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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 greatest war 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.
* Mp3 CD Format *. The stunning 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.
"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.... No false melodrama is needed for Marton to make this an intensely gripping story.... For a European, this story — with its reminder of horrors still within living memory — is painful and absorbing to read." — Geoffrey Wheatcroft, The Washington Post Book World
"Marton, who fled Hungary as a child in 1957, illuminates Budapest's vertiginous Golden Age and the darkness that followed.... By looking at these nine lives — salvaged, and crucial — Marton provides a moving measure of how much was lost." — The New Yorker
"The Great Escape is a good fit for Kati Marton's multifarious talents, requiring deep knowledge of the history and culture of Budapest, the analytical abilities of a seasoned reporter and a keen understanding of what it means to leave one's country behind.... While the work of uncovering this neglected piece of history required the skills of a worldly journalist, the telling came from the heart.... This is a book that should be read with special care." — Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett, The Seattle Times
"Noted journalist and bestselling author Marton offers a haunting tale of the wartime Hungarian diaspora.... Marton intricately charts each man's career in the context of WWII and Cold War history.... 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." — Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Filled with a number of wonderful anecdotes.... Marton's book makes you want to reread Darkness at Noon and get to Blockbuster to rent Casablanca." — Jennifer Hunter, Chicago Sun-Times
"An engrossing book.... Marton does such a good job of introducing her subjects, showing how they persevered through prejudice and personal problems to shape their times, that she leaves the reader wanting to learn more. Highly recommended." — Library Journal
"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
"A moving account of nine emigrants from Hungary who changed our world and their professions — a remarkable testament to the intrepid human spirit." — Henry Kissinger
"Fascinating!...The story of nine men who grew up in Budapest and were driven from Hungary by fascism, just one step ahead of Hitler's era of terror. They came to the West, especially the United States, and their tremendous achievements changed life for us all." — Betty E. Stein, Fort Wayne News Sentinel (Indiana)
MAGIC IN THEIR POCKETS
On a muggy day in July of 1939, two young physicists got into a blue Dodge coupé, crossed the Triborough Bridge, and drove past the futuristic World's Fair pavilion, passing fruit stands, vineyards, and modest farmhouses along Route 25, much of which was still unpaved, looking for the world's most famous scientist, Albert Einstein, who was spending the summer on Long Island. Their trip, and a second shortly thereafter, would have historic consequences.
Inside the car, which was his, Eugene Wigner, wispy-voiced and as unprepossessing as a small-town pharmacist, listened patiently to the intense, curly-haired Leo Szilard. Wigner always let his friend, whom he called "The General," think he was in charge, but Wigner's piercing eyes, hidden behind steel-rimmed glasses, missed nothing. As they drove, they argued in their native tongue, Hungarian, about what they would say to the great man.
Deep in a typically heated conversation, the two Hungarians got lost. For two hours they drove around the South Shore; Einstein's retreat,however, was in Peconic, on the North. Finally, they found Peconic, but the roads and gray shingle houses all looked identical to the pudgy Szilard, sweaty in his gray wool suit. Agitated, he began to think that fate might be against their bold step. The cooler Wigner calmed him down. "Let's just ask somebody where Einstein lives," he suggested. "Everybody knows who Einstein is." Finally, a boy of about seven pointed his fishing rod toward a one-story house with a screened front porch.
The sixty-year-old Einstein welcomed his visitors, old friends from Berlin days, wearing a white undershirt and rolled-up trousers. He had spent the morning sailing. Szilard and Wigner now switched to German and went straight to the point; they were in no mood for small talk. Einstein was aware of recent experiments in Germany suggesting that if neutrons bombarded uranium a nuclear chain reaction could be created. But the second part of the Hungarians' message was news to Einstein: that a nuclear chain reaction could lead to incredibly powerful bombs -- atomic bombs! Shaking his famous white mane, Einstein said, "Daran habe ich gar nicht gedacht" -- I had not thought of that at all. But Einstein's former colleagues at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics in Berlin, Szilard warned, appeared to be closing in on the discovery. Until that moment, Einstein, the man whose theories had launched the revolution in physics, had not believed that atomic energy would be liberated "in my lifetime." Now he saw how his famous equation of 1905, E=mc2, might apply to the explosive release of energy from mass, using uranium bombs.
Though a pacifist, Einstein well understood the Nazi threat; like Szilard and Wigner, he had left Germany because of Adolf Hitler. So the father of relativity signed a letter, prepared primarily by Szilard, to the Belgian ambassador in Washington, warning the Belgian government that bombs of unimaginable power could be made out of uranium, whose primary source was the Belgian Congo. Then Einstein returned to his dinghy, and the two Hungarians drove back to the city.
Szilard worried that this would not be enough: should they not also alert President Franklin Delano Roosevelt? "We did not know our way around in America," Szilard later recalled. But he knew an investment banker named Alexander Sachs, a friend of the president who did know Washington. After Szilard talked to Sachs, the banker concurred: the president must be told.
So two weeks later, on Sunday, July 30, Szilard returned to Einstein's cottage. Wigner was in California, so Szilard -- who did not know how to drive -- turned to another Hungarian, who owned a 1935 Plymouth: a young physics professor at Columbia University named Edward Teller. (Teller would later joke that he entered history as Leo Szilard's chauffeur.) Together Szilard and his bushy-browed driver extracted a second letter from Einstein. It was probably the most important letter of the twentieth century.
"I believe," the greatest scientist of the century wrote to the most important political leader of the age, "it is my duty to bring to your attention . . . that it may become possible to set up a nuclear chain reaction in a large mass of uranium, by which vast amounts of power and large quantities of new radium-like elements would be generated. Now it appears almost certain that this could be achieved in the immediate future. This new phenomenon would also lead to the construction of bombs, and it is conceivable -- though much less certain -- that extremely powerful bombs of a new type may thus be constructed. A single bomb of this type, carried by boat and exploded in a port, might very well destroy the whole port together with some of the surrounding territory.
"The United States has only very poor ores of uranium in moderate quantities. There is some good ore in Canada and the former Czechoslovakia, while the most important source of uranium is Belgian Congo.
"In view of this situation you may think it desirable to have some permanent contact maintained between the Administration and the group of physicists working on chain reactions in America." (Emphasis added.)
Szilard believed that such a letter, signed by none other than Albert Einstein, would get immediate attention. But it did not. On September 1, 1939, when Hitler attacked Poland, Einstein's letter lay unread somewhere in FDR's in-box.
Einstein's letter was finally brought directly to FDR's attention by Sachs on October 11, and began the process that would lead to the creation of the Manhattan Project -- the top secret government effort to build the atom bomb. But Roosevelt had no idea that the letter was the work of three Hungarian refugees who were not yet American citizens.
It was altogether fitting that these products of Budapest's Golden Age would stimulate the most momentous scientific-military enterprise of the twentieth century, leading to the Manhattan Project, and, after that, Hiroshima. Szilard, Wigner, and Teller -- these men were just part of a group of Hungarians who, after fleeing fascist Budapest in the 1920s and 1930s, brought their distinctive outlook on life, science, and culture to the United States and Western Europe -- and played immensely important roles in shaping the mid-twentieth-century world. Forced into exile by the rising tide of fascism, they would alter the way we fight and prevent wars, help shape those most modern art forms, photography and the movies, and transform the music we listen to.
