-Tapestry by Lili Markus illustrating lines from Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind".

Empathy and insight into the complex world of émigré art

By Nora Veszpremi

Their Safe Haven: Hungarian Artists in Britain from the 1930s contains a striking chapter on the graphic designer and illustrator Klara Biller (1910–1989). Pete Biller, the artist’s son, recalls the house he grew up in, enumerating its references to Hungarian culture. Living in a bungalow in Stanmore, Middlesex, Klara decorated the interiors with Hungarian folk textiles and pottery by Margit Kovács (1902–1977), a folk-art inspired ceramicist who was hugely popular in Hungary. Klara also owned a few Hungarian paintings, by Pál Molnár-C. (1894–1981) and János Kmetty (1889–1975), but – as her son explains – the art books she bought herself were all on international art, in particular, Paul Klee (1879–1940) or Frans Masereel (1889–1972). Bookshelves in the house were also heavily populated by books on Hungarian history, many discussing the Treaty of Trianon – but these books belonged not to Klara, but to her British husband, Victor Biller, who had developed an interest in Hungary years before he met his future wife in the 1930s. In fact, as Pete Biller’s sensitive account explains, his father nurtured a fascination with interwar ‘official’ Hungary, which must have been alienating to his mother, who was of Jewish descent and had to leave behind her country of birth precisely because of the increasing anti-Semitism that was part and parcel of that official culture and eventually led to genocide. Yet, this issue was never discussed in the family, and although Klara eventually told her sons about their Jewish heritage, she never informed Victor. Her relationship with the culture of her country of origin must have been highly conflicted, but it was a conflict she negotiated silently, within herself. And perhaps with her mother and sister, whose visits after their own emigration in the 1950s prompted Klara to turn towards Hungarian cooking and stock up her kitchen with paprika.

Klara Biller’s is a particularly poignant example of the types of stories Their Safe Haven tells about Hungarian artists in Britain. Compiled and edited by Robert Waterhouse, it is not an art historical monograph, and neither does it aim to be one. Its ambition is more modest: to present a variety of primary sources in such a way that they not only reflect the individual lives of the fourteen artists the editor has chosen, but also the parallels and contrasts between them. It focuses on their biographies, not on the development of their art. Yet, through these evocative sources, it illuminates many aspects of cultural exchange; small nuances that would be lost in a monograph concentrating on the evolution of artistic style. An artist’s adaptation to a new environment is a process of cultural translation, and that process is not confined to the art world. The work of fitting in is performed continuously everywhere: in galleries and art magazines, but also in the living room, the garden and the kitchen. The art that is produced is inseparable from how these processes play out. Indeed, the careers of immigrant artists provide us with striking reminders that art is part of life; that art is life – and not in a lofty, grandiose romantic sense, but at the the most mundane level.

The starting point for Their Safe Haven is anexhibition of Hungarian art organised by theHungarian-born art dealer Charles (Károly) Rosnerat the Hungarian Club, London, in 1943. Works by artists who lived in Britain were displayed in a separate room. Motivated by his interest in one of them, Jean-Georges (János György) Simon (1894–1968), Waterhouse decided to trace all of the artists, exploring their lives in Britain, their artistic careers, their contacts before and after they arrived. Although some of the artists knew each other and kept in touch, they did not work together or form a movement. It would be a mistake to treat this fairly random group of artists of the same nationality as an art historical entity and force them into a cohesive narrative. Instead, Their Safe Haven adopts a loose, patchwork-like structure, accentuated by the elegant layout design of this beautifully produced book. It is, however, based on meticulous research, which encompasses the testimonies of living relatives and friends, as well as documents from libraries and archives, even including the archive of MI5. It does not leave the reviewer with much to criticise, except for pointing out some misspellings of Hungarian names and small inaccuracies (e. g. on p. 21: there was no institution in interwar Budapest called the ‘Almos Jashik Academy’; the accurate reference would be ‘the independent art school run by the artist Álmos Jaschik [1885– 1950]). This could have been picked up by a peer reviewer familiar with the Hungarian context before publication. It would also have been useful to make the most important biographical details of the artists accessible at first glance, rather than hiding them in various places in the book – the short biographies in the beginning are useful, but sometimes do not contain basic facts. All in all, however, this is a well-researched book that provides ample information for those interested in the subject, and its empathetic treatment of issues related to immigration and fitting in invite further musings on the relationship between art and life.

