Eva Beck grew up in an upper-middle-class Jewish family. Her father owned a leatherware shop, and her grandfather owned a well-known bottling company in Budapest. As a child, she learned German, French, and English from nannies and private tutors, but because she was Jewish, under the Horthy regime she had to go to a Jewish gymnasium, which happened to be an excellent school. When the Nazis marched into Hungary in 1944, her schooling ended. She survived the Nazi and Arrow Cross regimes first in a “yellow star house,” then hiding in the home of cousins of an old family friend. Her hosts did not know she was Jewish, so she had to do a lot of pretending. But her father was shot by the Arrow Cross and her brother taken away an unknown fate. When the Soviet Army defeated the Nazis and Arrow Cross, she was reunited with her mother after a long, confusing month.
Beck’s wartime experiences left her emotionally unable to go to school. She got a job in a bookstore, whose remarkably perceptive owner saw to her education as he trained her by requiring her to read all the books’ dustjackets and learn what they were about. She became a voracious reader, and eventually became both a high-ranking administrator in a state-owned book export company and a convinced Communist. However, she became slowly disillusioned with Communism around the time of the 1956 revolution, although she was not active in it.
During the Kadar regime, Beck led the life of a politically unreliable but efficient and productive book export company employee. Her account of how she and others walked a narrow line is very interesting. She traveled a great deal for work, including a trip to the United States during the turbulent 1960s. In the 1970s she and her family traveled as tourists to the West as well as to Eastern Bloc countries. She noticed the many differences between life in Hungary and elsewhere; most amusing was her discovery of the hunger in East Germany for political jokes, which East Germans were not permitted to tell, but the Hungarians were.
Beck did not anticipate the changes of 1989-1990. She has many penetrating comments about the present political, economic, and social situation in Hungary.
Discursive Table of Contents: Family background and education—Life under the Nazis and the Arrow Cross—Work at bookshop, becoming a Communist, 1956—The Kadar regime, life during this period—Travel—The changes and the present situation