Tibor Déry, 1894–1977

Born in Budapest, Déry completed a commercial secondary education before going to live in Switzerland in 1911–12. He then worked from 1913 to 1918 in his uncle’s timber yard and sawmill. The first work of his to arouse interest was a novel, Lia, which appeared in the literary journal Nyugat (West) in 1917. In 1919, Déry joined the Hungarian Communist Party, becoming a member of the writers’ directorate during the 133-day Hungarian Soviet Republic. He went into exile in Vienna, where he joined the staff of the Bécsi Magyar Újság (Viennese Hungarian News), as well as working for the Vienna papers Ma (Today) and Sturm. In 1924, he moved to Paris, where he worked as a shop assistant, a stamp dealer and a language teacher, but returned to Hungary via Italy in 1926. He published in the journal Dokumentum. Between 1929 and 1935, he lived in several European countries. Returning home, he joined György Vértes in edited the legal communist journal Gondolat (Thought). However, he was sentenced to two months’ imprisonment in 1938 for his translation of André Gide’s diary of a visit to Russia. In 1939, he travelled to Romania, continuing to translate under a pseudonym. He was in hiding and engaged in illegal activity in 1940 and 1941. After 1945, a succession of his works appeared, and in 1947, he became one of the editors of the journal Csillag (Star). He received the Kossuth Prize (Hungary’s highest arts award) in 1948, but in the early 1950s, he came under mounting official criticism for his ‘improper’ representations of the working class and for retaining ‘remnants of bourgeois morals’. There was a celebrated debate in 1952 between Déry and advocates of the official line on literature. In 1954, he came out in support of Imre Nagy’s efforts at reform, welcoming the new prime minister’s policy in an open letter in October. Déry had a hand in the intellectuals’ memorandum of the autumn of 1955 and protested against the damaging effects of Stalinist cultural policies. He was among those castigated in the party’s December 1955 resolution on literature and was disciplined by the party. On June 27, 1956, he argued before the Petőfi Circle, in the debate on the press and information, that publicity should be expanded, and for this he was expelled from the party. The Writers’ Union, at its general assembly in September 1956, elected Déry a member of its presiding committee. When the revolution broke out, Déry persuaded Nagy to abolish the system of summary justice and recognize the demands of the rebels. He and his writer colleagues urged moderation and observance of the law. He represented the Writers’ Union in the Revolutionary Committee of the Hungarian Intelligentsia and took part in workers’ council meetings. On November 2, the Irodalmi Újság (Literary Gazette) published his piece ‘My Friends...’, in which he welcome the revolution, but felt responsible for the deaths of its victims and warned against acts of spontaneous justice. On November 10, he and fellow writers Zoltán Zelk, Gyula Illyés, László Benjámin and István Örkény requested asylum at the Polish Embassy in Budapest. However, they were offered only temporary refuge and left the building after a few hours. Déry became a member of the Revolutionary Council of the Hungarian Intelligentsia. On November 15, he spoke at the Magdolna utca headquarters of the Ironworkers’ Union, expressing approval of the formation of workers’ self-defence militias before an audience of workers’ council delegates. On the same day, he read to the meeting of the Greater Budapest Central Workers’ Council the Petőfi Party motion drawn up by Ferenc Farkas, calling for the establishment of a National Governing Council. With his writer colleagues, he called for the return of the Hungarian prisoners deported to the Soviet Union. Déry was arrested in April 1957. After being tried with several associates, he was sentenced on November 13, 1957 by the Supreme Court to nine years’ imprisonment. He was freed under the 1960 amnesty, but prohibited from publishing his work until 1962. The cultural authorities were prepared to lift the ban only if he wrote a work of self-criticism. This he duly did in a short story, ‘Statement of Account’, which he included in the first volume of his work to appear after his release. Several more novels and volumes of studies by him appeared in the 1960s and 1970s. His memoirs were published in 1958.

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This page was created: Wednesday, 23-Aug-2000
Last updated: Wednes, 12-Sept-2001
Copyright © 2000 The Institute for the History of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution

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