EXTENDED PROFILE--The Life and Career of Professor Ivan Sanders

These interviews are the second in a series of extended profiles on the lives and careers of scholars who work on East-Central Europe. It features seven interviews with Ivan Sanders, who teaches Central European cultural history, literary translation, postwar East European cinema, and Hungarian literature at Columbia University. 

Sanders has translated many famous Hungarian authors into English. His translations include Milán Füst's The Story Of My Wife:The Reminiscences of Captain Störr, György Konrád's The City Builder, and Péter Nádas's A Book of Memories

The interviews were conducted at Prof. Sanders's home in New York on December 6, 2009, April 18, 2010, and October 6, 2013. Special thanks go to Ph.D. candidate in History at Cornell University, Máté Rigó, for serving as co-interviewer and for his assistance in recording and cataloging the interviews.

Part 1 - December 6, 2009

00:00 Family origins
00:30 Born in January 1944 in Budapest
01:00 Father’s side of the family: grandfather moved to Budapest in 1890s from Galicia, spoke Yiddish and Hungarian; Set up a scrap iron business
04:00 Business success of grandparents until the end of interwar period; Grandfather sets up a prosperous lead pipe manufacturing business, and eventually bought several apartment buildings in Budapest
Ivan Sanders's mother, Ilona Ekstein  (1910-1995) 
(center), his grandfather, Márk Eckstein ([1868?]-1944), 
and grandmother Júlia Freund (1878-1940), 
photographed in Košice, early 1930s.
05:30 Modest and pious lifestyle despite affluence
09:00 Experience of numerus clausus law in the family
11:10 Family business in Józsefváros, Budapest; Grandparents never assimilated, despite wealth; Grandfather co-founded Tompa utca orthodox synagogue in Budapest in 1920s
14:20 1930s, prosperous business activity until the anti-Jewish laws
15:00 Family used front men to be able to stay in business until 1944
15:55 Polish Jewish refugees inform the family about massacres in Poland
16:40 Family sceptical about news of horrors in Poland; Finally persuaded to build a secret shelter
17:53 Grandfather compared success in Hungary to others’ success in America; Grandfather applied for Hungarian citizenship in 1915 to be able to vote to Hungarian-Jewish candidate Vilmos Vázsonyi; He felt himself at home in Hungary, and considered himself Hungarian
21:30 Mother’s side of family; Origins in Upper Hungary; Rabbi ancestors
23:00 Maternal grandfather went to Pozsony (Bratislava) yeshiva and settled in Kassa (Košice); Became the rabbi of the status quo denomination, though lived an orthodox life; Mother tongue was German/Western Yiddish; He wrote in standard German
26:00 Remained in Košice since 1944, until deportation; He had four daughters and one son;  Son left for Bologna, Italy to study medicine; Graduated from Alexandria, Egypt, and later moved to Palestine; Grandmother died in 1940, buried in Košice
33:00 Mother’s side of the family decimated in Holocaust; 80 members of the family perished; Aunt married to German Jew and survived the camps
34:20 Fathers family survived because they built a secret bunker in Budapest and were hiding there in 1944
Ivan Sanders's paternal family. His father, Imre Schmutz 
(1909-1998) is in the front row, third from the left. His
paternal grandparents Izsák Schmutz (1871-1945)
 and Berta Russ (1884-1952) are seated
behind the table. The photo was taken in the early 1920s.
36:00 Restructured the cellar to serve as a bunker in summer of 1944
38:00 Ivan Sanders was taken to a Christian, ethnic German village near Budapest; Jewish identity had to be kept secret; Pretended to be Catholics
43:00 Return to Budapest during German occupation; Difficulties of hiding with a baby in the bunker; Relations with Gentile benefactor during the persecution
49:00 1945 experienced as hopeful period by family; Moved to József Blvd. in Budapest
52:00 Expropriations
53:00 Two uncles decided to leave in 1949; Clandestine crossing to Austria through Czechoslovakia
56:00 Retaining middle class lifestyle during the Rákosi regime; Handed over truck of the family business to state-owned company in exchange for a job
To access interview, click here: http://hdl.handle.net/1813/36248

