1 - Reminiscences
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1 Reminiscences A few years agomy cousin, who from time to time visits Bridgeport, Connecticut, a city that lies twenty-­ five miles east of her present home in Greenwich, sent me a picture book showing her birthplace as it looked in the late 1940s. Both of us immediately recognized the faded pictures of Bridgeport in an earlier era and such onetime landmarks as the amusement park at Pleasure Beach—­ which partially burned down and ceased to operate in the 1950s—­ and the stately Wheeler mansion at the conflux of Golden Hill, Congress, and several other streets that may no longer be where they once were. As I looked at this out-­ of-­ print picture book, it became obvious that its presence did not depend on any tangible object. The places were irremovably embedded in my consciousness and in that of other family members of my generation; alas, our numbers may now be dwindling. Equally significant, this internalized past has to be understood as occupying a particular space. Groups that have traditionally highlighted a time dimension rather than a spatial one have sometimes shifted this emphasis in light of certain historical events. The Jews—­ who mourned the loss of their temple and second commonwealth—­ became more centered on spatial identity once a Jewish state was reestablished. Their spatial dimension never disappeared entirely; it simply grew less important than the sense of time in sustaining a national consciousness. I can only trace back my family roots about 120 years. As fate would have it, I have already devoted a long chapter to my known ancestors in the introductory chapters of my memoir Encounters.1 I learned that Nazi bullies dragged off cousins of mine living in Budapest to a labor camp, where one or more of them died of typhus. I also learned that a half uncle and his son died during Nazi German occupation of the Hungarian capital of Budapest, but don’t know in what circumstances or who killed my unfortunate relatives. Uncles on my father’s side served in the Austro-­ Hungarian army during World War I, so we lost the only war that, as far as I know, my family ever fought in. 2 C H A P T E R O ne Although I confess to being partial toward the Hapsburg Empire that fell in 1918, I would not defend every cause that my ancestors embraced. I have relatives who were ranking Communist officials in the regime that took over Hungary in 1919, yet I see no reason to rush to defend the honor of these relatives or that of the brutal regime they served. But I’m also not inclined to condemn these people whom I have never met. I know next to nothing about the half brothers of my father, except that they rallied to a short-­ lived Communist government and then came to the aid of other family members. To their credit, these Communist officials generously assisted my grandparents, whose sewing machine equipment they managed to have returned to them. Despite the grinding poverty to which my family was reduced after the “war to end all wars,” we were declared to be Polgarsag: certified bourgeois who were oppressing the working class.I’m not sure how my grandparents—­ who were then scrounging for food—­ qualified as such, but they did get back their equipment, thanks to nepotistic Communist relatives. Familialism does have its moral merits, as my father strongly hinted while telling me this story. The paucity of generations that I can discuss knowledgeably may be one reason that I think about my early youth spatially. I grew up in a delimited space—­ a specific neighborhood in a specific city—­ and it contributed to both the formation of my thinking and how I viewed the world in the 1950s and later.We lived in the North End of Bridgeport, which when I was very young had a certain cachet. In a sense, it was postethnic American, since all the other“ends”were characterized by ethnic concentrations. The West End was “Hunkieland,” as the Hungarians themselves proudly referred to it; the South End embraced Greeks, the University of Bridgeport, Seaside Park, and—­ together with the East End—­ what there was of a black population. Most of the East End—­ to my memory—­ was Slavic. Eastern European Jews lived with the Poles and Czechs in the East End. Hungarian Jews were found mostly in the West End; that is, until they collected enough money to...


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Subject Headings

  • Conservatism.
  • Liberalism.
  • Right and left (Political science).
  • Political science -- Philosophy.
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