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The Great Escape

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The Great Escape

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The Great Escape
Nine Jews Who Fled Hitler and Changed the World
By Kati Marton
Simon & Schuster, (2006)
ISBN 10: 0743261151
ISBN 13: 9780743261159

Reviewed by Simone Bonim - March 5, 2007

In the dark days before the Nazi onslaught engulfed all of Europe, nine Jewish men fled Hungary. Driven from their homeland by antisemitism and the growing Nazi menace, these nine men went on to change the world. In The Great Escape: Nine Jews Who Fled Hitler and Changed the World, Kati Marton a former correspondent for NPR and ABC correspondent, chronicles the lives of these nine men and their momentous achievements. She also shows how each of these men were shaped by their experiences in Budapest, and how a city that once welcomed and accepted Jews, quickly changed as fascism and the Nazi menace began to engulf Europe. While these nine men managed to escape, 70% or about 450,000 of Hungary's Jewish population was annihilated in the later days of World War II. Merton, along with her parents who had endured a stint as political prisoners, fled Communist Hungary for safety in the West. In having grown up in Hungary and then fleeing to a foreign land where she did not know what awaited, Merton shared a similar experience to that endured by the nine men whose lives she chronicles in this book. As such she brings a unique sense of understanding to her book.

The nine men whose lives are chronicled in this volume include the scientists: Edward Teller, John von Neumann, Leo Szilard, and Eugene Wigner. The movie makers, Michael Curtiz and Alexander Korda. The famed photographers; Robert Capa and Andre Kertesz, and the political writer, Arthur Koestler who is perhaps best known for his novel, Darkness at Noon. Of the nine, Teller, Wigner, and Szilard gained fame for their work in physics and on the atomic bomb, von Neumann was the developer of electronic computers and Game Theory. Of the film makers, Curtiz, the only one of the nine to be raised in an Orthodox household, directed Casablanca, and Korda produced The Third Man, as well as numerous propaganda films for the Allies. Meanwhile, Capa chronicled, via his photographs, Francisco Franco's devastating aerial bombardment during the Spanish Civil War and he was one of the first photographers to come ashore on D-Day. Along with Kertesz, Capa, helped to pioneer the field of photojournalism.

The Great Escape is a fascinating book, both for the spotlight that it shines on the historic reality of pre and post war Europe, but also for the fascinating insights that it provides into the lives of these remarkable men. In telling this story, Marton paints a vivid picture of life in pre-war Budapest, and the changes that were wrought upon it as the forces that were to propel the world once again to war began to gain strength. Merton also explores how each of these men came to the decision that they needed to flee Hungary and go into exile, and how each managed to escape the clutches of the deadly monster that sought to destroy them. She also tackles the issues they faced as they sought to establish themselves in new countries and how they tried, each through their own medium, to alert the world of the looming crisis on the horizon. In this absorbing book, Merton also chronicles the achievements of each of these men, and examines the impact that they had on the world: politically, scientifically, and culturally.

Merton's writing is passionate, and her narrative gripping. This book will fascinate anyone interested in Hungarian or Jewish history, or who is interested in discovering, or rediscovering, the stories of nine influential and talented Hungarian Jews who made a lasting impact on a world in which they were always outsiders.

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