Because it does not enforce a central narrative, TheirSafe Haven can be read in different ways. From theperspective of the shared Central European traditionexplored in the framework of CRAACE, it providesfascinating insight into how that tradition faredwhen transplanted into a new country. The lives ofmost of the artists in the book began in Austria-Hungary and were, in many cases, decisively shapedby the geopolitical changes that followed the FirstWorld War. George (György) Buday (1907–1990) forexample, was born in 1907 in Kolozsvár, where hisfather was a professor at the university. AfterKolozsvár – now Cluj – became part of Romania, theuniversity relocated to Szeged, Hungary, and itsprofessors moved with it, taking their families withthem. Szeged became central to the artistic pursuitsof the young Buday, as he became involved in ethno-and sociographical research conducted in villagesand farmsteads in the plains around the town. Bycontrast, George (György, Georg) Mayer-Marton (1897–1960) was an artist in whose career the old networks of Austria-Hungary lived on, even after the state itself was gone: in the 1930s he was Vice-President of the Hagenbund artists’ society in Vienna, and lived in the Austrian capital until the Anschluss with Germany in 1938. After moving to Britain, they – like their fellow artists – built on their previous artistic knowledge when trying to find their way in a new artistic environment.

The question of how well that worked out offers another possible reading of Their Safe Haven, concentrating on factors that drove or inhibited artistic success in a new country. Many of the artists featured in the book were able to build new careers in Britain. Mayer- Marton, for instance, became a senior lecturer at Liverpool College of Art. The most stellar career was perhaps that of Joseph (József) Bato (1888–1966). Arriving in Britain in 1936, he found work in the film industry with the help of a fellow Hungarian, the director and producer Alexander Korda (1893–1956). By 1945 he was a leading art director at London Films and subsequently worked on classics such as The Third Man. But before he came to Britain, Bató was a painter. Having studied at the Nagybánya artists colony and with Matisse in Paris, he lived in Berlin after the First World War and sold his landscape paintings with much success. After fleeing the Nazis and emigrating to Britain, he had to change his career and reconsider his goals; this was a prerequisite for his success.

Other artists, too, had to leave behind past success for an uncertain future, and while that decision saved their lives, their careers did not always recover. The ceramicist Lili Márkus (1900–1960) was highly successful in Hungary and her work was often featured at international exhibitions, where folk-art inspired modern ceramics by her and other skilled women artists formed part of the self-representation of the Hungarian state. She still represented Hungary at the Berlin international trade exhibition in 1938, the same year that the rights of Jews such as Márkus were severely curtailed by the first Hungarian anti-Jewish law, which restricted the number of Jews employed in certain professions. The next year, Márkus and her family fled to Britain, where her husband was welcomed as a manufacturer of machine tools, and they were able to settle in safety and comfort. Nevertheless, despite her previous international profile, Márkus was never able to build a new career in Britain, even when she started making tapestries with British subject matter.

In Márkus’s case, it is fairly easy to identify the reasons behind the waning of her career. She had developed a form of folk-art inspired modernism whose imagery was endearingly familiar to the audience at home and could also represent a Hungarian formal language at exhibitions abroad. In Britain, suddenly, her artistic references became meaningless. Buday faced similar problems: the woodcuts that had brought him success in Hungary engaged with subject matter from Transylvanian folk ballads and the well-loved ballads of János Arany (1817–1882) – literary works barely known in Britain. Yet, he was able to produce English editions of these, while also using his old technique to depict new subject matter: British patriotic imagery during the war, and staples of British culture such as Christmas cards. He was elected to the Royal Society of Painters-Etchers (1953) and a fellow of the Society of Wood Engravers (1954). Despite this apparent success, he is perhaps the most tragic figure in the book. After the Second World War, he was offered positions in cultural politics in Hungary, but, wishing to stay in Britain, he opted for the directorship of the Hungarian Cultural Institute in London. Although he resigned from the Institute due to interference by the Communist Hungarian government in 1949, Buday remained associated with the Communist state in the eyes of British decisionmakers and, at the height of the Cold War, this led them to deny his application for citizenship. An additional spy drama involved was uncovered by Waterhouse during his research, and is one of the most fascinating episodes of the book. This ordeal, as well as the news of the failed Hungarian Revolution of 1956, broke Buday, and he spent the last decades of his life in a psychiatric hospital, where he created a series of illustrations for an 1980 Folio Society edition of Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon.

