Imre Kertész

The native form of this personal name is Kertész Imre. This article uses the Western name order.
Imre Kertész

Imre Kertész in Szeged (2007)
Born (1929-11-09)9 November 1929
Budapest, Hungary
Died 31 March 2016(2016-03-31) (aged 86)
Budapest, Hungary
Occupation Novelist
Ethnicity Hungarian Jewish
Notable works Fatelessness
Kaddish for an Unborn Child
Notable awards Nobel Prize in Literature
Spouse Albina Vas
(d. 1995)
Magda Ambrus
(m. 1996)

Imre Kertész (Hungarian: [ˈimrɛ ˈkɛrteːs]; 9 November 1929  31 March 2016) was a Hungarian author and recipient of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Literature, "for writing that upholds the fragile experience of the individual against the barbaric arbitrariness of history".[3] He was the first Hungarian to win the Nobel in Literature. His works deal with themes of Nazi Holocaust (he was a survivor of a German concentration camp), dictatorship and personal freedom.[1] He died on 31 March 2016, aged 86, at his home in Budapest after suffering from Parkinson's disease for several years.[4][5]

Life and work

Kertész was born in Budapest, Hungary, on 9 November 1929, the son of Aranka Jakab and László Kertész,[6] a bourgeois Jewish couple. After his parents separated when he was around the age of five, Kertész attended a boarding school and, in 1940, he started secondary school where he was put into a special class for Jewish students.[7] During World War II, Kertész was deported in 1944 at the age of 14 with other Hungarian Jews to the Auschwitz concentration camp, and was later sent to Buchenwald.[8] Upon his arrival at the camps, Kertész claimed to be a 16-year old worker, thus saving him from the instant extermination that awaited a 14-year old.[9] After his camp was liberated in 1945, Kertész returned to Budapest,[10] graduated from high school in 1948,[11] and then went on to find work as a journalist and translator. In 1951, he lost his job at the journal Világosság (Clarity) after the publication started leaning towards communism.[10] For a short term he worked as a factory worker and then in the press department of the Ministry of Heavy Industry.[2] From 1953 he started freelance journalism and translated various works into Hungarian, including Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Elias Canetti.[1]

His best-known work, Fatelessness (Sorstalanság), describes the experience of 15-year-old György (George) Köves in the concentration camps of Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Zeitz. Written between 1960 and 1973, the novel was initially rejected for publication by the Communist regime in Hungary, but was published in 1975.[1] Some have interpreted the book as quasi-autobiographical, but the author disavows a strong biographical connection. The book would go on to become part of many high school curriculums in Hungary.[1] In 2005, a film based on the novel, for which he wrote the script, was made in Hungary.[12] Although sharing the same title, some reviews noted that the film was more autobiographical than the novel on which it was based. It was released internationally at various dates in 2005 and 2006.

Following on from Fatelessness, Kertész's Fiasco (1988) and Kaddish for an Unborn Child (1990) are, respectively, the second and third parts of his holocaust trilogy.[10] His writings translated into English include Kaddish for an Unborn Child (Kaddis a meg nem született gyermekért) and Liquidation (Felszámolás), the latter set during the period of Hungary's evolution into a democracy from communist rule.[1]

From the beginning, Kertész found little appreciation for his writing in Hungary,[8] and he moved to Germany where he received more active support from publishers and reviewers, along with more appreciative readers. After his move, he continued translating German works into Hungarian,[8] notably The Birth of Tragedy, the plays of Dürrenmatt, Schnitzler and Tankred Dorst, and various thoughts and aphorisms of Wittgenstein. Kertész also continued working at his craft, writing his fiction in Hungarian, but did not publish another novel until the late 1980s.[12] But from that point on, he submitted his work to publishers in Hungary until his death in March 2016. Grateful that he had found his most significant success as a writer and artist in Germany, Kertész left his abatement to the Academy of Arts in Berlin.[7]

In November 2013, Kertész underwent a successful surgery on his right hip after falling down in his home.[13] However, he continued to deal with various health concerns during the last few years of his life. He'd recently been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, and he was again suffering from depression, reported to have been a recurring battle in his own life. In fact, Kertész had struggled with this same issue through his art, as the main character of his 2003 book Felszámolás (Liquidation) commits suicide after struggling with depression.[2]

Kertész died in Budapest on 31 March 2016 at the age of 86.[1]


Kertész was a controversial figure within Hungary, especially since being Hungary's first and only Nobel Laureate in Literature, he still lived in Germany. This tension was exacerbated by a 2009 interview with Die Welt, in which Kertész vowed himself a "Berliner" and called Budapest "completely balkanized."[14][15] Many Hungarian newspapers reacted negatively to this statement, claiming it to be hypocritical. Other critics viewed the Budapest comment ironically, saying it represented "a grudge policy that is painfully and unmistakably, characteristically Hungarian."[16] Kertész later clarified in a Duna TV interview that he had intended his comment to be "constructive" and called Hungary "his homeland."[16]

Also controversial was Kertész's criticism of Steven Spielberg's depiction of the Holocaust in the 1993 film Schindler's List as kitsch, saying: "I regard as kitsch any representation of the Holocaust that is incapable of understanding or unwilling to understand the organic connection between our own deformed mode of life and the very possibility of the Holocaust."[17]

In November 2014 Kertész was the subject of an interview with The New York Times. Kertész claimed the reporter was expecting him to question Hungary's democratic values and was shocked to hear Kertész say that "the situation in Hungary is nice, I'm having a great time". According to Kertész, "he didn't like my answer. His purpose must have been to make me call Hungary a dictatorship which it isn't. In the end the interview was never published".[18]

List of works

Awards and honors

This list is incomplete; you can help by expanding it.

