Interview with Andras Koerner
These interviews are the fourth in a series of extended profiles on the lives and work of participants in the New York Hungarian Table, which meets for lunch once a month in Morningside in New York City. This installment features two interviews with András Körner about his upbringing in Hungary and his work as an architect and as a historian of Hungarian Jewish everyday life. Körner has written several books, including A Taste of the Past: The Daily Life and Cooking of a Nineteenth-Century Hungarian-Jewish Homemaker, a detailed and engaging description of domestic life in a Hungarian-Jewish household based on extensive interviews with his mother, his great-grandmother's recipe book (recipes included), and an array of other sources, as well as Körner's own illustrations. He has also written a biography (with audio recordings) of the Hungarian bauhaus artist and architect, Andor Weininger, titled The Stages of Andor Weininger from the Bauhaus to New York, as well as two books in Hungarian; A Reluctant Jew: Essays and Stories, and a social history of Hungarian Jewry, How Did They Live? The Everyday Life of Hungarian Jews, 1867-1940. He is currently at work on a second volume. The interviews were conducted at Körner's apartment in New York on March 11 and 25, 2014. Special thanks go to Ph.D. candidate in History at Cornell University, Máté Rigó, for his assistance in cataloging the interviews.
FIRST INTERVIEW--March 11, 2014: 00:00 Family background, traces back family history to early 18th century, Bohemanin Jewish origins of the maternal side of the family; 03:00 Bohemian Jewry; 04:00 German-speaking ancestors; 05:00 Family portraits, collection of family memorabilia, clothes, socks, paintings; 08:20 Paternal side: family living in present-day Slovakia; Merchants, teachers. Ancestors move to Budapest; Maternal ancestors move from Körmend, then Moson, then Győr; Maternal grandmother moved to Budapest; 10:00 Father is modernist architect József Körner; Before-WWII he could not get commissions for public buildings; 11:30 Father wins international architecture competition in late 1930s, but wasn’t allowed to transfer money abroad, so he gave money to a diplomat who absconded with it; 14:00 András Körner was born in Budapest in 1940; 16:00 Experience of WWII; Family moves to a “Swiss” yellow star house; Mother deported in November 1944 to dig defense lines in Western Hungary; 18:30 Mother fears she would not survive; Issues of collaboration; 21:00 Relationship with mother; 22:00 Ambivalent relationship to Jewish origins while growing up; 25:00 Holocaust memories in Budapest ghetto; 27:00 Mother tells him of the family’s religious past; 29:00 Encounter with his future wife in Austria in 1965; 31:00 Dilemmas of emigration in 1956, grandmother; 32:00 Distance from Hungarian community in New York; 33:00 Childhood: how parents changed during WWII; 34:00 Father’s chronic illness and labor service; 38:00 Holocaust nightmares, dreams; 41:00 Parents speak German and Hungarian; family archives in German (recipe books in German); 43:00 Mother’s role during the Holocaust; Oral history project with his mother; 300-page oral history memoir; 46:00 Impact of the oral history with his mother on his life; 47:00 letters of his grandmother from 1870s; Book of letters; 48:00 Recipe collection of grandmother; 49:00 Recipe collection becomes the basis of his first book; 52:00 Antiquated Austrian German; 55:00 Importance of religious past of his family; 56:20 Connection to Budapest Jewish culture; 1:00:00 Assimilation as a problematic concept; Social circle of parents consisted of assimilated Jews; 1:02:30 Used to regard Jewish milieu as a “self-built ghetto”; 1:03:00 Dating experience in 1950s Budapest; 1:06:00 Jewish identity politics in 1950s; 1:08:00 The experience of 1945 as a radical break in Hungary; 1:09:00 Leftist political orientation in the family; Father prosecuted in 1932 for attempting to organize and exhibition on Budapest slums; 1:13:00 Father was social democrat, then communist party secretary; 1:15:00 Father refused to reenter the party in 1956; 1:17:00 1945 experience; rape: SECOND INTERVIEW--March 25, 2014 (NOTE: the recording incorrectly gives the date as March 24); 00:00 Left-leaning family’s reaction to the 1950s; 04:00 1956, Petőfi circle; 09:00 Fear of arrests in early 1950s, packed suitcase; 11:00 1956 experience of revolution, refused a machine-gun; 13:00 Shootings in 1956; 15:00: Hopes in 1956; 19:00 Dilemmas of emigration after the revolution, caught twice on the border; 25:00 Encounter with future wife; Jewish attraction to Catholicism; 29:00 McCarthy era firings; 31:00 Started practicing in Budapest in early 1960s; 32:00 Experience of Kádár era; 35:00 first trip to the West in 1963; 39:00 Western border of Hungary as a strong boundary; 44:00 Career in architecture; 45:00 Career as a corporate architect; 48:00 Drawing; 50:00 Career chances in second half of the 20th century; “crushing of the souls”; 52:00 Limited possibilities foster conversations in early 1950s; 56:00 Hungarian expat community in New York; 58:00 Writing books; 1:00:00 Hungarian Table in New York; 1:04:00 Issues of ethnic identification; 1:09:00 Intreviews with his mother; 1:18:00 Lack of historical writing on middle class women; 1:19:00 Jewish renaissance in Hungary; 1:24:00 Preservation of goods by family; 1:25:00 Material way of approaching history, István Szabó’s Sunshine; 1:27:00 Ending of Sunshine: discarding remnants of family past; 1:31:00 Grandmother preserves family heritage when emigrating to the US in 1946; Discovery of family relics; 1:32:00 History of material objects as part of “History”; 1:37:00 Bauhaus; book on Andor Weininger; 1:44:00 Goals when writing the books