This precarity, the sadness of never quite fitting in, is one of the meandering themes of the book. The wartime experiences of Hungarian artists in Britain who suddenly came to be treated as ‘aliens’ are examples of this. István Szegedi-Szüts (1893–1959), for instance, moved to England in 1936, settling in Cornwall with his British artist wife, Gwynedd Jones-Parry. In July 1940, the couple had to move away from the coast due to Szegedi- Szűts’s status as a (then) ‘neutral alien’, and they stayed in Malvern with Gwynedd’s aunt. The extract from Szegedi-Szüts’s wartime diary, reproduced in Their Safe Haven, does not say much about art; as a primary source, it is more relevant to historians of life in 1940s Britain than to art historians exploring the artistic trends of the time. Nevertheless, like the other sources in the book, it illuminates the wider context of immigrant life. Another example, more specific to the art world, comes from the biography of the sculptor Peter Lambda (1911–1995; originally Vilmos Levy), creator of elegant and expressive portrait busts, many of which found their way into the National Portrait Gallery, including portraits of politicians such as Aneurin Bevan and actors such as Laurence Olivier. In yet another example of the interconnectedness of Central Europe, Sigmund Freud was a family friend of the Levys, and Lambda had known him well since childhood. The two met in London when Freud arrived in 1938, and Lambda sculpted a portrait of the severely ill psychoanalyst. He offered the bust to the Portrait Gallery, which rejected it on the basis that the subject was not sufficiently British.

These examples of how the Central European heritage of these artists could often grate against expectations of Britishness provide Their Safe Haven with a melancholy air. But it is not a sad book, because its intention is not to judge the artists according to how well they could fit in and how successfully they were able to negotiate the intricacies of the British art establishment. Indeed, it might make us question what we mean by success in the first place. No, many of its stories are not success stories in the usual sense. But they are stories of exploring, adapting, hoping, failing, trying again, making the most of. Of discovering or building up small worlds where the old and the new can fruitfully meet (the wartime London Hungarian cabaret is a wonderful example of this). Of finding a safe haven at a time when control over one’s life is lost due to immensely powerful external circumstances. The book presents these stories with much empathy and insight, making us reconsider whether what an artist liked to cook for dinner is relevant to art historical enquiry. In the 1940s, Klara Biller illustrated several children’s books for Collins Publishers, using her Central European modernist training to depict English children, Mary and Paul, but playfully giving their cat a Hungarian name: ‘Tzitzu’. In the same way as the smell of chicken paprikás merrily drifted through her household, making up for the silences, the unspoken clash between interpretations of the Hungarian heritage, so her memories of her old life and her hopes for the new were united in her creative work.

Their Safe Haven: Hungarian artists in Britain from the 1930s, compiled and edited by Robert Waterhouse (Manchester: Baquis Press, 2018). See also the website: theirsafehaven.com
DOI 10.17605/OSF.IO/6H3RG

What have refugees ever done for us?

By Russel James

What have refugees ever done for us? More precisely, what have Hungarian refugees ever done for us? More precisely still, what did we gain from the 15 Hungarian artists included in a barely-noticed exhibition at London’s barely-noticed Hungarian Club in April 1943?

