Programs of the house

Belgrád rakpart 2.

  • Architect:

    Möller, Károly
  • Built:

    1937, 1938
  • Build by:

    Lenz Gyula, Lenz József
  • Builder:

    Rück József
  • Function:

  • Researched:

    2019, 2017
  • Parcel Number:

  • Second address:

    Molnár utca 51.
  • Photo:

    Vörös Nikolett
  • Research:

    Starowicz Annamária, Virág Katalin
  • Volunteers:

    Fridrich Bálint, László Ágnes, Nagy Balázs és Beáta, Nagy Gergely, Luis Garcia Prado, Székely Mária


The present building was erected for the wholesalers József Lenz and Gyula Lenz in 1937-1938.[1] In the 1880s the site belonged already to the family[2] according to the Budapest Név és Czímjegyzék, the address book of the time. Plans[3] and photographs[4] show that the previous building’s style was eclectic, neogothic and had lancet windows. The Lenz brothers hired the architect Károly Möller for the renovation and reconstruction of the old building[5]; however, in the end the owners decided to tear it down and build a new one.

Károly Möller (Hédervár, 27/10/1894 – Budapest, 03/02/1945), architect and writer, was the son of István Möller, who had a leading role in the early Hungarian historic preservation.[6] He studied at the Technical University of Budapest (BME). After spending some time abroad he worked in his father's studio, and took part in church restoration works. Later he led the restoration of several churches individually. A fine example of his works in this area is the expansion of the Catholic church of Nepomuki Szent János in Dunapataj, built in 1761, using a unique and new method. The church was literally cut through the walls from the roof  to the foundation. A set of steel barrels were placed under the shrine and it was pulled apart manually by several workers using hoists and ropes. The created 8-10 meter wide gap was filled with structures (walls, roof, etc.) similar to the existing ones.[7] Károly Möller was the architect of several residential buildings, many in Budapest. He was a researcher of building construction, physics and engineering, and wrote articles and books on the subject. For instance, his Építési Zsebkönyv I–II. is widely known among architects even today.[8]

The present building has two wings: one with a façade facing the Danube on Belgrád rakpart including the entrance, and the other facing Molnár utca including a gate to the garage. The façade facing the river has a limestone veneer, five windows on each floor, the three in the middle with a cantilevered structure, with a balcony on both sides. There is a tin-glazed terracotta roundel of Madonna and Child with a style resembling the works of the Della Robbia family.

You can see commemorative plaques in tribute to two of the famous tenants: Imre Hirschler and György Lukács.

Entering the building there is a lobby. Originally this premise and the stairway were heated, and some traces of the radiators can be still seen. In the centre of the building the remarkable oval staircase connects the two wings with windows on both sides to the small courtyards between them. The wing on the Danube has seven storeys, originally with two flats on each floor. The other wing’s southern part has eight storeys and the northern part has seven, originally with three flats each. Due to some reconstruction, today there are more flats.

The house had a lift from the beginning. In the basement there is a garage and premises housing the central heating. In the attic – according to the original plans – there were two small flats, one for the staff and one for the chauffeur.

The load-bearing structure is reinforced concrete, and the walls are built of brick. Thanks to Károly Möller’s extensive knowledge of architectural engineering the building fulfilled the needs of the residents with the newest technical solutions of that time. Not only the structures but the spaces were designed very thoroughly, especially the common areas, like the oval staircase which is not only astonishing but has strong community building effect.

There are no shops or cafes on the ground floor, since there is no direct connection to the street.


On the fifth floor is the former flat of late Georg Lukács (Budapest, 13/04/1885 – 05/06/1971), now the Lukács Archive and Library. He was a Kossuth Prize, Goethe Prize winning Marxist philosopher and aesthetician whose work is known and researched worldwide. He was a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (Magyar Tudomyányos Akadémia).[9] The Archive contains Lukacs’s heritage – 8000 books, manuscripts, extensive correspondence – and his publications. The furnishing is authentic, the bookshelves are the ones that Lukács had specially made.

Imre Hirschler (Győr, 01/11/1906 – Budapest, 27/02/1989) was a famous gynecologist, obstetrician, medical historian and writer[10] who lived and had his surgery in the building.

István György (Budapest, 13/08/1912 – 01/01/1977)[11] was a Rózsa Ferenc Prize winner journalist who lived in the building.[12]

Zoltán Szalay (Budapest, 16/05/1935 – 14/02/2017)[13] was a photographer who lived on the second floor. He won many awards, including the Joseph Pulitzer Memorial Award. He was the founder of the Hungarian Press Photo Exhibition, of which the 35th edition (now on display at Capa Központ) is dedicated to him.


