I am a British citizen living in Sweden, married to a Swede and with two adult sons. My full name is Paul James Kemeny and I was born in London on 6th September 1942 at the height of the war. Zoltan, my father was a Jewish Hungarian-speaking Slovak refugee born in Levoča, on his way to America together with other refugee relatives. He met Maria, a Hungarian Roman Catholic, in North Devon where he had been initially interned and they married, moving to London where they settled together with my father’s half-sister Johanna (Joci) and her husband, Sandor (Sani), who were, of course, also Hungarian-speaking Jewish Slovaks. I learned Hungarian just by listening to them, but English became my first language.
At first they rented a house in Lydford Road, a few hundred yards from Willesden Green Underground Station, but as soon as the war was over they bought a house in Nicoll Road, Harlesden. They did this by borrowing small sums from my father’s network of Jewish immigrant relatives, much like was done in the Pakistani immigrant community of Birmingham as described in the calculations I worked out that were published as a jointly authored book by Valerie Karn, Jim Kemeny and Peter Williams Home Ownership in the Inner City: salvation or despair (Gower, 1985). The house, No. 25, had originally been a school built during the 1880s. It was large enough for Maria/Zoltan and Johanna/Sandor to live in with a bedroom for each couple, and in addition a number of other rooms, which, for periods were used to house other relatives who might need housing temporarily. We have to remember that in 1945 it was still not possible to correspond with either any Jewish relatives in Czechoslovakia, many of whom would be starting to come out of hiding – at this point in time the extent of the Holocaust was not known – or with any Catholic relatives in Hungary.
I was baptised as a Catholic, in which my mother’s best friend, Anna, from the same village in Hungary (Rakamaz, see Endnote 1) was my Godmother. The war prevented my Jewish relatives from continuing their journey across the Atlantic.
It’s easy to forget how precarious Britain’s situation was in September 1942. Nazi armies and their Fascist allies in Spain (Franco) and Italy (Mussolini) occupied all of Europe except Britain (though even the Channel Isles were under Nazi occupation). The Wehrmacht panzer armies were racing for the Don crossings, it seemed impossible for the British with its naval strength to do much to affect the outcome of the war. To baptise a mischling infant seemed to be the instinctive way to preserve its life , not knowing how little the Roman Catholic Church could or would do to protect it.
After the war, Joci’s sister, Anci, and her husband Willie Weisz – with a son of school age, George, who had finished his secondary education in London – then completed their journey to the USA, where they settled down in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. George Weisz went to UCLA and studied computer programming, later getting work in LA.
I was brought up in Harlesden where I lived and went to school, first to Harlesden Primary, then to Willesden County Grammar School, until going to Leicester University in 1961 at the age of 19. My father was traumatized by the war and the loss of all his relatives in Slovakia and could not stop raging against their fate.
Not everyone reacts like this, of course, but as his only son I felt every pang and grief and embodied them in my research when I got a tenured lectureship in Sociology at Aberdeen University in 1966. All of this was not conscious, but I had clearly decided to research Germany and ordoliberalism using the symbolic interactionist perspective that became the Aberdeen University Sociology Department’s hallmark.
It was Joci who decided to take me to Hungary and Czechoslovakia in my early teens and we went several times. all this was before the Hungarian uprising of 1956. These visits to Czechoslovakia and Hungary formed my research interest in Germany and ordoliberalism.
My early university education formed my interests and approach in quite fundamental ways. I obtained an Upper Second Class Honours degree in Sociology at Leicester University in 1964, and an M.A. by research at Sheffield University in 1966. From 1966 to 1971 I was Lecturer in Sociology at Aberdeen University where I became strongly influenced by the symbolic interactionist perspective with the strong critical bias that was part of the early British symbolic interactionism and the York Deviancy Symposia.
It was while I was at Aberdeen that I met my Swedish wife, Kerstin in Edinburgh, who was at the time an au pair. We married in 1971, prior to moving to Minnesota University Department of Sociology where I was appointed as a Teaching Associate.
Most of my working life I have had research posts, but took early retirement in 2005, and gradually phased out all academic activity including book reviews and a blog, as my health deteriorated, as well as reducing my travelling. By 2010 after a stroke followed by a period in hospital I became increasingly house bound. We last went abroad in spring 2011, but it proved to me that I was now too unwell to travel. I was even unable to make the journey from Ockelbo to Stockholm to renew my British passport in winter 2011, and now live quietly at home with Kerstin.
All this is the product of reminiscing as in my 71st year and with chronic ill-health I come closer to the end of my life. Remembering – or more specifically reminiscing – is nothing I have chosen to do as it were “in the abstract” but is a natural part of a life-review that in many respects is a preparing to move on.
1 Rakamaz is a small village about an hour’s walk to the town of Tokaj on the other bank of the Tisza River, centre of the wine-growing area of the same name. My mother and father were born and bred only 100 miles apart, though in different countries, both native Hungarian-speakers. So as a child, Hungarian became a natural second language for me at home.
25 May 2013
Minor revisions 1 July and 24 September 2013