Hábermann/Tóth/Kieselbach: Tamás könyve (2010)

I’ve never seen such a book as “Tamás könyve” (Thomas’ book). It is essentially is a series of handwritten and drawn letters from and photos of a single person and his immediate family accompanied with some segments of some of the letters transcribed and short lines of personal reflection from the editor. This may sound either dry or too personal, depending on your stance. For me the book was neither as it showed through the story of a single life the story of a historic era. This personal history book exemplifies not just what oral history could be if it was via written records, but also brought the person and his family close to me. I admit the topic was so close to my heart and family that I cried a few times, while turning the pages.

What am I talking about? Here is the life in question in a nutshell: Tamás Hábermenn was born in 1929 in a Jewish family in the southern part of Hungary. The family lived in Italy from 1933, where Tamás was baptized. In 1936 Tamás’ parents separated and his mother took him back to Hungary. His father, Aladár, visited him three times. In 1938 Tamás’ parents divorce became official and Aladár married Tamás’ Italian godmother. Aladár and his second wife lived the rest of their lives in Italy, their daughter, Anna Maria, was born in 1943. Tamás and most of his family in Hungary were deported and killed during the Holocaust. Only person, an aunt survived. The book contains the letters that Tams wrote to his father from 1936 till he was taken to concentration camp. It also contains a large selection of photos of him and other documents pertinent to his life. Such as the papers covering the trails of how Aladár tried to find after the war whether his son survived or not.

Aladár never told Anna Maria about the existence of her half-brother or that he was Jewish. After he died in 1974 the daughter found a suitcase with the letters and pictures. They were in a language she didn’t understand, but slowly with decades of work pieced together what could be pieced together at this point. She showed it to Ildikó Tóth in Italy, who was touched by it and believed that it would be worthy to share these with a wider audience. She sought out Tamás Kieselbach, a successful businessman and supporter of art. He owns one of the best antique stores and auction houses in Hungary and publishes high quality books and catalogues as well. He agreed with Tóth and the book was born.

The book opens with Kieselbach’s and Tóth’s foreword, goes on with Anna Maria Hábermann’s introduction. The documents themselves are annotated by Anna Maria’s musing thoughts. The book ends with a chronological summary of Tamás’ life, a chronology of important historic events of the same years and Anna Maria’s epilogue of a personal reflection.

The copy of the book I read was given by my uncle to my mother with the note “in memory of our brother.” My maternal grandfather had a wife and a son who were killed at the same time as Tamás and his mother. That’s why this book was so personal for us.

3 thoughts on “Hábermann/Tóth/Kieselbach: Tamás könyve (2010)

  1. anna maria Hábermann

    Thanks for your comment to “Tamás könyve”, Gábor.
    I am very touched because I wrote this book not only in memory of my brother. Through the simple Tamás’ words I would remember all young jewish people who lost their lives during the racial persecutions, the most of them without leaving any letter or picture … This book is an universal message and – reading your comment – I know that it had reached your hearth …
    My best regards to you and to your family. Anna Maria H.

  2. anna szilagyi

    Dear Anna Maria,
    thank you for your thoughtful words to my son, Gabor – to his reflections upon reading ‘Tamas konyve’. To be given feedback in the form of kind thoughts makes his efforts and his opening up his heart worthwhile. Your book is a connecting (life)line between our half-brother (Gyurika) and Tamas, between You, Gabor and my brother, Janos (who sought out the book and gave it to me), between my father, Bela who died in 1995 never forgiving himself for letting his baby child die and your father – between all of us involved. I can see how Tamas konyve connects many, many people – those images cannot be deleted from our mind.
    Thank You and Tamas Kieselbach for putting it all together and letting us in your lives – they are with us
    all the best for you in your life – anna

  3. Tóth Ildikó

    Dear Gábor and Anna,
    Really a very nice reflections. Let them be alive inside you!
    That was also my intention doing this book.


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