Part 2 - December 6, 2009

00:00 Experience of expropriation during the Rákosi regime, anti-communism of father
03:30 Daisy Birnbaum
04:00 Divergent political view of parents
05:00 Excellent education, music and language classes
06:00 Deportations to the countryside
07:00 Social mobility of the poor during the Rákosi regime
10:20 No personal experience of anti-Semitism in 1950s
15:00 Uncle imprisoned for selling a gold necklace in 1951
17:30 Children talk politics in school, Budapest 1950s
18:00 Holidays in Balatonfüred, where a kosher restaurant was operational in 1950s
19:00 Mother retains leftist views in the US
23:00 Suppressed memory of the Holocaust in family till mid-1950s
24:00 Péter Nádas’s short story
25:00 Resurgence of Holocaust memory in family as parents aged; changing understanding of the concept of “survivor”
32:00 Father lived in Palestine for three years in 1930s
35:00  Lifestyle of parents; Dunakorzó café
38:00 School life, Ludas Matyi, weekly satirical magazin
46:00 Jewish life in 1950s Budapest, Passover food
53:30 The experience of Stalin’s death in Budapest, a city in silence
To access interview, click here: http://hdl.handle.net/1813/36248

Part 3 - December 6, 2009
Ivan Sanders in 1956 at age 12

00:00 Memories of 1956
01:20 Excitement about events and fears
04:00 Negative reception of Ernő Gerő’s speech
06:00 Family goes hiding to the bunker again
07:00 Debates on emigrating to America
10:00 György Szepesi’s support of the anti-Nagy forces on the air
12:00 Dead bodies on the streets of Budapest; Köztársaság tér massacre
14:20 Visiting cousin from Nagyszeben/Sibiu in summer 1956; Even ÁVO officer relative invited
16:00 Evaluation of “popular violence”
17:00 No experience anti-Semitism in Budapest during the revolution
20:30 “revolutionaries” requisitioned apartment and vandalized it
27:00 Question: Jewish life and community organization during the Rákosi regime
29:2On the memorial service at the Dohány Street Synagogue for Chaim Weizmann, the first president of the State of Israel, who died in 1953
To access interview, click here: http://hdl.handle.net/1813/36248

Part 1 - April 18, 2010

00:00  November 3, 1956, the experience of fleeing Hungary, making a decision to emigrate
03:45 Hungarian Jewish emigration, Orthodox Jewish emigration from Hungary
5:40 Different perspectives on 1956 within the family; “We don’t have to go to America, this will be America”
11:00 Adjusting in America, first years in New York
15:00 Family scrap metal business in Hungary, 1940-1956; Reinventing middle class life after nationalization of family business, Teherfuvarozási Vállalat; The scrap metal business
19:00 Starting a new business in New York
21:00 The logistics of leaving Hungary in 1956; The risk of leaving by train; Leaving with the family Chevrolet truck
25:00 Long walk through the Austrian-Hungarian borderline
26:55 Accommodating attitude of Austrian population
29:40 Eating bananas in winter 1956
30:30 Uncles in Vienna; Family driven by cab to the Austrian capital
32:50 Eastern part of Austria experienced as prosperous land
35:00 Staying in Vienna for a month in winter 1956
To access interview, click here: http://hdl.handle.net/1813/36248

Part 2 - April 18, 2010

00:00 Vienna life in winter 1956; Gone with Wind shown for Hungarian refugees in the Viennese movies, while it was banned in Communist Hungary; Cinema full of Hungarians
3:00 Watching Fidelio in the Viennese Opera
4:00 Making a decision to go on to America; The receptive attitude of European countries
6:00 Experience of urban modernity in Vienna
8:57 December 18, 1956; Leaving for the USA; Encountering anti-Semitism among Hungarian refugees in Kaiserstattbruch military transit camp 
12:00 Gábor Vermes’s experience of anti-Semitism: later on Jewish and non-Jewish Hungarians had to be separated by Austrian authorities in Kaiserstattbruch camp
14:00 Contrast to moderate experience  of anti-Semitism during the 1956 revolution;
Scenic train ride from Vienna to Munich
16:00 Differences within Hungarian Jewry in Austria; Ultraorthodox, Hungarian-speaking Jews in the camp, waiting to leave for Brooklyn
20:24 Arrival at Munich, Germany; December 1956; Ivan Sanders’s family photographed by photographer of Paris Match
23:30 Arrival at Camp Kilmer, NJ. Hungarian-speaking American soldiers
27:00 First experience of New York City
28:00 HIAS (Hebrew International Aid Society), YMCA, YWCA helping Hungarian refugees
29:00 HIAS helped refugees to stay in hotels in Manhattan
31:00 Schooling in New York; Williamsburg Yeshiva and dormitory in Brooklyn
33:40 High school in Brooklyn; Hungarian-Jewish émigré students in high school; Cross-section of Hungarian-Jewish society with different religious and social backgrounds
To access interview, click here: http://hdl.handle.net/1813/36248

