Family Collection of Árpád Göncz's Heritage
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Family Collection of Árpád Göncz's Heritage
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Árpád Göncz (1922–2015) was a writer, translator, politician, and the first freely elected President of the Hungarian Republic from 1990 to 2000. He was an outstanding figure in democratic and patriotic movements in Hungary and a devoted supporter of freedom, civil liberties, and social justice. He bravely fought against both totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century, i.e. against Nazi and Communist rule, and after the Hungarian revolution of 1956, he suffered six years imprisonment for having taken an active part in the intellectual resistance movement. During the last decade of communist rule in Hungary, he joined a number of challenging initiatives of the Hungarian democratic opposition. In 1989, he was elected the President of the Hungarian Writers’ Association, and then in 1990, he was elected President of the Hungarian Republic. (He was reelected for another five years in 1995.) He remained popular, and had a reputation for his honest and charming character and as someone with a firm moral stand. He had this reputation both in Hungary and the world over, even after he left office and withdrew from politics. He died at the age of 94 in October 2015. For many of his compatriots, he remained an important symbol of the 1956 revolution and the free and democratic Hungarian Republic established in 1989–1990.
In Autumn 2012, the four children of Árpád Göncz decided to create a foundation in order to promote the authentic presentation of their father’s life and work and to preserve the memories of the 1956 revolution and of the democratic and liberal traditions of Hungary. The Árpád Göncz Foundation started to work in November 2013, chaired by ambassador András Gulyás and the curators, art historian István Bibó Jr. and historian János Rainer M. Since then, the Foundation has established a website (www.gonczarpad.hu) and has organized conferences, exhibitions, and other public events, for instance putting up memorial plates and a bust of Árpád Göncz in Budapest. As an ambitious plan for the near future, the Foundation also wishes to display the personal memorabilia of the late president in a small museum to be opened in the residential building where the Göncz family once lived for almost half a century in the city of Budapest (III. Bécsi út 88–90.). The family collection of photos, papers, books, and other documents which Göncz left as part of his bequest would serve as the core material of the future Árpád Göncz Memorial Exhibition.
He was born in Budapest as the only child of a middle-class intellectual family. At the age of ten, he entered the István Werbőczy Grammar School, and he became a devoted volunteer of the scout movement. A few years later, he joined the Pál Teleki Work Community. The work he did as part of this community was also an inspiration to him. The community was a conservative patriotic reform movement, which also served as a forum for students to discuss social and political problems and to get a look at the poverty in which people lived in rural Hungary, mainly the poor peasantry with no land, which represented some two-thirds of the total population.
He was conscripted in February 1944. However, he later deserted his unit, which was ordered to go to Germany, but which was left without a commander and without basic supplies. He went into hiding for a while, and he then joined the Táncsics Battalion of the Hungarian Students’ Freedom Front and took an active part in the armed resistance movement against Nazis. Árpád Göncz became a member of the Independent Smallholders’ Party in 1945. First, he was Chairman of the Budapest youth section of the party, and he served as editor of its periodical Nemzedék (Generation). Later, he became the parliamentary secretary of the party and the personal assistant to its president, Béla Kovács, who was arrested in early 1947 by the NKVD and was secretly deported for nine years to the Soviet Union. In 1948, when the Smallholders’ Party, the main rival of communists, was banned, Göncz himself was also arrested and questioned for weeks, but then released.
During the 13 days of the revolution of 1956, he offered his services as an organizer for the Hungarian Peasants’ Union. He himself did not take part in the street fights, but he often met with and spoke to members of the revolutionary government and the delegates of freedom fighters in the Budapest parliament. Following the second Soviet military invasion of 4 November 1956, he contributed to wording a memorandum stating the position of the Hungarian Democratic Independence Movement, which was conveyed by the government of India to the Soviet government in order to settle Hungarian-Soviet relations. In February 1957, he helped smuggle Imre Nagy’s manuscript In defense of the Hungarian people abroad.
He was arrested together with István Bibó and László Regéczy-Nagy in May 1957. The People’s Tribunal of the Supreme Court sentenced him to life imprisonment in August 1958 with no right to appeal. In March 1960, he participated in the Vác prison hunger strike, together with several hundred other political prisoners. He was released in 1963 in accordance with the general amnesty. As he later confirmed in his public memoirs and interviews, he learned English on his own during his prison years, when he worked in the special section of the “Translators’ Office” with dozens fellow-prisoners from educated backgrounds, who were charged with the task of translating massive amounts of journals and books published in the West for the exclusive use of some top party-state apparatchiks.
