Alaine Polcz – Hungarian Writer and Psychologist

In her book, “A Wartime Memoir: Hungary 1944-1945,”Alaine tells about a life changing year that instead of being her downfall, became her life’s purpose. Sitting ducks with a changing guard, from Russian to German on an on-going, what seemed like a never ending basis, she travels from Transylvania (then hoping to remain with Hungary) to Csákvár, in Hungary and back again. In the end, you can imagine the frustration in knowing, if she had never left, her life would have remained simple an innocent.

What is beautiful about this book is that she is not talking like a psychologist but instead, goes back in her mind to re-live painfully traumatic experiences at the age of 19, as if she were that age once more. As a psychotherapist myself, I get the sense that she probably never went through her own course of treatment. This is because she continues to repeat over and over “I do not remember…” This is typical of a sexual abuse survivor or someone who was horribly traumatized at a young age and blocks the exact details of the trauma from their mind, for their own “assumed” well-being. Ironic, as she was a psychologist yet even today, people in this profession are closed off to doing their own work. It is important so that they can properly support others without transferring their own pain onto the client or confusing the client’s story with their own. I am not condemning her though because this was more typical of this time period. I grew up with Hungarians (refugees from the revolution), none of whom went into therapy and all of whom went through some of their own harrowing ordeals. Not least of which was fleeing their beloved homeland.

Alaine was born in Kolozsvár, when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (at this time known as the city of Cluj-Napoca). Now it is Romania and it was in 1944-1945 as well. This was a time of unrest between the Romanians and Hungarians, power struggles on the Romanian part that included violence and discrimination against the Hungarians who lived there. Alaine’s father gave her this male name because of two reasons. One, he did not know French and so unaware that it was a man’s name but Two, his only purpose was finding a name that was not able to be translated into Romanian.

At the onset of 1944, Alaine, at 19, was married to her childhood sweetheart János. Within a few months into their honeymoon period, he gives her gonorrhea. Amazingly, but not surprisingly, it is at this point when he detaches from her and begins to be an emotionally abusive husband. She has the luck of being a strong woman, though terribly naïve. His mother, Mami, happens to work for the Esterházy family, who are of noble origins. It is here that they will go to live and because of him that she follows the family as they escape into Hungary to live and work at another estate, which will be the beginning of the end of Alaine’s life as she knows it. In Csákvar, what seems to bring some peace and safety for a short time, ends up being the front lines, which means constant harassment or torture from either the Germans or the Russians. For women, as with all wars, she and other villagers will be gang raped on what appears to be a daily basis, and at this time, she is under the impression that her husband was executed. The most impressive lines that she writes of her first account of abuse goes like this:

He put the photograph [of she and her husband] on the nightstand and laid me down on the bed. I was afraid he would not give me the picture. When he was done, he took the picture into his hand and showed it to me again…

When she writes, she is not writing like a writer in this book.  She states facts, over and over. There are no pictures drawn and yet there is a story being told. Fuzzy memories are re-told and sometimes they are not even in order, so you have to re-read to catch yourself. It is as if you are sitting with her and she is telling you a story. When I got to the line “When he was done,” it came at me so quickly; I had to read it a few times to let it register. “Oh, okay,” I thought, this is how she is protecting herself and the audience. Even though she is not talking like a psychologist, she is consciously protecting throughout the book.

At some point, days, maybe a month or so later, she is escorted to a cellar, with 79 other Hungarians, who are doing their best to survive. They will go through days or months (you are never sure of the timeline but the book is only one year), of not bathing, very little food and at one point no water, ritual defecating and urinating (they can only go outside to do this during the 10 minutes of ceasefire which occurs daily at the same time), as well as lice and natural body odors. She is only with Mami and her dachshund “Filike,” who she holds at her breast, under a coat which no one notices until the end of her time there.

Alaine does spend a lot of time talking about blood and guts and waste, more than any other writer I have seen when it comes to war zones. One does wonder how people use the toilet during these times. When she mentions herself running away from a gang rape sequence, she talks about running through the snow with a slip on and blood being caked on her body and in her panties. She mentions being in the cellar when she pulls her shirt away from her body and a woman notices the skin of a sore coming with it. She is telling us about how you just keep going, no matter what, becoming oblivious to your own vanity.

