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.

#METOO feels Self-Serving to Me

Back in the mid-80’s, I lived and worked in LA and was trying to get into modeling. I was not naïve to the “casting couch” as I had read the non-fiction “Hollywood Babylon” (published in 1959) as a teenager and knew this was a dirty world. My last time to try and make a go of it was with an agency looking for older models (I was 26-ish by then). They were off of Laurel Canyon and Ventura Blvd. It was in a building across from the famous newsstand which may or may not exist anymore (do people still buy trade magazines and newspapers?). The guy who ran this agency worked with his wife, a beautiful Swedish/Norwegian looking blonde lady who was very pregnant with their first child. He took me and another younger woman to Malibu and we spent the day doing photos for our portfolios. We were in bathing suits and had to endure two Mexican men ogling us from over the side of a cliff we were under. We also had to endure this man/photographer telling us about his days with Playgirl magazine (when he was a model) and the size of his male part and how great he was.

The photos turned out really well actually and when I went to retrieve them from his office, I then had to endure being propositioned. Behind him on the wall was a huge painting of a woman with her legs spread apart (pre-Sharon Stone scene) and I only recall the color red and that the painting was very ugly. Not ugly as in bad artist but ugly woman, it was actually quite a good painting as artists go. As he was propositioning me, his pregnant wife was two offices up on the phone conducting business.  He told me that Brooke Shields and Cindy Crawford had done these things, he was requesting of me, because he had been to parties where he had opened doors and seen things. He had photos in his office of different celebrities with him (I don’t recall if they were the same people he was mentioning or not). The photographs made his statements seem legitimate to me though. It was obvious he knew people. However, I told him that I wasn’t that interested in getting into the modeling business if it meant performing on him to get a job. I said I was pretty surprised to hear that those women did those things but nonetheless, I was not. Naturally, he would not go on to work with me.

As I left the office, pissed off once again for having to put up with crap like that, I kept wondering to myself “Why is it that all these famous women haven’t done anything to protect women in the industry?” Here we are in 2018, the #METOO movement comes out of nowhere, only a few months ago and our country behaves as if they are in shock to know this is happening. This is three decades after my incident that I described above. Three decades of very famous, very wealthy actors and actresses who could have done something so that it would have been dealt with by now. After all, if you are Meryl Streep who has a reputation that will never be tarnished and has been in Washington lobbying one thing or another over the years (nothing to do with women’s rights), you don’t have to worry. If you are Mira Sorvino or Gwyneth Paltrow, whose parents preceded you in the “business,” you don’t have to worry either. Yet, here they are, jumping on the bandwagon that they themselves could have fixed many decades ago.

The “casting couch” has been around since the industry began. We have seen movies about this world; we have read non-fiction books, which include auto-biographies and memoirs and yet nothing has ever been done about this until now. Tyra Banks had a modeling show during this time where she paraded young innocents around in soft-porn situations and kicked a Christian woman off the show because she wasn’t comfortable participating. Tyra’s comment to her was that this is part of being in the industry, which is no different than the kind of thing pimps told our young foster girls that they were grooming for their “business” in Oakland, CA; when I worked there. I am sure there are more women involved in this business, who led these women onto the couch. You haven’t heard anything about this though, #METOO seems only to be focused on men.

Back in the mid-80’s my girlfriend in LA was involved in a women director’s association and I was aware that there were quite a few other associations, specifically for women in this field. There are also unions for all actors, most notably the Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG).  Yet up until now, too my knowledge the subject of sexual harassment of women has been ignored in Hollywood.

What was concerning to me about the #METOO movement is that it does not appear to be doing anything but performing a “Witch Hunt” in Hollywood. There were many non-acting women on the #METOO board on Twitter, giving graphic stories about their situations which no doubt caused them to be re-traumatized as they wrote. These other women who are not in Hollywood assumed (I would imagine since they spoke out) that something would be done by telling. Yet other than hearing one more story about some actor/director/producer in Hollywood, we hear nothing about women in general and change being made. What needs to happen is better training that should be mandatory for all police and fire fighters – who are the people a young woman would run to in an emergency situation. I have known plenty of trainers who have worked with these professionals around the country but as I hear stories of people where I live locally (and work as a therapist) I am aware that it is obvious no training has been conducted here. The reason I say this is that I have heard women tell me that they were not offered a “rape kit” that they were told “it is a he said, she said” situation, that were told there wasn’t enough evidence and who were led to believe it was their fault that it happened.

I even heard a story by a young woman who told me her sister was left in a parking lot, in the winter, after a sheriff asked her why she was sitting there in her car with her child. She explained that her husband had a gun and had threatened to use this on them and she had escaped and had nowhere to go. Instead of being given resources to a domestic violence shelter or even being told that she could call 211 for a bed, he just said “Oh, okay” and left them there.

Worrying about damaging Harvey Weinstein’s career is hardly the concern of the average young woman. Having Matt Damon harassed for his opinions by an ex-girlfriend, Minnie Driver, who he broke up with because she sicked the Paparazzi on them while they were on a date is rather hypocritical. It all works though because most of the general public doesn’t remember these things and they like focusing on reality shows which are merely the freak shows of yesteryear that people would view inside of a tent at a carnival.

None of the big actresses in Hollywood, who got on the bandwagon of the #Metoo movement, have anything to worry about. They are rich and powerful ladies. All women, who are average everyday people, who have survived horrible situations by men who aren’t rich and powerful, will continue to have something to be concerned of for the rest of their lives. Those who we need to be worried about the most are the naïve teen girls and young adult women who are fresh, inexperienced, and vulnerable. I too assumed that the #Metoo movement was going to make change and have an impact on women around our country. I soon began to realize that all it was doing was focusing on men in Hollywood. How wrong it was to misinform the public and have all those survivors re-traumatize themselves by sharing their stories online when it was really just a waste of time. I haven’t seen one article about changes being made locally or across the country to help women and girls who have been affected by sexual harassment or abuse. It would have been a great movement, had it actually accomplished this.

There is a big difference between a woman who is making a choice, for her career and a woman who has no choice at all. I am sure there have been some actresses who really didn’t have any choice because they weren’t being propositioned. The average woman never has a choice. When a woman is raped, sexually harassed or abused it is not about a career but about a man (usually) who is asserting their power over a powerless person. We need to focus on abuse to women and girls, not just in Hollywood but in general. Not as a publicity stunt that is focusing on an issue that should have been dealt with decades ago but as a real concern that has only been given partial attention up until now. The only major attention the average woman gets is when the situation gets really, really bad, like when she is killed.

Unfortunately, taking advantage of women and girls is another hot topic that goes in the back seat just like mental health in general and gun control. It is exciting to hear about the first few weeks of the incident and then another scandal comes to our attention or the weeks go by and we all just forget about it and quietly go about our business of living our lives.

 

Incidentally, I sent this recent Hollywood photo to the #MeToo movement on Twitter a couple of days ago. Wondering why it was okay for women to sexually harass people. I was offended by this photo and if we were working together in a business, this woman would be fired for third party sexual harassment. So, #TimesUp #MeToo, Sexual Harassment is not okay, whether it is men to women, women to men, women to women or men to men.