Tenants of the Belgrád rakpart 2.

BFL: Budapest City Archive (Budapest Főváros Levéltára – Tervtár. XV.d.329.)

Metropolitan Ervin Szabó Library (Fővárosi Szabó Ervin Könyvtár) – Budapest Gyűjtemény

Szeptember. Magyar Világhíradó 550. (2017.02.18.)
Kenyeres Ágnes (main editor): Magyar életrajzi lexikon 1000–1990. Javított, átdolgozott kiadás. (2017.02.18.)

Déry Attila: Belváros – Lipótváros. V. kerület. Budapest építészeti topográfia 2. Terc Kft., 2005.

(Hédervár, 27 October 1894 – Budapest, 3 February 1945)

Károly Möller was an architect and a writer. His father István Möller was an acclaimed architect and university professor who played a prominent role in the preservation and restoration of Hungarian medieval monuments. He had an important part in the early years of the protection of the Hungarian cultural heritage.

Möller studied at the Budapest University of Technology. In 1932 he visited the USA and the technical novelties he observed there were described in his book A mai technika/Technology nowadays (1939). He worked also in his father’s studio and took part in his restorations and church construction works.

He also led the restoration of several churches. A fine example of his works in this area is the expansion of the Catholic church of  John of  Nepomuk in Dunapataj, built in 1761, using a unique and new method. The church was literally cut through the walls from the roof to the foundation. A set of steel barrels were placed under the shrine and it was pulled apart manually by several workers using hoists and ropes. The eight-meter wide gap was filled with structures (walls, vault, roof, etc.) similar to those already existing.

He designed several apartment blocks, e.g. buildings under the addresses Marko street 1/b and Lánchíd street 15-17, also on the waterfront. Besides designing the Belgrád quay 2, the Lenz brothers also commissioned him the expansion of their house on Régiposta street 6.

He often took part in constructions as a building engineer by planning the acoustics of different spaces, such as the Átrium cinema. He made researches and published in the field of construction materials and structures, and was the editor of the summary of the period’s architecture, Építési Zsebkönyv I-II./Handbook of construction I-II.

In February 1945, Möller and several members of his family fell victim to the atrocities of the advancing Soviet troops.

As a writer:

A német városépítészet tanulságai/German urbanism (1922)
Építészeti akusztika/Architectural acoustics (1928)
Az építőanyagok gyakorlati kézikönyve/The handbook of building materials (1929)
Beton és vasbeton/Concrete and reinforced concret (1937)
Gépészeti zsebkönyv I-II/Handbook of building engineering. I-II (1937)
Építési zsebkönyv I-II/Handbook of construction I-II (1938, 1943)
A mai technika/Technology nowadays (1939, 1942)
Vízszigetelés/Waterproofing (1940)
Épületek hőszigetelése és zaj elleni védelme/Insulation and soundproofing (1942)
Építési hibák és elkerülésük/Mistakes in construction and how to avoid them (1945)

As an architect:

Ursukine Priory in Dombóvár (1925)
Six storey mansion block, Budapest, XII. Maros street 3 (1928)
Arnold Antolik’s mansion block, Budapest, I. Gellérthegy street 34 (1928-33)
Domokos Teleki’s mansion block, Budapest, I. Attila street 87. - Logodi street 28 (1929)
Expansion of the church of John of  Nepomuk in Dunapataj (1934)
Krisztina Möller’s mansion block, Budapest I. Krisztina boulevard 91 (1936)
Six-storey mansion block, Budapest, I. Lánchíd street 15-17 (1936)
Parish in Bács-szentgyörgy (1937)
Eight-storey mansion block, Budapest, Markó utca 1/b (Balassi Bálint utca 4.) (1937)
Church expansion in Akasztó (1938-39)
Tibor and Irma Forray’s mansion block, Budapest I. Attila str 81. - Mikó str 3 (1938-39), with Abos Brúnó
The reconstruction of the mansion block of Nagyváradi Szent Szív Alap, Budapest I. Dísz square 16 - Tóth Árpád bástyasétány 1-2 (1939)
Exaltation of the True Cross church in Újtelek (1940)
Concordia mansion block, Budapest XII. Hajnóczy József str 11 (1940)
Árkádia mansion block, Budapest Kékgolyó utca 30 (1940-48)
Catholic church in Harta (1942-43)


In 1937-38, Belgrád rakpart 2 was built by József and Gyula Lenz wholesalers, owners of “Lenz Brothers” (Lenz Testvérek) tropical fruit, colonial product and spice mercantile company.

