Hungarian writer Imre Kertesz, a Holocaust survivor who won the the 2002 Nobel Prize in Literature for his fiction work, died on Thursday in Budapest at age 86 after a long battle with illness, the Magveto Kiado publishing firm said.
Kertesz was deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland in 1944, at age 14. He survived both the Auschwitz and Buchenwald camps until he was liberated in 1945.
“I am a non-believing Jew,” Kertesz once said in an interview. “Yet as a Jew I was taken to Auschwitz. I belong to those Jews whom Auschwitz turned into Jews.”
After the war, Kertesz stayed in Hungary, where he was distrusted by the then-Communist government. He published the novel “Fateless,” which highlighted Hungary’s totalitarian Communist system, in 1975. The book, along with some of his other works, would go on to earn him the Nobel Prize in 2002. At that time, many in Hungary resented the fact that the prize went to a Jewish author, but in the years since “Fateless” was incorporated into Hungarian school curricula, Kertesz was awarded a number of official state honors.
“Kertesz’s significance was that in some sense he formulated the essence of totalitarianism,” said Gabor T. Szanto, a writer and editor of the Hungarian Jewish cultural magazine Szombat.
Besides “Fateless,” Kertesz is the author of “Fiasco” (1988); “Kaddish For A Child Not Born” (1990); “Someone Else” (1997); “The K File” (2006), an autobiographical novel; and “Europe’s Depressing Heritage” (2008). In the last months of his life, he was preparing a selection of his diary entries. The selection was published in Hungary in March. Kertesz also wrote the screenplay for a film version of “Fateless,” which premiered in Hungary in 2005. He is survived by his second wife, Magda.