On 5 May 1909 in the 13rd district of Budapest, at Kádár street 8 was born Miklós Glatter, the later Miklós Radnóti. His father Jakab Glatter (1874-1921) was a commercial traveler, his mother was Ilona Grosz (1881-1909). At the birth of the poet both his mother and his twin brother died. Both of his parents came from assimilated Jewish families living for centuries in Hungary. Jónás Glatter, the poet’s grandfather was an innkeeper in Radnót (later Nemesradnót, today Radnovce in Slovakia). In 1934 the poet borrowed the name of this village to change his own family name. The family of his mother came from Vác. Jakab Glatter worked for his brother-in-law, the well-to-do textile wholesaler Dezső Grosz.
In 1911 Jakab Glatter on the advice of his family married again. His second wife was Ilona Molnár (1885-1944) from Transylvania who loved the young Miklós as her own child and provided him with a warm family atmosphere. Miklós was very attached to his five years younger half-sister Ágnes Erdélyi (1914-1944) who later became a writer and journalist. The figure of Ági returns several times in the works of Radnóti. He dedicated to her the poem Many Cars Going Here of his first book of poetry Pagan Salute. He also wrote a poem on her, entitled My Little Sister Was Terribly Much in Love. His quasi-autobiographic novel Gemini begins with this phrase: Lately I have especially often thought of Ági, my little sister. In 1935 Ágnes Erdélyi published a book of poetry entitled Choir for Three Voices and the novel The Kovács Family. Both Ilona Molnár and Ágnes Erdélyi died in Auschwitz in 1944.
Between 1915 and 1919 he studied in the elementary school at Szemere street, in the 5th district of Budapest, not far from their flat at Falk Miksa street 7.
In 1921 Jakab Glatter unexpectedly died in apoplexy. Radnóti got to know only then that at his birth his mother had died and that Ilona Molnár and Ágnes are only his foster-mother and half-sister. As Ilona Molnár could have not educated two children alone, she went to live with her daughter Ági to her parents in Nagyvárad (today Oradea, Roumania), while her stepchild Miklós remained in Pest.
Three years later Radnóti was also informed that at his birth
not only his mother but also his twin brother died. The poet could not get over
this trauma until his own death, and repeatedly returned to it in his poems and
in his essay Gemini. He also touched this topic in his autobiographic
sketch in 1940: “I am a twin child, but my twin brother died together with my
mother at my birth. My mother was killed by the twin birth, her heart could not
bear it, and my brother was weak, perhaps I drained his vital force. When I was
twelve my father died as well. I did not know my mother and I hardly remember my
father. I only caress some sharp but disconnected images of him…”
20 October 1921 the Orphans’ Court of Budapest appointed Dezső Grosz,
Radnóti’s uncle as his legal guardian. Dezső Grosz was a wealthy textile
wholesaler, joint proprietor of the Brück and Grosz company selling lining
materials and cotton products.
Between 1919 and 1923 Radnóti learned in the Bolyai Secondary School in the 5th district of Budapest.
In 1923 he moved to his great-grand-aunts Ilka and Ernesztin to Lipót körút 5 in the 5th district of Budapest (today 13th district, Szent István körút). He lived here until his marriage in 1935.
Between 1923 and 1927 he learned in the Upper Commercial School in Izabella street, in the 6th (today 7th) district of Budapest. His guardian who at this time was not yet married – later he married but had no children – hoped that Miklós would follow him in the directorship of the company founded by him. This was his reason to send Radnóti to a commercial school.
Although commercial subjects did not arouse his attention, the years spent here did not pass without a trace. This school must have influenced his keeping a meticulous, “bookkeeper-like” order around himself. In his diaries he kept accounts of his incomes and expenses, and his Domestic Diary of 1936 also attests that after his marriage he continued it together with his wife. He also kept precise accounts of the publications of his poems. One of his surviving notebooks includes the complete list of his poems published between 18 May 1927 and 15 March 1944.
Radnóti was an excellent sportsman, he won several medals and played football.
On 15 September 1925 he published his first writing in the students’ journal Új Századok (New Centuries) with the title What would I like to become? His first published opus was thus not a poem but an essay. In these years he already had a keen interest in literature, and his poems were published in various students’ magazines. After the Új Századok came to an end he usually published in the Haladás (Progress). His literary talents did not attract the attention of his professors.
Besides his publications Radnóti also wrote his poems in his notebooks.
The subjects of natural history failed to attract
him, and in mathematics he had to be coached. His tutor Károly Hilbert (Komlósi)
was not only an excellent private teacher of mathematics, but he also became a
fatherly good friend to Radnóti with whom the poet could talk about literature
and poetry and to whom he showed his first poems. He was in contact to Károly
Hilbert until the end of his life. In 1943, after his second service in a labor
bataillon he rendered account of his life in a letter to his former teacher.
in the home of Károly Hilbert he made an acquaintance that had a decisive
influence on all his life. He met there his future wife Fanni Gyarmati who was
coached in mathematics by the wife of Hilbert.
In the 1 February 1927 edition of Új Századok he
used the name Radnóti for the first time. He published four poems, signing his
name as Miklós Radnóti-Glatter.