The exhibition was organised by a Hungarian émigré, the writer, artist and publisher Charles Rosner. Of his 33 exhibitors, Rosner pointed out, 15 were living in Britain (though one then moved to America). All bar one became British citizens. The exception, George Buday, had lived here from 1937 and worked for the FO’s Political Intelligence Department from 1942–45, but had his application refused by D G White of MI5, the man who failed to identify the spies Kim Philby and Andrew Revai, yet went on to become director-general of MI5 in 1953. (White was “ineffective” scoffed Philby later.) The 15 were a tiny part of the many émigrés and refugees fleeing the Nazis in the 1930s. Once they arrived many of those refugees came to be considered ‘enemy aliens’ and a good number were, for varying periods, interned. Life in Britain’s wartime internment camps was not pleasant but would seem almost a paradise to Britain’s interned refugees today.

All but one of the artists considered in this book escaped internment, though their journeys here had not been easy, even pre-war. The artist George Mayer-Marton spoke for many in these extracts from his 1938 diary: “the baggage check, which is brusquely belittling and deliberately demeaning...yet another passport control and well-directed curtness...Grete [his wife] is subjected to a body check; the examining official apologises, saying she is only doing her duty...now we have a little spending money for the next few weeks alongside the five English pounds we were allowed to bring with us...At the railway station chaos reigns – hundreds of people, delays and general confusion. Refugees, hot and tired, full of soot and joy, fear and uncertainty...All that matters is that we have escaped...London spells turmoil, noise, rows of double-decker buses and a language one doesn’t understand...I am almost indifferent to my own suffering and the thought of whether I will ever see my paintings again.” In London he resumed his painting career, and in September 1940 his studio was bombed by the Luftwaffe and destroyed by fire. His paintings were lost but, fortunately, he and his wife were not at home.

Though many ‘enemy aliens’ were not interned they were all subject to restriction. (Hungarian refugees were not helped by their government’s quixotic decision in 1941 to declare war on our ally Russia.) They had to register their presence, limit their movements and, in some cases, move away from sensitive areas such as those within fifteen miles of the coast. In July 1940 the artist Istvan Szegedi-Szuts, then living on the Lizard in Cornwall, recorded: “This morning an extremely nice police-officer turned up in a baby Austin and tactfully broke the news that I have to leave my home within three days.” He and his British wife moved to near her aunt’s house in Malvern. Had he actually been a spy he would have found more to interest him in the arms manufacturing district of that area than he would in Cornwall, where the most he could contribute to the enemy’s war effort might have been to signal to passing ships from the coast.

The artist Imre Goth settled here in 1937 and is the only one of Waterhouse covers who was interned. In Britain he had painted society portraits (including Anthony Eden’s wife and the family of Lord Esmé Gordon-Lennox), had worked on films with Alexander Korda, but had fought for Germany in the First World War and had, earlier in the thirties, painted a portrait of Hermann Goering. It wasn’t for that far from flattering painting that Goth was interned but, Waterhouse discovered, for having had an affair with a German, Brigitte Lowenbach, described by MI5 as ‘potentially dangerous.’  Lord Gordon-Lennox was one of several who wrote to have Goth freed.

London in the thirties and forties gained much from these seemingly exotic and sophisticated mittel-Europeans. Sculptor Peter Lambda made busts of Sigmund Freud, Christopher Fry, Laurence Olivier, Aneurin Bevan and, notoriously, the actress Linda Christian: “What every man needs is a bust,” he said. “A bust of his wife, that is.” One assumes he was thinking of Linda Christian. The bust of Olivier was made only because Vivien Leigh (Olivier’s wife, the intended subject) behaved so badly Lambda had to ‘make do’ with Olivier. Waterhouse gives us some of Lambda’s cartoons from the programme booklet for the cabaret Just Like the English with music by Budapest-born Matyas Seiber and with lyrics by the Hungarian George Mikes:

Why is my bathroom as coldAs the Vac prison?Why is there no double glazingIn my bedroom and dining room?No! I do not wear woollen trousersI do not catch little fishAnd I do not necessarily adoreEvery errant cat.

Mikes came as a journalist for two weeks in 1938 and stayed until his death nearly fifty years later, gaining huge commercial success in 1946 (and for the next two decades) with his satirical How To Be An Alien. Even better known is the author and artist Val Biro, who arrived on these shores in 1939 and died here 2014 at the grand old age of 93. Designer of many fine book jackets, art director for Sylvan Press, frequent illustrator for Radio Times, he was ‘loved by children of all ages’ for his books about his vintage Austin, Gumdrop. He was prevented from joining Britain’s armed forces, of course, for being an ‘enemy alien’.

