EXTENDED PROFILE--The Life and Career of Professor István Deák

This is the first in a series of extended profiles on the lives and careers of scholars who work on East-Central Europe. It features six interviews with István Deák (b. 1926), Seth Low Professor Emeritus of History at Columbia University. 

Deák is the author of several books, including: 

Weimar Germany's Left-wing Intellectuals (1968)
The Lawful Revolution: Louis Kossuth and the Hungarians, 1848-1849 (1979)
Beyond Nationalism: A Social and Political History of the Habsburg Officer Corps, 1848-  1918 (1990)
Essays on Hitler's Europe (2001)

He also co-edited, together with Jan Gross and Tony Judt, The Politics of Retribution in Europe: World War II and Its Aftermath (2000), and is currently completing a book manuscript, Europe on Trial: Collaboration, Resistance and Retribution during and after World War II, forthcoming with Westview Press.

The interviews were conducted at Prof. Deák's home in New York on December 5, 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. 

Interview Themes
Part 1 - December 5, 2009

(0:45) Family
(1:37) Jewish ancestors, Moravia, 18th century, Székesfehérvár free royal city, Jews with an “exemption” who were allowed to reside within city limits
(3:00-4:55) Great-grandfather, Emmanuel
(4:56) Maternal side, Jewish family (the Zipsers), one rabbi ancestor, listed in Révai nagy lexicona [entry at right]
(6:20) Maajer Zipser, reformed rabbi
of Székesfehérvár, maternal great-grandfather of Deák; preached in Hungarian in the mid-19th century
(7:00) For his pro-Hungarian attitudes this rabbi ancestor entered into conflict with more conservative Jews and had to move to Rohonc, Hungary
Deák's paternal grand-
father, Dávid Deák
(7:46) Jewish laws, 1930s, social gap between priviliged and poor Jews in Horthy’s Hungary and during the Holocaust; 1938 Jewish Laws in Hungary favored Jews with long-standing origins in Hungary
(9:08) Chances of survival of his family during the Holocaust
(9:45) Original family  name "Deutsch"
(11:00) No knowledge of Yiddish among his ancestors; Grandfather spoke high German; Some of his grandfather’s siblings lived in Germany
(12:00) Textile merchant grandfather with a store on the main square of Székesfehérvár, highly respected patrician of the city who went to his store in a carriage in 1930s
(13:00) Large textile store
(15:27) Grandfather born in 1852
(16:00) WWI
(16:08) His father [István] attended Cistercian Gymnasium in Székesfehérvár; Half the class was Jewish, including Deák’s father
(17:07) No discrimination against Deák’s father and grandfather; His father never complained of anti-Semitism until WWII
(17:50) Deák’s father’s patriotic attitude towards Hungarian army till 1941
Deák's father, István Deák, Sr. (1892-1980) in
his Habsburg officer's uniform (~1916). At the
time he was lieutenant. In 1917 he became 
first lieutenant.
(18:20) Father attended Polytechnic University; Drafted into k.u.k. (Habsburg) army in 1914, fortress artillery
(19:00) Deák’s father’s experience on the Russian front, WWI; no tales of miseries, amusing anecdotes only
(19:51) General spotted and scolded Deák’s father because he did not have a mustache
(22:17) Deák’s father sent to Montenegro; the only military victory of his unit
(23:00) Brusilov offensive
(23:40) Cossacks
(23:52) Deák’s father transferred to Vienna in 1916, then charged with managing an ammunition depot at the end of the war in northern Italy
(26:00) Bad situation of POWs during WWI due to malnutrition, about a third of them died
(27:24) Deák’s father blew up the ammunition depot when Austria-Hungary surrendered
(28:00) Ethnic composition of Deák’s father’s unit; All reserve officers were Budapest engineers
(29:00) Reunion of Deák’s father’s WWI unit commanders in 1970s in Budapest
(29:30) Journey back from the front
(31:00) Deák’s father stayed in the army after 1918 to support himself
(31:40) Deák’s father became a Red Army soldier then a White Army soldier
(32:40) 1920 - Demobilized; Well-to-do family members helped Deák’s father transition to civilian life
Wedding photo of István and Anna
(Deák's parents) 
from 1920.
(34:00) 1920 - marriage of Deák’s parents; 1922 - Deák’s sister Éva is born; Deák’s father becomes a partner in a company
(35:00) 1926 - Family moved to Budapest; First apartment in Naphegy neighborhood in Buda; House overlooking the Danube
(36:00) Father’s brothers are wealthy merchants, with a car and trip to the Berlin Olympics
(36:30) Great Depression, collapse of Deák’s father’s company; Partner absconded to USA
(37:21) Deák’s grandfather and siblings pledge half a million pengő to save Deák’s father
(38:40) Father’s new job as chief engineer of BART bus company of Budapest
(39:00) Deák’s free entry to Palatinus bath on Margaret Island
(40:06) Father became chief secretary of the Association of Industrial Applied Arts in mid-1930s; He also rented and managed a garage for automobiles
Deák's mother, Anna Timár (1898-1961)
around 1920.
(41:36) Italian balilla visited Budapest and parked their motorcycles in Deák’s father’s garage
(42:00) Why Fascism was attractive to young people
(43:09) Hitlerjugend
(44:00) Nazism as experience of modernity and
(45:00) egalitarianism
(45:40) German attack on Yugoslavia through Hungary; egalitarianism
(47:21) Deák’s father in the USA to oversee the closing of the Hungarian pavilion; Went back in 1940 with steamship Rex
(48:30) Family relations
(50:17) Jewish-Gentile family relations
(51:00) Deák’s mother, education, fluent in German
To access interview, click here:

Part 2 - December 5, 2009

(00:00)  Deák’s mother [Anna Timár], homemaker
(00:49) A housewife’s daily routine
Young István as a Hungarian boy scout at 
about age 7, on Pasaréti út in Budapest, at 
his godfather’s villa (~1933).
(3:45) Summer vacations every year in Austria in the 1930s; His father’s mother tongue was German
(5:00) Parents spoke German and French
(7:08) Assimilation in Deák’s family; Conversion of Deák’s father
(7:50) István Deák born a Catholic
(8:15) Revelation of Jewish origins at the age of 12; Experience of being Jewish in the 1930s
(9:50) Strategies of his family in the face of rising anti-Semitism in the 1920s and 1930s
(11:30) Deák's parents as practicing Catholics in the 1920s
(12:15) Catholic friends, the Hardis
(13:20) Experience of anti-Semitism as a teenager
(13:31) Application to high school, discrimination because of Jewish origins, rejection from the Piarist school; Accepted to Cistercian school as his father attended a Cistercian school
(15:40) Experience of discrimination in the scout movement
(17:00) Accepted to boy scout group due to his father’s bravery in WWI
(18:00) Anti-Semitic insult in the scout movement
(20:20) “Aryan” social world in Budapest, late 1930s, dilemmas
István Deák with his class at the Városmájor elementary school in Budapest, 1936. 
The 10-year-old István is seated in the second row, third from the right (in white).

(23:10) Anti-Jewish law was not applied rigorously
(24:00) Hungarian economy functioned because of Jewish participation till 1944, Jews in Hungary under Jewish laws
(25:00) Deák’s father (who spent several months in the US during 1939-1940) compared the situation of Jews in Hungary to that of blacks in America in the early 1940s
(29:00) Desire for a society without minorities in Hungary
(30:00) Changes of family names during WWII
(32:00) Anti-Swabian sentiment during WWII in Hungary
(34:00) Jewish origins of communist leaders during the Rákosi period
(34:30) [Meta-discussion about which parts of Deák’s life are worth discussing in the interview and why]
(37:00) The politics of Deák’s family members
(40:00) Trip to Northern Transylvania in 1941
(41:00) Apprenticeship at ceramic works in Korond, Northern Transylvania
(48:00) Hungarian army in Northern Transylvania
To access interview, click here:

Part 3 - December 5, 2009

(00:00) Political views, progressive Catholicism in 1930s, KALOT, trade unions, strikes, Arrow Cross men, Jesuits
Deák's mother (of Jewish origin) in 1944 with a partly
forged ID card: the name is correct, but her maiden
name and other details were copied from their kindly
maid’s birth certificate. His mother's real maiden name
was not Keresztes, but Timár and she was born at
Székesfehérvár on February 25, 1898.
(6:00) Political orientation, 1943-1944
(9:11) Labor service, Father in Kistarcsa internment camp
(13:00) Hatvan, Zöldy, deportations, Jászberény
(19:40) Railway line construction, Northern Transylvania
(23:00) Miklós Horthy’s October 15, 1944 speech
(24:00) Béla Stollár helps Deák to hide
(25:00) Fake uniform during Arrow Cross rule
(26:00) Searching for grandmother in a death march, “the worst part of my life”
(27:00) Fate of his Jewish grandmother during the Holocaust
(30:00) Arrested by SS men in January 1945
(30:40) Set free by a Hungarian-German SS soldier
(32:00) Soviet liberation/occupation
(33:10) First contacts with communism
(36:00) Escape from Soviet detention
(37:40) Post-1945 political parties, communists, Social Democratic Party
(40:00) Károly Peyer, Béla Zsolt, Imre Kovács
(41:00) One reason for leaving Hungary
(42:00) 1947 elections, father disqualified, fake ballots
(44:30)  Passport, adventure of leaving Hungary, French visa
(46:50) Paris, trip to France from Hungary, experience of the West
(49:10) Zürich
(50:00) “Rue Budapest” in Paris
(52:00) Life in Paris, second half of 1940s, bureaucratic issues, France as a haven of stateless persons at the time, work experience in Paris
(1:00:00) Education in France
(1:01:20) London, England, Downing Street experience
To access interview, click here:

Part 1 - April 18, 2010
Deák in Paris around 1950 (age 24) with his
then fiancé, Nancy.
(00:31) London
(3:00) Harvesting camp in England as university a student
(9:00) 11 Downing street, meeting the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Stafford Cripps
(16:00) Paris
(21:00) University life in France, prospects in France, work at Combat
(26:00) Political situation in France, 1940s, 1950s
(30:00) Algeria, split in French society
(43:00) Work at Camus’s paper, Combat
(48:00) Arletty, Maurice Chevalier - post-WWII lustration in France
(50:00) Social life, networks in France
(52:00) Views on religion
To access interview, click here:

Part 2 - April 18, 2010

(00:00) Moving to Germany, the early 1950s
(02:40) Work at Radio Free Europe (RFE), 1951-1955, reviewed Hungarian newspapers, “mixed experience,” expulsion of parents from Budapest as a result
(05:00) privileges in Germany as RFE employee, life in Germany
(10:00) Politics at RFE, hiring part of the extreme right emigration by RFE
(11:12) Julián Borsányi, László Béry - participation in the Holocaust; Nazis into liberals
(16:00) 1955-1956, American propaganda towards East-Central Europe
(19:00) Role of RFE in 1956
(26:00) Studies in Germany
(28:00) Expulsion of parents from Mese utca, Budapest to Kőrösnagyharsány
(33:12) 1956 - Expulsion ends
(34:00) Almost daily correspondence with parents during communist era
(43:11) German friends, Germany in the 1950s, 1970/-71
(49:00) September 1956, Arrival to USA, graduate life at Columbia University
To access interview, click here:

Part 1 - October 6, 2013

(00:12) First visit to US, 1955, settled in 1956 in New York, before the Hungarian Revolution
(02:15) First job at a publishing house in New York; worked for an academic book donation program, for Eastern European Countries; student at Columbia University
(08:15) The experience of the 1956 Revolution in New York
(10:15) Imre Kovács, Hungarian Peasant Party; bought air ticket for Budapest for November 4, 1956
(12:15) Discussion of Budapest family about emigration
(15:15) Family politics after 1945; victims of communism, expelled from Budapest in 1955; Deák’s sister wants to stay after 1956
(17:15) Fluid administrative practices in Hungary, 1956
(24:15) Arrival of 56ers to New York; carrier between 1956-1962
(26:15) Different groups of post-1944 emigrants from Hungary; identified himself with 1948er group; Ferenc Nagy
(29:15) CIA sponsored the minority democratic fraction of Hungarian émigrés; lack of mass support for democratic leaders of Hungarian emigres among Hungarians in US
(31:15) Tibor Eckhart
Deák running the New York City
Marathon in  1977
(35:15) Overrepresentation of emigres among academics; East-Central European Institute at Columbia University; Henry Roberts; started out as a West-Europeanist
(39:15) Sputnik crisis provided funding for the study of East-Central European history
(40:15) Job offer at Columbia; Hungarian studies at Columbia; Halasi Kun, János Lotz; funding for building an extensive Hungarian library collection
(43:15) Received tenure in 1967; “Sputnik money” – temporary funding for East-Central European studies
(46:15) Establishment of institutes of study of East-Central European studies in US; setting up centers
(47:45) Academic job crisis in 1970s
(50:15) 1980s and resurgence of East-Central European studies
(53:15) Global history
(55:15) Significance of Sputnik crisis
(58:15) European vs. East-Central European history; book project on European history of collaboration
(59:15) Involved in taking the Crown of Saint Stephen back to Hungary; recollections on the trip with the Crown to Budapest
(1:05:15) Scandal around return of the Crown; rightist Hungarian-American demonstrated; member of the delegation that took back the Crown
(1:15:15) Celebrations in Budapest
(1:17:15)  Relationship to Hungary
(1:22:15) Vision of a democratic Hungary, 1945; Hungarian politics, 1945-2013
To access interview, click here:

[See also the interview with Prof. Deák conducted on April 29, 2009 in Ithaca, NY, as part of the regular blog series.]
Éva (Deák) Veress

"The Parallel History of Two Hungarian Families from the Beginning to the End of the 20th Century"

István Deák says of his sister's memoir: It tells the life and family history of Éva (Deák) Veress (1922-2010), and of her husband, the painter and journalist Pál Veress (1920-1999). The two family histories, of the deeply assimilated Jewish Deák family, and of the Veress family of the Transylvanian Sekler nobility, show an astonishing number of similarities. For instance, both Pál Veress, Sr. and István Deák, Sr. served as officers in the Habsburg Army during World War I. Paradoxically, both World War I and World War II hit the Veress family harder than the Deák family. After the First World War, the Veresses fled Transylvania (which had been ceded to Romania) as refugees, and during the Second World War Pál Veress's father was a civilian victim of the siege of Budapest in 1945. Other members of the family suffered as soldiers or later as victims of Communism in Hungary after the war. The memoirs draw on family correspondence and personal documents and include several photographs of the two families. It was written during the first decade of the 21st century (the text is in Hungarian).

To view the memoir, click on the title below:

Két magyar család párhuzamos története a kezdetektől a 20. század végéig

Villamoson (On the Tram), painting by Pál Veress (1955).
From the Foreword of Éva Veress's memoir (in her own words): "A két család életében sok a párhuzam, bár az eltérések is alapvetőek. A kettő együtt jellegzetes közép-keleteurópai történet. Az ősök között vannak székely nemesek (földművelők és egyetemi tanárok), szász, osztrák, német, magyar polgárok, magyar zsidó értelmiségiek, iparosok és kereskedők, az Osztrák-Magyar Monarchia egész területéről: Ausztriából, Erdélyből, Horvátországból, Csehországból, a Vajdaságból, Magyarországról. Vannak különböző felekezetekhez tartozó papok: unitáriusok, reformátusok, evangélikusok, neológ izraeliták. Történetüket meghatározzák a háborúk, forradalmak, menekülések, bujkálások -- mégis, mindennek ellenére szép, értelmes, alkotó életet éltek, többnyire, a lehetőségekhez képest, rendezett családi és anyagi körülmények között."