This is the tale of some of them -- specifically, four scientists, two photographers, two film directors, and a writer -- who, collectively, helped usher in the nuclear age and the age of the computer, who left us some of our most beloved movies and many of the most enduring images of the violent century they navigated. The currents of twentieth-century history, science, culture, and politics entered them as young men in Budapest, and as they crossed borders and oceans in search of safety, they carried with them only their genius and ideas -- truly they had magic in their pockets.
Who were these men, and where did they come from? Was it simply a coincidence that they were from such a strange little country, with a language incomprehensible to the rest of the world? Or was there something peculiar about that country and that city at that time that created, in so many different fields, so many unusual people?
Leo Szilard, Edward Teller, and Eugene Wigner -- along with another genius from Budapest, John von Neumann -- brought to America more than the physics revolution. Having saved themselves from Hitler, they were determined to alert their new nation to the mounting danger. Buffeted by every political upheaval of the century, the four scientists, and the others in this narrative, were in the vanguard of an early warning system. Working in vastly different fields, they tried to rouse a world still averting its gaze from the gathering storm. As the scientists pushed for the atom bomb, Arthur Koestler was writing Darkness at Noon, the first real exposé of Stalinist brutality to achieve worldwide fame. Michael Curtiz was making Casablanca, as much a call to anti-fascist arms as it is a romance. Robert Capa was making an immortal photographic record of the helpless victims of Generalissimo Francisco Franco's indiscriminate aerial bombs, photographs to stand alongside Pablo Picasso's Guernica in the field of art as political statement.
This is the chronicle of the remarkable journey of nine men from Budapest to the New World, how they strove and what they learned along the way, and the imprint they made on America and the world.
Some of the nine -- Robert Capa and Edward Teller -- are famous, others less so, but of equal consequence. John von Neumann, widely believed by his contemporaries to be the smartest of them all, pioneered the electronic computer and invented Game Theory. Andre Kertesz, along with Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson, virtually invented modern photojournalism. The names of Michael Curtiz and Alexander Korda may be less well known today, but their work is immortal. Curtiz's Casablanca is the most popular romantic film of all time. Korda, whose life story is more fanciful than any Hollywood fabrication, also left enduring movies; in 1994 the New York Times called Korda's The Third Man "one of the finest films ever made," a widely held judgment. Arthur Koestler is on every list of the twentieth century's greatest political writers.
They had in common, first of all, a time and a place. They were members of the same generation, roughly spanning the last decade of the nineteenth century until the outbreak of World War I. All they would become started in the city of their birth, Budapest. They were by no means unique in Budapest in its brief Golden Age; gifted men, and transforming figures, but these nine were but the tip of an iceberg of talent that came out of Budapest. Over a dozen Nobel Prize winners emerged from roughly the same generation of Hungarians. (There is some dispute as to their numbers, twelve to eighteen, depending on whether one counts areas of the country the Treaty of Trianon stripped away in 1920.) Among them were George de Hevesy, John Polanyi, and George Olah, awarded Nobel Prizes in chemistry; Albert Szent-Gyorgyi and Georg von Bekesy, awarded Nobel Prizes in medicine; Dennis Gabor and Philipp Lenard, who joined Eugene Wigner in winning the physics Nobel; and in economics, John Harsanyi, who won a Nobel for his work in Game Theory, the field pioneered by von Neumann, whose early death probably denied him his own Nobel. There were others -- not all of them Nobel laureates. Marcel Breuer designed his famous chair and other Bauhaus masterpieces, as well as the Whitney Museum in New York. Bela Bartok's disturbing harmonies started in Budapest and reached the world. For decades, Bartok's students, as well as other products of Budapest's Franz Liszt Academy, among them Fritz Reiner, George Szell, Eugene Ormandy, Georg Solti, and Antal Dorati, created the sound of the world's great orchestras.
Of course, many other places have spurred such creative energy: Athens, Rome, Florence, Amsterdam, Paris, London, Edinburgh, New York have all had their day -- some more than once. In each case a certain set of unique circumstances combined to create a moment of special creativity. But what makes this moment dramatically different is that the geniuses of Budapest had to leave their homeland to achieve greatness. One can only wonder how much more potential was trapped inside the city as its brief moment of magic and opportunity turned into a fascist hell in 1944. But before all that -- before Admiral Nicholas Horthy, Europe's first proto-fascist, before Adolf Hitler and Adolf Eichmann, before the communist leader Bela Kun -- Budapest between 1890 and 1918 was relatively secure, tolerant of new people and ideas and bursting with civic pride. It was also a secular city.
It is important to note that the men who make up this narrative were all double outsiders once they left their native land. They were not only from a small, linguistically impenetrable, landlocked country, they were also Jews. (One could argue that, in fact, they were even triple outsiders, since they were all nonobservant Jews whose families had consciously rejected the shtetl for the modern, secular, cosmopolitan world that, briefly, lay glistening in front of them.)
The nine men who are the subject of The Great Escape were Jews in a city that briefly welcomed and encouraged their ambition. Unlike the Jews of Russia and Romania, Budapest Jews were integrated into the city's great academic and cultural -- though not its political -- institutions. Budapest, like New York, Paris, and Berlin, became a magnet for the brightest from all over the region. The multiethnic cauldron of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in its closing years helped to ignite creative explosions in both Budapest and Vienna. It is no accident that another secular Jew, Theodor Herzl, born in Budapest in similar circumstances only a few years earlier, created modern Zionism out of the ferment of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
All nine were big thinkers, with big dreams. The small, the political, or the bureaucratic were neither open nor appealing to them. It was no accident that they excelled in new fields where they could break new ground, and where official or institutional support was less important than talent: mathematics, physics, literature, photography, and film. Their forefathers had lived on the margins, but this generation believed they could change the world, just as their world had itself changed.
Then, just as most of them were reaching manhood -- though the youngest, Robert Capa, was still a boy -- in the wake of the catastrophic First World War, these daring young men collided with the realities of hate and violence. Creative life could not flourish in a climate of fear. First wearing the guise of nationalism and then murderous racism, fear marched into Budapest in the 1920s and 1930s. Jolted out of the comfort of their lives, they would never again feel entirely secure; fame and fortune would not alter that condition. Their westward journey took them to Vienna, Berlin, Paris, New York, and, for some, Hollywood -- through a boiling continent and beyond. They reinvented themselves and assimilated cultures as they moved west. But the city of their youth, pulsing with energy and in love with the new, and, however briefly, secure but not smug, marked them for life.
When it came to politics, they were as sensitive as burn victims. All nine had experienced how quickly things can change. Some, particularly Korda, Capa, and von Neumann, masked their insecurity better than the others. But as Sir Georg Solti, one of the most celebrated conductors of our time, wrote of his childhood in post-World War I Budapest: "Since that time, I have never been able to rid myself of the fear of anyone wearing a military or police uniform, or even a customs office uniform, because in Hungary uniforms always meant persecution in one form or another." Such feelings were buried deep within all the men in this narrative.
Why has the tale of this remarkable Hungarian diaspora not been told in this manner before? The answer is twofold: language and history. The Hungarian language, my mother tongue, is virtually impenetrable -- a member of the Finno-Ugric family, but not really similar to other European languages -- and limits outside research into the culture and the people. And history -- the Cold War and the Soviet occupation, which shut Hungary and her neighbors off from the West -- turned Mitteleuropa into a frozen, uniformly gray mass. By 1989, when the Iron Curtain crumbled, this generation had dispersed. Budapest, emerging from almost half a century of Soviet rule, its World War II scars still painfully apparent, was barely recognizable. The world had moved on -- and so had they.