It was hard to know what one had to do not to be an ‘enemy alien’ – make films perhaps? Among many others, the Korda brothers made intensely patriotic films including The Private Life of Henry VIII, Fire Over England, The Lion Has Wings and The Four Feathers. Alexander Korda was knighted in 1942. Emeric Pressburger (who arrived in Britain stateless in 1935) made, in partnership with Michael Powell, One of Our Aircraft is Missing, 49th Parallel, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp and, after the war, A Matter of Life and Death and The Red Shoes. Less well-known (outside the film industry) was costume and set designer then art director Joseph Bato whose work was crucial to the look of Colonel Blimp, A Matter of Life and Death, The Third Man and many others. He arrived from Hungary in 1936 and stayed till his death in 1966.

Almost forgotten now but given excellent coverage in this book is the poster artist and illustrator Klara (Klara Biller) who illustrated books for Collins during the war, wrote seven of her own, made posters for London Transport, and whose career climaxed with the 1961 edition of the Oxford Nursery Song Book, every page of which was decorated by her. Waterhouse also devotes a chapter to the ceramist Lili Markus, grudgingly licensed by the Board of Trade “to manufacture articles or sets of articles of decorated or undecorated domestic pottery (excepting smokers’ ash receptacles), so however, that this licence shall not authorise the manufacture of two or more substantially similar articles or sets of articles...”The suspicion of foreigners is a continual presence in this entertaining and generously illustrated book, for which Waterhouse has uncovered many first-hand testimonies by the artists themselves and those who knew them. They had sacrificed all they had – their profession, their property – to make difficult, sometimes dangerous, journeys to escape persecution, even death – all in the hope that they might find somewhere to live and begin again, even if, as in the case of Grete Mayer-Marton, it was to begin work as a domestic cleaner.  They found themselves swaddled in Britain’s bureaucratic papier-mâché, a layering of restrictions that were at least not lethal. Though wartime movements were restricted, they were otherwise free. The alternative they had fled was a concentration camp so, though they now had nothing, they were grateful. They remained grateful. They repaid any debt we may have thought they had.

George Mikes was perhaps typical of many who lived the rest of their lives here, even if, as he wrote:

I confess that I hateBeans on toast,And I refuse to drink tea.

I’m happy to brew a pot in their memory.

Veritas: A Memory of Exile 

by Michael Richards

The baggage which people take into exile varies according to their circumstances. A need for overwhelming haste; wealth (and how liquid your assets are); or simply what a government or mob allows you to take: all this and more comes into play. ‘Cultural baggage’, a concept often discussed in a nation formed by migration such as Australia, surely varies greatly also, but how often does it include a pictorial representation of what it was that drove someone into flight in the first place? Yet here we have just such a thing, sitting unobtrusively in books that a Hungarian-Australian journalist in Sydney owned during and after the Second World War. 

They don’t look at all special on the shelf – drab cloth, a bit weak at the hinges - but when you open one of them a powerful and dramatic scene confronts you. A bully wearing the insignia of the Hungarian fascist Arrow Cross party of the 1930s has a young journalist by the throat. An overturned inkwell bleeds ink besides a scroll headed with the word ‘Veritas’, ‘Truth’. It’s a scene out of nightmare, and yet for many it was all too real.

This is the personal bookplate of Dr Imre Barcs, which Canberra bookseller Luke Canty recently drew to my attention and then, with characteristic generosity, gave me. The artist was another Hungarian, György (later George) Buday. It is possible to piece together enough of their lives to determine when the bookplate was commissioned with a fair degree of accuracy, although whether they might have been old acquaintances at the time is not clear. It must have been in Rome in about 1936. Buday was a young artist in Rome on a scholarship. Barcs was a journalist, an economics graduate turned foreign correspondent, whose reports from Italy had already made him unpopular with the Fascist government. His Jewish background made him suspect to the Arrow Cross back home. He loved Rome and had recently completed a doctorate in politics at the University of Rome, but his days there were to be numbered. That doctorate was a comparative study of press freedom, the wider context for his own ongoing battles with Fascist press censorship. He had been born Imre Bruchsteiner but in 1933 adopted Barcs as sounding less Jewish. Later he would change his name again to Emery Barcs, which is how he is remembered in Australia.

