“Béla’s Letters” is an historical fiction novel based on the life of Béla Ingber. Béla was born before the onset of WWI in Munkács, a small city nestled in the Carpathian Mountains that belonged to the democratic nation of Czechoslovakia until being occupied by fascist Hungary and then by German forces during WW II. Béla and his family were part of an extraordinary Jewish community, known for both its religious fervor and its Zionist movement, that had thrived for centuries until being eradicated less than a year before the end of the war.
The book spans the years from 1928, when Béla is a teenager, until his death in 2003. Through both Béla’s own voice and various poignant letters sent to him over the years by family members, it tells of Béla’s extraordinary experiences during years of harsh imprisonment in the Hungarian labor camp system. The struggles of Béla’s nuclear and extended family to comprehend and prepare for the Holocaust are portrayed, as are the fates of various members of a family torn apart by the war and Holocaust and the implausible circumstances that the survivors endure before reuniting. One of Béla’s brothers visited the World’s Fair in New York in 1940 and was convinced to enlist in the U.S. Army Intelligence Unit. He later participated in the liberation of Paris and acted as an interviewer of Nazi guards at the Buchenwald concentration camp. Another brother escaped to Palestine in 1939 by jumping ship and swimming a mile to shore, and later fought in the British Army. Other siblings survived Auschwitz, Dachau, and Bergen-Belsen.
Béla also tells of his first love, a woman who urges him unsuccessfully to emigrate to Palestine with her, and of meeting and falling in love with his wife, Marika Leiner. Marika endures the terror of living on her own as a teenager with false identity papers in a city, Budapest, that is ravaged by some of the fiercest street fighting of the war as well as by the horrors inflicted by Adolph Eichmann and his henchmen together with the murderous Arrow Cross (the Hungarian Nazi Party).
The second half of the book describes Bela and Marika's escape from Soviet-ruled Eastern Europe to Italy, their struggle to begin their lives anew in the United States, the crushing impact on them of their wartime experiences, and the feelings of guilt, hatred, fear, and abandonment that haunted them and the other Ingber family members.
In “Béla’s Letters,” Béla tells of a family whose trust, amid the world’s betrayal, lay only with blood. One’s brother would remain one’s brother. Not even G-d, who appeared to have looked away, was as certain. At the core of the book are the letters and postcards written to Béla, which were his lifeline and remained so, even decades after the war ended.