The nine men who form this narrative also played a part by obscuring their own history. While the United States had welcomed them, their own country had shunned them -- or tried to exterminate them. In exile they restyled themselves into urbane Europeans and turned their back on a homeland tearing itself apart. Why look back? The past was a minefield. Their blazing triumph enabled them to obscure their Budapest origins: von Neumann transformed into the genius of German physics; Kertesz became Andre of Paris; Capa "The World's Greatest War Photographer"; Korda, Sir Alexander, friend to Sir Winston Churchill; Koestler, the continent's mournful prophet of totalitarianism; and so on. But, as we shall see, there was an emotional cost to their skillful reinvention.
A personal word is necessary: this tale is in my bloodstream. Like the cast of The Great Escape, my family, too, rode the great crest of Budapest's golden years. My great-grandfather, Maurice Mandl, born in 1848, the year revolution swept Europe, was the son of the chief rabbi of Dobris, Bohemia. German was his mother tongue, Franz Joseph his emperor. In his early twenties he jumped onto a rickety train to Budapest. Maurice soon learned Hungarian and prospered as an accountant in the boomtown of Budapest. His rabbi father traveled from Bohemia to Budapest only once, in 1876, to officiate at Maurice's wedding in the great synagogue that still sits -- recently restored -- on Dohany Street. Maurice and his wife, Tekla, had six children, among them, in the fashion of the newly emerging, emancipated, and primarily secular Hungarian Jews, a lawyer, an engineer, a teacher, and a grain merchant (my grandfather).
In 1900, like many other aspiring Jews in Hungary, the family Magyarized its name to Marton, and entered the city's prosperous middle class. Great-grandfather Maurice's apartment was in the fashionable Leopoldtown area, near the Parliament, overlooking the Danube. Maurice's sons were decorated in the First World War, which Europeans call, without irony, the Great War. Less than thirty years later, his grandsons would not be allowed to wear their country's uniform nor bear arms, but were instead sent off to forced labor on the Russian Front. Unlike the central figures in this book, the Martons stayed through the Nazi terror -- which they miraculously survived. Though my father, Endre, was called up by the Nazis for forced labor on the Eastern Front, he managed to escape and from then on he and my mother, Ilona, were hidden by Christian friends. My maternal grandparents were not so lucky. Living in a northeastern city called Miskolc, they were among the first Jews rounded up by Adolf Eichmann and his Hungarian allies and forced on an Auschwitz-bound transport. The last word my mother ever had from them was a postcard slipped through the crack of a cattle car headed for Auschwitz. My mother, a historian, and my father, an economist, became journalists for the two American wire services, United Press and Associated Press, after the war, as the communists seized Hungary. Early in 1955, they were arrested by the communists and convicted of being spies for a country neither of them had set foot in, the United States of America. Their story attracted international attention and made the front page of the New York Times. For nearly two years, while my parents were incarcerated in Budapest's maximum-security Fo Street prison, my sister and I were placed in the care of strangers.
My parents were released from prison in the brief thaw just prior to the outbreak of the Hungarian Revolution in October 1956, and resumed their reporting for the Associated Press and the United Press. When the Soviet forces, which had briefly withdrawn from Budapest in the face of a national uprising, returned to crush the revolt, my father sent the last cable from Budapest, alerting the world that Soviet tanks and troops were rolling toward the capital. Then all communications with the outside world were cut. (These are among my most enduring childhood memories.) Again in danger of arrest for their coverage of the revolt, my parents and my sister and I were granted asylum in the American embassy in Budapest, along with the world-famous cardinal, Josef Mindszenty, who, I remember clearly, blessed us each night. (Not only did the cardinal think we were good little Catholic girls, so did we; our parents had raised us as Catholics, and never told us our true family history.) In early 1957, a brave American diplomat named Tom Rogers drove us across the Austria-Hungary frontier to freedom -- and exile. Today, only one of Maurice Mandl's offspring remains in Budapest, my father's first cousin, my aunt Tekla, now in her eighties, who, along with my mother's younger sister, Magda, are my only surviving relatives left in Budapest.
This family saga partly accounts for this book, which fills in a missing chapter in the history of the tumultuous twentieth century. These nine people seemed very familiar to me; I felt I almost knew them personally. Their anxiety -- born of their own history and their fear that peace cannot last -- resonated inside me. As I did research about Leo Szilard, who always kept two packed bags with him in case he had to flee again, I thought of my mother; forty years after she fled Hungary for the security of the United States, she still answered the telephone with a somewhat tremulous "Hello?" as if braced for bad news.
In addition to being insecure, driven, and lonely once they fled Budapest, most of the nine characters in The Great Escape were hedonists with a love of the good things in life, for whom appearances were all-important. (Leo Szilard, in his rumpled raincoat, is the sole exception.) My father once told me if he ever wrote a novel, it would be about Andre Kertesz's older brother, Imre. Why? I asked, when Andre is the one who achieved so much. "Imre," my father said, "interested me more. In the 1930s, I used to see him at my parents' open house on Sundays. The anti-Semitic laws were already in effect and Kertesz had lost his job. But he always looked like a million dollars." That, to me, summed up the Hungarian credo, by which my parents lived: whatever hand life deals you, put a good face on it and the rest will follow. This credo was the impulse behind Alexander Korda, who lived in the grandest hotels when he could least afford them, Robert Capa, who bought an elegant Burberry raincoat for the Normandy invasion, and John von Neumann, who wore a three-piece suit and tie for a mule ride down the Grand Canyon. Young Arthur Koestler was the only student at his German boarding school to wear an elegant Eton suit. Later, with his precisely parted hair and his soft Harris tweeds, Koestler was among Europe's most dapper intellectuals. In a similar vein, I recall my mother, while awaiting her arrest by the Hungarian secret police (she had been warned), carefully choosing what she would wear to prison. Comfort was important, but style, partly as a manifestation of defiance, played an equal part in her choice of a Scottish tartan skirt for her year in a communist cell.
Like the nine men profiled here, my parents (and I, to a lesser extent) were touched by a sense of perpetual exile, of never quite belonging, of having been reinvented in the New World, without escaping the burdens of the Old. Something sad and distant hung over them, the legacy perhaps of having once been marked for death by their own people. That, too, was part of their inheritance.
Millions of other people were displaced by the wars of the last century. But for Hungarians, exile was magnified by linguistic and cultural isolation. "Hungarians," Arthur Koestler wrote, "are the only people in Europe without racial and linguistic relatives in Europe, therefore they are the loneliest on this continent. This . . . perhaps explains the peculiar intensity of their existence. . . . Hopeless solitude feeds their creativity, their desire for achieving. . . . To be Hungarian is a collective neurosis."
For Hungarian Jews the loss of their Budapest ran even deeper. The pain was sharpened by the speed with which they had gained -- and lost -- their Zion on the Danube. It happened, after all, in less than forty years. Describing the mood in Budapest at the time of her wedding day on April 25, 1897, Leo Szilard's mother, Tekla, reflected the boundless optimism of the age and the opportunity it was suddenly providing Jews. "The city was growing by leaps and bounds. I felt as if this were all my progress, my development."
