Žo Langerová: VTEDY V BRATISLAVE: MÔJ ŽIVOT S OSKAROM L . (At that Time in Bratislava: My life with Oskar L .)s

Blanka Soukupová

A memoir of extraordinarily high literary

quality by Žo Langerová (1912 Budapest–

1990 Uppsala, Sweden), born to

a well-off assimilated Hungarian Jewish

family and married in 1932 to Communist

intellectual Oskar Langer (1907–1966

Bratislava), can be read for many reasons

and in many ways. Thus, in Žo’s

fate are reflected all of the hopes, disappointments

and paradoxes of the stormy

20th century experienced in traditionally

nationalistically and politically exposed

Central Europe. Žo Langerová was emancipated,

educated, talented in sports and,

above all, an immensely politically naïve

girl from a middle-class Budapest family.

She became an enthusiastic pupil and,

later, also the wife of a young Slovak clerk

inclined toward the left. Along with him,

she experienced the atmosphere of multiethnic,

trilingual Bratislava in the mid-

1930s. She was not very conscious of her

Jewishness, and she took the numerus

clausus (restricted number) in interwar

Hungary to be just some sort of data. Her

Jewish identity came out only after World

War II from negative experiences: the

Shoah, political trials with anti-Semitic

sub-texts although, in 1938, she had

already become a Jewish refugee and had

had to start a new home and new work

in the United States of America. There

she changed as a mother, as the assistant

to the manager of a bookstore, and

as the main bread-winner in her family.

However, before that, she worked as

a door-to-door sales representative and

a waitress, while her linguistically untalented

husband turned to political activity

among the Slovak Communists. In 1946,

on an invitation from the Communist

Party of Slovakia, the family returned

home and Oskar made a career as a member

of the Central Committee of the Party.

Žo worked in a branch of an export firm,

where, for the first time, after the February

Revolution, she encountered the

absurdity of Socialist planning and the

all-mighty “personnel officer.” During

that period, Oskar was arrested (1951).

From a relatively privileged business representative

of the Ligna commercial society,

Žo and her two daughters became

unwanted persons practically overnight.

They were evacuated to a worse apartment

and Žo had to step in as a production

worker. Only later was she employed

as an editor and clerk. In November 1952,

after the news that her husband had been

convicted, she was let go at work. Destalinization,

during which her husband

was rehabilitated (he was freed in May

1960 and rehabilitated in 1962) brought

relatively better times to the family. Even

before Oskar’s return, the family, at that

time already extensive, bought a beautiful

apartment and later Žo obtained a practically

unobtainable automobile. Oskar and

other comrades, including those who had

his imprisonment on their consciences,

began to work on political change.

As I have already said, Žo Langerová’s

honest confession and perceptive observations

regarding the political situation,

interlarded humor and self-irony can be

read in may ways. A historian mainly

appreciates their painful attempts at

rehabilitation of her husband, repeated

meetings with Party officials, attempts at

intercession with an influential left-oriented

cousin –- the French actress Simone

Signoret – as well as portrayals of

conditions in Communist prison and the

mechanism of interrogations and confessions.

A political scientist will read

the book as a very precise analysis of the

mechanisms of power in a totalitarian

system. For a psychologist, paramount

will be Žo Langerová’s psyche as a lonely

woman who vacillates between unconditional

loyalty to an unjustly imprisoned

husband and the longing for happiness

at the side of a sensitive man who would

devote himself to his family and not to

Party work. Very absorbing will be the

description of her childhood with an

authoritative mother and a loving, but

passive father. Similarly interesting, of

course, will be Oskar’s psyche. A convinced

Communist never admits that the

foundation of the totalitarian system capsized;

he feels that the Party only made

certain errors. Using the example of her

older daughter, Žo also analyzed relatively

precisely the brainwashing of children’s

minds by the new regime. Also very

stimulating is her portrayal of the way of

thinking of the working class, which she

calls small-town mentality (p. 86).

In the pages of Urban People, however,

we mention the book for two main

reasons: it captures very well the atmosphere

of Bratislava from 1946 until

August 1968, when Žo, along with her

daughters, one of whom was a successful

singer, decided to emigrate after the

Soviet invasion. Postwar Bratislava is,

in Langerová’s memory, connected with

apartment shortages, insufficient food,

furniture, endless lines and a wave of dangerous

nationalization. In view of the fact

that Žo herself did not know enough Slovak

at that time, she completely felt like

a foreigner. After February 1948, a privileged

layer came into being in the city.

The Communist Party prepared Action B,

the regime’s eviction from Bratislava of

members of the opposition (1952-1953).

The displacement of Žo and her daughters

to a Hungarian village, however, preceded

her being let go from her job, the

necessity of buying on the black market

(only working people received food tickets),

and, finally, the fear that reigned

over Bratislava. In Tvrdošovce, the monetary

reform (1953) also caught her.

Another Langerová picture of Bratislava

caught the city in the mid-1950s, when

she returned to the Bratislava suburbs.

Bratislava offered the possibility of

employment (translations, typing and,

later, work as a clerk and editor). Žo also

painted well her new environment of continual

housing shortages, as many inhabitants

of the city gladly exchanged their

small apartments for spacious and heated

coffee houses. (The favorite retreat of Žo

and her younger daughter was the Savoy.)

First and foremost, however, was the

lessening of fear in society. The hopeful

period around the Prague Spring, which,

however, Žo, as a consequence of her

experiences in life, perceived with skepticism,

ended with the Soviet invasion.

After 1989, literature devoted to political

trials of the Communist era began to

accumulate. Works by K. Kaplan and P.

Paleček, O. Liška, and M. Pučil, memoirs

of H. Kovályová, A. G. London, J. Slánská

and others were published. Still, however,

Langerová’s memoirs are unique,

and their way to Slovak readers was indirect,

as the epilog shows: Žo Langerová,

a great fighter against a hostile fate created

by the regime, became capable of

making a very precise analysis of totalitarianism

in postwar Czechoslovakia.

Blanka Soukupová

Poslední změna: 25. červenec 2018 11:29 
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