Personal thoughts on the Memoir
When the book opens in 1938, Agi Jambor is 29 and already has a remarkable career as a concert pianist behind her. Now she is married to fellow Hungarian Imre Patai, a 44-year-old physicist, and is about to accompany her husband as his career takes him to Eindhoven in The Netherlands.
Agi Jambor was born in Budapest of well-to-do, cultured Hungarian parents. Her mother was Jewish and an accomplished piano teacher. Agi was a child prodigy at the piano, and when she was in her teens had built such a reputation as a concert pianist in Western Europe that renowned German pianist Edwin Fischer took her on as a favoured pupil in Berlin. However, sensitive from the start to the anti-Semitism around her in German-speaking countries and conscious of the growing threat of violence from supporters of the Nazi party, Agi fled to Paris in 1931 and virtually into exile. Rather than playing in public she scratched a living as pianist in a dance studio.
She met Imre and they married in 1933, moving back to their native country where he worked in a research laboratory. She obviously adored her husband. They both had high ideals, motivated in everything they undertook by a desire to bring about a better world.
This is where this account of her life during the next few years begins. She actually wrote it from memory when the couple had eventually reached a safe haven in the United States after a horrifying period of terrifying experiences. The word incredible, so over-used nowadays, can be applied with justification to this story. One would find it unbelievably melodramatic if it were fiction.
Ironically, it was Agi’s piano playing that eventually brought about their release from the nightmare, though it was Imre’s scientific skills that secured the invitation to America.
We do not know what impelled Agi to compose the memoir or when she did so. Nor do we know whether she typed it herself or dictated it to a friend who did. The title on the original, The Story of Agi Jambor, suggests the latter.
The typescript lay in a drawer in the care of her great-niece for 20 years. Then, urged by friends to whom she lent the pages for appraisal, Frances decided it had to be brought into the public domain. At her invitation I have lightly edited the text to facilitate reading but doing my best to preserve Agi’s characteristic phraseology.
In any case, prepare for a unique experience. In bewildering succession you will encounter Hungarians in turn loyal and treacherous, Nazis cruel or beyond measure kind and Russians crude and cultured. Agi herself veers from timorous to lionhearted, caring to callous under the intolerable pressure of circumstances. There are heart attacks and allergy cures, tragedy and – yes! – gaiety, beauty and filth, a rollercoaster of emotion expressed with a simplicity that leads straight to the heart.
F Peter Woodford
London, England, 2019