Artful Dodger

The routine of our daily life soon began to take shape. At seven each morning we crossed the Danube [in Budapest] to visit the swimming pool at the Rudas Baths. Coming home from our exercise, we tackled breakfast with a good appetite.

I could find no better solution [to our housing problem] than the Hotel Rudas itself. Like the baths, this modern hotel was the property of the city. In front of it was a little park resplendent with all manner of flowers…. The room was comfortable, and the price was reasonable.

If these quotations read like excerpts from the diary of a hedonistic bourgeois Hungarian, this is because their author, Tivadar Soros, was one. To be precise, he was a successful Budapest lawyer. What makes these quotations provocative, however, is that Soros was a Jew and that he wrote these words during the ten months in 1944 when the Germans were occupying his country and Adolf Eichmann’s SS and the Hungarian government were sending nearly half a million Jews to Auschwitz. Even those who had been left behind, namely the Jewish labor service men under Hungarian military command and the Jews of the Hungarian capital, were under daily threat of extermination. In fact, late in 1944, when Soros and some of the Jews he protected attended the Opera and the National Theater on a season ticket, most Budapest Jews languished in ghettos while fascist Arrow Cross hoodlums dragged hundreds of them to the shores of the Danube to be shot and thrown into the river.

The difference between the life of Tivadar Soros and that of most other Hungarian Jews is that he stubbornly found ways to remain free. This was made possible by his courage, his training as a lawyer, his skillful use of forged documents, and the nearly boundless good will and help of non-Jews. Soros also claims that, fortunately for them, no one in his family looked Jewish. Family photographs in the book do not bear this out; in any case, in Hungary, as well as elsewhere in Eastern and Central Europe, both Jews and non-Jews had an extraordinary ability to sense who was a Jew.

Beyond saving his own life, Tivadar Soros arranged for a generally pleasant and safe existence for his family, some relatives, and many Jewish friends. That he could do so was remarkable, but in wartime Hungary not all that rare. Thousands of other Jews in Budapest lived through the anti-Semitic terror in more or less the same way. But Tivadar was the father of Paul Soros and George Soros, the first a successful entrepreneur and mechanical engineer, and the second a financial genius and an immensely generous international philanthropist. The two boys idolized their father and imitated him in many ways, especially his ferocious independence, self-reliance, and skepticism of authority, though not his somewhat lazy, happy-go-lucky style of life. He was often to be found in one of Budapest’s ornate swimming pools or chatting at a café. For the …

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