Buday’s life is reasonably well documented, the starting point being Robert Waterhouse’s Their Safe Haven: Hungarian Artists in Britain from the 1930s. He grew up in Transylvania and studied law and art at Szeged University before going to Rome in 1936-37. And Barcs wrote an autobiography, which begins with his time in Italy. He was two years older than Buday (b. 1905) and studied economics at the University of Budapest. In 1933 he went to Rome as the foreign correspondent for three liberal Hungarian newspapers. He was expelled from Italy in February 1938 and returned briefly to Hungary. So the two men were both in Rome in 1936-37, by which time Barcs had completed his doctorate. And it is as Dr Imre Barcs that he is named on the bookplate that Buday made for him.

Fortunately for Buday he won another scholarship in Britain and went on to London in 1937. During the war he worked at the BBC and then for the top-secret Political Warfare Executive. He was deprived of Hungarian citizenship after publicly criticising the Horthy regency in 1941 and remained in London after the Hungarian Communist Party seized power in 1948. Despite his war service he was later denied British citizenship on the basis of spurious suspicions of his political loyalties by MI5, as Robert Waterhouse has discovered. He suffered a nervous breakdown after the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 but was able to continue working as a book illustrator, living in a supportive psychiatric institution. He did both wood-engravings and woodcuts: the Barcs bookplate is, I think, a wood-engraving, judging by the fineness of detail under magnification. His many achievements include the Limited Editions Club edition of Timon of Athens (1940) and the Folio Society edition of his fellow Hungarian-in-exile Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon (1980), as well as an annual series of ‘George Buday’s Little Books’, written and mostly printed by himself on a small Albion press, which are today quite highly sought after by collectors. He also wrote a History of the Christmas Card. His work is a rich seam for a book collector to follow. As indeed is much else described in Their Safe Haven, which stands alongside Anna Nyburg’s Émigrés as a significant contribution to émigré studies in the book arts, drawing attention to important illustrators and publishers who have been mostly overlooked.

Emery Barcs had a different experience of life in exile. Fired by childhood reading of Jules Verne’s imaginative accounts of life in Australia and feeling that ‘within the past year and a half everything I had worked and planned for had collapsed and there was not the slightest chance of rebuilding a new life amid the ruins’, he and his wife Vica decided to turn their backs on Europe. ‘To paraphrase Rilke, one could no longer talk about victory; to survive was everything’, he remembered. They left Hungary for Sydney in July 1939, by which time new race laws meant he could no longer work as a journalist in his home country. He was able to scrape a bare living as a freelance Australian correspondent for eight European newspapers and magazines. Happily the Australian Journalists’ Association had supported his application for a visa, and members of that union were later to provide crucial support when his status changed from Neutral to Enemy Alien after Hungary entered the war. 

There were few Central European refugees in Australia at the time. Most Australians were suspicious of them; of their appearance, their language, their customs and above all of their loyalties. Barcs was turned down when he volunteered for the Army after war was declared, an act which served only to make him conspicuous and which may possibly have led to his internment in 1941 (although there is also a suggestion in one account that he is alleged to have interviewed Hitler in 1934, which seems unlikely). By then all but one of the newspapers he wrote for were behind enemy lines. His sole remaining client was Swiss, but he got into trouble with Military Intelligence for sending it articles written in German. (His interrogator seemed unaware that German was the major language of Switzerland, he recalled.) He survived by writing freelance for Australian newspapers and as a commentator for ABC radio’s ‘Notes on the News’.

