Saturday, 23 August 2008

House 1

I was wrong about the portraits of the poet in the hall. There are four sketches, head only: neat, dapper, moustachioed, delicate babyish features, slightly chubby, his dark hair slicked back, a small man as the features suggest. His name was Simon Kemény, and he had been a relatively poor poet and journalist until he met a well-known actress, Rozália Újfalusi. She is the one whose portrait faces me now. She had already been married once, to a man much older than herself who had died, leaving money for her.

Simon and Rozália married at the beginning of the thirties, bought the plot of land on which the house now stands and had an architect friend design the house in a vaguely baroque revival style, accommodating certain modern features such as square, uncapitalised columns. The house was finished in 1933 and painted that particular baroque yellow which is just on the ochre side of amber, the colour it remains today. They had a staff of three including a cook, a valet and a maid.

From here they conducted a social life, built up a library and lived affectionately together. She was considerably taller than he was and fondly petted him. By this time she no longer worked as an actress and had plumped out a little, though the green dress in the portrait hides that. Her expression there is kindly, somewhere between maternal and girlish. There were no children.

When the anti-Jewish laws came in he was not forced into the ghetto, possibly because he had been baptised at birth (or converted early), more likely because he was married to an Aryan woman. Conversion did not ensure exemption. Radnóti had converted early too and ended dead in a ditch.

Simon kept a war diary. I have a published copy at home. I read it some ten years ago and it seems a good business-like account, clinging to hopes of an allied victory. In any case they survived even though the house was hit by a shell that destroyed his library. An unexploded shell was found under the cellar a few years ago.

But late in 1944 they were raided by the fascist militia who were looting where they could. They told Rozalia that unless she produced all her jewelry they would shoot her husband. She produced it but they still shot him, out in the garden, along with the valet and Simon's brother who happened to be sheltering with them.

The rooms are generously wide, the ceilings high, though there is conspicuous subsidence. I'll write a little more about the subsequent history of the house in another post.

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