Pink postcards 6.

[28 November 1914?]
Name of the sender: Károly Timó, 1st Infantry Regiment
Address of the sender: 3rd battalion, 2nd section, People’s Park

Address: To the honored Miss Antónia Zajác
3rd district, Kis-Korona Street 52

My dear son.
I felt so bad that on Sunday I could not come home, because the orders came like this, in the last minute. I was waiting for you down at the gate, but in vain. I hope, my son, that you are already healthy. Take care of yourself, because I, for example, cannot prevent myself from being cold. What does your mom do, is she completely all right? In the last week I had a little free time in the evenings, but now there us such an upheaval, that one gets really dizzy. Things are absolutely not going well here. And I do not know yet when I will be released. In the meantime, I kiss you

Previous letters (indicated in grey on the map):

Budapest, 27 November 1914
Budapest, 18 November 1914
Budapest, 27 October 1914
Debrecen, 25 September 1914
Szerencs, 28 August 1914
[Among the usual laments for the highly coveted, but always postponed rendezvous, there is a dropped half-sentence referring to the small circles of the war, the atmosphere and mood of the battalion preparing to go to the front. The position of the troops of the Monarchy dissolved the dreams of late summer. The momentum of the blitz against Serbia was broken, and the Russian troops – however the contemporary press tries to soften it – have already crossed the thousand-year old borders, and in many places have already invaded the inner curve of the Carpathians.

“We’ll beat the Russians out of the Carpathians!”

Nervousness, conflicting commands and news, fears and uncertain feelings may whirl behind the walls. Well, yes: “Things are absolutely not going well here.”]

Pink postcards 5.

[27 November 1914]
Name of the sender: Károly Timó, 1st Hung. Royal Infantry Regiment
Address of the sender: 3rd …? 2nd marching section, Budapest

Address: To the honored Miss Antónia Zajác
3rd district, Kiskorona Street 52

My dear son, I received your postcard (r. v. k.), which is the only solace here, since I cannot come home. I hope that by the time you get this card, you will be healthy. I do not know whether I can come home on Sunday, because on that day I will be fully equipped, all next week, we go to Érd, Tétény, to shoot. Wednesday at noon I called the shop, but you were still at home. In the weekdays there is no chance to come home, but if on Sunday at 5 p.m. I won’t be at home, come here at 6, if you are healthy, I will wait for you at the gate, because I would like to see you. Now I live opposite the old building, in the place of the 29th regiment, 1st floor, 33rd door, but the address is what I wrote outside.
The old chap was here on Thursday. I am still cold, but it will be like this, because it cannot be helped.
I greet all of you.
Kisses and embraces from your zs… [Jew?]

Previous letters (indicated in grey on the map):

Budapest, 18 November 1914
Budapest, 27 October 1914
Debrecen, 25 September 1914
Szerencs, 28 August 1914
[A later inserted, unintelligible abbreviation (r. v. k.) in the second line of the postcard, which perhaps stands for “rögtön választ kérek/kapsz” (I beg for / you will get an answer ASAP). A whole week of outdoor excercise means that they can say goodbye to any meeting in the next week.

Why to Tétény? Presumably they were looking for some hilly terrain next to their regiment, similar to the imagined scenes of their future clashes. From the barracks of the regiment in the Népliget / People’s Park, they could easily carry all their equipments with a freight train to Tétény. From there, the edge of the plateau is only one or two kilometers.

The pre-war military survey, whose 1:75 000 scale Spezialkarten can be seen at the site of the Arcanum publisher, indicates no object whatsoever in the field, apart from a sheep-fold. The designation of the exercise ground might have become important later, because of the military preparations. From this period, there has been left to us the sketch of an exercise, now preserved in the Military Map Library of the Hungarian Institute and Museum of Military History. Red-blooded and blue-blooded marks play soldier.

Sketch of a military exercise

In the later editions, continuously updated and corrected, the shooting range will also appear in the area, whose inscriptions, in line with the directions of the common Austro-Hungarian army, were in German, the language of command. Thus Károly marches out, instead of having the longed-for meetings with his correspondent.

Detail of a more recent edition of the third military survey, representing the Tétényi plateau with the shooting range and exercise ground (Military Map Library of the IMMH)

The text is written in indelible pencil, which makes the address side almost illegible, but it can be partly read in the mirror, but we will return to this later.]

