Staging Kertész’s ‘Fatelessness’


Some experiences are so traumatic that the mind refuses to believe that they are happening. In Imre Kertész’s “Fatelessness,” the Nobel Prize-winning novel based on the Hungarian author’s boyhood experiences during the Holocaust, a matter-of-fact tone bridges a yawning chasm of despair. Adam Boncz’s one-man stage version of the novel, adapted by Andras Visky, debuts next week in Soho; it arrives just as Hungary marks the 70th anniversary of the Nazi occupation.

Kertész was deported at the age of 14 from Budapest to Auschwitz, and then subsequently to Buchenwald and Zeitz. He moved to Berlin, where he still resides, after the war. He worked as a translator and playwright before publishing his first novel, “Fatelessness,” three decades after the end of the war. (A later novel, “Kaddish for an Unborn Child,” was also recently dramatized — it ran at the 14th Street Y.) “Fatelessness” was also made into a 2005 movie, lauded by A.O. Scott of The New York Times as one of the best non-documentary films ever made about the Holocaust.

In “Fatelessness,” directed by Gia Forakis, Georg Koves is a naïve young teenager deported to Auschwitz. He is at first happy to see the German soldiers and glad to see his friends, with whom he looks forward to playing soccer. The unbearable reality of his situation slowly sinks in, forcing him to come to grips with ultimate evil.

In an interview, Boncz told The Jewish Week that he has attempted to “keep the perspective of a kid who tries to figure out the absurd and crazy event that is happening around him.” He interprets the title as referring to the protagonist’s “living someone else’s fate; it was not his fate to go through these horrors.”

Boncz sees his native country building memorials and sponsoring events to commemorate the Holocaust, but not really internalizing it. Kertész agrees; as he told the French newspaper Le Monde in 2012, “Auschwitz and the Shoah are pages of history that haven’t been explored in Hungary. There hasn’t been any soul searching. The country never asked itself why it systematically was on the wrong side of history.”

The stark set for “Fatelessness” features empty, white, worn clothes suspended from hangers. “A concentration camp was a place where you had to give up your identity in exchange for a uniform and a number,” Boncz noted. “The inmates were given the numbers of their hangers to keep them from being suspicious.” Since their clothes are visible, he explained, “all the characters in the play are always with me and around me.”

“Fatelessness” runs at the HERE Arts Center, 145 Sixth Ave. Performances are Wednesday, April 9 to Saturday, April 12 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, April 13 at 2 p.m. For tickets, $20, call TheaterMania at (212) 352-3101 or visit