István Deák has a NYRB review of a couple of books about Hungarian exiles in the U.S. that starts with a few jokes (“Another story was about a meeting of top US atomic scientists at which, when Enrico Fermi has stepped out of the room, the others sigh with relief: ‘Now, at last, we can speak Hungarian’”) and goes on to an astonishing list of people:
Marton’s nine [Hungarian] Jews include four nuclear scientists, two photographers, two film directors, and a writer. What both Marton and Frank demonstrate is that such Hungarians as the scientists Leo Szilard, Eugene Wigner, John von Neumann, and Edward Teller, the biochemist and sociologist Michael Polanyi, the photographer Robert Capa, the writer Arthur Koestler, and others have together altered the ways we think, act, and work. And unlike many of their predecessors, the two authors do not shy away from admitting that, with very few exceptions, the world-famous Hungarians they discuss [...] were Jews by religion, or at least converts of Jewish origin.
[...] Indeed, the ethnic and national identity of Theodore von Kármán, Karl Polanyi, Karl Mannheim, Nicholas Lord Kaldor of Newnham, Eugene Ormandy, Sir Georg Solti, Joseph Szigeti, Antal Dorati, George Szell, Fritz Reiner, Ferenc Molnár, Joe Pasternak, Sir Alexander Korda, Michael Curtiz, Brassaï, André Kertész, Marcel Breuer, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, and hundreds of other illustrious expatriates presented a dilemma to anti-Semitic and rightist Hungarians before and during World War II and, to a lesser extent, to Hungarian Communists after the war.
Wow. I knew some of those people were Hungarians (mainly those with obviously Hungarian names, like Solti, Szigeti, and Dorati), but many of them I would never have guessed, and when you put them all together it’s a hell of an impressive list.
In a footnote, Deák mentions an interesting fact about names: “…late in the eighteenth century, the Habsburg authorities gave the Jews of Hungary German-sounding names, many were later converted to Hungarian-sounding family names, and then again, when abroad, to German-, French-, or English/American-sounding names. Thus Manó Kaminer became Mihály Kertész while still in Hungary and Michael Curtiz when in the US.”