After he was released, he first started translating technical texts and then became a freelance writer and literary translator from 1965 to 1990. His well over 250 translations of works of literature primarily by contemporary Western authors include Mary Shelley, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, J.R. Tolkien, Malcolm Lowry, William Styron, John Ball, Colleen McCullough, Jasunari Kawabata, John Updike, William Golding, and E. L. Doctorow. His own works include short stories, novels and dramas, for instance Sarusok / Men of God (1974), Magyar Médeia / Hungarian Medea (1976), Rácsok / Iron Bars (1979) and Találkozások / Encounters (1980).
He was a founding member of the Network of Free Initiatives in 1988 and later of the Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ). He was elected managing director of SZDSZ in 1988–89, then in 1989–90, he became a member of its National Council. In 1988, he was a founder of the Committee for Historical Justice, a voluntary group fighting for the rehabilitation of the victims of the massive reprisals following 1956. He later became the vice president of the group. He was also managing president of the Budapest Chapter of the Human Rights League, Chairman of the Hungarian Writers’ Association in 1989–1990, and later Honorary President. In 1990, he became a member of parliament. He served as Speaker of the House between May and August 1990, and he was then provisional President of the Republic until 4 August 1990.He served as President of the Republic of Hungary for ten years (from 1990 until2000), and he was the only Hungarian president after the regime change who was re-elected for a second term. During his term of office, he remained popular, with approval ratings between 70 and 80 percent. Although he retired from active political life in 2000, he remained widely respected as a symbolic figure of 1956 and the democratic spirit of 1989. His birthday is publicly celebrated by many of his friends and followers.
Description of content
The rich family collection of photos, papers, books, videos and other documents which Árpád Göncz left as part of his bequest in late 2015 can be found partly digitalized on the website of Árpád Göncz Foundation established in 2013 (http://www.gonczarpad.hu) and partly in the material holdings of his widow, Zsuzsanna Göntér, and their four children, mostly at the ex-presidental residence site in Budapest, 2nd district, Vérhalom Square. The latter will serve as the core material of the future Árpád Göncz Memorial Exhibition planned to be established by the Árpád Göncz Foundation in the same residential building of Óbuda, Bécsi út 88-90. where the Göncz family used to live for almost half a century before 1990.
- manuscripts (ego-documents, diaries, notes, letters, drafts, etc.): 100-499
- photos: 500-999
- publications (books, newspapers, articles, press clippings): 1000-
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Dae Soon Kim: The transition to democracy in Hungary – Árpád Göncz and the post-Communist Hungarian presidency. Routledge, 2013 London-New York
Hans Süssmuth: Árpád Göncz Ungarischer Freiheitskämpfer und Staatspräsident, Düsseldorf University Press, 2013, az Adalbert Stiftung kiadása
Árpád Göncz :Voices of dissent : two plays / Lewisburg, [Tenn.] : Bucknell University Press ; London ; Toronto, [Ont.] : Associated Univ. Presses, cop. 1989
Árpád Göncz: Plays and other writings; postscript by E. L. Doctorow. – New York, [N.Y.] ; London : Garland, 1990
Árpád Göncz: Homecoming and other stories /with a forew. by the author ; transl. by Katharina M. and Christopher C. Wilson. – Bp. : Corvina, 1991
Árpád Göncz: Rebirth, return, reunion : Hungary's Euro-Atlantic agenda, Washington, D.C. : Heritage Foundation, 1995
Árpád Göncz: In mid-stream : Talks & speeches / Budapest : Corvina : Hung. Nat. Commiss. for UNESCO, 1999
Göncz Árpád: Sodrásban – válogatott beszédek Európa 1998 (Válogatta és összeállította Makai Tóth Mária, szerkesztette Márványi Judit)
Köszönjük, Elnök Úr! Kossuth Kiadó, 2015.
Dési János: Árpi bácsi. Történetek, emlékek, anekdoták Noran Libro, 2015
Árpád Göncz on István Bibó, 2015
Repülés ellenszélben, 2002 (részlet)
Author(s) of this page
- Nóvé, Béla
Gulyás, András, interview by Nóvé, Béla, April 16, 2018. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection