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Obituary: Hungarian Poet Gyorgy Faludy Dies Aged 95

Internationally acclaimed Hungarian poet, novelist, and former dissident Gyorgy Faludy, whose books were banned by the Nazis and the communists, has died in Budapest.

Hungarian poet Gyorgy Faludy began writing when he was 9 years old. That was the easy part.

For the next 70 years, he was subjected to censorship, fled the Nazis, went to war, was thrown into a communist prison, witnessed a revolution, and spent decades in exile.

And he kept writing. "I must write poetry," Faludy says. "For me, it's a physical need."

Born in 1910 into a middle-class Jewish family, Faludy's first poem was about love.

"It wasn't any good," he recalled during an exclusive interview with RFE/RL at his apartment in Budapest in 1996. "I was told, 'Give it up kid. It's hopeless.' "

Faludy refused the advice.

In 1937, the young poet burst onto the literary scene with his brilliant translations of the French poet Francois Villon. Many of the poems were in fact more Faludy's creations than Villon's. They caused an immediate sensation.

In 1938, Faludy published another volume of poems, this time his own. It received good reviews. But time was running out. Europe was bracing for war.

Faludy left Hungary for France and then, after Hitler's invasion of Poland brought Britain and France into the war, he fled to Morocco. In 1940, France fell to the Nazis. In 1941, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt invited a small group of Hungarian intellectuals to America, among them Faludy, and by 1943 Faludy was serving in the U.S. Army.

When the war ended, Faludy returned to civilian life. He could have stayed in the United States, but in 1946 he returned to Hungary.

"A Hungarian poet, why should he live in America?" Faludy wrote in New York in 1945. "A ship will be taking me home -- not my common sense. Curiosity. Another world awaits me. Or the afterworld?"

Then, with a touch of irony, he added: "I would like to see how democracy is being built without democrats."

The Holocaust had left many of his fellow Hungarians dead, including his young sister, who had been shot by Hungarian Nazis.

A new nightmare was about to begin. The Soviets defeated the Germans and were staying for good in Hungary. A budding democracy slowly was being suffocated.

Faludy published another volume of poetry in 1947. But by then the communists were dominating Hungarian politics and cultural life using salami tactics, methodically slicing away their opposition. In less than two years, a one-party dictatorship was proclaimed.

In 1950, Faludy was arrested by the Hungarian secret police. He was accused of being a U.S. spy and a Titoist agent.

"My interrogator shoved a piece of paper under my nose and demanded I sign a confession," Faludy said. "I told him I was innocent."

"If you don't sign, we'll take you out in a garbage can," the interrogator shot back.

"Give it to me," Faludy said. "I'll sign."

For the next three years, Faludy was locked up in prison and forced labor camps. The inmates included writers, journalists, laborers, clergymen, common criminals, and even loyal communists. Most of the charges were fabricated.

Conditions were harsh. Inmates were sometimes beaten to death or shot. Paper was scarce in prison. His fellow inmates memorized his poems until they could be written down.

"They slap me in the face," he wrote in prison. "Still, I will continue to write poetry."

Faludy was freed when Stalin died in 1953. Free but still unable to publish his own poems, Faludy eked out a living for the next three years by translating classical writers into Hungarian.

Then came the revolution. It began on October 23, 1956, with a group of university students and intellectuals demanding freedom, democracy, and the withdrawal of Russian troops. Fighting broke out between the communists and the revolutionaries. Communist Imre Nagy formed a government that shared power with noncommunists. The Russians pulled back. Censorship was lifted.

For a brief period, it looked like the revolution had triumphed.

But freedom was short lived. The Soviet Army struck with overwhelming force. Nagy sought refuge in the Yugoslav Embassy in Budapest. Then, under a promise of safe conduct, he left the compound -- and was promptly arrested. He was tried in secret later and executed.

The revolution crushed, Faludy fled Hungary at the end of 1956. He went into exile again, this time for a long time. For the next 33 years, Faludy kept writing poetry in Hungarian, writing poems about love, his life in exile, and his prison experiences.

The poet lived in Europe during the first few years, editing a Hungarian literary magazine in London. In the mid-1960s, he decided to move to North America. He lived in New York for a while, teaching at a university, then settled in Toronto.

His books banned for decades, he wondered whether he would work again in Hungary.

In 1989, communism collapsed. At first, Faludy made a brief visit to Budapest, but he then decided it was time to go home.

"I am a Hungarian poet," he said. "That's where I belong."

Faludy was popular, especially among college students. He received the highest Hungarian literary award, the Kossuth Prize, and was given an apartment near the Danube.

Close to midnight, toward the end of a four-hour conversation, he was asked whether he wanted to retire and sleep.

"No, not to sleep." Faludy says. "I'll be up till four in the morning. I must write."