Between 1927 and 1928 he studied at the State School of Textile Industry in Reichenberg (today Liberec), Czechoslovakia on request of his guardian. “The school is a nonsense. I cannot understand a word, because lectures are in German and because we are taught very difficult specialized subjects. I miss the 8th class of high school. […] It is quite funny when I stand there in front of a roaring machine, covered with oil and sweat, and tugging at the handles. As I have no practice, I spoil everything…” He only had success in designing which required artistic sensitivity: “But there is also a beautiful subject, Musterzeichen, pattern design. During these lessons I set my fantasy free and I produce designs that make our professor cry. «I never had such a student», he says.” His success in designing was not accidental: his surviving designs and cartoons bear witness to his skilfull hand. Instead of becoming absorbed in his studies he rather wrote poems, went on excursions and went in for sport.
Although during his Reichenberg study year he was in correspondence with Fanni Gyarmati, nevertheless he fell in love with a German girl, Klementine Tschiedel whom he called Tini in his poems. He wrote in his notebook two dedications in front of his poems to her. The first one is: “To Tini, the little German weaver girl, my dear first woman who will never read these poems and who even in our most loving nights whispered this superstitious saying: “Die Liebe kommt und geht!” (Love comes and goes.)
(The second dedication: “To Tinnie, the little German typist girl who was one of the stations in my life.” His cycle of poems entitled “Die Liebe kommt und geht” was the best of his Reichenberg production.
In late June 1928 he returned from Reichenberg.
In 1928 and 1929 he participated in the edition of the journals “1928” and Kortárs (Contemporary).
From 1928 to 1930 he worked at his uncle’s company Brück and Grosz as a
commercial correspondent, and – although his uncle was against it – he
consciously prepared for the faculty of literature. As he had studied in a
commercial school, while university admission required a high school examen of
maturity, he had to sit a supplementary examination in the subjects of the
eighth class of classical high school, including Latin that he had never
June 1929 his poems were first published in an anthology (Jóság
[Goodness]). He signed them as Miklós Radnóti Glatter. Besides him, the
anthology contained poems from eight more young poets, Péter Pál Lakatos, Ferenc
Sükösd, János Vajda, Antal Forgács, György Dán, György Wagner, Magda Kalmár and
Alfréd Fekete. All of them were attached to the circle of the renowned
avant-garde poet Lajos Kassák and wrote free poems, a great fashion of the
13 December 1929 he sat his supplementary examination in the Verbőczy (today
Petőfi) High School in the 1st district of Buda. The president of the exam
commission was Jenő Pintér, an influential conservative historian of literature,
author of a History of Hungarian Literature in several volumes.
In December 1929 he used for the first time the name Radnóti without
Glatter, when signing in this way his review of József Berda’s book of poetry
Öröm (Joy) in the Kortárs.
In late July 1930 he went on holiday to Trencsény (Trenčín, Czechoslovakia)
to the relatives of his guardian Dezső Grosz. Here he got to know that because
of the law of numerus clausus he was admitted only to the university of
Szeged instead of Budapest.
In August 1930 he spent some days with his foster mother and half-sister in
On 11 September 1930 he arrived to Szeged, and the next day he was enrolled
at the departments of Hungarian and French languages of the Ferencz József
Between 1930 and 1934 he lived in modest lodgings in Szeged. He made sketches of his various rooms for Fanni Gyarmati.
His first room was at Széchenyi square 8, I.15, in the so-called Jerney House.
In early February 1932 he rented a room at Valéria square 11, I.3.
Between 1 March 1932 and Christmas 1933 he lived at Zrínyi street 8.
From spring of 1934 he had a room at Bokor street 2.
From August 1934 he rented a flat at Bánom street 7.
Between September 1934 and Christmas 1934 he had a room at Miklós Horthy street 22, on the second floor.
In May 1935, during his special examination he rented a room at Kölcsey street 5.
In September 1936, during his special examination of
paedagogy he lived at Kölcsey street 10, I.8.
In 1930 he was one of the founders of the Arts College of the Youth of
Szeged, a leftist student group of the university, rooted in the agrarian
settlement movement of the prestigious Gábor Bethlen Circle. The exclusive
College had fifteen members, most of whom later became renowned artists and
scholars: historian of literature Dezső Baróti,
poet Károly Berczeli A.,
sociologists and politician Ferenc Erdei,
lawyer Zoltán Gáspár,
theatre director Ferenc Hont,
ethnographer and politician Gyula
historian of literature Gábor Tolnai,
The intellectual leader and organizer of the group was György Buday,
who later won himself an international reputation as a woodcutter. The College
organized lectures and debates as well as exhibitions, and they also published
books. Two of Radnóti’s books of poetry, Lábadozó szél (Convalescent
Wind, 1933) and Újhold (New Moon, 1935) as well as the second edition of
his PhD thesis Kaffka Margit művészi fejlődése (The artistic development
of Margit Kaffka, 1934) were edited by them. The New Moon,
illustrated with woodcuts by György Buday is especialy beautifully typographed.
Radnóti participated in the College’s field trips in the villages around Szeged,
and so he had first-hand information on the poverty of Hungarian peasants.
During these trips he also got in contact with folk poetry, and these
experiences as well as some dialectal words also infiltrated in his volumes
Song of Modern Shepherds and Convalescent Wind. Nevertheless, he
never joined the movement of peasant writers.