International prizes

Hungarian prizes

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Pablo Gorondi. "Nobel literature laureate Imre Kertesz dies at 86". Associated Press. Retrieved 31 March 2016 via The Seattle Times.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 George Gomori (31 March 2016). "Imre Kertész obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 April 2016.
  3. 1 2 3 "The Nobel Prize in Literature 2002 – Imre Kertész". Retrieved 9 February 2008.
  4. "Imre Kertész gestorben" (in German). Tagesschau. 31 March 2016. Retrieved 31 March 2016.
  5. George Gomori, "Imre Kertész obituary"
  6. Hermann, Péter; Pásztor, Antal. Magyar és nemzetközi ki kicsoda, 1994 (in Hungarian). Retrieved 31 March 2016.
  7. 1 2 "Literaturnobelpreisträger Kertész gestorben: Der Retter seiner Seele" (in German). Tagesschau. 31 March 2016. Retrieved 31 March 2016.
  8. 1 2 3 "Imre Kertész". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 9 February 2008.
  9. Kandell, Jonathan (31 March 2016). "Imre Kertesz, Nobel Laureate Who Survived Holocaust, Dies at 86". The New York Times. Retrieved 31 March 2016.
  10. 1 2 3 "Imre Kertész, Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate, dies at 86". The Guardian. 31 March 2016. Retrieved 31 March 2016.
  11. "Elhunyt Kertész Imre" [Imre Kertész has died]. Mandiner (in Hungarian). 31 March 2016. Retrieved 31 March 2016.
  12. 1 2 Riding, Alan (3 January 2006). "The Holocaust, From a Teenage View". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 February 2008.
  13. "Kertész undergoes surgery". 22 November 2013. Retrieved 1 April 2016.
  14. "Kertészkedés". Retrieved 11 May 2014.
  15. Krause, Tilman (7 November 2009). "Ich schreibe keine Holocaust-Literatur, ich schreibe Romane" (in German). Die Welt. Retrieved 31 March 2016.
  16. 1 2 "Kertész birthday interview causes controversy". Hungarian Literature Online. Retrieved 11 May 2014.
  17. "Holocaust Reflections". Retrieved 31 January 2011.
  18. "Elhallgatta a New York Times Kertész Imre véleményét" [The New York Times has kept back the opinion of Imre Kertész]. Mandiner (in Hungarian). 11 November 2014. Retrieved 11 November 2014.
  19. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 "The Nobel Prize in Literature 2002 - Bio-bibliography". Retrieved 31 March 2016.
  20. Földényi F., László (5 March 2009). "Kibújni a darócból - Kertész Imre: Európa nyomasztó öröksége". Magyar Narancs (in Hungarian) (10). Retrieved 1 April 2016.
  21. Weiner Sennyey, Tibor (20 October 2011). "Nemzetkritika másként – Kertész Imre "Mentés másként" című könyvének bemutatója a PIMben". Irodalmi Jelen (in Hungarian). Retrieved 1 April 2016.
  22. 1 2 3 4 5 Louise Olga Vasvári; Steven Tötösy de Zepetnek (2005). Imre Kertész and Holocaust Literature. Purdue University Press. p. 272. ISBN 978-1-55753-396-8.
  23. 1 2 3 Michelle Pauli (10 October 2002). "Holocaust writer wins Nobel Prize". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 March 2016.
  24. "Deutsche Akademie für Sprache und Dichtung - Awards - Friedrich-Gundolf-Preis - Imre Kertész". Retrieved 31 March 2016.
  25. 1 2 "Meghalt Kertész Imre" [Imre Kertész has died]. Index (in Hungarian). 31 March 2016. Retrieved 31 March 2016.
  26. "WELT-Literaturpreis an Imre Kertész in Berlin verliehen". Buch Markt (in German). 10 November 2000. Retrieved 11 November 2012.
  27. "Imre Kertész was awarded the Jean Améry Prize". HLO. 8 July 2009. Retrieved 31 March 2016.
  28. "La Grande médaille Vermeil de la Ville de Paris à Imre Kertész". (in French). Retrieved 31 March 2016.
  29. 1 2 3 4 "Meghalt Kertész Imre" [Imre Kertész has died]. (in Hungarian). 31 March 2016. Retrieved 31 March 2016.
  30. "Szent István Renddel tüntették ki Kertész Imrét és Rubik Ernőt" [Imre Kertész and Ernő Rubik have been awarded the Order of Saint Stephen]. 20 August 2014. Retrieved 31 March 2016.

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