The war is at the end, in 1945, when this part of her story comes to a close. She returns to Budapest, still without her husband, to be reunited with family; who will then return to Kolozsvár. She is saved from being labeled a whore, as most women will be in this time period, because her family are good people and she finally denies what happened. By this time the gonorrhea and the life conditions she has just endured have taken its toll on her body. She is hospitalized for some time before she will recover and get some of her life back. The irony is that she will never be able to bear a child and this was the fault of her own husband. The sardonic twist is the realization that all those Russian soldiers had went home to their wives passing on her venereal disease to them.

She and János will part ways and soon she will meet her second husband Miklós Mészöly, who went on to become a famous Hungarian writer. Alaine will go on to become the founder of the first children’s hospice program and win two different awards. She receives the Tibor Déry Award in 1992 (for this book, which was written in 1991) and The Middle Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary in 2001. Alaine’s husband dies in 2001 and she will pass six years later.

Post-Script: What is horribly frustrating about the book is the writing and translation. Albert Tezla is the translator and having read a great number of translated books from several different countries, this is pathetic. You would almost think he didn’t speak English because the sentences come across as broken and unedited. I believe he is translating word for word, rather than trying to put it together in some organized fashion. It is also possible that Alaine was never edited since Albert was not either. I think this is embarrassing to both the writer and the country itself. While I am not a prolific writer myself and certainly need to be edited, I am self-published and have no professional acclaim to add to my repertoire.  I was disappointed to say the least. However, this story, edited or not, annoying with the redundancy or not, needed to be told. What I have noticed when I find anything about women in history, this is so often the case. It is sad because I can’t recall any time when I have seen the same about men.

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Politically Correct Debate for Modern Thinkers

This is quite a fascinating debate series founded by Hungarian born Paul Munk in 2008 out of Toronto, Canada. Interestingly, I learned about this through a client recently. I find that I get many good resources from the people I serve almost as if it were providence. They did make me aware of who won the debate before I saw it, though it wasn’t that hard to figure out as it was quite obvious which side were more gifted in speech and somatic comfort. What is troubling, as always, are Americans abroad. They are just incapable of realizing it isn’t all about them.

This debate is about Political Correctness, or at least that is what it was supposed to be about. The argument isn’t really about what is fair or which words should be used, it is more about whether it has gone too far and what might be a better way to go about this. I recall being a student at Antioch University in Santa Barbara, back in the 90’s and my fellow alumni (now) and I were having discussions about this ourselves. At that point, we could already see the ridiculousness of this new language and so I can imagine how they would feel watching this video today. Unfortunately, we parted and went in various directions, most of us onto graduate schools and with that, a much more difficult level of study that didn’t allow for keeping in touch with old friends quite so easily. It was before FB and Twitter and LinkedIn and by the time those things came about, I couldn’t even recall their names.

Watching this debate, I was already prepared for an interesting discussion by Stephen Fry as he is most likely a genius and typical with most Brits and Europeans, very humble. I have never heard of Jordan Peterson before today and will definitely pick up one of his books and learn more about what he has to say. While the Americans on the panel had no appreciation for his highly intellectual banter, I certainly am eager to see what the controversy is all about. Remember that most philosophers, scientists, inventors; they were all controversial in their time. Whenever someone challenges your thought process, it is debatable and can be fun to see the direction they take it in.

On the other side we had a woman who sat with her legs spread apart, most of the time, eager like the “feminist” thinkers of today to say “look at my vagina but don’t touch it.” Such a contradiction, a mixed message, from a foolish person who would probably do a better job as a dominatrix.  Then you have a minister who appears to be bi-racial but has so much anger for one part of himself. These two wanted to make the program about them and their issues with being a woman and being black. A debate is not meant to be a memoir, it is about giving an argument for the side you are on. All four of the people on the panel were liberal and so much of the time they were agreeing with each other in different ways. I suppose this was a safer way to have this discussion, even though the pros didn’t seem to understand that they were all liberal. They behaved as if they were up against Newt Gingrich and Donald Trump. But as I said, they felt it was all about them.

This is the issue with Political Correctness and the extreme thinking of today. It is the reason Donald Trump is in office. The people who voted for him needed some balance because the liberals had swung so far left they couldn’t even remember which side they were on. With Clinton taking all the jobs away from Americans and giving them to communists, turning our country effectively into one big ghetto with a huge opioid crisis. One only needs to visit a previous factory town that gave some dignity to the people there and notice the dealers, the depression, the hopelessness, the poverty. After this we went to Obamacare, which took precedence over the recession and the only ones who approved of this and will sing its praises are people who get their insurance paid for by the companies they work for. I can certainly say that I am no fan when my medication went from $30 to $700. There was no concern for human beings in the country that they served when these two major changes took over our lives. I am not arguing that Republicans haven’t made mistakes here, I am arguing that Democrats forgot what it meant to be liberal in their need to enforce their self-righteous viewpoint.