Yet by 1945, Budapest, which the (non-Jewish) Hungarian poet Endre Ady described as "built by the Jews for the rest of us," was no more -- smashed by World War II, its spirit snuffed out earlier by the fascists -- and about to disappear inside the Soviet empire for another forty years.
I had a sense of this longing for what was irretrievably lost during an interview with a great chronicler of the Hungarian Holocaust, Randolph Braham. As we began, sitting in my New York apartment as the sun set, Professor Braham, eighty years old, whose own family had been destroyed by Hungarian fascists, closed his eyes. He had retreated to a faraway place. After some moments of silence, he switched to our mother tongue, "Meg nyilnak a kertben a nyari viragok . . ." recalling a well-loved poem by Sandor Petofi, a favorite revolutionary-romantic bard. "The summer flowers are still in bloom in the garden . . ."
I loved my hometown as a child, but it was not their Budapest, that glittering, elegant metropolis on a hill, which was as remote from the Stalinist gray city of my mid-1950s childhood as the Emerald City of Oz. But it came alive to me through the eyes, the letters, the faded old photographs of that era, and I could imagine -- and share -- the excitement of those faraway days. It is in that showy place, over a century ago, that this chronicle begins.
Copyright © 2006 by Kati Marton
Excerpted from The Great Escape by Kati Marton Copyright © 2006 by Kati Marton. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Introduction - Magic in Their Pockets 1
Part One - Plenty 13
Part Two - Harvest at Twilight 47
Part Three - Darkness 127
Part Four - False Dawn 171
Selected Bibliography 245
Posted April 6, 2008
The introduction to The Great Escape by Kati Marton makes it seem like the book is going to be about World War II, one of the most interesting subjects to read about, but instead Marton describes and focuses more on the lives of nine men that lived during this period and who made great contributions to the world. The group of men consisted of Edward Teller, Leo Szilard, and Eugeane Wigner, who were scientists, John von Neumann, dealt with computers, Alex Korda and Michael Curtis, film directors, Arthur Koestler, a writer, and Andre Kertesz and Robert Capa who were photographers. Fleeing their homes in Hungary and escaping Hitler and the Nazis by moving around to different countries, made these men brave and enabled to use their intelligence to the fullest. It is unbelievable that these men came from a little town developing their ideas in cafes, and were able to make some of the greatest contributions to society, which has marked their names in history books forever. Such contributions consist of the Hydrogen Bomb, computers, war photography, and famous films like Casablanca and Yankee Doodle Yankee. Skipping around from one person to another makes it difficult to understand which biography Marton is talking about. She will, for example, take a few pages to describe Edward Teller, the scientist of the Hydrogen Bomb, and then she will jump to Alex Korda, a film director. Even though the author moves around constantly about whom she is writing about, it was interesting to learn about the courageous men, who escaped Nazism, only to achieve great things in their lifetime for Americans and not even for their own people. Kati Marton shows the struggle and dangers that the men went through to achieve their goals. Being thrown in jail in a foreign country, and being killed on the battlefield are only a couple of examples of the hard times these people went through. One part of the book makes you really feel how these characters felt throughout theses times, which is when Robert Capa had taken an entire role of film of war photos and had his nervous assistant develop and ruin them. This showed that all of the hard work and dangers that Capa had put into is job, were ruined by an incompetent assistant. Another instance that makes you feel for these men is that their whole lives consisted of running away from home, helping the U.S. with nuclear science, or film directing for the U.S. elite, when in the end all the men wanted was to be back in their hometown in Hungary. It showed that no matter what you do in life or where you go, home is where the heart is. On a less serious note this is also portrayed through Doctor Strangelove in the film Dr. Strangelove. He was in the U.S. to help the army with the situation with Russia, but one can tell by the language and his possessed hand, that he is German at heart even if he does live and help the U.S. I grew up and lived in Pennsylvania for eighteen years and then moved to Miami to go to school. I love Miami, but nothing is better then going home, to my little town, and relaxing with my family.
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Posted July 20, 2012
I was glued to this book. It covers the wonderful refugees of Hungary, the great minds...Koestler, Capa, Teller, Oppenheimer, etc. It covers the time when Hitler was making his move in Europe to invade Hungary, Poland, etc. These men we learn about helped shape our world, they helped develope the Manhattan Project. I want to next read "Darkness at Noon" by Arthur Koestler. Please, do yourself a favor and read this book!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 20, 2011
Even as a Hungarian, I have not known many of the details Kati Marton shares with the reader in the book. I have learnt not only of the lives and the achievements of these illustrious fellow citizens of mine , but of the life and ambiance in general in this era.
I think the book is of interest of anyone who has ever have heard of these brave men who received the highest award for their knowledge, their art, their efforts in opening paths for the future generations, facing dangers and difficulties on their road to fame. is For Hungarians,in or out of the country at present, of any religion, I think this is a MUST, to connect them with their own past. A very enjoyable read also, due to Kati Marton's excellent and easy style.
Posted July 12, 2009
I purchased this book for my Dad, the man who has everything and buys everything for himself. Mostly, gifts I give him do not excite him, but this book did. His background is pure Hungarian, so he found everything about the writing and research interesting and engaging. Yet, a reader doesn't have to be Hungarian to find this book a good read. My Dad shared stories from the book and they held my attention. What the people went through in this book is amazing, especially because they lived through so much, and not only succeeded in their lives, but had an impact on the world. Now that my Dad is done with the book, I want to read it!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 9, 2008
When first seeing the book cover of The Great Escape by Kati Marton, I thought it would be a boring history book however, I was wrong. This book was quite interesting in its own way. Unlike other books that have one or two major characters this one focus on nine who left their country before Hitler attacked their Jewish community and impacted the world in different fields such as in science, film, writing, and photograph. The four Jewish scientists, Leo Szilard, Edward Teller, Eugene Wigner, and John von Neumann brought a revolution of physics that involved the United States developing atomic bombs. Michael Curtiz and Alexander Korda created a new style of film that showed people that Hungarians could direct movies just as well as Americans. Their movies are still well known today. Arthur Koestler wrote many journals and novels that spoken his experiences about politics, one of his famous novel, Darkness at Noon, revealed ¿the first real expose of Stalinist brutality to achieve worldwide fame¿ (4). Robert Capa and Andre Kertesz showed the world through camera lens the reality of wars in society and on the war front. Out of the nine characters the most fascinating was Alexander Korda. The reason I found him interesting was because he knew how to do business, which is what I am majoring in. I loved the fact ever since he was young he had confidence and ambition to succeed in life. Even though he did not have enough money for education, he still managed to learn in Budapest¿s cafes, cabarets, opera, and the National Theater. He also went to Paris to learn about film production. I loved his trademark: ¿the big cigar¿ (27). He would always have his big cigar no matter what even if he was penniless. He believes the cigar represented importance. He knew how to display a false wealthy image to gain peoples¿ trust, which is important in business. I really enjoyed how he did his first production. He was at the New York drinking his espresso waiting for Gabor Rajnay, the National Theater¿s leading man, to ask him to be in his war picture to play the hero, the Captain of the Hussars. He told Rajnay, he had everything prepared for the shooting but in reality he had nothing however, with his appearance and confidence it leaded Rajnay to agree. Not knowing if it was coincidence or fate but somehow at the shooting there were real Hussars marching there, which Korda used for his production. Overall, I believe you would find this book refreshing not only because of the story but how Kati Marton expressed it. The way she wrote about the nine characters was very impressive it showed how much time and effort she had to go through in order to have such detail story. However, there was some boring part in the book. I guess no book is perfect even the Harry Potter series or Lord of the Ring has its ups and downs too. In general, everyone would enjoy The Great Escape because they will undercover something that was never taught in our history books.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 16, 2008
