Fight against Loneliness

Paul-Adolphe Löffler writes about the initial loneliness he suffered during his first period in Paris without his family, as well as the difficulties he encountered in finding work and social access.

Evening in Paris, 1934 © Fred Stein Archive
Evening in Paris, 1934 © Fred Stein Archive

[non daté] […] Au commencement, j’ai travaillé beaucoup, après le travail, j’étais très fatigué. Mais après un certain temps j’ai pris la cadence des autres. Quand j’ai commencé å écrire des articles pour un journal de Kolozsvàr (en Roumanie), j’ai écrit mes articles dans un wagon vide. C’était ainsi que pendant des mois, la moitié du jour, j’étais « journalier », l’autre moitié « journaliste ». Pour le premier, j’ai reçu cent vingt francs par semaine, pour je deuxième des promesses… beaucoup.

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Déjà, la deuxième semaine, la malédiction de la solitude m’a accablé. J’ai laissé Ilonka en Hongrie, la nostalgie me prend. Je la désire comme l’homme assoiffé dans le Sahara. Quand je l’ai quittée, je ne voyais pas, je ne me rendais pas compte qu’elle était très jeune (comme moi-même d’ailleurs) ; ni que notre fils, Michel, n’avait qu’å peine trois mois. Mais je n’avais pas d’autre choix… L’un de nos voisins, après m’avoir croisé dans la rue, avait crié : « Terroriste ! Terroriste ! », en me désignant… En effet… En 1917, j’avais fait la connaissance, dans une réunion socialiste, d’un marin : Cserny. Pendant la République des Conseils en 1919, Cserny était le commissaire politique des « Gars de Lénine », une compagne spécialisée dans la répression des éventuels mouvements contre-révolutionnaires. Je me suis présenté chez lui pour, servir. Je suis resté quatre semaines chez lui… Mais, encore aujourd’hui, je ne sais pas pourquoi le voisin m’en voulait. Je ne pouvais plus rester å Budapest.

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Les jours passent, incolores, sans événement. C’est seulement le soir quand nous sommes ensemble que je sens la chaleur de la vie. Elle est gentille, Ilonka, elle ne se plaint jamais d’étre obligée de se lever de bonne heure ; å midi, elle déjeune d’un cornet de frites en se promenant dans la rue. Samedi aprés-midi, elle fait la lessive. Que je hais cette société dans laquelle nous vivons ! Vivons ? Existons. Nous existons obscurément dans la ville lumiére. Nous et d’autres milliers.

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13 janvier 1925. Nous vivons difficilement.. Je ne peux pas supporter cette vie passive. Je suis fait pour la lutte. Jusqu’å présent, je n’ai pas bougé, craignant l’expulsion. Mais je ne peux pas continuer dans l’inactivité. Il faut que je reprenne ma Place dans la lutte. Lutter contre les faux prophétes et contre les injustices. Je désire écrire.

[Undated] In the beginning I worked a lot, after work I was very tired. But after a while I took the pace of the others. When I started writing articles for a newspaper in Kolozsvàr (Romania), I wrote my articles in an empty wagon. So for months, half of the day I was a “day labourer”, the other half a “journalist”. For the former, I received one hundred and twenty francs a week, for the latter, I received many promises… a lot.

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Already in the second week, the curse of loneliness overwhelmed me. I left Ilonka in Hungary, nostalgia takes me. I desire her like the thirsty man in the Sahara. When I left her, I didn’t see, I didn’t realize that she was very young (like myself, by the way); nor that our son, Michel, was barely three months old. But I had no other choice… One of our neighbors, after meeting me in the street, had shouted: “Terrorist! Terrorist! “In 1917, I had met a sailor named Cserny at a socialist meeting. During the Republic of Councils in 1919, Cserny was the political commissioner of the “Lenin Guys”, a campaign specialized in the repression of possible counter-revolutionary movements. I went to his house to serve. I stayed with him for four weeks… But even today, I don’t know why the neighbor was angry with me. I could no longer stay in Budapest.

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Days go by, colorless, uneventful. It is only in the evening when we are together that I feel the warmth of life. She is nice, Ilonka, she never complains about being forced to get up early; at noon she eats a cone of French fries while walking down the street. Saturday afternoon, she does the laundry. How I hate this society we live in! Let’s live? Let’s exist. We exist obscurely in the City of Light. Us and other thousands.

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January 13, 1925. We live with difficulty… I cannot bear this passive life. I am made for the struggle. Until now, I haven’t moved, fearing expulsion. But I cannot continue in inactivity. I have to take back my place in the struggle. Fight against false prophets and injustices. I want to write.

The writer and journalist Paul-Adolphe Löffler (1901-1979) fled the fascist regime in Hungary to Paris in 1924. Löffler had joined the communist youth in 1918. After the overthrow of Béla Kun’s government, he lived for a short time in the uncertainty of a denunciation to Miklós Horthy’s police in Budapest. Löffler had had to leave his wife Ilonka and his son Michel behind in Budapest during his hasty escape – a neighbor had denounced him because of his proximity to communist circles; they moved to live with him in the French capital shortly afterwards. With low-paid, often odd jobs in a wide variety of industries, they made their way in Paris, which was marked by the uncertainties of the interwar period and the political-economic effects of the economic crisis.

In his diary “Journal de Paris d’un exilé” (Parisian Diary of a Expatriate), Paul-Adolphe Löffler describes the daily hardships and worries, the recurring hopeless phases of unemployment, growing xenophobia and anti-Semitism, and the political and social exclusion of the many thousands of foreign workers in France. His membership in various organizations and writer’s circles is just as present. In 1934 he became a member of the French Communist Party and held various offices for the Hungarian diasporic movement “Mouvement du 1er septembre” (later “Mouvement pour la Paix et la Liberté”). Between 1930 and 1935, his life was marked by long phases of unemployment and the associated misery and depression. In 1935 he found a long-term job as a draftsman in Paris, which he continued to do until his retirement.

In 1973 Löffler published his diary, which is presumably based on Hungarian and French fragments from the period between 1924 and 1939 as well as memories added later, and was edited before publication. The diary ends in 1939, the year in which Löffler joined the Resistance against the German occupation of France, where he distributed the underground press and organized secret meetings in the Seine-et-Marne region. Paris as the “City of Light” and of the Enlightenment appears in Löffler’s diary as a dazzling place of longing, but it regularly disappoints him. As a refugee with a forged passport, he arrives by train at the Paris East Station, where the city immediately disappoints him: it seems less beautiful and sunny than expected, but he hopes that the next day will be better.

Löffler, Paul-Adolphe, 1974: Journal de Paris d’un exilé (1924-1939), p. 3ff.

Translation by Minor Kontor

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