Béla Zsolt: Nine Suitcases, London 2005

 

Between the two world wars Béla Zsolt was one of Hungary’s best known writers. Nine Suitcases, first published in instalments in 1946-47 and suppressed for decades by the socialist regime, is one of the earliest – and greatest – Holocaust memoirs. Zsolt was spared Auschwitz, but as a ghetto inmate and a forced labourer he experienced some of the worst atrocities of the Holocaust.

Nine Suitcases is a singularly perceptive study of Hungarian fascism and at the same time a shocking exposure of the cruelty, treachery and cowardice of which human beings in general – victims and perpetrators – are capable. The series of horrors, interrupted by moments of grotesque farce and grim wit, portray the world as nightmare. Combining the gifts of an accomplished novelist and a skilled journalist, Zsolt created an extraordinary monument to human evil, made bearable only by the exhilarating quality of his powerful writing.

Zsolt was one of 1700 Hungarian Jews rescued from Bergen-Belsen by Rezső Kasztner (see my Dealing with Satan). I was another, although Zsolt would hardly have taken any notice of a boy aged eleven. Neither of us would have thought that half a century later I would become the English translator of his great work.

From the Reviews

"Grimly compelling, deeply human, Nine Suitcases is a skilfully nuanced memoir ... Ladislaus Löb's lively translation captures both the rich textures of Zsolt's prose and his ear for realistic dialogue." Jewish Chronicle<?

 

"His translation captures the nuances of the fluctuating moods of these tense and horrifying years, including the occasional flashes of a kind of gallows humour, with the sympathetic insight of one who knows how to balance on the razor's edge of a constantly threatened existence." Camden New Journal

 

"This is the work of an accomplished writer. The structure is loose but engaging and the reader is carried along on the strength of Zsolt's voice. Translator Ladislaus Löb seems to have artfully reproduced its every register." New York Sun

 

"This powerful translation by Ladislaus Löb, who knew Zsolt in Belsen, is heartbreaking." The Observer