12 September 1930 he visited Piarist priest Sándor Sík
(1889–1963), a renowned scout leader, poet and professor of literature, and soon
he was admitted to his private seminar. This exclusive seminar –
“privatissimum” – was held by Sík in the Piarist college. The participants
of these conversations in a relaxed atmosphere, accompanied by tea were Dezső
Baróti, Gyula Ortutay, Gábor Tolnai and Radnóti. Sík loved him like a son and
had a great influence on Radnóti. They often took a walk along the river Tisza,
and Sík had a decisive role in the poet’s later conversion to Catholicism. They
also remained in contact after Radnóti’s university studies. Radnóti
participated in a number of Sík’s works, for example in the Book of Hymns
(1943) and a prayer book published in 1940.
Another of his professors, historian of literature and linguist Béla Zolnai (1890–1969), an excellent expert in French culture and editor of the literary journal Széphalom also had an important impact on Radnóti. Although Zolnai was a rigorous examiner – in 1932 Radnóti failed to pass the basic exam of French –, nevertheless professor and student mutually appreciated each other. Radnóti wrote a review about his professor’s book of linguistics in the 22 March 1940 edition of Nyugat, and in 1943, when Radnóti converted to Christianity, he invited Zolnai to be his godfather.
In Szeged he got in distant contact laza with the illegal Communist party.
On request of Ferenc Hont he wrote two speech choirs for the workers’ recitative
choir. Although he did not fall in the great wave of arrests in Szeged, the
secret reports speak of him as “an element dangerous for the society”.
However, he felt an aversion to working for the movement, and also warned Fanni
Gyarmati against it (she was in contact with László Rajk’s illegal Communist
group): “You see, my dear, this is how our Communists look like. Even Gyuri
[Péter Pál] Lakatos
or [Antal] Forgács.
Don’t belong to them, my sweetheart. This is only a fashion now. The true rebels
are silent now.”
late March 1931 his second volume of poetry, Újmódi pásztorok éneke
(Song of Modern Shepherds)
was published with the Fiatal Magyarország (Young Hungary)
publisher. Nineteen out of the thirty-one poems were born in Szeged.
On 14 April 1931 the Prosecutor of Budapest had the volume confiscated for
indecency and offence against religion.
They also ordered to sequester the manuscript and all the copies of the book
wherever they can be found. They confiscated fifty copies in Radnóti’s sublet at
Széchenyi square 8, while the rest was hidden by his friends. This event was
recalled in his poem 19 April 1931 that begins with the verse “Yesterday
they confiscated my new book”.
3 July - 30 August 1931: the first voyage of Radnóti to Paris. In Paris he lived at his friend Imre Szalai whom he knew from the circle of the journal Kortárs. The recently opened Exposition Coloniale made a great impact on him, he visited it more than once. Europe had discovered the art of Africa at the beginning of the century, but this interest and enthusiasm still was alive in 1931: “Now the “Black fever” is strong in Paris, and they produce bulky volumes of Black anthologies.”
Radnóti also began to be interested in the art of Africa, and he wrote a number of “Black poems”. The best known among them is the Song of the Black Man who Went to Town. In 1943–1944 he translated a volume of Black fairy tales which were published together with his translation of poetry on the same subject in his Karunga, a holtak ura (Karunga, Lord of the Dead, 1944).
He also saw the film based on Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front and René Clair’s Under the Roofs of Paris.
He was impressed by the liberal way of life in Paris, for example the lovers going hand in hand and kissing each other on the open street.
The main purpose of his travel was to learn French, so in early August he
enrolled on a language course of the Alliance Française. Here he made
acquaintance with Japanese physician Maki Hiroshi. He is the protagonist of
Radnóti’s poem 17 February 1932 in the cycle Male diary of his
Convalescent Wind (1933).
On 8 December 1931 the proceedings on his book
took place. The court of first instance sentenced him for eight days of prison
for offence against religion committed with his poems Portrait
Fall Berries Redden in the Sun Now.
Radnóti appealed against the judgment, also attaching a letter by his professor
of modern literature Sándor Sík. The Piarist priest of great prestige defended
his student in a tactical way against the charges. His opinion obviously had
great weight, as the next proceedings, while not changing the previous judgment,
suspended it for one year of probation.
Not only Sándor Sík, but also Béla Zolnai, Radnóti’s professor of French
literature and language fought for his student. In the very period of the
proceedings he published some of Radnóti’s poems in the journal of Szeged
Széphalom, edited by him.
In December 1931, on the request of Sándor Sík he read lecture on the
university about contemporary Hungarian lyrics.
In the spring of 1932 he wrote the poem Song of the Black Man who Went to
On 15 June 1932 he traveled for a week to Nagyvárad (Oradea) to his foster mother and half-sister. At this time he also visited the local Club of Journalists.
In July 1932 he spent three weeks in a mountain hut above Tátraszéplak
(Tatranska Polianka, now Slovakia) together with some friends, including György
and János Dóczi and György Bálint.
They organized a veritable literary and
debate society. From the remembrances of Fanni Gyarmati we know that they
“carved in the inner side of the hut the name of Lenin (…) In the evenings
György Dóczi read from The Capital.
The readings were followed by long debates.”
This holiday is recalled in Radnóti’s poem 7 July 1932.
On 1 December 1932 he published for the first time in the prestigious
literary journal Nyugat (Occident), the poem Toward Evening.