Lenz Brothers was originally founded in Bratislava around 1850 by József Lenz (1819-1863) stonemason. After 1867 the Lenz family moved to Budapest, where the company “Brüder Lenz” was founded by János and Ferenc Lenz.

In 1880 the grocery store of Lenz Brothers can be already found in Petőfi square 4 in a house owned by the Lenz family.

In 1890 Lenz Brothers owns already three tenement mansions, as three-floored Régiposta street 6 and Ferenc József rakpart 2 (the former house at this spot) are also part of the family fortune.

In 1898 the seat of the company, Petőfi square 4 had its own phone number (it was 11-44). In 1922 the main store of the company moved to the house of Ferenc József rakpart, though the one on Petőfi Square also remained open.

József Lenz (1897-1965), who really revived the company, was a functionary of the Ministry Of Defense until he left his office in 1920 and joined Lenz Brothers to help his brother Gyula lead the business.

In József’s hands the company soon became Hungary’s biggest fruit importer and exporter also. It never did payed advertising, there was no need for it: it’s advertisements could be seen nationwide on the company trucks, with the large sign Lenz Brothers.

In the early ‘30s, when the banking closure harmed Hungary’s import trade, Lenz Brothers made a deal with the Association of Turkish Fig Farmers to deliver 1500 horses to Turkey in exchange for the fig and tropical fruit supplies. In 1934, Lenz Brothers delivered the gunnery horses for the Turkish army. This horse export was ordered and audited by the Ministry for Agriculture, without any profit, often with great deficits. However, import raisins could be released to the domestic market unbelievably cheaply, for a price of 70-90 fillérs (0,7-0,9 pengős) per kilogram (including luxury tax).

The company established a model farm on 205 cadastrial acres Nyékládháza, Borsod county in the early ‘20s. First orchards and grape were settled. They tested American, Italian and French fruit types, and achieved great results in their naturalization. They initiated and strengthened Hungarian lens production. József Lenz appealed to the Ministry for Agriculture for toll excursion for the Hungarian lens production. He imported Italian sowings and shared them with Hungarian Farmers. In the second year, lens export exceeded lens import with 600 wagons, though Hungary needed large amounts of import lens before. Lenz Brothers were successful also in cumin cultivation. They also produced herbs able to take out pepper. Nevertheless, they paid attention to the status of their workers: Lenz Brothers built 25 modern homes for them in ferroconcrete houses which they could own after serving the company for decades.

The cold store of Budaörs was built in 1937, mainly for keeping Hungarian peach. In the summertime it precooled the apricot and plum export, in winter, it kept apples, in an average of 100 wagons amount yearly.

In 1939, just after the beginning of WWII, Lenz Brothers imported several important colonial goods (such as cocoa bean, pepper, coffee, tea) in greater amounts, providing them for long months.

In 1941 Lenz Bothers made more than 1 million Swiss Francs deviza profit for the National Bank by trading Turkish tropical fruits in Switzerland (e.g. bringing raisins for chocolate factories).

WWII and the following years brought the end to Lenz Brothers company. Lenz family emigrated to Switzerland in 1943, from where they regularly sent “salvation packages” of coffee and other goods in short supply to their beloved ones, friends and their acquaintances in Hungary (first one to cardinal József Mindszenty). In 1946 the family moved to Southern America where they managed oil businesses and established clock-jewellery store, both with varying success. József Lenz established his grange “Nueva Debrecen” (“New Debrecen”) near Sotaquirá (Columbia, Boyacá county). He was buried there in 1965.


(Budapest, 13/08/1912 – 01/01/1977)

Public servant, writer, journalist, tenant of Belgrád rakpart 2.

He worked as a private clerk before WWII. Along with six thousand other Jewish men, he was conscripted as an unarmed labor serviceman during the war, as was the uniquely talented poet Miklós Radnóti. (He didn’t participate later in the first wave of the forced march back to Hungary, in which Radnóti died.)

In the coalition era after WWII he became a famous journalist of Szabad Nép and was the first to write about the tragedy of Jewish labour servicemen in his documentary novel Fegyvertelenül a tűzvonalban (Unarmed in the firing line, 1944–1945). His short novel Halálraítéltek (The condemned ones, 1957) is based on the same history.

As a journalist, he was a collaborator in Szabadság, Független Magyarország and Szabad Nép (1945-1956), a main writer in Népszabadság (1957-1977), and, for a short period, editor of the police reporters newspaper Éjféli Riport.