Next postcard: 28 November 1914

The theater of architecture

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Can you imagine that Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan and Le Corbusier set forth on the stage in rap style their perceptions of modern architecture, while in the background Buffalo Bill accompanies them with dancing, occasionally interrupting their performance, approving it and giving them commands, with all of this, to judge from the reactions, serving to enhance the connoisseurship and national identity of the audience?

That’s what happened tonight on the stage of Divadlo Na zábradlí, of course, in the Czech context. In the chamber theater operating just a few minutes from the Charles Bridge, the musical comedy Divadlo Gočár, “Gočár Theater” by the theater’s house author Miloš Orson Štědroň brings to stage Josef Gočár, Pavel Janák and Jože Plečnik, the three great architects who in the 1910s created modern Czech architecture. The scene is a fictional architecture studio where they work together, and, both in dialogues and in arias, expound their architectural principles, accompanied by a brilliant jazz trio – drums, saxophone/clarinet and piano, the latter played by the author himself. The texts are full of hilarious jokes, the audience dies of laughter, while they present the essence of Czech avant-garde trends, Functionalism, Cubism and Rondocubism in a very informative manner.

The fourth role of the play is the Czechoslovak Republic. A young woman, who, according the program blurb, “has a dual role: on the one hand, with her idealist, bold and enthusiastic position she is the symbol of the young republic, while on the other hand, as a vulgar and aggressive housewife she is the representative of Czech pettiness”. She comments on the arias on architectural theories by dancing, she’s enthusiastic for the architects and reproves them, gives them orders and distributes awards to them. She announces a competition for a church building, which gives the occasion for the masters to march on the stage with huge paper maquettes of their masterpieces, the Church of St. Wenceslaus in Vršovice, the Hus Church in Vinohrady, and the Church of the Holy Heart of Jesus in Vinohrady, and introduce in a jazz cantata their credos on the architectural visualization of the transcendent. All this is accompanied by a fifth, non-speaking figure, the protective gaze of the President, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, who, like the lucky cats in Chinese restaurants, waves his finger all through the play from a huge TV screen hanging in the middle of the stage.

This political allegory shows the importance of modern architecture in the former Czechoslovakia, and its topicality in today’s Czech Republic. After the independence of the country in 1918, modern architecture became an element of national identity, just as national Art Nouveau had been two decades earlier in other Eastern European countries. Modern architects enjoyed considerable political support, and local trends – especially Janák’s Cubism, and Gočár’s Rondocubism – were proclaimed the “Czechoslovak national style”. The classic modern became a defining feature of Czech – and, to a lesser extent, Slovak – urban image and aesthetics. Just here, within five hundred meters of the theater, you can see at least three important buildings from each of the three masters.

This presence of the modern in the public spaces and public mind explains the reaction of the audience and the success of the play. They understand the references to stylistic elements and to the particular Prague buildings, and they enjoy the striking summaries of modern architectural theories. The play, a retro gag in conception, evokes and makes perceivable in a new way a cherished era of Czech art and history, while enhancing the audience’s openness to contemporary architecture. It has been running in the Divadlo Na zábradlí for more than a year, and still enjoys a full house and ending with a huge ovation. A dream of every architect.

Josef Gočar: Staircase of the House of the Black Madonna, Prague, 1912

Velvet anniversary

In almost all Eastern European countries, 2014 is the twenty-fifth year. On 9 November the Berlin wall fell, and on 17 November there began in Prague’s Wenceslas Square the mass protest, which grew into a general strike, and by the end of the month overthrew the Czechoslovak Communist leadership.

Commemorations have taken place during the whole week in Prague. First of all, on Wenceslas Square, where on Monday, 17 November thousands gathered (and also protested against President Miloš Zeman), and candles have been continuously lit at the statue of St Wenceslas’ and at the Jan Palach memorial.

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In the weekly Respekt, a selection was published of pictures from twenty-five years ago by Karel Cudlín, former personal photographer of President Václav Havel.

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The close interconnection of the events in 1989 is illustrated by the exhibition in the Vítkov Hill monument, about how the East Germans who had fled to Prague were allowed out to the west in September 1989, which, together with the opening of the borders of Hungary, contributed to the fall of the Berlin wall, which then aided the success of the Prague protests.

