APRIL 2007 – NO. 14
A guest in my own country
February 1945. We are sitting on a bench in a motionless cattle car. I can't pull myself away from the open door and the wind whipping off the snowy plains. I didn't want to be a constant guest in Budapest; I wanted to go home — a weeklong trip — to Berettyóújfalu, the town our parents had been abducted from, the town we had managed to leave a day before the deportations. Had we stayed one more day we would have ended up in Auschwitz. My sister, who was 14, might have survived, but I was 11, and Dr. Mengele sent all my classmates, every last one, to the gas chambers.
Of our parents we knew nothing. I had given up on the idea of going from the staircase to the vestibule to the light-blue living room and finding everything as it had been. I had a feeling I would find nothing there at all. But if I closed my eyes, I could go through the old motions: walk downstairs, step through the iron gate, painted yellow, and see my father next to the tile oven, rubbing his hands, smiling, chatting, turning his blue eyes to everyone with a trusting but impish gaze, as if to ask, "We understand each other, don't we?" In a postprandial mood he would have gone onto the balcony and stretched out on his deck chair, lighting up a long Memphis cigarette in its gold mouthpiece, looking over the papers, then nodding off.
Excerpted from A Guest in My Own Country by George Konrád, translated from the Hungarian by Jim Tucker. Copyright © 2002 by György Konrád, used courtesy Other Press.
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