In the 1950s he focused more on internal affairs and working class portraits, producing reports, and later he wrote articles criticizing commerce and hotel trade. He was a deep critic of malfeasance and social injustice, and many of his works are revealing articles. (One of these even caused him some trouble: he had to prove and defend his right in an action for libel in 1972.) In his later career he focused more and more on historical issues. Most popular were his historical articles, documentary reports and series like Soha többé! (Never again!), A Teleki Pál dosszié (The Pál Teleki file), Kétezerötszázan voltak (There were 2,500 of them) – the latter even inspired a documentary movie. He recalled his career in the TV program Ólombetűs vallomások (Confessions in lead type) in 1972. He received the Ferenc Rózsa journalism award in 1963.

His main works are:

Fegyvertelenül a tűzvonalban (Unarmed in the firing line, documentary novel, 1944–1945)
Halálraítéltek (The condemned ones, short novel, 1957)
Nem könnyű vezetni (It’s not easy to lead, reports, 1962)
Soha többé! (Never again!, reports, foreword by Péter Rényi, 1963)
Sok boldogságot Magyarország (Happily ever after, Hungary, album, 1965)
Szocialista brigádok reflektorfényben (Socialist brigades in the spotlight, 1965)
A Teleki Pál dosszié (The Pál Teleki file, 1968)
Kétezerötszázan voltak (There were 2,500 of them, reports, 1970)
Az első évek 1945–48 (The first years 1945-48, album, 1970)

(Budapest, 13/04/1885 – Budapest, 05/06/1971)

Literateur, aesthete, philosopher, widely known among the founders of „Western Marxism”.

Born as Bernát György Löwinger on April 13, 1885, his father was an influential banker and enthusiastic patron of the arts; among others, Károly Kernstok, Béla Bartók and once even Thomas Mann were visitors in their house.

He published shorter writings, mainly dramatic criticisms, from 1902, and in 1904 with Marcell Benedek and others he founded the Thalia Society, devoted to propagate modern dramatic literature. In 1908 he won the award of the Kisfaludy Society with his essay A drámaírás főbb irányai a múlt század utolsó negyedében (Main directions of dramatic writing in the last quarter of the last century). Some interpreters claim that his youthful articles were precursors of existentialism.

After achieving a law and economics doctorate he studied and built new contacts in Berlin and Heidelberg, near Georg Simmel and Max Weber. He started to work on his first systematic aesthetics in 1912–14, which was only published after his death under the title Heidelbergi művészetfilozófia és esztétika (Arts philosophy and aesthetics of Heidelberg). He was married to the Russian Ljena Gabenko, who he met in Béla Balázs’s circles, from 1914 till 1917.

He joined the Hungarian Party of Communists in December 1918, and was a staffer of the daily paper and the theoretical review of the party; after the success of the Red revolution, at the forming of the Republic of the Councils he became a people’s assistant commissar and later people’s commissar for education. After the fall of the Republic of the Councils he migrated to Vienna and became one of the leaders of the Hungarian Communist Party there, and a staffer of the newspaper Kommunismus and of the theoretical review Die Internationale. He married Gertrúd Bortstieber there. Due to the fraction fights in the leadership of the Hungarian party, Komintern removed him from political work; he wrote and edited out of previous works his book History and class awareness (Történelem és osztálytudat) in this pause of political activities. The book was intensively criticized from the “orthodox Marxist” side, and apart from a few theoretical-historical essays and recensions Lukács didn’t quite write anything in the later 20s. His political thesis concept, the so-called Blum-theses, were denied by Komintern, after which Lukács retired from the political scene.

In 1930 Komintern called Lukács to Moscow where – as other communist theorists forbidden from front activities – he became a colleague of the Marx–Engels Institute, a permanent author of German and French communist papers edited in Moscow, and of papers of the German emigration. His essays on aesthetical history, literature and literary history fell on the side of the “heritage”: those achievements of the bourgeois age thought to be undoubted (e.g. German idealism). Lukács claimed that a victorious proletarian revolution cannot just immediately recognize its duties without studying the art that reveals the problems of the bourgeois era’s culture. He didn’t fail to focus on the urging problem of Fascism; two book-long manuscripts dedicated to this issue were left unpublished. The NKVD arrested him in 1941, and he spent 3 months in the Lubjanka prison before being released.

He returned home in 1945, accepted a university position, became a member of the Hungarian Science Academy (MTA), and a crucial culture politician of the Communist Party; but behind his statements there was a political vision different from his party’s, which wished to somehow keep the alliance (born in the fight against Fascism) of the democratic forces alive into the age of formation of proletarian dictatorship. By 1949 he lost ground in politics again. In the revolutionary government of Imre Nagy in 1956 he was minister for culture, and at the fall of the revolution on the 4th November he escaped to the Yugoslavian embassy, from where he was transported to Snagov with the other political prisoners. Though he refused to deny Imre Nagy and his part in the Nagy government, he was allowed to come back to Budapest in April 1957. However, he couldn’t make it to another university position, nor publish anything for years.