Several reviews were published about the volume, among others by György Bálint, Ignotus, and from the Art College of the Youth of Szeged Anzelm Károly Berczeli, Zoltán Gáspár and Gábor Tolnai. However, the most important among them, the one written by the great critic of the period Mihály Babits was especially painful to Radnóti. Babits in the 16 February 1933 edition of Nyugat reviewed the volume together with a bok of poetry by the folksy poet Kálmán Sértő, and objected to the unnaturalness and forced popular idioms of Radnóti’s poetical language. Radnóti was shocked by the criticism. On 17 February 1933 he noted in his notebook: “The new Nyugat has come. Babits brutally attacks my new book.”
At the same time he “took revenge” on Babits in two unpublished poems. The manuscripts of both have survived in his bequest.
The chirping bird
flies on the bannered
tail of the melancholic fox
and curly sheep trot
together with wild wolves
to see how the golden
mane is shining
on my woman’s head.
And they admire my poems
rolling all over there
on the top of the sky;
the bird with its bill agape
the foxes and the wolves
and the sheep all admire them
with open mouth.
Oh, people! Let the throat of Babits
be suffocated by this happy song as by smoke
and let the bird hiding on the tree
plump on his head.
The other sarcastic poem is:
The garlanded old man has hurt me; let his
garland be made of onion! and when
he thinks to sit down on soft lawn
let the spine of the hedgehog
accept his rump for a sit.
The volume has a diary structure. Its first cycle is also called Male diary, and the title of each of the first eight poems is also just a date.
Not all the poems of this volume are new. As his Song of Modern Shepherds could not reach his readers, Radnóti included ten poems of the previous volume into the central two cycles (And Now It’s Dew Fighting Frost and Love Lament) of this one.
The fourth cycle is entitled Quince.
The closing poem is the
Song of the Black Man who Went to Town.
On 19 February 1933 he read a lecture with the title New Hungarian
poetry and literary problems, organized by the Arts College of the Youth of
On 17 July 1933
he went for a week to Nagyvárad to his foster mother and
half-sister. In this week his half-sister Ágnes Erdélyi published in the
Nagyváradi Napló her poem Give Me Your Fighting Hand, My Brother,
dedicated to Radnóti.
In early September 1933 he went on an organized tour to Dalmatia together with Fanni Gyarmati. They made several photos on the way. In one of the excursions he made acquaintance with Pero Kapetanovich, a young peasant from Montenegro, whose memory is recalled in Radnóti’s Montenegro Elegy.
1934 the Gyarmati printing house edited in a separate volume the last poem
This slim book was illustrated by twenty high quality lino cuts of Lajos S.
4 June 1934 he was informed in an official letter of the Ministery of
Interior No. 42.986/1933 that “on your request I change your family name to
«Radnóczi»”. Radnóti was indignant that he was given the name Radnóczi instead
of Radnóti as it had been demanded by him. He only used the name Radnóczi on the
most necessary official occasions; as a poet, only once.
In June 1934 he obtained his PhD degree summa cum laude at the University of Szeged. His PhD thesis – The artistic development of Margit Kaffka – was published by the Institute of History of Literature in Szeged under his official name Miklós Radnóczi.
On the last page of the copy in the library of the University of Szeged one can read the judgment of Sándor Sík: “This essay which as a PhD thesis received a summa cum laude degree, fully merits an excellent qualification both for its theoretical foundation, its philological completeness, its originality and its artistic style. Szeged, 20 December 1934. Sándor Sík.”
On the summer of 1934 he completed his thesis in French.
In May 1935 he sat his final exams in Hungarian language and literature as
well as in French language and literature.
In the school year of 1935/36 he completed his teaching practice in the
Zsigmond Kemény High School in Budapest.
In May 1935 the Art College of the Youth of
Szeged published his Újhold (New Moon), including eight woodcuts by
György Buday who later in British emigration won worldwide reputation. The
volume, as well as the list of subscription, both designed by György Buday, are
typographic masterpieces. The volume includes twenty-two poems. This is the first book
of Radnóti which is not divided in cycles.
On 11 August 1935 he married Fanni Gyarmati. He moved from his flat at Lipót körút 5 to Pozsonyi út 1 in the 5th (today 13th) district of Budapest. In the rest of his life he lived in this flat.
On 2 September 1935 he and István Vas read their poems in the Radio.
This was Radnóti’s first performance in the Radio.
At the middle of August 1936 he spent a week in Vienna together with Fanni Gyarmati.
On 23 and 25 September 1936 he sat his final written and oral examinations in paedagogy and philosophy, thus obtaining his high school professor’s diplom in Hungarian and French.
On 29 September 1936 he and István Vas read their poems in the Radio.
In early November 1936 he published his Járkálj csak, halálraítélt! (Walk on, Condemned!). The title of this book was proposed by Fanni Gyarmati. Radnóti attempted again to raise money for the publication of this volume through lists of subscription. The book was published by Nyugat, a fact that gave high rank to it and also indicated that he had settled his relations to Mihály Babits.
In early January 1937 he won the prestigious Baumgarten Prize.
30 January 1937 Ernő Vajda and Mariann Reismann organized a costume
ball in the Windsor Pension. Radnóti and Fanni Gyarmati dressed up as Liliom and
Julika from Ferenc Molnár’s popular play Liliom.