The Great Escape, by Kati Marton, chronicles the impressive and inspirational stories of nine Hungarian Jews who became world-renowned in their fields despite great challenges while living in and then fleeing Hungary ¿ a country with long, up-and-down, and tortured history. With this fascinating setting and the remarkable lives of these men, you¿d think, this would be an amazingly entertaining book. I am not the type to be interested in reading history books at leisure ¿ but this book was assigned reading, so I gave it a shot. Unfortunately, I found it nearly impossible to focus on what I was reading for more than 5 minutes. You see, I much more appreciate fiction books with lots of imagery, dialogue, action and/or mystery and/or suspense (perhaps I watch too many movies). The introduction, I think, was the best part of the book. It had the general facts on the accomplishments of these men and of the country and time period from which these men came from - in a nice, concise manner. From what is written in the introduction, you get the whole picture of the significance of the accomplishments of the nine men and the struggles they faced as Hungarian Jews in the time of Adolf Hitler. After the introduction, reading it was nothing but a chore to me. Had the writing been a little more vibrant, I may have found it easier to get fully entrenched in the book, but as it was I just couldn¿t get interested. However, I understand that much of my distaste for the book stems from my distaste for the genre. In fact, I believe that the author did a pretty solid job considering what she was trying to accomplish. In sharing with the reader the incredible journey of these nine incredible men, Kati Marton shows us the resiliency of the human spirit, and human beings¿ not only ability to survive trying times, but to make lasting impacts on the world. The nine Jews followed in the story were Leo Szilard, Eugene Wigner, Edward Teller, John von Neumann, Michael Curtiz, Alexander Korda, Andre Kertesz, Robert Capa, and Arthur Koestler. Szilard, Wigner, Teller and von Neumann were scientists who were major contributors to the nuclear computer fields. Michael Curtiz, who directed ¿Casablanca,¿ among other classics, and Alexander Korda, the first film director ever knighted, each made huge impacts on the film industry. Kertesz and Capa were influential photographers and photojournalists. Arthur Koestler was an author, with the book Darkness at Noon to his credit. There is no denying the incredible achievement made by these nine men, who were outcasts as Hungarians and, doubly, as Jews. It is pleasing to know that these men achieved recognition and that their stories could be told and continue to be told almost 70 years after the time those scientists sought Albert Einstein and then Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Their ambition and perseverance are truly inspirational. Despite my initially negative commentary on the book, I would recommend this book to anyone who can appreciate a historically accurate non-fiction book on the particular subject at hand. I might also recommend this book to my Hungarian Jewish friends, if I had any.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 15, 2008
When I first read the title of the book, The Great Escape, I thought this was going to be another book regarding the hardships and struggles of Jewish people while Hitler was in power. However, shortly after reading the first few pages I could already notice that Kati Marton was about to prove me wrong, but in a good way. One of the reasons why I liked this book was because of Kati Marton¿s writing style. I found her writing style to be a bit confusing with all the jumping around between the nine characters and not being able to predict who she was going to write about next. For that reason, it was quite a challenge for me to try and keep up with each character and his story. This was a feat because their stories were written in fragments and would intertwine with the stories of other characters. However, I found this writing style interesting and intriguing because it did not follow the linear path of most books. Marton¿s writing style reminds me of how our minds work, jumping from one thought to the next. Therefore, I think Marton did an excellent job in writing about these nine characters in a unique manner, which is challenging, but imitates our everyday thought process. Once I got used to Marton¿s writing style, I was able to enjoy the individual stories better and really appreciate the boldness and strength of each character. I especially admire each of the characters for leaving his home country and starting new in a foreign place with nothing but experience. I also admire how they did not let these struggles hold them back in any way, but rather incorporated them into their works. Therefore, by including such inspirational and personal experiences, those who witness their works are greatly impacted. Moreover, Michael Curtiz, the film director, is the character that I find most intriguing and motivational. I admire how his passion and drive for film was so great that he would do anything to better his ability in this art. It amazes me how his fervor was so intense that he left his home and pretended to be a deaf-mute in order to learn more about the industry. Aside from his boldness, the thing that stands out to me the most about Curtiz is his approach to film making. I like how he not only incorporated his experiences into his movies, but also how he was spontaneous with the script. This spontaneity gives his movies a more real and life-like quality since he would adjust it as the cameras were rolling. Although his concept of filming might be unusual and at times stressful for everyone involved, I believe it reflects Curtiz¿s life and that of everyone else in having to adjust in the moment. One example of this technique is given by Marton with Curtiz¿s classic film, Casablanca. This film resembles Curtiz¿s life before fleeing Budapest and was reworked as it was being filmed, thus incorporating personal experience as well as spontaneity. Therefore, he appeals to me the most because he gives the impression that he lives in the moment, which inspires me to seize the day. Even though Curtiz is the person I enjoyed reading about the most, I found the other characters interesting as well along with Marton¿s unique writing style.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 16, 2008
It is easy for readers to misinterpret why Kati Marton titled her book The Great Escape. It is assumed that she gave her book the aforementioned title because nine Hungarian Jews successfully escaped the biggest tyrant the world has ever seen. Although this supposition is formidable, it is inaccurate. In order to understand why Marton characterized the Hungarians¿ feat as a great escape, readers must look past the physical act of escaping (fleeing Budapest to live in the United States) and analyze the metaphysical aspect of each character¿s motivation. All of the men in this book, while living in Budapest, were subject to their own personal hell, which revolved around the pursuit of their passions. Each man wanted to do something or to be something, but due, unfortunately, due to their country¿s bigotry and fascism, their chances of finding jobs in their respective careers were minimal if not impossible. Marton defines the combined journey of these individuals as The Great Escape, not because each man survives and escapes from his own private torment, but because each person does it through the very goals that were once not feasible to pursue. It was not reasonable for Andre Kertesz to be a photographer. His family was poor and photojournalism was neither a lucrative nor existing career. To make matters worse, Budapest was becoming highly anti-semitic. Dignity had become a scarce resource. Trickles of it that were lucky enough to seep through racism¿s tough blockade were soon wiped away by the continuing onslaughts of hate. Hopelessness consumed the once culturally-enriched town. One can only imagine how a man is able to keep his sanity under such harsh and discouraging conditions. It is said that the only pre-remedy for lunacy is for a person not to see the object which causes the psychological distortion. Marton concurs by saying, ¿Through the camera¿s lens, Kertesz saw a different Budapest. He saw lights and shadows, ancient streets, and, beyond the city limits, a countryside of meandering rivers, and he saw them not as others saw them.¿ The very tool that used to bring the photographer neither money nor sustenance, was now freeing him from his country¿s misery. No longer was Kertesz bound to the agonies of man. The author voices, ¿His camera became his tool against the madness. In the midst of a slaughter, through his lens, Kertesz could isolate a moment of beauty.¿ With his camera, Andre resembled Zeus and the rest of the Greek gods able to ascend the steps of Mount Olympus at will, drinking sweet ambrosia, and watching the mortals as they toil and reap the Earth. His camera had indeed given him power over his dark, depressing world, but it had also given him another gift: the drive and the determination to seek out other worlds and see what beauty he could extract from them. Kertesz¿s utilization of this gift can be seen in any respectable photo art gallery around the world. His pictures are truly awe-inspiring, but most importantly they represent his triumph over life¿s challenging obstacles. Andre Kertesz is just one of the several other characters mentioned in The Great Escape who used their talents to overcome hardships. This book should be recognized and commended for its poeticism. The author brilliantly patterns the book much like Dante¿s Inferno each Hungarian leasing a pit of Hell characterized by the level of adversity that he faced in Budapest. By pursuing their passions, the men were able to manifest a key to Satan¿s fiery gates and escape to the open air of paradise.