Lukács felt it was finally time to start his main works, his aesthetics and ethics. His Aesthetics (Esztétika) published in 1963 is not in any manner a summing up of his previous works in the subject – though some of his thoughts can be followed back to the early essays, as well as the basic idea: that the achievement of art is to tame an alien or at least only technically maintainable world into a more human world, more humanly in depiction, and that thus in art mankind can greet its own, inner memory: the specific organ which helps humanity as a race to reach its own essence. When the book was published, at least, it seemed by chance to be a ground point of a new, radically different interpretation of Marxism than the dogmatic conception (Lukács himself spoke about the renaissance of Marxism).

Later, despite his earlier plans, Lukács started a social anthropological book instead of the ethics. Ontology (Ontológia) remained truncated, and couldn’t attain its final form due to the illness and death of its author.

Most important works published in the life of Lukács:

1910 A lélek és a formák

1912 A modern dráma fejlődésének története

1916 A regény elmélete

1923 Történelem és osztálytudat

1948 A fiatal Hegel

1954 Az ész trónfosztása

1963 Az esztétikum sajátossága

1971 A társadalmi lét ontológiájáról

(Győr, 01/11/1906 – Budapest, 27/02/1989)

His father worked as a merchant before going on to fight in WWI as a soldier and soon becoming a prisoner of war. The family was supported on war relief. His father returned from the war prison seriously ill, and died soon afterwards. Young Imre won the high school pupils’ Classical Greek contest, which allowed him to qualify for the Budapest medical school despite the Numerus Clausus law (which limited university enrolment of Jewish people).

He became a doctor in 1930. Though he originally planned to be a prosector, preparing dissections, he worked at the medicine department of the Szabolcs street hospital (a Jewish hospital in those times), and later became a member of the gynecological department. He married in 1941. He survived the Arrow Cross (Hungarian Nazi) government period and the Red Army siege with his wife and children in Budapest. After WWII he led the birth and gynecological departments as chief medical officer first in Rókus hospital and then in Uzsoki street hospital. From 1950 till his retirement in 1975 he was the leading doctor in the birth and gynecological department of the Central State Hospital.

For one and a half years starting February 1954 he was the leader of one of the Hungarian medical crews sent to Korea during the war. Despite the rough circumstances, together with his colleagues they managed to establish a quite modern hospital in the county capital Sarivon.

He became nationwide known for his books. Instead of being publications written in complicated professional language only accesible to the qualified few, they played a central role in introducing and spreading the most modern gynecological and obstetrical treatments. His books are plain explanations aiming at instructing the broadest number of Hungarian women on topics (such as sexual instruction, family planning, pregnancy, modern obstetrical treatments) that were completely missing from Hungarian common talk before. Hirschler’s natural, fireside talk books broke the common prudery, helping hundreds of thousands of Hungarian women. His works became incredibly famous. Multiple editions of A nők védelmében (Protecting women) sold more than half a million copies, and his presentations were hugely popular nationwide. His main works are:

A nők védelmében (Protecting women; Bp., 1958)
Amíg az ember megszületik (Till a person is born; Bp., 1960)
Szülőszoba, tessék belépni! (Labour room, please enter!; Bp., 1980)
Nem csak nőkről – nem csak nőknek (Not only about women – not only for women; Bp., 1984)
Surprisingly Hirschler, known nationwide as “Professor Hirschler”, didn’t reach the highest scientific titles, mostly because he always focused on popular books, spreading the word, and practicing medicine instead of pursuing academic ambitions.

He started his private practice in 1937, and through the war and the prohibition of private practices, carried on until the early 60s in his flat in Belgrád rakpart 2. His popularity was a result not only of his extraordinary professional knowledge, but of the fact that – unlike other colleagues in this time – he didn’t claim a fixed visit charge from the patients: he didn’t accept any kind of fee from most of them; indeed, it was rather him who helped those in need with token sums.