On a world stage such as the Munk Debates, it is such a dichotomy when you have socialists vs. capitalists. Nonetheless, I am captivated by this series that I have now signed up for. It is refreshing to know such an exchange of words exists, is allowed (naturally we wouldn’t be able to handle this in the U.S.) and to feel related to people who haven’t disappeared or crawled under a carpet.

A Guide to Watching Foreign Films

Of course it doesn’t hurt to grow up in a European-American family. Where the world that revolves around you speaks another language, has different values, talks about the old country and you begin to look at America as a second home. Watching foreign films for me has always felt as if I were welcomed; as one of theirs who got away. That I was getting a sneak peek into a home that existed but that I had never lived in; yet it felt like it belonged to me. There was a sense of familiarity about it.  Déjà vu.

Foreign film observation began at home, not with my family but with Kukla, Fran and Ollie. This was a children’s program that featured the puppets Kukla and Ollie and their friend Fran who would host a film from around the world each week. There is a website to learn more about this but unfortunately very difficult to get the actual films. Hello Netflix?!? This would certainly be a great program for you to buy.  Since Kukla, Fran and Ollie was an American program, all the characters were dubbed with British English from what I recall. I didn’t realize it was dubbing as a child, I just though everyone spoke English with a cute accent. There may have been a couple of programs with subtitles but I can’t recall.  I do remember circus bears on the loose, a Cinderella story with a bird that would say “Koo-koo-ri-koo, Who is the one for you?” and other wonderful adventures that kids would get themselves into.

As an adult, I had quite forgotten about foreign films for a few years and then, while managing a records and tapes (i.e., VHS and cassettes) store in Los Angeles (this was the onset of Compact Discs too), I suddenly re-acquainted myself with the genre once more. You’ve probably heard this phrase said for other reasons but I will use it here for this “Once you go foreign, you will never turn to American ever again.” Settle down and grab your Cadbury, Lindt or Toblerone (a reason to never eat American chocolate again) and enjoy the show!

1. Subtitles are not that difficult. If you are literate you will get used to it. If you like tennis, you already know how to bob; only now it is vertical instead of horizontal.

2. Foreign films are intellectual and a realistic view of life. It helps to look within as you view the characters that resonate with your own feelings, strengths and weaknesses. If you are pissed off at the character there is something within you that is just like them and this bothers you. If you are so passionate about the lovers that you feel ill inside when they are kept apart, even at the end of the movie, and are depressed for several days after, that’s not entertainment folks, that is the mark of a great film.

3. There are no happy endings because the world is not a happy place. No one lives happily ever after and no one says that tireless bs that you see in cookie cutter films, here in the U.S. Yet at the end of a foreign film, you will be thinking about the ending for days and weeks on end, still wondering “What if?” just like the one film the U.S. got right in “Gone With the Wind.” If a film isn’t bugging you for some time after, it wasn’t worth it.

4. When they are funny, it is sarcastic humor. Life is never funny when you have had your village annihilated by Hitler or your country was taken over by communists or the British or someone who had power during those years in question. So you laugh because you can’t cry anymore or because you know that this is a memory that will be replaced in the future, or you nod your head in some form of cultural agreement.

5. When it is really dark, the writer has pulled out some psychological button that you have thought about but never dared to speak in public. These are the best moments because you almost feel a sense of guilt that someone else was thinking it too. You can almost feel a kinship but it is too perverse to even smile. If someone sees this on your face, they will know your deepest secrets.

6. The French could be called perverse but the Chinese have upped it to a degree you won’t even see in a pornographic film. I’ve had to turn it off because it was hitting the “ick” zone in a way that, well, wasn’t in my bureau for psychological buttons but it could be in yours. The French tried even harder with Nymphomania 2 but since I only read the abstract on Wikipedia and decided Part I was enough for me, I couldn’t be too sure.

7. India has it all, film, musical, romance and absolutely NO SEX. Yet you get so caught up in the story, you actually forget that the lovers never once touched anything except their hands – if that. That is good storytelling. It is quite rich in family values and I think they are a must to watch for all virgins as the female leads are all very good role models. Yes, it is all about weddings but the brides all deserve to wear white, even if that isn’t their custom. They all gain a deep amount of respect which is really the point.

