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Survivor Receiving Nobel Prize Stresses His Universal Message

December 10, 2002
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The Hungarian Holocaust survivor who won this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature said he could not have won the award had he not lived under Communist rule.

“I have to conclude that in the West, in a free society, I probably would not have been able to write my novel known by readers as ‘Fateless,’ the novel singled out by the Swedish Academy for the highest honor,” Imre Kertesz told the Swedish Academy in Stockholm on Saturday, three days before he was to receive his Nobel Prize. “No, I probably would have aimed at something different.”

Kertesz’s speech kicked off “Nobel Week,” in which the winners of the various prizes will give addresses to the prize academy.

Kertesz, 73, referred to his belief that his writing reflects a universal perspective on the Holocaust and on dictatorships.

“I have never tried to see the complex of Holocaust merely as the insolvable conflict between Germans and Jews. I never believed that it was the latest chapter in the history of Jewish suffering,” he told the crowd in the fully-packed hall. “I never saw it as a one-time aberration, a large-scale pogrom, a precondition for the creation of Israel.”

Some members of Hungary’s far right have blasted the awarding of the prize to Kertesz.

The Justice and Life Party recently sent a letter to the Nobel Committee, saying that the “committee became the victim of the Jewish conspiracy aiming to destroy Hungarian culture.”

But Kertesz said he also has received a lot of appreciation.

“In Hungary, I have been met with a lot of love, but you know also how many dissonant sounds can occur in such circumstances,” he told The Associated Press last week.

In his 45-minute speech, which was given in Hungarian, Kertesz also told how he had recently received some wartime documents from the director of the memorial center at the Buchenwald concentration camp

In the documents, “I learned about the death of prisoner 64,921 — Imre Kertesz, factory worker born in 1927,” Kertesz said.

“The two false data — the year of my birth and my occupation — were entered in the official registry when I was brought to Buchenwald. I had made myself two years older so I wouldn’t be classified as a child, and had said worker rather than student to appear more useful to them.

“In short, I died once, so I could live,” Kertesz said, finishing his lecture. “And perhaps that’s my real story.”

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