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Posted April 16, 2008
'The Great Escape: nine Jews who fled Hitler and changed the world' by Kati Marton is a book about a fellowship of men that are tied together by the fallen glory of their home, the shadows of their past, and by the brightness of their futures. The men themselves are an interesting mix of photographers, scientists, movie makers, and a writer that in one way or another all left their mark on the world that can be felt even now years after their actions. Their home, the then almost utopian Budapest, acts as almost a tenth character for the book the city is portrayed as grand, wondrous, and ultimately tragic. The opening is ironic in its delivery it tells of two men who get lost while driving on an unpaved road then casually mentions how their trip will affect history as one knows it. The book, frequently, makes light of the impact of the actions of the characters then strongly illustrate the severity of them. The story also tends to gloss over certain facts or events then focus more heavily on others. At times, the book seems to have some difficultly dealing with weight of so many characters over a long period time. Overall the book has this back and forth rhythm that results in rough transitions that make for a less than smooth read but can be found as refreshing for the reader that is looking for something challenging and different to read. The whole of the book is an unusual mix of novel and textbook. The main purpose of the book is get the facts across and tell the stories of these men, but the book was also clearly determined to keep the readers awake long enough for them to get all the facts. There was the occasional splash of humor, hope, despair, love, and shear tenacity that allows the reader to empathize with the story and its characters more than simply absorb it. The ending of the book is not of one of death as would be expected as the book is one about real life people, who as all people no matter how great, must eventually die. It is one of hope, slightly cynical and jaded hope but hope nonetheless. New people are introduced, people with similar backgrounds that also fled from Budapest, people who may in a way carry on the work of the original nine. Mostly, the ending is about Budapest and the possibility of it ever raising from its ashes and once giving birth to more people that will change the world. If you¿re looking for an action-packed page turner, then do not pick up this book. If you are looking for a heart-wrenching romance with a happy ending, then do not pick up this book. This book is about loss, fear, facts, and life there is no riding off into the sunset in this book, no pretty words. This book is about nine men who ran for their lives. They all went out into the world they wrote books, they took pictures, they made movies, they made weapons, and they all did something.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 15, 2008
The Great Escape by Kati Marton describes nine Jews who were able to escape and make a difference in the outcome of World War II. These Budapest scientists such as Leo Szilard, Edward Teller, and Eugene Wigner all contributed in defeating Hitler and his Nazi regime. They felt it was in their utmost interest in deterring the Axis Powers from becoming victorious in this war. They did so by notifying Washington of the German¿s intention of creating an atomic bomb and wiping out the United States off the face of the Earth. However, the Germans were too slow in creating the atomic bomb because these Hungarian scientists were among the most skillful, in the Manhattan Project, to help build the hydrogen bombs, and put an end to this horrific war. It was because of these scientists why a person such as me, a Hispanic, is capable of writing this review today. If Szilard, Teller, and Wigner, would have never contributed to the Allies triumph in World War II, Hispanics, blacks, Jews, homosexuals, etc. may have been exterminated by the Nazi¿s genocide. Hence, the nine Jews who fled from anti-Semitism helped change the world. John von Neuman, developer of the electronic computer and the Game Theory, filmmakers Michael Curtiz and Alexander Korda, author Arthur Koestler, photographers Robert Capa and Andre Kertesz are the other commendable Hungarians described by Kati Marton. In their own unique way, they all helped warn the world of Hitler¿s malevolence. The one particular person who interested me the most was director Michael Curtiz. He grew up in Budapest where everyone had their own particular dreams and valued ¿learning, education, and culture¿ (p. 17). He owned a café called ¿New York.¿ A café with this name says it all. It gives people a sense of freedom and liberty to think, write, or do whatever they please. And all this was done in his café. When Germans started turning Europe into Nazism, he fled from home to America. This dream became reality as he directed arguably the best romantic film ever in Hollywood, ¿Casablanca.¿ This film symbolized the Americans isolationism with World War II as Lisbon tried remaining neutral throughout the film. Later he would say ¿that I am living ¿ not surrounded by American mansions ¿ but gazing at the hour hand of the clock at the New York Café, through the mist, at dawn¿ (p. 15). Even though the Germans had temporarily taken over his homeland, they cannot take over their dreams, beliefs, and their role in shaping the Nazi¿s defeat. Kati Marton did a fascinating job in praising these individuals for their efforts in making the difference during World War II. It makes me grateful to think God was on our side to bring these heroes with the power, intelligence, and determination to defeat the Germans and have their marks resting in history.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 15, 2008
The first thought after reading the Great Escape was that I was cheated. I mean the title was The Great Escape: The story of nine Jews who fled Hitler and changed the world, so I was expecting some sort of actual escape. A physical escape from some sort of jail or concentration camp. But it was nine different stories of nine different people escaping poverty, racism, and going for their dreams. In retrospect, all nine people were connected. They were all Hungarian and all used to meet and greet at a café, where they would exchanged ideas and information. Even though all nine were involved in different careers from scientists, photographers, poets, and movie director all nine had to leave their homeland and pursuit their calling. Furthermore I guess the title says it all, all nine did somehow change the face of the 20th century. The one person that stuck out my in mind was Robert Capa. Robert Capa is considered by many the greatest war photographer of all of time. His photo of The Fallen Soldier still is striking almost 80 years after it was taken. The timing of that photo is so precise that some believe that it was staged. Robert Capa no doubly did change the world of photography and my opinion had a positive change on the world. But other did not have such positive change on the world. John Von Newman and the other scientists mention in this book were without question brilliant men. But there research and advancement in science lead to the development of the Atomic bomb. Even thought I know it was not their intent to development a bomb that will in the end, kill hundreds of thousands of people, that was the end result. Furthermore I know that many of them did not agree with the actually dropping of the bomb but none the less they did contribute to the development of the bomb. Even though this was not a positive change in my opinion it was change that forever affected mankind. I don¿t think it¿s entirely their fault, I think they might have felt that they were on the brink of a great discovery but in they ended up killing what they were trying to save. We don¿t always hear this type of stories coming out of World War II. We are used to hearing the story of fallen soldiers or the victory of a great battle. But this book is different none of these people mention in the book fired a single shot. But none the less all nine affected the World War in their own way. I enjoyed this book because it was something different, not something you hear about every day. In my opinion it¿s good to hear other accounts of events so you can see both ends of the spectrum.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 16, 2008