Part 1 - October 6, 2013

Cover of  Új Látóhatár from 1975
00:00 Ph.D. at NYU in Department of Comparative Literature
02:00 Péter Lax
06:40 Field of East-Central European studies
11:40 Jewish studies at Columbia University
16:30 Teaching at Columbia, 1970s
21:00 Hungarian community in New York (1956-1980s)
23:00 Sándor Püski in New York; Book store, presentation of Hungarian writers of all stripes
26:00 Politics among Hungarian emigrés
28:20 East-Central European studies at Columbia
29:50 George Soros and the sponsoring of dissidents; Columbia University as a sponsoring institution
32:50 György Konrád and other grantees
39:00 George Soros; István Rév
57:00 Jewish studies in Hungary 1980s; Article in Új Látóhatár journal; ”Tentative affenities” Jewishness and its relationship to Communism as sensitive topics
1:01:00 György Dalos
1:11:00 Péter Nádas
1:13:00 Jewish themes in Hungarian literature.
1:14:40 Imre Kertész
The cover of George Konrád's
The City Builder (2009), translated
by Ivan Sanders
1:18:10 YIVO encyclopedia. Inclusion of Hungarian writers
1:25:00 Zsidóság az 1944 utáni Magyarországon volume
To access interview, click here: http://hdl.handle.net/1813/36248

Part 2 - October 6, 2013

1:00 What is Jewish literature?
5:00 Hungarian literature, Dezső Kosztolányi
6:41 Translating Hungarian literature to English; Péter Nádas, Péter Esterházy
11:10 László Németh
12:31 Hungarian Jewish writers, translations to English
16:00 Language of Hungarian Jewish writers, Milán Füst
20:00 writers Imre Kertész, Sándor Márai
22:00 rediscovery of Márai
24:00 Imre Kertész back in Hungary
26:21 Translations from Hungarian to English; Krúdy; René Wellek
To access interview, click here: http://hdl.handle.net/1813/36248

Interview with James Robertson--February 19, 2014

James Robertson on the Croatian island of Vis at the
entrance to a cave that served as the partisans' secret
headquarters during the Second World War.
Interview with James Robertson, advanced Ph.D. student in History at NYU. Interview conducted in New York, NY on February 19, 2014. 

Robertson is currently writing a dissertation on writers and communist thought in interwar Yugoslavia, the working title of which is "Visions of Community on the Yugoslav Literary Left." He has written several pieces for The Immanent Frame, an SSRC digital forum on "Secularism, religion, and the public sphere." 

Interview Themes

How Robertson came to his dissertation topic (1:00)
On how ideas of Balkan federation are related to the Left (5:20)
Imperialist versus federalist models and their overlap (9:15)
Is there a regionally specific relationship between federation and violence? Mlada Bosna, terrorism and anarchism in the context of thinking about federation (14:35)
How Robertson, having grown up in Australia, came to be interested in Yugoslavia through contact with émigrés in Sydney (20:50)
On Robertson's first visit to Yugoslavia in 2005 (26:30)
On Yugonostalgia--or lack thereof--in former Yugoslavia (29:05)
Robertson's most important intellectual influences--Kristin Ross's May '68 and Its Afterlives and Alain Badiou's The Century (30:45)
Is there anything special about intellectual history for this region versus for Europe as a whole or other parts of the world? (33:35)
On the coherence of Balkan history (38:25)
Historical incarnations of Balkan or Southeastern European history and unity and Robertson's conceptual geography of the region (41:00)
Pan-slavism and Southeastern Europe (44:50)
On Robertson's writing for The Immanent Frame (47:25)
What sets Robertson's generation apart from earlier generations of East Europeanists -- coming of age with the fall of the Berlin Wall versus with the 2008 economic crisis (52:33)
Robertson's political engagement with the region, and particularly the recent protests in Bosnia (57:03)
Area studies in Robertson's experience (1:02:50)
To access interview, click here: http://hdl.handle.net/1813/36249

