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Béla Zsolt (born as Béla Steiner, 1895–1949) was a Hungarian radical socialist journalist and politician, author of the second generation of the Nyugat literary journal. He wrote also one of the earliest Holocaust memoirs, Nine Suitcases (Kilenc koffer in Hungarian) translated into English by Ladislaus Lob. Zsolt was born on 1 August 1895 in Komárom and died on 2 June 1949 in Budapest. He wrote seven novels and three other works including one volume of poetry.
Before the First World War and whilst still a young man, Zsolt was already considered an outstanding representative of the Hungarian Decadence movement. In the tumultuous years of revolution, 1918 and 1919, he was a vehement advocate for a bourgeois-liberal regime and opponent of the soviet republics and Horthy's emerging Christian-nationalist corporate state.
In 1920 Zsolt moved from his birthplace Nagyvárad (Oradea) to Budapest where he quickly established himself in literary circles. His articles and novels gained general recognition. Like thousands of other Hungarian Jews in the Second World War Béla Zsolt was a forced laborer for the Ukrainian army on the Ukrainian eastern front. His wife was able to secure his return to Hungary where, however, he was soon afterwards imprisoned in Budapest's infamous Margit körút Prison. Using a false name he went underground in the Nagyvárad (Oradea) ghetto. Zsolt depicts his experiences at the front, in the ghetto and his adventurous rescue from deportation in summer 1944 in his book Nine Suitcases. His wife was rescued with him, his in-laws and wife's daughter Éva Heyman from her first marriage were transported to Auschwitz where they were murdered.
As part of the so-called 'Kasztner train' Zsolt's freedom, along with that of a thousand other Hungarian Jews, was bought from the Nazis. He spent the second half of 1944 in Bergen-Belsen with his wife awaiting emigration. The move to Switzerland followed in December.
Following his return to Hungary in 1945 Zsolt founded the Hungarian Radical Party, whose newspaper Haladás ("Progress") he edited. Zsolt was elected to the National Assembly of Hungary at his second attempt in 1947. He did not live to see the ultimate seizure of power by the communists. Béla Zsolt died in 1949 following a serious illness.
Notes and references
- Béla Zsolt, Nine Suitcases; translated by Ladislaus Lob. London: Jonathan Cape, 2004 ISBN 0-224-06305-7; London: Pimlico Publishing, 2005
- Nine Suitcases was originally published in weekly instalments. The first installment appeared on 30 May 1946, and the last on 27 February 1947. Two of his books have been published in Germany: Neun Koffer; Eine seltsame Ehe ("A dunaparti nö")
- Nine Suitcases has been adapted for the British theatre
-  UK Book review of Nine Suitcases by Guardian newspaper
- The Diary of Eva Heyman: Child of the Holocaust. Shapolsky Publishers, New York 1987, ISBN 0-933503-89-X. yizkor