The Great Escape by Kati Marton tells a tale a nine Hungarian Jews who were forced to flee their homeland, but would become some of the most influential people in history. They were all pioneers and masters of their field of expertise. Edward Teller was a physicist who fathered the hydrogen bomb, Leo Szilard and Eugene Wigner award winning nuclear physicists, as well as key cogs in the success of the Manhattan Project, and Jon VonNeumann, also a physicist, helped pioneer what would become the computers of today. All four of these men played vital roles in making the United States the foremost nuclear power during World War II and maintaining that dominance through the Cold War era. Then there was Alex Korda, a film director known for remaking himself as a success again and again. Andre Kertesz was a photographer whose photographs were unlike anyone else of his time. Another photographer, Robert Capa specialized in war photography Capa rode alongside the first American troops to storm the beaches of Normandy. Arthur Koestler, a writer, became one of the most recognized and outspoken anti-communist writers. Lastly there was Michael Curtiz, a world-renowned film director, directing movies such as Casablanca and Yankee Doodle Dandy. Sadly, all of these men who always had fond memories of their homeland, Hungary, were never capable of building a career or a life there because of the dangers caused by things beyond their control. Many of them spent their lives traveling from one country to another in search of safety but also yearning for that sense of ¿home¿. The way in which they had to uproot their entire lives and start over again in new places, Paris, Great Britain, and America, just to name a few is depressing. The Hungarians spent much of their lives feeling either out of place or unhappy with their surroundings. The book itself can at times be hard to follow because of the way it is structured. It is written in chronological order, and follows the lives of all nine men. It leaps from one man to the other while telling the story of all their lives simultaneously. When reading the book, it was helpful to distinguish one person from the other by relating their name to a profession and whichever country they were presently living in. The way that the Great Escape was written does not promote excitement or suspense like what would be found in a fictional story, but once the reader gets into the book and into these men¿s lives, he or she will not want to stop reading. They have all done so many great things that will be remembered forever, and lived lives unlike anyone else. They traveled from country to the next, escaped execution, and many times called a different hotel each week their place of residence. The excitement that these nine men experienced everyday of their lives is more exciting than most stories the best fictional author could come up with.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 16, 2008
After reading this book, I was at awe normally reading history is a bore, but, Kati Marton had out done herself. She painted the past beautifully. It was not at all a snore. To me, it was a jaw-dropping book, full of life. I was riveted each step of the way. Unlike most Americans, these men were intellectual figures that were self-discipined and cohesively changed our world. Every one of the nine men brought culture and knowledge to our lands and as a result, our land had prosper. These men were in sync. So, if you want to learn some history, read Kati Marton's The Great Escape: Nine Jews Who Fled Hitler and Changed the World.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 16, 2008
In her book The Great Escape, Kati Marton describes the lives of nine Jews who leave or ¿escape¿ Hungary from Hitler in search of a life without prosecution. The significance of these nine individuals is that their work, from physics to film directing and writing to photography all influenced society in a number of ways. Marton first begins with a brief account of the nine Jews in Budapest¿s Golden Age. She then goes on to discuss how they were all influenced by the city¿s lively café life before darkness came to Europe. This darkness was Hitler and Eichmann. These men created a terror state for any Jew or non-Aryan race. Because of these men many Jews changed their name and moved around city to city in an attempt to avoid the mass killings occurring in many regions of Europe. This was the reality of WWII. In narrating these horrific times, Marton describes the lives of these nine Hungarian men. Throughout the book she carelessly switches from character to character leaving the reader to recall the specific details of each man. Adding to that, with a lack of organization, Marton seemed to continuously jump around from time period to time period. In addition, while reading the book I constantly found myself lost and trying to piece together the missing information, like pieces of a puzzle. In a time of constant prosecution these nine Jews escaped death and changed the world. Beneath its¿ surface, this book begs many questions. Would the world be the same without these Hungarian men? Was what they contributed so important? And how did they overcome such overwhelming circumstances? The answer to these questions lies with the individual, but all nine gave something back to the world. After reading this book I wondered, how would it truly be like to live in a land where you must change your name and traditions in order to survive. A world where if you¿re not a particular race you will either be moved from your home, forced to work in a concentration camp, or worse off, murdered. These nine men overcame that reality and made something of themselves, and in doing so changed the world in their own particular way.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 13, 2008
The Great Escape is a very good book about nine Hungarian Jewish men who escaped from Hungary in order to be able to improve and impact the society with their actions. Each made a huge contribution in different fields, such as science, photography, film, and writing. So, they changed the world by escaping Hitler. All experienced World War II, and later they went to other countries for example, seven of them came to America, and the other two went to England. After they escaped, each of these nine Hungarian Jews had a big impact on different fields, making huge improvements. For example, physicists Eugene Wigner, Edward Teller, Leo Szilard, and John von Neumann 'computer' made big innovations in the field of science and they were so intelligent that they were able to start the nuclear science. The hydrogen bomb, for example, was created by Edward Teller. Film directors Michael Curtis and Alexander Korda made contributions in the field of theater, as Arthur Koestler made in the field of writing. Andre Kertez and Robert Capa made unbelievable changes in the field of photography. As you can see, all of them made innovations in different fields and they had a big impact on their home countries. They changed their lives and ours at the same time. It is not easy to do what these nine men did, because at that time of Nazism was so penetrating and control was so strict that the people did not even think of the possibility of escaping. Their determination to change the world made them mentally stronger, so they were able to achieve all of their dreams and achievements. Everybody can change the world, or at least contribute to that change, as these men did. But, there are two ways of changing the world, the good way and the bad way. These nine Hungarian Jews changed the world in a good way, because their actions were all positive. Consequently, if you have a positive mind, you will achieve positive results, as they achieved. They did not only change the world in their respective fields, but also, they changed it culturally and politically. Therefore, their accomplishments were very important for the actual world, and all of these accomplishments were reached because they were able to flee from Adolf Hitler. I really enjoyed reading this book, because it puts me in their situation, which was not easy at all. Also, this book brings me a lot of motivation to never give up in any situation, and this means that you should fight until you get the results or achievements that you want.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 13, 2008
The Great Escape was an intriguing novel written by Kati Marton about several Hungarian Jews that made their way to the United States in order to avoid the monster that was the Holocaust and create a better life for themselves. The story was overflowing with content, talking about the trials and tribulations of the difficult time which made up the late 1930s and early 1940s. The novel has a bit of a slow start, basically taken up by the introduction of nine main characters the author follows throughout the story. The book also highlights these characters individual plights which later got them to the United States, which takes some time. At first, the story seems like the typical ¿Holocaust story¿, dealing with Jews who are trying to escape (hence the title) and find a new promising life, but as the reader continues, it becomes somewhat of an adventure and turns into more of a discovery story. There were times throughout the story that made me feel like I was on the run from the vicious Nazis and the eccentric and shallow dictatorship led by Adolf Hitler. Basically these characters were introduced into something new and completely unfamiliar by hiding out in a strange, yet opportunistic country. What seemed outstanding to me was how Marton chose these nine characters for her novel which began slowly and suddenly evolved into a great tale. These people did such amazing things, especially during their time. How wonderful is it that a Hungarian Jew invents the hydrogen bomb? Or becomes a famous photographer? These characters manage to excel in unexpected fields, ones which usually do not get enough recognition, but in this story, Kati Marton brings out the underdogs and rewards them. Developing a gracious story line, the author places these characters amongst the ranks of many well-known events which most Americans can easily recite. She brings them into a new and amazing environment, full of opportunity and ends up giving it to them. The title is what really caught my eye at first. The Great Escape, it sounds so full of life and adventure, something that would not happen to ordinary people. What is somewhat ironic is that completely ordinary people or ¿average joes¿ did make a great escape, one for their lives, in fact. The novel is very well-written and Kati Marton took a conventional biographical story and plain characters and turned them into something fantastic, heroes most would say. The Hungarian Jews fled their country¿the place they grew up in and loved¿and everything they knew, to get away from a horrid and practically insane war. The United States became their sanctuary and in the conclusion, after impacting so many lives in the United States with their achievements, they all had one main theme in common. As the story comes to a close, it is safe to say that every single character feels like they have lost something, their home. Through writing such an eye catching story, Kati Marton also attracted an audience including myself. I must admit that I did enjoy the novel and it had a fascinating story line.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 11, 2008