On 6 February
1937 he read his poems on a program of the Árpád Tóth Society.
He made acquaintance with French poet Pierre Robin.
He saw the great attraction of the world expo, Picasso’s Guernica.
On 24 June
he participated on an antifascist mass meeting. This event was the background of
his poem Hispania, Hispania, translated to French by Pierre Robin in
On 14-15 July
he took part on the final session of the congress held by the leftist authors’
organization International Association of Writers for the Protection of Culture.
On 17 July 1937 they came home from Paris.
1937 and 1938 he read nine lectures of history of literature in the
On 24 June 1937 the Hungarian Radio accepted for reading his following poems: Evening Between the Mountains, Song about Death, Elegy on the Death of Gyula Juhász, Night, October Forest, Three Winks, Hymn to the Nile, Recruiting Song, Guard and Defend Me, Bitter Sweet.
On 1 September 1937
Radnóti and Ferenc Jankovich Ferenc read their poems in the Radio.
November 1937 György Bálint, András Komor and some other friends made
a joke on Radnóti. They printed a new frontispiece for the book of poetry of a
dilettant poet with “Miklós Radnóthy” as the author, and sent it in mail to
On 2 December 1937, on the Kosztolányi Memorial Session of the János Vajda
Society, Radnóti read Kosztolányi’s poem Funeral Oration.
On 7 December 1937 he read a lecture on Margit Kaffka in the János Vajda
On 10 December 1937 he read on Baroque poet István Gyöngyösi in the Radio.
On 15 January 1938
Radnóti and Fanni Gyarmati took part at a costume ball. Radnóti dressed up as a
On 24 January 1938 he read about László Listius in the Hungarian
On 5 April 1938 he read his article on János Garay.
On 10 June and 6 July 1938 he read in the Radio about 19th-century writer
Baron Miklós Jósika.
In early December 1938 Radnóti published with Cserépfalvi his Meredek út (Steep Road). Similarly to his earlier New Moon, it is a remarkable edition also from typographic point of view. The high quality volume, printed on high quality paper in the Kner Printing House of Gyoma, was voted as the most beautiful book of the year.
Radnóti began the series of his Eclogues in this volume, with the publication of the First Eclogue.
On 8 July 1939 Radnóti and Fanni Gyarmati traveled to Paris with the Ortutay couple and with György Wagner (Tamássi) and his wife. There he made several excursions to the province.
they came back from Paris to Budapest.
Sík asked Radnóti to transcribe from ancient to modern Hungarian an old Catholic
prayer book. The new book was published in 1940 under the name of Sándor Sík.
In the autumn of
1939 he failed to apply for the librarian’s position of the Baumgartner
Foundation. The position was won by Gábor Devecseri.
In late May 1940 the Almanach Editors published Radnóti’s Selected Poems (1930–1940). The office of the publisher was in front of Radnóti’s house at Pozsonyi street, and it was directed by Vilmos Kaczér, former editor of the journal Toll (Pen). At the same time his autobiographic essay Gemini was also published.
At the end of Selected Poems the poet included a cycle entitled Newer Poems (1938–1940), including nine never published poems
1940 the János
Vajda Society published a Selected Poems of Guillaume Apollinaire,
translated by Radnóti and István Vas. The introduction was written by László Cs.
Szabó, and the portrait of Apollinaire is the work of Pablo Picasso. Radnóti
read the poems of Apollinaire during his university studies in Szeged, and since
then he prepared to translate them. On the volume Lajos Kassák wrote an
acknowledging but nevertheless “strange” review in the Magyar Nemzet, in
which he did not mention the names of the two translators. The reason was a
personal antipathy between István Vas and Lajos Kassák: Etel Nagy, the deceased
first wife of Vas was the stepdaughter of Kassák, but Vas turned his back to
“the Kassák school” and renounced his former master.
Between 9 September and 18 December 1940 Radnóti fulfilled his first forced labor service. He served in the 10th labor bataillon of the 9th army corps headquarters of Kolozsvár, in the company number 209/16. The letters to him letters were addressed as “Szinérváralja 243. Mu. Vez. Csoport 209/16 special labor company.”
He joined up the labor bataillon in Isaszeg. From there they arrived through Veresegyháza, Szada, Gödöllő and Nagykároly (Carei) to Szinérváralja (Seini) on 5 October, and then to Szamosveresmart (Roşiori). There they cleared away the wire fences on the former Hungarian-Roumanian border, on the so-called Carol Line. From 22 October he worked in the office. His bataillon went further to Dobra (Apateu), but Radnóti was left at the office and assigned to the I/2 engineer companion. He arrived back to Budapest on 18 December.
During his first service he did not wear an arm-band. He kept a diary during all the time.
the spring of 1941 started his love affair with painter Judit Beck which
lasted for about a year. It is not sure how many poems were inspired by this
relationship and which ones. The Third Eclogue is certainly written to
On 14 June 1941
he visited Mihály Babits in Esztergom together with István
Vas and Gyula Ortutay.
Babits already could not speak. This was their last encounter.
On 4 August 1941 Babits died. Radnóti was staggered by the news of his death, and on 5 August he wrote in his diary: “Yesterday in the night Babits died. I went for the new edition of Nyugat to the editorial office, and the younger Oszkár told it. I stood there for a long while. Well, I knew it, but it already was so many times that he felt «extremely bad». (…) I felt very lonely. I was not his «confidential friend», but the knowledge that he was living, even if ill, that he was living… who will defend now (how difficult it is to say what) what must be defended?! Whose look we will feel on our writing right hand? Either consenting or contradicting him, he was always the model and the measure. (…) He was the Professor, the Great Professor, the «great professor» of poems.
wrote on the death of
Babits his poem Only Skin and Bones and Pain.
In late July 1941 he went to his cousin to Runya (Rumince, now Slovakia)
with Fanni Gyarmati.
“From here comes my family… My grandfather was born in Rimaszécs [Rimavská Seč],
and my father in Radnót [Radnovce].”
In the autumn of 1941 was published by Szukits Publisher the anthology
Szerelmes versek (Love Poems) with poems selected from the whole European
literature of two thousand years. Besides twenty-two poems translated by Radnóti
it contained translations by Géza Képes, Ferenc Szemlér and István Vas. From a
note of 30 September in the notebook of Radnóti we know that censorship deleted
several poems from the book: “We went with Szukits and the officer of the
Hungária Publisher to the Prosecutor. We receive the final decision. Seventeen
poems were deleted. (…)
book is not for high school girls! Right on the first page two deletions, the
epigrams of Asclepiades and Onestes, then the Happy night by Propertius,
the Detestatio belli by Tibullus, Villon’s Ballad, Ronsard, Storm! Verlaine, Rimbaud, Richepin, Under Marie,
Koskenniemi, T. S. Eliot – even two by him –, Aldington, Montherlant! The book
has been spoiled! Five of my translations, five of Pista [Vas]’s, six of Géza
Kepes, one of Szemlér. And how great poems they were!”
On 30 October 1941 together with his friends
from Szeged he laid a wreath on the tomb of Kossuth and Táncsics in the cemetery
on Kerepesi út. According to the diary of Fanni Gyarmati: “This was a
On 9 November 1941 died Dezső Gyarmati, father of Fanni. Radnóti
wrote in his diary: “He was given the grace of easy death. (…) Fif is
crying. I caress her. I stand along the wall and watch him. «He looks like
sleeping», Mom says, but his motionless and his forehead shows that he is not
sleeping. Are these the signs of death? Or a cool, almost calm excitement and
pain leaking from the conscience to the heart? How much have I already written
December 1941 the Hungária Publisher has edited his Naptár
(Calendar). The twelve poems of this cycle describing the twelve months were
written between January 1939 and 28 February 1941.
On 15 March 1942 Radnóti participated on the anti-war
manifestation convened by the Historical Memory Committee in Budapest, at the
31 March 1942 he signed a contract with the Rózsavölgyi and Co.
Publisher on the Hungarian translation of the selected tales of La Fontaine. A
month later he wrote in his diary: “I’m sitting in the Szabadság Café and I’m
translating La Fontaine. At the end of March we agreed with Rózsavölgyi on
publishing a small book, fifteen tales. I’m sitting in Szabadság and
translating, while in the other corner Béla Telekes is writing and at the other
side Béla Vikár is joking with someone. The translators of “the Complete La
Fontaine”. They are sitting unsuspectingly, and they do not know that there is
someone here who will do better a small part of what they had done some decades
On 17 March 1942 he exposed his views on his relationship to his Jewish
origins in a letter written to Aladár Komlós, editor of the Jewish almanach Ararát:
“I have never denied my Jewish origins, I belong to the “Israelite confession”
even today (…) but I do not feel myself a Jew, I had not received a
religious education, I do not need it and I do not practice it. I regard race
and blood and roots and “the ancient melancholy quivering in the nerves” a
complete nonsense and not a decisive element of my intellectual and spiritual
and poetical identity.”
In 1942 he published with Cserépfalvi a translation of Henry de Montherlant’s
novel Girls. He only translated the first two volumes, but his second forced
labor service prevented him in beginning the third one.
Between 1 July 1942 and late April 1943 he fulfilled his second forced labor service. He joined up his bataillon in Szentedre, from where they went on 13 July through Püspökladány, Nagyvárad (Oradea) and Székelyhíd (Săcueni) to Margitta (Marghita). Here they set up telephone posts. On 21 July he received permission to go out and he met his foster mother and half-sister Ági. Later he worked in small villages around Margitta, in Micske (Mişca), Bisztraterebes (Chiribiş), Hagymádfalva (Spinus), Szilágynagyfalu (Nuşfalău), Zovány (Zăuan).
On 22 August he had a teeth pulled out in the military hospital of Nagyvárad.
On 15 October his bataillon went to Hatvan where they worked in the sugar factory of the Hatvany family. He was appointed foreman.
On 19 November his companion went to Budapest. Radnóti had a day off and spent the night at home. From 23 November he worked in a case factory in Újpest. On the weekends he was allowed to go home, and sometimes even to sleep at home.
From Christmas until New Year he was on holiday at home.
On 23 February 1943 he was transfered to a machine factory.
On 16 March 1943 he was humiliated: a voluntary officer picked on him in a tramway station and accompanied him into the Albrecht garrison where his head was shaven and he was forced to do humiliating gymnastic exercises.
During his service he wore a yellow arm-band. In these ten months he kept a diary.
