Paul-Adolphe Löffler on the Hungarian Emigrant Community

In diary entries, the writer and journalist Paul-Adolphe Löffler (1901-1979) describes his relationship with the Hungarian community in Paris, which is shaped by longing and disillusionment.

Slum, Paris, 1935 © Fred Stein Archive
Slum, Paris, 1935 © Fred Stein Archive

5 mai 1925. Je ne peux pas rester l’écart de l’émigration hongroise. Mais je ne trouve pas le contact, que je cherche en vain, avec les communistes ; j’adhére å la Ligue dont le président est Mihåly Kårolyi. Il est le plus honnéte homme qu’on puisse rencontrer dans la vie. Et méme adhérent å la Ligue, je peux rester communiste.

[…]

23 février 1934. En face de la gare du Nord, dans un Café, joue un orchestre hongrois, habillé en costume national. Un groupe de musiciens français, sans travail, a brisé les glaces du café et blessé plusieurs musiciens hongrois. Le cafetier a supprimé la musique, mais n’a pas embauché de musiciens français à leur place.

[…]

12 octobre 1937. […] J’aurais aimé voyager, voir le monde (on veut toujours être là où on n’est pas). Mais je ne voulais jamais quitter Budapest pour toujours. C’est ä Budapest, au mont des Trois- Confins, que mon ami d’enfance, Pista, et moi, avons transformé en Far-West. Plus tard, au Bastion du Pécheur, j ‚ai réalisé mon premier amour, très naïvement… que cela était beau. Combien de souvenirs se sont perdus dans I ‚obscurité. J’ai appris å aimer Paris aussi. Pour son passé historique. Pour les années dures et difficiles que j’y ai passées, et pour celles qui viennent. Pour son peuple et pour son agaçant « je m’en foutisme »… et malgré sa xénophobie qui revient de temps en temps. Pour ceux qui sont devenus mes amis, Français qui sont tels que nous, les étrangers, les idéalisons.

[…]

[non-daté] Samedi: jour de paye. Dimanche: double fête. D ‚abord parce qu’il ne faut pas travailler, deuxièmement parce que je déjeune dans un restaurant hongrois, rue François-Miron, pour manger quelque chose «du pays». […] Je me sens bien dans ce restaurant hongrois où à toutes les tables on parle hongrois. Pendant une heure, je suis en Hongrie. Ce dimanche, j’ai entendu, en plus, une bonne nouvelle. À la table voisine, deux hommes ont conversé et, peut-être pour que je les entende, ils ont parlé assez haut. Ils ont parlé d’un journal hongrois qui allait paraître bientôt. J’étais intrigué mais ma modestie m’empêchait de les aborder.

[…]

Je lis les journaux français, mais c’est fatigant, leur langage n’est pas le même que celui des revues. Il y a des mots que je n’arrive pas å saisir.

Le vide autour de moi est trop dense. Toujours la solitude. Pendant un laps de temps, j’ai fréquenté les Hongrois au café Saint-Paul, ils m’ont désenchanté, je les évite. Peut-être, suis-je injuste envers eux. Presque tous sont sans travail ou ont la phobie du travail ; peut- être ceux-là, naguère, étaient des ouvriers courageux mais les longs chômages, la vaine recherche quotidienne du travail, les ont déchu chaque jour davantage, et ils sont devenus vagabonds. Ils en viennent à pratiquer le tapage.

May 5, 1925. I can’t stay away from Hungarian emigration. But I cannot find the contact, which I seek in vain, with the Communists; I join the League, whose president is Mihåly Kårolyi. He is the most honourable man one can meet in life. And even as a member of the League, I can remain a Communist.

[…]

February 23, 1934. In front of the gare du Nord, in a Café, a Hungarian orchestra plays, dressed in traditional costume. A group of French musicians, without work, broke the windows of the café and injured several Hungarian musicians. The cafe owner stopped the music, but did not hire French musicians in their place.

[…]

October 12, 1937. […] I would have liked to travel, to see the world (one always wants to be where one is not). But I never wanted to leave Budapest forever. It was in Budapest that my childhood friend, Pista, and I turned the Mount of the Three Confines into the Wild West. Later, in the Bastion of the Sinner, I realized my first love, very naively… that it was beautiful. How many memories were lost in the darkness. I learned to love Paris too. For its historical past. For the hard and difficult years I spent there, and for those to come. For its people and for its annoying “I don’t care” attitude … and despite its xenophobia that comes back from time to time. For those who have become my friends, the French who are like us foreigners idealize them.

[…]

Saturday: pay day. Sunday: double holiday. Firstly because I don’t have to work, secondly because I have lunch in a Hungarian restaurant, rue François-Miron, to eat something “local”. […] I feel good in this Hungarian restaurant where Hungarian is spoken at all the tables. For an hour, I am in Hungary. This Sunday, I heard, in addition, good news. At the next table, two men were talking and, perhaps so that I could hear them, they spoke quite loudly. They talked about a Hungarian newspaper that was about to appear soon. I was intrigued but my modesty prevented me from approaching them.

[…]

I read French newspapers, but it’s tiring, their language is not the same as that of magazines. There are words that I can’t understand.

The emptiness around me is too dense. Always loneliness. For a while, I frequented the Hungarians at Café Saint-Paul, they disenchanted me, I avoid them. Perhaps I am unfair to them. Almost all of them are unemployed or have a work phobia; perhaps they used to be courageous workers, but the long unemployment, the vain daily search for work, has fallen more and more on them, and they have become vagabonds. That’s why they are making a racket.

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 affiliation with the 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 antisemitism, 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 diaspora 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 the diary entries of 1925-1937, he wrote about his relationship to the Hungarian emigrant community in Paris, which was characterized by longing for Hungary and disillusionment.

In 1935, Löffler 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 disenthralled 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).

Photo published with kind permission by Peter Stein © Fred Stein Archiv

Translation by Minor Kontor

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