The Schmooze

Letters from a Dying Hungarian Architect

Instructional letters from parents to children, such as those from Lord Chesterfield or Madame de Sevigné, can make delightful reading. But few have the emotional charge of “Paper Kisses: Letters of a Jewish Father from Prison 1942/43,” published in February by Klett-Cotta Verlag.

They were written by the Hungarian Jewish architect Pál Meller (known as Pali) to his two children, 11-year-old Paul and 7-year-old Barbara. In 1942, as a widower hiding in Nazi Berlin, Meller was denounced as a Jew and thrown into Brandenburg-Görden prison. There, harsh conditions led to his death from pulmonary tuberculosis thirteen months later, at age 40.

Meller’s letters radiate a lively sense of humor; he would refer to his wife, a dancer named Petronella Colpa, as “Mea Colpa” or just “Mea.” They also evidence a rigorously formal way of thinking about the arts.

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Letters from a Dying Hungarian Architect

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