The memory of the always helpful and friendly Doctor Hirschler is kept in respect and cultivated by the community of tenants of Belgrád rakpart 2. On the 25th anniversary of the passing away of Imre Hirschler, his family hang a memorial tablet on the façade of the house.

to the album This is what we were like (Ilyenek voltunk):

The Szalay

Zoltán Szalay is a big man. When he straightens up he is at least a foot taller than the average Hungarian photographer. He has always been. Therefore one can pay attention to him. But is it worth it? You might find the answer to that in this text and in this book. Why so many people adore him? And why so many people hate him so loudly? I’ve asked members of both sides but never found the answer. However, I do believe that someone who could achieve this, someone who can generate such sentiments, has done something worthwhile in his life. And he can do more than that.

City Photo, Radio Guide, Tükör, Magyar Hírlap, Young Journalists, Photoreporters, A.B., Cs.H., L.G., Gy.S., T.T. and others. Professional studio, acknowledgements. What? Professional studio? Something must be wrong here, it’s so outdated, it’s so out of fashion. Isn’t it? And why not? I feel that before we magnify The Szalay’s past 70 years – 50 of which he spent with photography – we must raise a few questions and find some possible answers.

What’s a photographer worth if he’s Hungarian? The question has been a raised a million times in other contexts and it’s time the photographer profession raises it too and primarily that it should find an answer to it. This holds especially  true for those who spent the majority of their time and activity behind the Iron Curtain. Well, I’m a visual type so I can easily imagine an iron curtain that completely covers the stage. I can also visualize a small iron door right in the middle of that iron curtain. On the other side of the door, where the audience cannot see him, is a person in responsible position, let’s call him the stage manager (managing everything) who determines who and in what order can they show themselves to the audience, or in a more general term, to the rest of the world. He also decides when that door opens and closes. And he also determines the time span (celebration) anyone can spend outside the door, all the circumstances, the direction of the lights and everything else. And he really could determine all these! Well, this stage instrument was used –primarily by those sitting on that particular side of the door – to describe some of the special operational specialties of the socialist system. And let’s admit it, not completely without justification.

The photographer, photo reporter, photo artist, amateur photographer (it’s your choice) working on this side – like it or not – accepted the fact that he had to conduct his work in a far smaller than complete space bound by fences and walls, organized by strict regulations and extremely limited opportunities. In far worse conditions he had to photograph far less important people and events, and his pictures could only be seen by a far smaller circle of audiences. There were special conditions set to publish their works even at home, never mind publication beyond the Iron Curtain. We will never know how many of these people could have become photographers for Life, Harper’s Bazaar, Picture Post, and Paris Match. However, we can easily add up how many photographers’ life work should be selected from Tükör, Ország Világ, Magyar Ifjúság and the Füles yearbook.

And then comes once again the question. How must one judge these photographers who were allowed by the stage manager to cross that little door on the iron curtain for shorter or longer periods? Is it relative? That is, by taking into consideration the circumstances, the expectations and the opportunities? While looking at their pictures should we always think of what was allowed for them at the time, what could be done and compared to that what they managed to do, or should we simply neglect all that? Let’s hang up those pictures, forget all the explanations, whatever is good should stay and the rest should be forgotten. It’s a question to be answered. Something to be decided. Even X years after the changes I still say: it’s something to be decided.

And yet another question, the last one. When the life work of a photographer is judged should it be balanced on a domestic or an international scale? Because the results will differ considerably.

I have raised the questions, think about them and try to answer them. Everyone in their own way. I’m doing the same in my own way. I try to see The Szalay’s pictures in such a manner that I leave their circumstances in the shade, to judge them on their own value, not on a Made in Hungary sort of scale. But is this possible?

Let’s conduct an experiment. Instead of being a Hungarian photo historian I’ll try to pretend that I’m a photo journalist from Argentina. What would be of interest to me from among these 200-odd pictures? And what wouldn’t? What would I adore if I had seen them in a Buenos Aires newspaper? And what would make me turn away in boredom within this mass of pictures?  Let’s see. I would look at and would think about the real poignancy of the reburial picture, the sad but hopeful faces of the people, the catafalques in front of the museum in June 1989. I wouldn’t be surprised but would still look at the series of pictures of the drunken woman and the passersby who try to help her, taken in the Angyalföld. And although I have seen it often, I would still look at the series of pictures taken during the floods because these pictures were somewhat different from all the others I had seen. In his pictures he doesn’t endeavor to abuse other people’s distress simply to uplift himself because he’s a humanist. Primarily because he is first and foremost a human being and not a photographer.