8. Hungary has mostly been poor depressing people up until this past decade. They have begun to bring in some modern storylines, some good, some depressing because you can see how much the country has been ruined by capitalism and the other word one dares not say. The older films however, really teach you a lot about all those years of history, how people survived. So don’t get squeamish when you see a horse being butchered in the street and morsels handed out to kids to take home to their parents (in their bare hands). You really get a sense that this is what it is like to live so desperately in tough times.

9. The Spanish have Pedro Almodóvar who has directed some hilariously dark comedies or as the French say Film Noir. Penelope Cruz appears to be his muse and while she could be said to be the most beautiful woman in the world, (now topped by Fahriye Evcen from Turkey or shall I say Feride in Lovebird), I’ve seen Ms. Cruz get really really ugly and that is acting! I am not talking about looking dirty but having bleached teeth when she smiles either. I am talking unrecognizable as in “Don’t Move.” If you watch the extras in a take home film, they have her act out different moods while sitting on a stool and it is here that you are able to see how a real actress performs, without costume and script. “Don’t Move,” is probably the most beautiful I have ever seen Ms. Cruz in a movie, even though she is portrayed as a really ugly woman. The character’s personality, especially at the end, it is quite moving.

10. The Turks really love to mess with your mind by making you feel such love for the couple that you feel they have stabbed your own heart at the end because they never end up together. I think it must be a sin to show true love on film and they have to get around it this way.  I’ve recently found myself turned on to their films since Netflix is my new foreign film delivery service. At first I thought everyone in the family had the last name of Bey. It took me awhile to realize the women weren’t called this and then to see that the neighbors who were called this were not their brothers. I assume it means Mr. as in Monsieur or Herr or Señor.   This is the great thing about foreign films; you learn a new language – at least a few words that would give you some understanding when you travel abroad.

11. The Italians have Sophia and Gina and well, now they have Luca Zingaretti, for the ladies. As a young girl I looked up to these beautiful women, now I am the older woman and I am more focused on the handsome older men. Inspector Montalbano is like Bruno Cremer in Maigret (with a better body, though Bruno was sexy) or John Thaw in Inspector Morse (still anal but not a heavy drinker). These are the kind of men who you hope inhabit your local police force but are pretty sure they don’t. The Italians remind you that the mafia is still alive and Italian-Americans aren’t faking Italian (except that ridiculous reality show). They probably talk more with their hands in NYC then Rome and more on the streets than in the professional world.

12. The Brits are hands down the easiest to understand because we speak their language – or do we? Nope, you have to learn the slang and the accent. “If truth be told,” a fag is a cigarette, getting pissed means you are drunk, serviettes are napkins, napkins are diapers, a boot is the trunk of your car, and so on. Try the British “Mars” bars too, much more richer and delightful. Stay away from the “All Sorts” though if you can’t stand licorice like me. By far they have the best TV shows that capture forensic episodes with real people not cute models. You have to add any film with Bill Nighy to your list; sexy and hilarious for a too skinny guy. There are lots of other old blokes over there that play character actors better than our big stars here. When you see them appear on a film (and once you get to know them you can get excited with only the opening credits), you know you are in for a treat. Great actors like this know how to carry a film and how to pick one too.

13. The women in foreign films are real people. I mean you feel like they are your neighbors and this is what gives you the sense that you are welcomed into the story. You know these women and men, it seems you have met them before. Sure there are the outstanding looking beauties but generally they aren’t playing the outstanding looking beauty in the film. Often, they will take a less gorgeous lady and dress her up and suddenly she is the most beautiful woman in the world. It is the character that makes her or him very lovely, not the costume though. When I think of Bruno Cremer in Maigret, we are looking at a slightly obese man with a huge mole on his face, yet the character he is playing respects women, dresses sharp, smokes a pipe – which is quite debonair, is loyal to his wife and the most intelligent man on the show (that is the funny part which you have to see it to get it). We are so stuck on size 3 waists here and no one really has this except models and actresses, people you will never meet. The majority of the women in foreign films are an average sized woman of a size 8-12.

14. If you find that the movie is going along very slowly and seems almost boring, just trust the director. This is building a scene for a particular purpose or a character or a culture. If you are patient, it will all make sense and by the end of the film you are going to really appreciate those opening scenes because it will all begin to come together. Sometimes the beginning can be really weird too with a lot of confusing scenes, trying to introduce so much in a short space. Again, stay still, trust the director, it is going somewhere good. I often find this is a clue that something better will come.

15. You will be so moved by foreign films that your tears will fall for the first time for a reason that you know will change your life forever.