He was then interned briefly at Liverpool, New South Wales, and Tatura, Victoria, where he met some of the Dunera victims. Their accounts convinced him that being interned by Australia was infinitely superior to being interned by Britain. He was released after ten weeks or so and then conscripted into the Citizens Military Force. There he salvaged rubber and iron from army waste while still freelancing at night. In 1943 he joined the inaugural committee of the Sydney-based Association of Refugees, and he kept up an interest in refugee issues thereafter. In 1944 he was invalided out of the CMF and joined the staff of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph. There, as a short entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography indicates, he ‘effectively became the Telegraph’s foreign editor in the mid-1950s.’ He was naturalised in 1946 and never returned to Hungary. ‘I like to travel, and sometimes do, but I don’t want to live anywhere else’ he wrote in his highly readable autobiography. It’s an affectionate and often humorous account of a long-lost Australia before the post-war transformation brought about by the arrival of hundreds of thousands more migrants and refugees, and also a powerful reminder of the narrowness of Australian life in the years before that change. Barcs’ own journalism contributed to the broadening of Australian horizons after the war, whilst at the same time playing a part in the rhetoric of the Cold War.

There are copies of his bookplate in two books I have examined: one published shortly before Barcs arrived in Australia, Australia’s Foreign Policy, and one in a collection of speeches by H. V. Evatt, Foreign Policy of Australia. Did he have a stock of the Buday bookplates with him when he emigrated? He and Vica had been able to take their furniture and books with them. Or did he bring the block and print as required? It is well-printed, with a good even impression that does justice to the fine detail. Barcs was interested in the book arts and during his brief internment at Tatura enrolled in a bookbinding course at the Collegium Taturense, the ambitious and wide-ranging self-managed educational program set up and run by the internees, but he never mentions printing. Another unmounted copy I own is printed on Canadian paper with a watermark of a beaver and the words ‘MADE IN CANADA’, which perhaps makes it more likely that it was printed in Australia than in Italy. It is on an uncropped sheet of paper (20.6 x 13 cm) which has never been glued into a book, so is presumably from unused stock.

As Barcs’ English improved, and as his writing turned to helping Australians make sense of the world overseas, I wonder what he thought when he opened the books he had labelled with this dramatic evocation of his terrible dilemma in the 1930s. Did he know of Buday’s circumstances in the 1950s? Would he have cared, given their political differences? Perhaps: he evidently cared for the wellbeing of refugees in Austra+lia long after he had established himself successfully in his new home. But his own bitter experience of the political turmoil of the 1930s and 40s and his awareness of Soviet and Communist dictatorship after the war in Hungary kept him well on the conservative side of Australian politics. His version of the Hungarian émigré experience is not that of many of those who found refuge in Britain, nor that of the 30,000 or so Hungarians who found a safe haven in Australia after the war and again after 1956, but they were parallel experiences and his autobiography is a valuable contribution to understanding the growth of our sense of Australia’s place in the world.

Both Barcs and Buday escaped to countries that accepted refugees into the mainstream of their national life, however grudgingly that might at times have been and despite the frailties of their security services. In turn, both countries were deeply enriched by the arrival of their newcomers. This is something we should celebrate.

Michael Richards is a writer and letterpress printer. He has been a bookseller, historian, librarian and museum curator, and worked for many years at the National Library of Australia and then at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House, Canberra. 

1 Emery Barcs, Backyard of Mars: Memoirs of the “Reffo” Period in Australia. Sydney: Wildcat Press, 1980, p. 2.2 National Archives of Australia, ‘In the Interest of National Security’, Memento, Summer 2006-07, pp. 16-19, online at http://www.naa.gov.au/naaresources/publications/memento/pdf/memento-32.pdf 3 John Tebbutt, ‘Barcs, Emery’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, www.http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/barcs-emery-12173/text21815 published first in hardcopy, 2007, accessed online 4 August 2019.4 Sydney: Angus & Robertson, in conjunction with The Australian Institute of Political Science, 1938, ed.  W.G.K. Duncan.5 Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1945. Both have an ownership inscription by the same later owner, with an acquisition date of 1992.6 The bookplate is not in the standard list of Australian bookplates. Andrew Peake, Australian Personal Bookplates. Dulwich: Tudor Australia Press, 2000.Article first published by Biblionews and reproduced by permission