On the Pest side, on the empty plot beside the church where we used to play football, they put up a building for the State Privatisation Office

György Spiró
30 June 2016

“Miklós was the brains of the team,” Lajos would tell us later. It was a famously tough league, the Czechoslovak, and they destroyed my father’s ankle at least seven times — everybody knows you have to target the leader. They o offered him a place in the Czechoslovak national team, but he refused: he would have had to give up his Hungarian citizenship. He didn’t tell me any of this — I heard it all from Lajos, later.

It was a good team, the Brno team, I looked it up. Two years after my father came home, SK Židenice turned professional.

In ’34, Czechoslovakia won the silver medal at the World Championships in Italy. Plánička, the Czech goalie, was voted man of the tournament. The papers say that Puč, the legendary left-winger who scored the Czech goal in the final, was a very big star indeed — he must have been something like Potya Tóth for us. The referee, Ivan Eklind, a Swede honoured with a personal interview with Mussolini in his box before the final, allowed an off-side goal by Schiavio (a affectionately known as Angiolino) in the fifth minute of overtime after a one-all draw. This gave the Italians their first football World Championship title.

The Czechoslovak league was a good one, then, though a few years later they did get an 8-3 walloping out on Hungária körút. I’m sure my dad was at the match. Zsengellér scored one and Sárosi seven. If my father could have gone to university at home, he might have been on the team with them. There were the following categories of students at the German University in Brno: German, Czech, Jewish, Slovak, and Hungarian. Those students who could not attend Hungarian universities because of the racially motivated laws then in effect at home were welcomed at the university in Brno and were all classed as “Hungarian”, irrespective of their re- ligion. The “Jewish” category was only for Czechoslovak citizens. There’s another reason the yearbooks of the German University in Brno are interesting (having recently got a chance to look at a few): even in the late ’20s, they were full of adverts with swastikas in them.

I did wonder sometimes why my father didn’t want to take Czechoslovak citizenship. I know that he considered himself Hungarian no matter what, and I’m also sure that he wanted to be there for his parents. But what awaited him at home was years of uneployment; for a long time he worked with medical instruments on a voluntary basis, which is to say unpaid. It was worse in Hungary than it was in Czechoslovakia. The love of his life was from Brno, Ilse Červinková, and it was probably she who took the photos of his matches, the ones I saw when I was a boy, before my mother destroyed them all. Ilse, with her native German, didn’t want to leave prosperity in a civic democracy for racialist Hungary and could hardly understand why my father, a talented engineer, didn’t stay as well.

They would have made an attractive couple. I met Ilse and her family in Bratislava when I was thirteen. Ilse was still attractive at fifty, with her piercing grey eyes; she was a psychiatrist and practised hypnosis. In ’68, Ilse, her husband, and the children emigrated to Israel, but they didn’t like the atmosphere and went back to Prague six months later. Neither leaving nor coming back turned out to be good decisions, especially the latter; they were left without jobs or a at, and the children — Martin and Milena — were barred from university.

Martin made the youth Ice Hockey team later — the sporting world was less didactic. “What sport would I have played, if they’d stayed together?’ I used to wonder every time I thought of Martin. The last time I saw him was twenty years ago at the premiere of one of my pieces in Bratislava — he’d grown into a portly, bearded fellow by then.

My father, had he stayed there, would certainly not have emigrated to Israel. He most likely would have become a Communist reformer and would have ended his days as a menial labourer in Husak’s Czechoslovakia — that is if he’d lived to see ’68 at all. Tens of thousands went to prison in the Slansky trials (their version of the Rajk trials) and two thousand people got executed — many more than in Hungary. The war would have been easier to survive in Czechoslovakia, but the peace would have been much harder.

My father was left with tennis. Even at 65, two and a half months before his death, he played a championship match on the Honvéd second team against a thirty year-old, losing by a hair’s breadth. I was there, I saw him. The courts were on Margit Island, opposite the Protestant church in Újlipótváros. I passed them recently, they’ve gone to pot. On the Pest side, on the empty plot beside the church where we used to play football, they put up a building for the State Privatisation Office; that’s where they divided up the State’s possessions. It would have killed my father, had he lived to see it. He would have hated what’s become of Hungarian football, too. Not to mention Czechoslovak football, which is to say Czech and Slovak. And the industrial and economic decline of the entire region.

A few years ago a handsome elderly woman came over to me at a book signing. She told me that my father had been the best teacher she’d ever had, and that she’d even commuted to Csepel for his classes after he’d been reassigned there. “He was a good-looking man,” I said. “Better looking than you,” she noted matter-of-factly.

I asked her what my father was teaching at the University of Economics from 1946 to 1949 — he had never said. “Accounting,” she replied. I was dumbfounded — another thing he was good at!

Last year about twenty of us went to Brno, a mixed assortment of children of sixty or seventy now, taking with us to the Czech city a plaque in English marking our gratitude to the former German University there.

A guide showed us the buildings of note, among them the Synagogue our fathers, being good Communists, avoided like the plague. There were people whose parents had ended up in South America, coming home after the war so they could be locked up pretty much straight after they arrived, and others whose parents had been given high office (some of whom later committed suicide, some not).

In the two days we were there, I didn’t see a single sports facilty.

Translated by Mark Baczoni.

The author (born 1946) is a Hungarian dramatist, novelist, and essayist.