The Great Escape, written by Kati Marton, was a surprisingly excellent book. It is a remarkable story of nine Hungarian Jews who escaped oppression from the Holocaust and created national achievements. At first glance, I thought it would be extremely boring and tedious book to read since I do not like non-fiction stories. Contrary to what I thought, it was actually quite entertaining and intriguing. I thought the introduction and beginning was a bit slow, but once you read on, it manages to catch your interest. You get to know each of the nine characters, one by one. Once you are familiar with them, you can feel what they are feeling whether it is a sense of helplessness or determination. Feeling remorse one moment and then happy the next was not uncommon throughout the story. It also gave a great insight on some beautiful and intelligent minds. Even though they had been through the Holocaust and other road blocks, they still managed to achieve tremendously and leave a mark on history. Reading about their lives made me feel guilty in the sense that they used their repression as a drive to achieve in this world, yet, youth (including me) take things for granted everyday. Very few of us take advantage of the opportunities provided to us and strive with all our hearts to accomplish our goals like the nine characters did. This book made me realize what the youth is presently coming to and how this must change. On another note, the most memorable character in the book would have to be John von Neumann. He was the most interesting one because he was the smartest of the nine. He was a true prodigy and a genius. The first thing that drew me to him was the picture provided in the middle of the book. One specific picture had a caption stating that von Neumann at the age of six was able to divide 2 eight digit numbers in his head. After reading this, throughout the story I always anticipated reading about him. It made me want to know what other unusual, yet brilliant, things he could do. Towards the end, it was heartbreaking when I found out his health was decaying, and he was slowly dying. I just couldn¿t accept the fact that such an extraordinary person could die so early. I wanted him to live so I could read more about his great future achievements, but obviously this didn¿t happen. Towards the end of his life his brain didn¿t function like it did before, but his unbelievable intelligence and his great contribution will never be forgotten. One thing about the book I didn't like was the constant name changes for all the characters. The author would use several names for one specific person. For example, Alexander Korda, the great film producer, might have been referred to as Alex, Alexander, Korda, or Sandor Kellnor, his birth name. One moment you would be reading about Korda, the name most often used, and then, out of nowhere, she would switch to addressing him as Alex. Since I was used to Korda the whole time, Alex was unfamiliar and the switch confused me. This was the same case for the other characters as well. Despite this confusion, the book for the most part was still enjoyable. It should be read by all who want to learn what it was like to live during this time of disaster, chaos, and turmoil, the time of Hitler's regime.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 11, 2008
The Great Escape: Nine Jews Who Fled Hitler and Changed the World by Kati Marton is an excellent book that tells the story of nine extraordinary Hungarian and Jewish men that with their talents helped to transform the world. Marton relates the story from their childhood to their death, including the events throughout their life that made an impact in history and all the individuals that came in between. Among the characters we find four great scientists Edward Teller, John von Neumann, Leo Szilard, Eugene Wigner, film directors Michael Curtiz, and Alexander Korda, two amazing photographers Robert Capa, and Andre Kertesz, and finally a well recognized writer Arthur Koestler. They all had to face the decision to leave their homeland, Budapest, in order to chase and fulfill their dreams and escape anti-Semitism and hostility. Kati Marton makes sure to keep the reader entertained and in suspense about what would be next thing on each man¿s life by providing an episode of World War II, and by including the struggles and feelings of these nine different men that were all bound by the same origin. All of them were raised around the cafes of Budapest, especially the New York Café, were they let their minds run for infinitely many hours. Furthermore, the author narrates the story of many people at the same time, switching back and forwards the characters. Its magnificent flow of words makes it easy to follow and avoid getting lost it also creates an exquisite book full of stories that brings variety to the reading. In addition, this book serves as great inspiration. While in the U.S. Teller created the Hydrogen Bomb and made the country a superpower. His accomplishments serve as examples for millions of immigrants that leave their life behind and venture into the world looking for a better future his triumph show us all that no matter how hard things may seem there is always hope and that while there is a dream and a drive there is hope for greatness. In The Great Escape, I can related with three of the scientists, Teller, Szilard, and Wigner, since I have an interest in chemistry and also had to leave my country because of political and economical problems that would not help me achieve my dreams. After reading this book, I feel like there is no end to the things I can accomplish once I set my mind to them. I would absolutely recommend to read The Great Escape since it will take you through a rollercoaster of events in the lives of the nine men that changed the world as Kati Marton expressed in her title.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 14, 2008
This book is about some extremely resillant jewish men who escaped the holocaust and changed life as we know it with the things they created. i would reccomend the book to anyone who enjoys history.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 16, 2008
The Great escape by Kati Marton shows what passion, will, and determination did for nine brave souls who dared to defy evil and begin a life away from the home that gave them all their talents, Budapest. The biography of these men and how they survived to become pillars of science, entertainment, and art is truly a blinding light of hope and what we as a society can expect in the future. The readers follow the lives of Alexander Korda, Micheal Curtiz, Andre Kertesz, Robert Capa, Arthur Koestler, John Von Neumann, Eugene Wigner, Edward Teller and Leo Szilard those are names of real people who were lucky enough to survive the catastrophe of war and anti-Semitism. Theses men knew nothing of survival during wartime they were not soldiers and were in any way prepared to go through the ordeal of losing their homeland to Nazis and traveling virtually half way around the world to be safe. Some may think that it was an easy task, but it must be considered that these are the same men that made it an easy task to enjoy some of the comforts we have today such as nuclear power and computer just to name a few. The readers can find a hero in any of these gentlemen. Koestler and his bravery to speak his mind in the face of imprisonment, Capa being courageous enough to be in the middle of warzones photographing knowing that death lurks behind every street corner some may enjoy Kertesz and his ability to capture beauty and peace in every shot of his camera. There are many reasons to feel for any of these men, but the most potent being the loss of their hometown of Budapest. All of them decided what they wanted to be in the bars and cafes that populate this Hungarian hub. The reader can truly understand and feel their heart fill with sorrow when these men came to the realization that they may not be able to return home. In modern times, many cultures have experienced similar situations ranging from communist Cuba, war torn Iraq, or fleeing Haiti¿s poverty and civil war. No person should have to face persecution on the ground they were born on, but none ever leave their ¿Budapest¿ behind. Curtiz for example showed what a Hungarian café was like in his most famous of films Casablanca. World War two will still live in infamy as the time we lost the most, but in return we have gain these nine men and much more. Any person can enjoy this book just from the time line it is based upon, any person who has experienced any type of homesickness, persecution, loss or just being down on your luck will smile with glee knowing that these men faced the greatest threat the world has seen and escaped it¿s claws to find home and new beginnings in America.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.