History in My Life

History in My Life: A Memoir of Three Eras

Ivan T. Berend
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Pages: 286
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  • Book Info
    History in My Life
    Book Description:

    Berend's memoir offers an interesting case study, a subjective addition to the “objective” historical works on Central and Eastern European state socialism. It describes the hard choices of intellectuals in a dictatorial state: 1. remain in isolation, concentrate on scholarly works, and exclude politics in your personal life; 2. be in opposition, criticize and unveil the regime, accept discrimination and exclusion; 3. remain within the establishment and work for reforming the country using legal possibilities to criticize the regime and to achieve changes from within. The book raises basic historical questions and debates, compares East European and American higher education systems, and presents an eyewitness’ insights on life in the United States.

    eISBN: 978-615-5211-77-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. Introduction and Acknowledgement
    (pp. 1-4)

    I bear witness to the most horrible times of twentieth-century Central Europe: its industrialized mass murder, genocide, oppression, hyperinflation and poverty, its revolutions and struggle for a better life. I was born at an unfortunate time in an unfortunate place, Budapest, Hungary during the Great Depression. The authoritarian regime became a close ally of Hitler, shifted more and more to the Right, then established a Nazi system, which sent me the teenager to Hungarian prisons and Nazi-German concentration camp.

    I survived and returned to a Hungary that turned to democracy, land reform, and free elections, but in a few years,...

  4. My Family in Budapest in the 1930s
    (pp. 5-20)

    During the first decade of my life between the Great Depression and the beginning of World War II, I was not aware of horrible times, existential fears and dangers. I was born in December 1930 in Budapest. This was one of the worst years of the devastating Great Depression in Hungary and world-wide. Unemployment, bankruptcies, and poverty reached peak numbers everywhere. The world’s industrial output declined by 30 percent, grain prices by 60 percent; twenty million Europeans became unemployed.

    Life expectancy at birth was less than 60 years in the United States and about 55 in Hungary. It was a...

  5. The End of Childhood
    (pp. 21-30)

    In normal circumstances it is hard to assign the end of someone’s childhood to an exact date. In my case, however, childhood ended on October 31, 1944. Both history and our family situation turned from bad to worse then. Hungary joined Hitler’s war in 1941 and declared war not only against the Soviet Union but—it is still hard to understand—also against the United States. Because Regent Miklós Horthy, head of state and deliberate collaborator with Hitler, secretly initiated separate armistice talks with the Allied countries in 1944, in spite of the alliance between Germany and Hungary, on March...

  6. Dachau—and the Südosteuropa-Gesellschaft’s Conference in Munich
    (pp. 31-38)

    When the Russian troops neared Komárom all the prisoners were taken to the railway station and pushed into cattle cars, seventy or eighty of us to a wagon. In one of the corners, a slop-pail for all of us. The doors were closed and our trip began. Everybody received a loaf of bread for the entire trip. In a wooden box there was a piece of hard marmalade for the entire group, to be cut and distributed by one of our “fellow travelers” who, on finishing, washed his sticky hands in his own urine above the slop-pail. We had no...

  7. The Gebirgsjägerschule in Mittenwald
    (pp. 39-42)

    The Yugoslav prisoner of war who worked for a Bavarian farming family shook my shoulder. “Wake up and look outside!” I emerged from the warm straw and went to the small window of the barn. What a triumphant feeling! My endless nightmare had ended! An American soldier stood in the middle of the small square, a box of hand-grenades next to him. White flags were hanging all over the houses of the small Bavarian village. May 1, 1945. The war was over for me.

    Soon all five of us, 14 to15 year-old boys stood outside the barn: a strange group...

  8. Where is My Home?
    (pp. 43-58)

    After the period in the hell of prisons and the concentration camp, after the miraculous escape from certain early death, it took me four months to fully recover. From Mittenwald, we were soon sent over to another rehabilitation camp set up by the American army in Feldafing, next to the Starnberger See, a beautiful lake in the lower slopes of the German Alps. The summer arrived and I had no responsibility other than to recuperate. The free atmosphere strongly helped my return to normal life.I even learned to swim in the lake. I started smoking cigarettes as well. I...

  9. The 1956 Revolution in My Life
    (pp. 59-74)

    During the two decades in my formative years, from the late 1930s to the late 1950s, I witnessed four regime changes in Hungary. This experience in itself was a major history lesson for me. The conservative-authoritarian Horthy regime, a close ally of Hitler up to then, was replaced on October 15, 1944, by the murderous Arrow Cross Hungarian Nazi regime of Ferenc Szálasi. After the liberation of the country a transitory quasi-democratic, multi-party system emerged, with two multi-party parliamentary elections in 1945 and 1947. Although the Communist Party gained only 17 and 22 percent of the votes respectively, its role,...

