The Burning of the World: A Memoir of 1914 (New York Review Books Classics)
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
Publishing during the 100th Anniversary of the First World War
An NYRB Classics Original
The budding young Hungarian artist Béla Zombory-Moldován was on holiday when the First World War broke out in July 1914. Called up by the army, he soon found himself hundreds of miles away, advancing on Russian lines and facing relentless rifle and artillery fire. Badly wounded, he returned to normal life, which now struck him as unspeakably strange. He had witnessed, he realized, the end of a way of life, of a whole world.
Published here for the first time in any language, this extraordinary reminiscence is a powerful addition to the literature of the war that defined the shape of the twentieth century.
My train took four hours to rattle its way there at an average of thirty kilometers an hour. The journey afforded me the opportunity to observe, along one curve in the line, that our engine resembled those that Ödön Tull used to draw for Dörmögő Dömötör. (After I took over from him, Dörmögő tore along with a Class In locomotive.) The train was half empty, which puzzled me. I was traveling in uniform, with a travel warrant, which had a magical effect, and I received looks of respect befitting a
Crowds of men arriving to sign on started to flood in. The regimental cadre was forming three operational regiments: a field regiment, a march regiment, and a territorial regiment. Twelve thousand men in all. That was more than the entire population of Veszprém. Where would they all go? What about hygiene arrangements? Let others worry about that. I had done well, at any rate, to turn up early, as I had got excellent lodgings. I went off shopping and wandered through the town’s maze of hilly
really belong to the core of the group anyway. There was more of everything for those who had stayed at home, and they were more interested in the opportunities which the situation presented than in events at the front. Egry just played billiards with Márton and chess with Mányai. The other day he had been playing with Rádna. Péter Gindert, sitting behind him, asked: “Playing chess? I thought you were learning to paint.” Egry’s piercing pale eyes flashed with anger. But Péter had stood up to him.
(That, too, annoyed my mother: you pay her for nothing, there’s no need for her. We could look after it ourselves.) I found my wonderful set of English watercolors from Winsor & Newton, in their splendid pocket-size enamel box with its water dish, and the block of excellent Fabriano watercolor paper. I had these with me in Taormina, and whenever I looked at them I was seized by the urge to paint. My father was waiting for me when I got home. I could see that my mother had prepared him. He
stumps, and gullies. Tiny fields of wheat on a little plateau. Stunted rye and oats, which they harvest with sickles and tie into wreaths, like flowers. A Hungarian peasant would sit and weep. And yet, these were big-boned, heavy, sinewy people, with a somehow lordly presence and urbane manners. But from what? The Mausers believed that it was the sea. They were sailors, fishermen, and sometimes workmen. Cheerfully, we plodded upwards. We crossed the railway line from Fiume. The blessed sun was