

Eva also visited, by special, personal invitation, Allendorf. The Citizens of Allendorf were ready to deal with their past. They invited all those who suffered greatly on their territory and treated them with the dignity they deserved - to be accorded all human beings. With the cooperation of the authorities in Allendorf, Eva was able to add, at the end of her book, the names of the one thousand women who were transported on August 13, 1944 from Auschwitz to Allendorf to work as slaves. What a magnificent documentation - an unparalleled accomplishment.

“Living in Hungary, it was unimaginable even to hope to what was happening, by then, in Germany. The Germans, by and large, confronted the past, had the courage to admit their culpability and live with the consequences.
"There is no collective guilt. Guilty are those who actually committed the sin. Today’s Germans in the twenties and thirties age group are saying: I am afraid to think what my grandparents might have committed when they were my age? When will Hungarians, of the same age, ask these very same questions?" (Ivan Bächer)

Every chapter is a separate revelation, objective and subjective at the same time. But it all came together: the end converging with the beginning through painful discoveries - to give a clear picture of the gross injustice, beyond belief, which took place in the life of one family, one community and by extension, in the life of Hungarian Jewry.

The painful and bewildering return to Debrecen, to a totally erased past and the difficult beginning of a new one in the ruins, is the continued anguish Eva could not avoid but mastered eventually.
In Anima Rerum, Eva Fahidi meaningfully weaves together: national history with that of her home town, Debrecen, with immediate and extended family life and fate, with her own life and that of humanity – the promising before, the anguished after and the unmentionable annihilation, in between.


English translation: Judy Weiszenbeg Cohen.

This review appeared in the Hungarian newspaper Népszabadság, January 27, 2006. This is an abbreviated and somewhat changed version. It is published here with the permission of Népszabadság.

The English and German translations of the book are in process.
The Hungarian book is available through:


Copyright © 2007 Judy Cohen, all rights reserved.