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The bookstores have been inundated with biographies and photo albums of Václav Havel. In the Lucerna, the representative cultural passage and movie palace next to Wenceslas Square, a week-long “Film Festival of Freedom” has been organized, which solemnly ended with the premier of the first movie on President Havel’s life: Život podle Václava Havla, “Life according to Václav Havel”. The film, realized in collaboration with Czech Television and the French-German channel Arte, was composed by Andrea Sedláčková from two hundred hours of documentary films and several family photos. It follows Havel’s life from his childhood – and even from his grandparents’ life –, carefully balanced and face-lifted, cleaned from every disturbing element, and smoothed. The film, which, according to its rather negative, but fair review, was made “for schools, for the anniversary and for the foreign public”, produces a canonized biography of the great president for posterity. It is no coincidence, that the presentation took place in Lucerna, built by the president’s grandfather, Vácslav Havel – a leading construction contractor of Prague in the the early 20th century –, and owned by the president’s second wife, Dagmar Havlová (whose merits are duly emphasized in the film). From now on, this will be the past.

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Young Russia – the land of unlimited possibilities

On 17 November, under this title, there was published a special issue of National Geographic on Russia. Wait, not in this November. Exactly a hundred years ago, in 1914.

But the title was just as timely as it is now, even more so. In recent decades, research has increasingly confirmed that, in contrast to the commonplaces of post-1917 propaganda, pre-war Russia had ahead of it very promising signs of economic and social development, which was set back and led astray first by the war, and then by the revolution.

Lenin leads astray the peasant class, who, however, at this time only laugh at him

Edited by Gilbert H. Grosvenor, this special issue for the first time provided a detailed overview for the American public on Russia’s geography, history, economy, customs, traditions and its future in a prospect which he considered extremely bright. He thought that by the late 20th century Russia would be able to provide half the world’s population with food, while increasing its own population to 600 million. He quotes Tocqueville: “There are at the present time two great nations in the world … the Russians and the Americans … Their starting-point is different, and their courses are not the same; yet each of them seems marked out by the will of Heaven to sway the destinies of half the globe.” This one prophecy would not have disappointed him.

“Where race suicide has never been heard of … The Russians are noted for their fecundity …” This is enough proof that the issue does not come from today. According to the UN forecast, if trends do not improve, the population of Russia could fall by a third by 2050.

The magazine was illustrated with a hundred great black-and-white photographs and extensive text that is so informative, that today’s National Geographic really could take it as an example. It even included sixteen color images, which sounds surprisingly premature at this time – but if you look closely, the sixteen pictures were hand-colored.

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The black-and-white images and text of the special issue can be browsed in its entirety here.


I took this picture exactly seven years ago, in November 2007 in Yazd, the Zoroastrian clay city, somewhere in the bazaar neighborhood, in the labyrinth of indoor passages covered by garlands of domes. I published it here at río Wang two years later, together with another picture from Yazd – the third one was made in Shiraz, in the courtyard of the Vakil mosque, where we observed the cats playing during the silence of a lunch break –, as an illustration to the post, in which I introduced three beautiful Sephardic songs at the request of my friend, who had only heard commercial Sephardic music before that: the King Nimrod, the Dream of the Princess, and the Bride. I chose these pictures not only because of their oriental atmosphere, but also because it was here, in Yazd, that I first met Iranian Jews. They were women in colorful headscarves, who, recognizing in us the stranger, casually greeted us, and invited us to the bar mitzveh of the rabbi’s son. They roasted goats in the arcaded courtyard of a large medieval house, at the goldfish pool, and the diaspora came together even from the distant cities of Iran, there was an immense crowd.

Seven years later I came across this photo again. Browsing the web site of the Sephardic community of Santa Marta in Columbia, I reached the local publication Colonia Magazine – in free translation, “The Shtetl News”. And arriving at the bottom of the page, I also saw the elegant front page of the publication, which was decorated by iconic Sephardic pictures: a Star of David, a Seder table, a rabbi, a Sephardic band, a Jewish newspaper next to the coffee cup – and the indoor passage of Yazd, with the Zoroastrian or Shiite father, who carried in his arm his little son looking up to the light. And by stepping over to the initial page of the site, automatically resounded the song, which I had also started my post with: King Nimrod.

The picture found its way home.

All that is important

A common feature of the hitherto presented war phrasebooks is that sixty or seventy years later these volumes were rare guests on the shelves of second-hand book stores – and those published in the Soviet Union were even quickly destroyed. Would you have believed that there is at least one, which has been in use for generations to learn language, right up until today?

The Polish phrasebook by István Varsányi is well known to Hungarian students of Polish. If you leaf through it until the list of sources on the last page, the first book and its year of publication will immediately strike your eye.

