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From Deaf History International (DHI) Newsletter, cont'd.
We discover many details of life in the residential school, and readers no doubt will find much that is familiar in these recollections of a small deaf boy far from his family. His education was first and foremost oral, and all the teachers were hearing. Dunai recounts the long slow lessons to teach him first to produce sounds and read lips, then reading and writing. But he also writes about sign language (allowed only outside of the classroom), play time, and holiday celebrations. As the Nazi-influenced government imposed economic restrictions on his family, Harry also gradually became aware of the differences between paying students and charity students: separate food rations, separate sleeping quarters, and so on.
Harry was only ten years old in 1944 when the Nazis seized direct control of Hungary and attempted to complete the annihilation of its Jews. Forced into the ghetto, Harry narrowly avoided deportation, bombs, and starvation. By the end of the war, his parents and two siblings had perished, as did many friends and schoolmates, and the rest of his family was scattered. Harry survived through luck, perseverance, ingenuity, and determination: he remained in Budapest, witnessing the Soviet battle for the city and the subsequent transformation of Hungary into a Soviet satellite. His story continues with his own success as a Budapest machinist, the Hungarian uprising of 1956, and his emigration first to Sweden, and then the United States.
Harry Dunaiís story, then, lies at the intersection of grand historical developments, shifting borders, and complex politics. Given his youth at the time, and that his recollections were not made until the late 1990s, some of Dunaiís memoir is unavoidably colored by his knowledge of later history. But Harry seems very clear about the evolution of his own beliefs. As a boy and then a young man, he struggled to understand not only shifting political ideologies, but also the role of religion in the face of the horrors he experienced.
Eleanor and Harry have done a reasonably good job of inserting some social and historical context into his story. In some cases this information is a bit off the point: the German program for sterilizing or killing the mentally ill and physically handicapped, including the deaf, applied to Germans only. Generally, however, the background they provide is helpful. Unfortunately, the book is slightly marred by clumsy writing or translations, and even a few grammatical errors, which should have been cleaned up in editing. However, the overall impact of this memoir does not depend on such details. It has been said that the story of any Jew who survived the Holocaust is by definition not typical. But Harry Dunaiís story is a truly remarkable tale of perseverance, survival and success. Moving as well as informative, it is particularly welcome for its glimpse into the life of the Jewish Deaf in Central Europe during the terrible upheavals of the mid-twentieth century.
-- Barry H. Bergneis Associate Professor of European History at Gallaudet UniversityHarry I. Dunai is a retired plumbing foreman who lives in Beverly Hills, CA.
Eleanor C. Dunai is a special subjects teacher at a private school in Newport Beach, CA.
ISBN 978-1-56368-119-6, 6 x 9 hardcover, 192 pages, photographs
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