I consider it good and would use on the cover of a summer edition the picture recalling vacations at Lake Balaton, with blue jeans laid on the concrete wall to dry in the sun, where in the lack of any facilities a teenager is seen jumping from the shoulders of his mates. Because I’m biased. Because I, too, there and then, just like that. Also stuck in my mind is the ambivalent, dreadful, the phalanstery-like, but still so aesthetic view of the cranes building a socialist housing estate. It’s a picture that says so much in so many places. And while on the subject of construction, there is its contrast, the pulling down of the National Theatre. For an Argentinean like me, perhaps without Hilda Gobbi. But I know it’s important for you. Important? And pay day at Miskolc. At first I thought it was taken back home in Mariscal Estigarribia, or in that far away Kiev, but no, these really are Hungarians. Harta. Please tell me where that is? I feel like going there to see a wedding in Harta. And I’d like to take that train, the one used by the commuters. Because that’s very interesting, bleakly beautiful, something definitely worth seeing. And there were some other pictures I’d gladly publish in my paper, but first, please explain to me what a chimney-corner is? Why does it need fixing? But the pictures are extremely strong, expressing real dramas, attracting one and holding on. And there is this series on Százház (meaning: hundred houses) Street. Didn’t you by chance make a mistake with the title? After all, there isn’t a single house on these pictures, never mind a hundred. Human beings live here in inhuman conditions. This is dreadful!

And there are the portraits, too. Antal Doráti’s concentrating attention, the inexcusable baton holding strictness of Ferencsik, the phenomenal guitarist Gábor Szabó, or the first cosmonaut with Polynesian type flowers around his neck. These are good, very good. And some others, too. Even if I, poor Argentinean, don’t even know who was Zoltán Latinovics. Did I pronounce his name right? But his eyes, his eyes express power, will, mad defiance and hurt, and there is no mercy in them. I’m forced to look straight into his eyes, but he can stand my look longer than I can stand his.

Who is it I was talking about and who did I use as an excuse to raise so many questions? Well, of course, The Szalay. He sums up his 70 years below. I only made a few stylistic changes so that over and above the data and facts you could feel his sweet and sour humor that made me like him. Minimum two decades ago. Someone who can smile at himself is good, something can still happen to him, and it’s worth being in a close relationship with him. Because he possesses a rare treasure.

After that introduction, please read on how The Szalay sums up his life, his work.

“I was born in Budapest in 1935. Till the age of six I lived in Giurgiu (Romania), Vienna, and in Budapest in between. My father was a representative of Hungarian shipping in different towns. At the age of 3-4 I traveled up and down along the Danube – as a sort of package – handed to captains of ships. It was an adventurous life, I liked it. I was never short of adventures throughout my life but I didn’t always like it. I attended school in Budapest. In 1945 my parents enrolled me in the Saint Emory Gymnasium run by the Cistercian Order. It was later renamed and nationalized but we continued to attend the same school, the State Elementary School. It was adventurous. In 1950 my application to high school was rejected, therefore I had to suspend my schooling. I joined the working class as a semi-skilled optical polisher at a private company, at István Diószegi’s optical polishing shop. This, too, was nationalized, but everything stayed the same except the name of the company, here too.

Folk dance movement, friends, love, and I obtained a Tenax (this is a 24x24 mm camera). I take pictures. My fatherly good friend – Bertalan Falus – pushes me to the edge of the profession. I meet the expectations. I make passport photos in Szabolcs-Szatmár county. I move along the profession, in 1954 I work at the report section of Municipal Photo Company. Taking pictures of children at schools, kindergartens, in homes – in short, a joke. Technical photography. Armed service in the Rétság region, military training, office work, photography with magnesium, jail. I left the army at the end of 1956 and returned to Municipal Photo, and I began to learn the profession. We turn out to be a good team, we manufacture various gadgets ourselves, fixing cameras, taking pictures, learning from one another and from anyone and everyone. In 1958 I begin to work for Radio Guide magazine. They take me, I get a contract (950 forints/month), but I also keep working at the report section of Municipal Photo. I learn. Journalist school, continuous post-graduate training at the Pagoda, the buffet at Radio. At different tables I learn the theory and practice of the profession. A great school.

In 1962 gold medal at the MADOME national exhibition. In 1964 the Tükör magazine (“the Hungarian Stern”) is started up and I become its youngest staff member. In the trial edition of the new magazine I get five pages for my commuters report. A great success for all those who had seen the trial edition. At instruction from “above” it was taken out of the magazine, it could not have been published. Into the desk drawer. Life goes on and in the following period several of my reports end up in the drawer. With friends at the Hungária coffee house every day, at parties, everywhere we talk about the profession, the pictures, the press. This was our life.