Istanbul's Tailors

The period around the New Year in Turkey was one of considerable political upheaval, with the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan embroiled in a corruption scandal and frequent demonstrations in the streets and squares of Istanbul and other cities. In Moda, on the Asian side of Istanbul, one graffiti sprayed on bank windows and cement barriers during a nighttime demonstration read "This filth will be cleaned up by the people." And indeed, early the next morning a city worker was painting over the signs as others swept the debris of barricades and fires off the streets.

The people work a lot in Turkey. A six-day work-week is commonplace, and a seven-day one only moderately less so. Though many Turks own their own businesses, these are often one- or two-person operations requiring the owner’s constant presence.

A four-storey building in the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul houses 
no fewer than three tailors ("terzi").
Tailors are a prime example. Istanbul has what seems like a surfeit of them; each neighborhood has several, and some buildings even house two or three. This is partly the legacy of an earlier period in the city's history, when specialty shops tended to be concentrated on a single street or neighborhood (as in New York's one-time garment district). One can still see blocks or streets in Istanbul lined with engraving shops one after the other, or clusters of kitchen supply shops, lighting shops, gown salons and sundry other commercial venues in clusters.

The number of tailors in Istanbul is also surprising given the extent to which the trade has declined in other parts of the world. The widespread availability of inexpensive, off-the-rack clothing has made the cost of having clothes mended or altered seem impractical when new ones are so affordable. Ready-made clothing is no less available and no more expensive in Turkey, yet a great many tailors still make a living—however precarious—from their trade.

Over the period spanning December 31, 2013 to January 6, 2014, I conducted seven interviews with tailors working in different parts of Istanbul: in Kadıköy and Üsküdar on the Asian side, in Beyazıt near the famous Grand Bazaar, and in the old city center of Beyoğlu on the European side. The questions were not about politics or current events, but about work, and although the interviews were recorded, as all were conducted in Turkish, the recordings are not appended here. Instead, I have sought to summarize and relay highlights from the interviews to offer an impression of the working lives of Istanbul's tailors, how they are changing, and how these men and women view their trade.

Most of the tailors I approached were working when I entered their shops and kept at it 
Two tailors at work at Bizim Terzisi, Kadıköy
throughout the interview, at machines or on cutting tables or with needle and thread or marking chalk. Only one outright declined an interview; two others told me they would gladly agree to one, but were too busy at that moment with an order and asked if I could come back the following day or an hour or two later. The seven I did speak with were ready enough to answer questions, but the moment a customer came through the door—which happened at least once at each establishment during the course of the interview—their attention turned fully to the customer and I became as if invisible.

This was no small feat in several places, as a tailor's workshop in Istanbul tends to be a tiny space in the back of a residential building, up a flight or two of stairs, and not infrequently windowless. Unlike in the US, where their work is often combined with dry cleaning and occupies the same space, in Turkey tailors have shops of their own. Sometimes these enterprises are marked with a sign on the street "Terzi" (Tailor), but often you would only know there was a tailor in the building if you somehow already knew there was a tailor in the building. To get to Mustafa Altıntop's Model Tasarım Terzisi, for example, you have to pass through a curtain at the back of another shop, Hey Müzik ve Tekstil.

Ali Öner of Özlem Terzi in Beyazıt
Most of the tailors I spoke with were men whose origins were in eastern Turkey and who had been working as tailors for at least twenty years. Rıza Akbaş, who has a shop in Beyoğlu that specializes in making men's suits and jackets, told me that to be a good tailor a minimum of twenty years experience is necessary. Young tailors are now few and far between. Akbaş has an assistant, Mahmud Yavuz, who is twenty-three: "The youngest tailor in Turkey," Akbaş repeated twice during the interview. As I was preparing to take photographs, Yavuz stopped his ironing and came over to carefully straighten the measuring tape that was hanging around his boss's neck.