On 23 March he had a building site accident, and as he was unable to use his hand, he was appointed gate-keeper.
On 9 March
1943 the influential politician Endre Bajcsy-Zsilinszky had a letter signed by
eminent public figures – besides himself, Countess Margit Bethlen, Marcell Benedek,
Kálmán Csathó, Sándor Eckhardt, József Fitz, Ferenc Herczeg, Endre Illés, Gyula Illyés,
Rózsa Ignácz, Tibor Joó, Dezső Keresztury, Sándor Kozocsa, Gyula Ortutay,
Pál Pátzay, László Possonyi, Andor Pünkösti, Count József Révay, Sándor Sík,
Aladár Schöpflin, Gyula Szekfű, Zoltán Trócsányi, Lajos Zilahy – and took
it personally to Minister of Defence Vilmos Nagy of Nagybaczon in the interest
of the discharge of Radnóti. This action was successful, and the poet was
discharged at the end of April.
In late March 1943 Imre Cserépfalvi entrusted him with the edition of the
posthumous poems of Attila József.
On 2 May 1943 he was baptized together with Fanni Gyarmati by Sándor Sík in the Saint Stephen Cathedral. He invited as a godfather Béla Zolnai, his former professor of French who was substituted in his absence by Gyula Ortutay, Radnóti’s friend from Szeged who in the meantime moved to Budapest. Radnóti had decided long before to be baptized when reaching Christ’s age, before his thirty-fourth birthday. His decision was not influenced by any political consideration, because the new anti-Jewish laws prevented him from having any advantage of it. His determination came from his own spiritual demand and conviction.
knew well that his uncle was not happy with his decision to leave the confession
of their forefathers, thus he felt that after his baptism he cannot accept his
monthly allowance any more. He wrote a letter to Dezső Grosz in which he said
thanks to him for his regular financial support in the past while he renounced
it for the future.
On 19 September
1943 the Magyar Nemzet published his poem Páris as well
as a translation of a chapter from Jules Romains’ Les hommes de bonne volonte
under the title Paris, five o’clock. On 21 September 1943 his former
fellow companions in the forced labor bataillon sent him a congratulation:
Miklós, we were happy to see that on Sunday you had a whole page in the
Nemzet. Please accept the sincere congratulation of your old companions.
Embraces from your friends.”
In the summer of 1943 he published his selected translations of poems with Pharos Publisher under the title In the Footsteps of Orpheus. Translations from poets of two thousand years. The volume was dedicated to Gyula Ortutay. Besides Lőrinc Szabó, Radnóti was the best translator of his generation. In contrast to his poems, he also preserved the sketches of his translations which display his working methods. He polished his translations with an extreme care and for a long time, just as he did with his own poems.
On Christmas 1943 the Franklin Publisher presented his selection of La
In 1943 he collaborated in the volume of Conrad Ferdinand Meyer’s selected
poems, published by Franklin.
5 and 15 October 1943 he went to holiday to the guest house of the Hungarian
State Railways in Mátraháza together with Gyula Ortutay. On the request of Imre
Cserépfalvi here he made a revised juvenile version of Cervantes’ Don
Quixote, and translated a poem by Rimbaud. His Don Quixote was
published for Christmas.
Christmas 1943 the Pharos Publisher presented a volume of selected essays by
Huizinga. The selection was done by Gábor Tolnai and the translation by Radnóti.
The typography and cover was the work of Vera Csillag, wife of György Bálint.
In the winter of
1943–1944 he wrote one of his most famous poems, I Cannot Know…
On 16 January
1944, on the day of Epiphany he began to translate Shakespeare’s
Twelfth Day. By May he completed the first two acts. We only have the
manuscript of these two acts, but most probably he also finished the third one.
1 February 1944 the Hungarian Society of Philosophy elected him an
ordinary member. The document of membership was signed by Count József Révay and
Baron Béla Brandenstein.
On 19 March 1944 Hungary was occupied by the German army. Pianist Lajos
Heimlich (Hernádi) planned to baptize his son on this day
Radnóti and his wife for godparents, but the celebration was omitted because of
the national catastrophe.
20 March 1944 he deposited in the National Széchenyi Library the manuscript
of his diary and his poems.
On 21 April 1944 Sándor Sík visited Radnóti in his flat at Pozsonyi
street and heard his confession.
On 4 May 1944 Sándor Sík visited Radnóti and his wife for the last
time at Pozsonyi street. When leaving, his last words were to him: “Sacrifice is
On 19 May 1944 he received summons for his third forced labor
service. On the same day he wrote his poem Fragment.
On 20 May 1944 he began his third service. He joined up his labor bataillon in Vác from where they went on the same day to Sződliget on foot. From here he wrote five letters and five cards home.
On 24 May 1944 Sándor Sík sent a card from the spiritual exercises
led by him in Nagyvárad: “Dear Miklós and Fanni!
the spiritual exercises of Várad I think of both of you with love and offer daily Mass
for you. Father S., Várad, 24 May 1944.”
On 27 May 1944 his bataillon went on foot from Sződliget to Vác from where they left in cattle-trucks for Serbia. On 1 June they arrived to Zaječar from where Radnóti was commanded to Lager Berlin, the central camp of the German Todt service near to Bor. On 2 June he was transported to Lager Heidenau. He worked in copper mine and railway building. He had to wear a white armband indicating his Christian faith.