1965, Young Artists’ Club, joint exhibition with my friend László Gyémánt, the painter. Tükör had changed into Új Tükör (New Mirror), we stay on, only the company changes. And, of course, its mentality. In 1976 I have an exhibition entitled En route at the Fényes Adolf Gallery. Meanwhile a number of chamber exhibitions, as the pictures that could not have been published in the magazine all go on the wall. I began organizing the Press Photo Exhibitions. A series of malicious denunciations follow. I manage to survive them. I teach at the Journalist School. I leave Új Tükör and become artistic director of IPV magazine for a year. Magyar Hírlap changes and I’m asked to become the head of the photo section. It’s a great challenge, I accept. We manage to do it. A good team, young people, success. In 1987 I’m awarded a high state decoration, the silver stage of Munka Érdemrend. After 30 years, in 1989 I leave the Radio Guide magazine. It was a great and lasting love affair. For 13 years I manage the Young Photographers’ Studio. In 1989, based on a secret ballot at Magyar Hírlap I’m selected for the Journalist of the Year award. At this same paper everything changes a year later. I leave Magyar Hírlap. I’m invited to join the staff of the newly established Kurír newspaper. It was a great editorial staff, but the time did not work in favor of the team, soon it disintegrated. I become a freelancer. I prepare books, I do illustrations and everything that needs to be done. An album and a miniature book on the House of Parliament are published in 1993. At the end of that same year I’m invited to help create the visual artwork of the new newspaper, Blikk. It was a success, a great start. The continuation… I leave two years later. I’m awarded the small cross of the Medal of the Republic in 1995. I’m freelancing. I continue to organize the Press Photo Exhibitions. My exhibition, The Faces of Music is shown in Budapest, Sárospatak, Veszprém and Szolnok. I design and organize exhibitions.

In 1999 my exhibition Faces Eyes Motions is opened at the Hungarian National Museum and I publish a volume within the series entitled Photo Collection. On 15 March 2000 I’m awarded the Táncsics Mihály Prize, as well as the Pulitzer Prize. Since the year 2000 I have been the chairman of the Photo Reporters’ section of the Federation of Hungarian Journalists. It was a good year. And now, here is this book.”

When we met, we smiled at each other, and then began to insult each other quite seriously. But we kept smiling. And we will continue to smile. Those present were shocked, not understanding what was going on, waiting for these two to start hitting one another and hurt each other’s feelings for good. And they are still waiting. Simply because they don’t know something we two definitely know. That the important thing in life is not what is being said but who says it.

to the album This is what we were like (Ilyenek voltunk) of Zoltán Szalay

Dear Friends, Dear „Readers”,

On the pages of this book you will meet the last half century of our past.

In black and white.

Because the lens of the camera does not lie. It’s objective.

It recalls people. And venues. Our lives – our common lives.

Our everydays. Our holidays. Those formulating our lives. On the streets, in their homes, in the building of Parliament, along lake Balaton. Our guests. Artists who have expressed our environment in pictures, in writing, in music.

Intentionally or not, in an objective manner.

Because a picture, even the most abstract one, can only be objective. We ourselves make it so. Because we see ourselves in the pictures. In black and white. In a subtle manner. With our own eyes.

We have to realize that we’re not merely the viewers, the subjects of this book – of these pictures – but also their creators. Just like our lives, undeprivably our own.

The creators of our life’s „landscape” and it only reflects what we ourselves had created during the past half a century. What we had built. What we had impoverished. What we had enriched. We ourselves.

All together.

The pictures reflect ourselves.

Thank you.

In Budapest, March 2004                                                  Árpád Göncz



[1] DÉRY 2005, 54.o.

[2] Budapesti Czim- és Lakjegyzék, 1880–1881 (1. évfolyam) 3. rész: Ipar és kereskedelmi czímjegyzék. (334. o.). The address at the time was Ferenc József rakpart 2.

[3] BFL XV.17.d.329 23819 1. és 2. fólió

[4] FSZEK, Budapest Gyűjtemény ( ,

[5] BFL XV.17.d.329 23819 1. és 2. fólió

[6] Magyar Életrajzi Lexikon 1000–1990

[7] 1934, Magyar Világhíradó (

[8] Magyar Életrajzi Lexikon 1000–1990

[9] Magyar Életrajzi Lexikon 1000–1990

[10] Magyar Életrajzi Lexikon 1000–1990

[11] Magyar Életrajzi Lexikon 1000–1990

[12] Budapest Gyűjtemény, Bűnügyi Nyilvántartás, sajtórágalmazási per 1967-ből

[13] Magyar Életrajzi Lexikon 1000–1990

[14] Károly Kincses is the director of the Hungarian Museum of Photography, Kecskemét

[15] Árpád Göncz is a former president of Hungary, one of the most popular Hungarian politicians of the 90’s.


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