Though Yavuz is unusual in that he is still quite young, most tailors started learning the trade before they reached their teens, with apprenticeships of between six and eight years duration. Ali Öner of Özlem Terzi ın Beyazıt spoke about how he ran away from his home in eastern Anatolia at the age of thirteen and came to Istanbul, where he lived in a tailor's shop while working there as an apprentice. Kerim Erdoğan (no relation), who owns a shop in Beyoğlu, started his apprenticeship at age eleven. Coming from a very poor family, he added, the profession was chosen for him.

In fact, although very few came from tailor families, most also did not chose the profession
Mustafa Altıntop of Model Tasarım Terzisi, Kadıköy
 for themselves. A notable exception is Mustafa Altıntop, who had been doing piecework for a large clothing manufacturer in the eastern Anatolian city of Trabzon when he fell in love with a girl who worked as a tailor and decided to become one himself. "The love didn't last, but the trade did," he laughed. Like many practicing tailors in this city of 14 million, Altıntop works six or seven days a week. I spoke with him on New Year's Eve and he told me he would also be in the following day at around 11a.m., "What if someone needs something?" Like the others, he was clearly proud of his work and made several references to the "precision" he brought to the craft, and how customers are often referred by others who were satisfied with his work.

Müğe Deniz is atypical. She is a woman and young (like Yavuz she is just twenty-three), but like others in the business she started working in her mother's shop, Terzi Mukadder, at 
Mukadder Yılmaz and Müğe Deniz at Terzi Mukadder
age twelve and works long hours. In addition to helping out in her mother's shop in Üsküdar, she also teaches kindergarten and does secretarial work for a construction company. Her mother, Mukadder Yılmaz, who came in while I was speaking with Müğe, said nine-hour days, six days a week were the norm for her, and that she only ever dared to take vacations of three to four days for fear of losing customers. Though they feel that as women they bring a certain care to their work that men often do not, when asked what a typical tailor is like, both women pointed to a man in his late sixties with a mustache and a measuring tape around his neck who worked for them—and in fact did not cease working for the duration of my stay in the shop—and laughed.

Though the tailors in Beyoğlu similarly work long hours and six-day weeks, their situation is markedly better than that of tailors in other parts of the city. Their vacations are more leisurely, ten to fifteen days long, and their shops are large, consisting of two rooms—one for cutting and another for sewing. Both specialize in making clothing from scratch and their clientele tends to be wealthy and cosmopolitan; not everyone can afford to have a bespoke suit. Akbaş proudly showed me the business card of one of his clients, an official at the US consulate in Istanbul. 

Tailors from other parts of town generally designate Beyoğlu as the district where the best
Çağlar Kumaş (fabrics) across from Kerim Erdoğan's tailor shop in Beyoğlu.
 of Turkey's tailors can be found. The tailor who makes Prime Minister Erdoğan's suits, Terzi Amca, is based there. The reason for this concentration of skilled practitioners, says Kerim Erdoğan, is that Beyoğlu was historically home to Greeks and Armenians, the original master tailors from the Ottoman era. Most of them left or were driven out of the country over the course of the twentieth century as the Ottoman Empire collapsed and gave way to the modern Turkish Republic. But Beyoğlu continues to house the country's best tailors. One advantage of being there, Erdoğan said, was the proximity of fabric and trim shops. There is a fabric shop just across the street from him, Çağlar Kumaş, where, after the interview, I saw three men standing out front examining a bolt of fabric in the last minutes of daylight. 

The tailors in Beyoğlu are also among the few in the city who still specialize in making 
Rıza Akbaş in a three-piece suit he made himself (his assistant,
Mahmud Yavuz, is in the background)
clothing. Some of the tailors in other districts told me they used to do more clothing from scratch, but that their work had increasingly shifted to alterations and repairs. When asked whether they considered their occupation a living, a trade, an art or a craft, the common response was "living" and "trade." Only the tailors in Beyoğlu were adamant that they practiced an "art," and keen to make a distinction between what they do and the kind of work done by others in the city. Repairs and alterations were not the work of "real tailors," both insisted; true tailorship is a creative undertaking that requires special skills and expertise. It takes about four days to make a suit, Akbaş told me, "The jackets are the hardest, and that is what we do best." Both Akbaş and Erdoğan were wearing clothes they had made themselves. Akbaş wore a natty navy blue three-piece suit with gold buttons, and Erdoğan, in his black corduroy pants with a matching vest and an understated wide tie, looked the epitome of working-chic.