  10. My Universities
    (pp. 75-94)

    This title imitates the title of a novel by the Russian writer Maxim Gorky, who considered his life as his universities. This was not exactly my case. I spent four years at two major universities of Budapest, the University of Economics, and the Eötvös Lóránd University between 1949 and 1953. I defended my doctoral dissertation in Economics (in 1957), then became “candidate” (the equivalent of Ph.D.) in 1958, and doctor (similar to the French and German second, or habilitation degree) of history in 1962 at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

    In a real sense, however, my universities began earlier and...

  11. A Widening World, Learning by Traveling
    (pp. 95-106)

    “My universities” after 1960, as described above, were directly connected with the transformation and opening of Hungary. The new situation seemed unnatural to me, because the country had been closed since 1947–48. The borders were physically sealed off by means of barbed wire fences, mine fields, and watch towers. After my forced travel to Dachau in 1944, I could not leave the country again until 1958, when, on an Academy of Sciences grant, I was allowed go to East Germany for a month. I stayed in East Berlin. The Berlin Wall did not yet exist, and I could visit...

  12. In the International Community of Historians; Friends all Over the World
    (pp. 107-118)

    The exciting and inspiring XIth International History Congress in Stockholm in 1960 organized by the International Committee of Historical Sciences, and the political changes in Hungary opened a gate for me to integrate into the community of historians. This Congress turned out to be the cradle of a new scholarly organization, the International Economic History Association. Fernand Braudel and Michael Postan, the two doyens of economic history, founded this independent institution that held its first meeting there and continued to meet somewhere in the world every three or four years from then on. I never missed a congress of either...

  13. Experiencing and Writing History: a Special Friend, Books and Debates
    (pp. 119-154)

    One evening in 1967, at a dinner party following my lecture at London University, a colleague and friend introduced me to another English colleague mentioning that I had published five books. Before shaking my hand, this sharp-tongued Englishman stated: “How interesting. I recently met a Polish historian who also published several books. The salaries in Eastern Europe are seemingly so low that people are running to publish a lot.” Salaries were undoubtedly low, but one could not make money by publishing scholarly books either. For me research and writing was my life, my hobby, and my best entertainment.

    I started...

  14. Teaching in Two Different University Systems
    (pp. 155-168)

    Research and teaching have mutually influenced each other and become inseparable in my life. In several cases I taught certain courses for years before working on a book on the topic. Such was the case with my four volume series on Central and Eastern Europe, which was born of a one-and-a-half decades long span of both teaching and research.

    For a third of a century I taught in Hungary at the University of Economics, and now for two decades at UCLA at the History Department. The two universities may be six thousand miles apart, but the difference between the two...

  15. My Globalized Family
    (pp. 169-174)

    In my childhood, my large family was localized. I had five uncles and aunts and more than thirty cousins in the countryside, most of them in an east Hungarian village called Hajdúhadháza. In Budapest I knew several members of my mother’s family. We often visited my uncles, my grandmother’s brother and his family, and some distant relatives. Among them were five sisters who lived together, and although I did not know their exact relationship to us, they were considered part of the family. The oldest sister, Aunt Ilona, had had a stroke and stayed in bed all the time.


  16. In the Establishment
    (pp. 175-206)

    My career was thoroughly grounded in academia. The University of Economics in Budapest offered me my first job and I spent a third of a century at the same University. My scholarly work and productivity paved the way for my advance. In 1953, I began as an assistant professor, in 1960 became associate professor, and then in 1964, with five published books, a full professor. When my mentor and the founder of the Economic History Department, Zsigmond Pál Pach, took over the directorship of the Institute of History at the Academy of Sciences in 1967, I followed him as the...

  17. In the Storm of Regime Change
    (pp. 207-232)

    Hungary, like all Soviet Bloc countries, was in a deep economic crisis by the end of the 1980s. This was not a new development but part of a continuous slide since the 1973 oil crisis. The last quarter of the century was a period of a new revolution in technology and communications. Although the oil crisis, with the significant inflation it generated, was a turning point after the highest prosperity and fastest economic growth in European history, the setback could have been only transitory since oil prices receded again in a few years. Of more importance was the appearance of...

  18. Leaving Hungary for Los Angeles
    (pp. 233-242)

    I have to return to the year 1989 when Iván Szelényi, and his wife Kati visited Hungary. For a few years, Iván and Kati were able to visit Hungary and planned to stay for longer visits there from time to time. We often met since they were forced to emigrate in 1975. Iván visited me in Oxford when I was at All Souls College; I reciprocated in New York, when he worked there. We had a long common history. He sat in my freshmen class in 1957. We became colleagues, sometimes visited each other’s homes, but a special connection developed...

  19. America
    (pp. 243-274)

    Even though it has stretched into two decades, our life in the United States has been an endless discovery of a new world. I certainly cannot tell an American reader anything new about the United States. My impressions, however, might represent an outside perspective on very well known subjects that, just because they are “natural” for Americans, are not always obvious or given deliberate thought. Moreover, my viewpoint is of both that of an insider and an outsider, since it is based on better and deeper knowledge than visitors may have, but nevertheless with an eye still fresh. Actually I...

  20. References
    (pp. 275-276)
  21. List of Photos
    (pp. 277-278)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 279-279)