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Hungarian Novelist Wins Nobel Literature Prize - 2002-10-10

Hungarian novelist and Holocaust survivor Imre Kertesz has won the 2002 Nobel Literature Prize for more than a half-century of writings that often deal with the horrors of World War II. Mr. Kertesz told VOA he hopes the prize will encourage Hungary to face its controversial role in the war.

Speaking from his residence in Berlin, 72-year-old Hungarian novelist Imre Kertesz told VOA News that the Nobel Prize for Literature came as a big surprise and that he joked to his wife that she should go pick it up in Oslo in December.

The Swedish Nobel Academy said it awarded the Prize to Mr. Kertesz, to honor what it called his "writing that upholds the fragile experience of the individual against the barbaric arbitrariness of history."

Most of his writings were inspired by his own horrific experiences, especially during World War II, when as a Jew he suffered from Nazi persecution.

Speaking in German, Mr. Kertesz told VOA he hopes the Nobel Prize will send a message to Hungary that it must recognize the impact of its involvement in World War II, when it was for the most part a close ally to Nazi Germany.

Mr. Kertesz says Hungary has still not dealt with the Holocaust in a proper way. He says he hopes Hungarians will finally recognize the trauma they caused by cooperating in the massacre of 600,000 Hungarians Jews in Nazi gas chambers.

Born in Hungary in 1929, Mr. Kertesz was a teenager in 1944 when he was deported to the death camp at Auschwitz in German-occupied Poland. From there, he was sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp, which was liberated a year later.

But after Mr. Kertesz returned to Hungary, he was only briefly allowed to work as a writer and journalist in relative freedom. In 1951, he was dismissed when his newspaper adopted the communist party line.

Still, he managed to publish books that were translated into German. Mr. Kertesz's first novel was Fateless in 1975, about a man taken to a concentration camp who conforms and survives, based on his own experiences at Auschwitz. A script has just been published for a movie version of his first novel.

He also became well known for the 1990 novel Kaddish for a Child Not Born. Kaddish is the Jewish prayer for the dead, which in that novel is said for a child he refuses to have in a world that allowed Auschwitz to exist.

Although several Hungarians have won Nobel awards, Mr. Kertesz is the first Hungarian to win the $1 million literature prize.

Hungarian Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy congratulated the writer on behalf of the Government, saying there is "once again a reason to be proud to be Hungarian."