A further distinction between the tailors of Beyoğlu and the others was the decor in their shops. Whereas most tailors in other areas had images, clippings, and often a Turkish flag or a photograph of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (or both) on their shop walls, the decor in 
Mustafa Ağınlı's shop inside the Grand Bazaar (Kapalı Çarşı) in 
Beyazıt features  several common attributes of Istanbul 
tailors' decor: a Turkish flag, a photograph of Atatürk, and an empty 
glass of tea. 
Beyoğlu consisted only of the tools and products of the trade and the ubiquitous two-tiered teapot. Just about everyone I spoke with started the conversation with an offer of tea. Mustafa Ağınlı, whose shop is tucked into one of the dead-end corridors of the famous Grand Bazaar (Kapalı Çarşı) in Beyazıt, even pointed to a backgammon board on a shelf on the wall and asked if I knew how to play. Ağınlı is technically retired, but he continues working to augment his pension and added with a dry irony that otherwise pervaded his responses, "If I stayed at home, I would just fight with my wife."

Because his shop is in an area with heavy tourist traffic, Ağınlı encounters a lot of foreigners, but relies on friends to help him communicate with them as he speaks only Turkish. The location makes him less dependent on the cycles that otherwise affect tailors working in the city. For them, winter is the slowest time and late summer the busiest—with the start of school, the abundance of weddings, and moving Muslim holidays such as Kurban Bayram and Ramadan. 

The hardest thing about being a tailor in Istanbul, Yılmaz told me, is the time pressure, "customers want things right away and it means we are always in a rush." I had a chance to see for myself what she meant. At Ali Öner's shop, a customer came with a pair of pants, which he altered on the spot; Öner measured the man's leg and sewed the hem in a matter of minutes. Another young man came in with a shirt. "Can you come back in two hours?" Öner asked. The customer said he had to go somewhere, so two hours was talked down to half an hour and for the remainder of the interview, Öner was cutting the seams on the cuffs as we spoke. Kerim Erdoğan initially told me he had no time to do an interview, but when I said I was unlikely to pass that way again, he pointed to a stool across from where he was working. "Ask," he said, and for the whole of the interview he sat there, one leg propped on a footstool, bent over a pair of pants that he was stitching with needle and thread for a customer who was leaving for Germany the next day.

There exists a union for textile workers in Turkey called TEKSİF. The Istanbul branch is 
Recep Türkmenoğlu (left) and Kerim Erdoğan at work on suit for 
a customer who was about to leave for Germany.
called the İstanbul Tekstil ve Örme Sanayi İşçileri Sendikası (Istanbul Textile and Weaving Industry Workers' Union) and has a reported membership of 11,600. The stated mandate of the union is “to protect the economic and social rights of its members in labor relations and to promote their interests and development. To effect this purpose, the state’s territorial and national integrity should be safeguarded and preserved in the spirit of Atatürk’s principles.” The union collects dues and holds meetings, but none of the tailors I spoke with held a very high opinion of it, and several claimed either not to be members or—in one case—that it didn't exist. When asked whether and how the union functioned, Ağınlı smiled and said, "We're in Turkey." 

Though it was clear the trade had changed a great deal since these tailors started working in it, Akbaş concluded with a heavy sigh that soon the kind of work he does will no longer be practiced by anyone because everyone will be buying suits off the rack. Erdoğan felt the most marked changes were in the fabrics and the customers: the fabrics had become thinner and the customers more difficult. Akbaş similarly waxed horrified about the proliferation of cheap, low-quality "Chinese" fabrics. English fabrics remained the best, he said. 

Yılmaz believes that the most essential characteristic of a good tailor is patience and being able to listen to customers and understand what they want, which is not always easy. Above all one has to be available to them all day, more or less every day of the year. Yılmaz is noticeably proud to have plenty of business and no shortage of work, but confessed that she sometimes found it difficult to work so much without a break. "I would have liked to travel, see the world" she said, "but it wasn't meant to be."