The humane commander of Lager Heidenau permitted the
captives to organize cultural programs on every Sunday. “The second performer
was Miklós Radnóti who recited his poem I Cannot Know. After him there
were other performances, but at the end we asked Radnóti to recite more (…) to
tell once more his I Cannot Know, because it spoke to our hearts,
expressed our own feelings and everyone loved it.”
From Bor he wrote two cards to his wife. The first one on 23 July, at the anniversary of their wedding: “…on our anniversary I will be very much with You in spirit…” His second and last letter was dated to 16 August: “…thank you, my Dear, the nine years spent together…”
In early August he was transported to Lager Rhön to treat his tootache.
On 29 August, at the advance of the Soviet Red Army and the Yugoslav partisans the captives of Lager Heidenau were sent in a forced march to Lager Brünn. At this time Radnóti wrote his poem Forced March. Here he spent two weeks by building fortifications. On 15 September the inhabitants of both camps were commanded to the central Lager Berlin.
The labor bataillons were sent home from Lager Berlin in two sections. Radnóti was originally assigned to the second column of route, but a humane officer included him into the first one which left earlier. Some days later the second column was liberated by Yugoslav partisans and everyone has survived. The number of the first column, however, decreased to a great extent until they reached the Hungarian border.
Before his departure from the camp Radnóti copied out on separate leaves from his notebook – the Bor Notebook – the five poems written by him in the lagers, the Seventh Eclogue, Letter to My Wife, A la recherche…, Eighth Eclogue and Forced March, and handed them over to his friend Sándor Szalai (1912–1983) to take them home.
On 17 September the bataillon of Radnóti set on the way. They passed through Bor, Lager Heidenau, Žagubica, Krepoljin, Petrovac, Mala Krsna, Požaverac, Smederovo (Szendrő), Belgrad, Zemun (Zimony), Pančevo (Pancsova), Jabuka, Glogny, Opovo, Perlez, Titel, Újvidék (Novi Sad), Szenttamás, Čenej (Csenej), Vrbas (Újverbász), Kula, Črvenka (Cservenka). In Črvenka they were taken over by the SS from the Hungarian soldiers accompanying them. In the night from 7 to 8 October the SS executed between 700 and 1000 captives. Radnóti dated his second Razglednica as “Červenka, 6 October 1944”.
In Črvenka his group was divided in two. Those with Radnóti most probably
followed their way through Vepőd, Ószivác, Sombor (Zombor), Bezdán, Kiskőszeg,
Darázs and Mohács. Radnóti dated his third Razglednica
as “Mohács, 24 October 1944”. From Mohács they traveled in cattle-trucks to Szentkirályszabadja.
Here he wrote his last, fourth Razglednica,
his very last poem, dated as “Szentkirályszabadja, 31 October 1944.” In
Szentkirályszabadja the SS gave back the supervision of the captives to the
Hungarian soldiers from Bor.
We do not know what happened to Radnóti after
Szentkirályszabadja, neither the route they followed to Abda, the last station
of his life.
On 30 October
1944 the Déli Hírlap of Temesvár (Timişoara) published under the
title Poets behind the barbed wire a full page with poems from those
deported in Bor. From Radnóti they included the Seventh eclogue (here
entitled The sleeping lager) and A la recherche. The two poems
were handed over by Sándor Szalai from the five ones he received from Radnóti.
Szalai was assigned to the second column of route, which was liberated by the
Yugoslav partisans. Szalai managed to get through to Romania and here he
published these two poems by Radnóti. At this time Radnóti was still alive.
On 4 November 1944 the exhausted poet was shot dead near to the
village of Abda in Győr county. This is how the verse of his
fourth Razglednica was fulfilled:
“Shot in the back of the neck. That’s how you too will end.”
In 1946 his posthumous volume Tajtékos ég (Foamy Sky / Sky with Clouds) was published. The volume was originally edited by Radnóti, but its final form was determined by his widow Fanni Gyarmati. She complemented the composition of the volume with the “Bor” poems that Radnóti had handed over to Sándor Szalai in the lager of Bor in the summer of 1944: Letter to My Wife, Seventh Eclogue, Forced March, Eighth Eclogue and A la recherche.
In late June 1946 some days before the publication of the volume the corpse of Radnóti was exhumated from the mass grave of Abda. In his clothes they found, together with his personal documents, letters and photos, the Bor Notebook containing his five last poems that were not included in the Foamy Sky: the Root and the four Razglednicas.
On 25 June 1946 the body of Radnóti and of his twenty-one companions
were buried in the Jewish cemetery of Győr. This was his second burial.
On 12 August 1946 Fanni Gyarmati, accompanied by Gyula Ortutay, Gábor
Tolnai and Dezső Baróti, traveled to Győr to identify the body of her husband,
exhumated for the second time. She plucked a cotton-thistle from the mass grave
of Abda: “I ripped a scotch from the pit that laid open in front of us. I felt
it to be a much more authentic grave of Miklós than the future one in Budapest.”
On 14 August 1946 Radnóti was buried for the third time in the cemetery at Kerepesi street, in the grave number 41 of parcel 41. The funeral rites were celebrated by his former professor and spiritual father Sándor Sík. In the name of his friend Gyula Ortutay said him farewell.