Wladysław Szabliński: Wszystko co ważne. Minden ami fontos (“All that is important”). Debrecen, Városi nyomda, 1940

My friend József Mudrák, who works at the University of Debrecen, shared with me accurate and interesting information on the author. Wladysław Szabliński vel Krawczyk was the Polish lector of the Tisza István University in Debrecen from the thirties. He was born in Warsaw on 7 December 1912. On 1 September 1935 he was already teaching at the university, and took an active part in the work of the summer university, too. He had an excellent command of Hungarian, many people only knew him as “Szablinski László”, and he had a Hungarian wife, Ágnes Juhász. The example sentences of his phrasebook make you understand why the Nazi cultural attaché demanded his dismissal in the summer of 1941. Of course, Szabliński was not fired by the university, he was allowed to stay, although in a different position, as a librarian, from February 1942.

RADIO / we listen to the radio / let us look for London / let us listen to what Budapest broadcasts

In February 1944 Professor Adorján Divéky (the former Hungarian lector of the Warsaw University and former director of the Hungarian Institute in Warsaw) proposed his renewed appointment as a lector, because “the Hungarian government for its own part still considers valid the Hungarian-Polish cultural convention”. However, one month later, after the German occupation of Hungary, this could not take place, and Szabliński coul dnot have written example sentences like the ones above without retaliation.

“Attention! The unauthorized possession or operation of any radio station – even VHF – is a crime, which will be judged by the summary court.”

“In terms of the decree of the government, listening to hostile or foreign radio stations is forbidden and severely punished”. Villám, 15 June 1944

Szabliński fulfilled his task as librarian until 17 June 1944.

After the above, you will not be surprised by the currency of the topics that he gave to his students.

WAR / the British government sent an ultimatum to the German government / the German government rejected the ultimatum / England declared war on Germany / the Germans invaded Poland without ultimatum / the technical superiority was on the German side / defense reports / our army is rapidly advancing

our troops repulsed the hostile attack / there is tranquility on the front / the enemy was lured into a trap / the French troops went on counterattack / the soldiers dug trenches and forced the taken positions / the German troops retreated to the previously chosen positions / the hostile troops fled in disorder / we have won the battle! / the enemy’s defeat is unavoidable / the Siegfried Line was broken through / an air attack was ordered against Warsaw / the anti-aircraft artillery shot down two planes / they dropped twenty bombs / the public buildings were bombed / the civilians suffered the most / they bombed the Red Cross hospital / we had ten casualties and forty-three wounded / the losses of the enemy are unknown / the troops encamped / the siege of Warsaw lasted nearly a month / the fort garison surrendered

A glorious alternative history unfolds from the example sentences of the book. Britain and France did not let down their ally in a shameful way, as they did in reality, but, as they previously agreed, they immediately attacked the German aggressor. Thus, Poland came out of the war as a winner.

Britain successfully continues his anti-submarine campaign / the resources of the enemy are exhausted / they signed an armistice / peace talks began / they made peace / the defeated enemy had to sign the peace treaty

The Hungarians also shed blood for their independence / now the fourth division of Poland took place / now the Poles took over the Hungarian watchword: no, no, never! / We won’t let ourselves!

One thing is sure: Wladysław Szabliński was a courageous person. Professor István Varsányi, whose life was also adventurous and would make a good movie, had a good reason to refer to this booklet as his source in the last page of his book. He was a courageous person, too: in May 1957, just a few months after the suppressed revolution of 1956, to explicitly refer to this volume as a source, which included, among others, the following two pages, meant no little risk. Perhaps he only wanted to commemorate Szabliński, but it is also possible, that, like Szabliński, he wanted to recall the disaster of downtrodden Hungary, and to remind readers that Poland could rise up from a much more difficult situation, and rebuild itself. Here is, therefore, an example showing that anything can succeed, nothing is impossible.

And this is all that is important.

Map of interwar Poland (maked in dots and, subsequently, in red, the Ribbentrop-Molotov line of 1939 dividing the country between the Nazis and the Soviets), and the borders of Hungary between the recapture of Subcarpathia (15 March 1939) and the Second Vienna Award (30 August 1940) – that is, in the period, when the little guide leads Sándor Török to the common Hungarian-Polish border.

The Anthem of Poland / “Poland is not yet lost, as long as we live!” / “Long live Poland!”