Sándor Szathmári

Szathmári Sándor (Hungarian: [ˈsɒtmaːri ˈʃaːndor]; 19 June 1897 – 16 July 1974) was a Hungarian writer, mechanical engineer, Esperantist, and one of the leading figures in Esperanto literature.


Family backgroundEdit

Szathmári was born in Gyula. His father – also called Sándor – studied law, later became a state official, and, besides his work, wrote lawbooks, in his leisure played the violin and painted. His father, the first intellectual in the family, and his ancestors spelled the family name with a y (Szathmáry).

Szathmári's grandfather was a woodworker, who in his time gave 100 forints for the founding of a local music school.

Szathmári's mother (Losonczy-Szíjjártó Margit) came from a pharmacist family in the city of Szeghalom, where she was the sole daughter of the family and lived well. She bore 11 children, of whom only seven grew to adulthood.

Early lifeEdit

Szathmári's father was an official of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the family moved often, living in Gyula, Szombathely, Alsókubin, Sepsiszentgyörgy, and Lugos during Szathmári's early years.

Illnesses and bodily passivityEdit

The young Szathmári was sickly with a weak body and a sensitive nervous system up through his fifteenth year. He did not like wrestling, wild games, and punching. The youth suffered almost continually from angina; he was also tormented by typhus, measles, chickenpox, whooping cough, diphtheria, and sinusitis.

Szathmari and his familyEdit

According to a fragment of an unpublished biography (manuscript: Hogy is volt hát? ~So how did it happen?): his grandfather wanted to train and educate him in patriotism and nationalism, but was unsuccessful. „..my grandfather told me the anecdote in which the gypsy asked to be shown the enemy before a battle, because he wanted to make peace with them. At that time I thought the anecdote true, and considered the gypsys more advanced, being they were only ones able to think right.”

On the death of his two older brothers, he became the eldest child (the fourth sibling died later), who often had to take care of the younger ones. That task quite exhausted him, and when the five-month-old little brother John died of meningitis, he went into shock. "The weeping suddenly weakened and finally stopped. After a few minutes pause I heard my father's voice: When will we bury this child?" For a long time after that he was unable to sleep peacefully.

School, studiesEdit

Attending the first class in elementary school he did all the exercises in his mathematics text in one week, without knowing the formulas. He was very apt, once smarter than his teacher, which led to his teacher giving him a failing grade to make him repeat the school year. Happily, those in charge of the examinations to be repeated let him through. This conduct, which he never forgot for the rest of his life, greatly affected him. He called such people 'muscle-fools'.

He was also very capable in other natural sciences such as physics and chemistry. He had a good imagination, liked to experiment and wanted to become an engineer. He graduated in Lugos (now Lugoj, Romania) and in 1915 enrolled in the mechanical engineering program at the Technical University of Budapest (Hungary), but found that very boring and thought-limiting. During his studies – under wartime conditions – he never had enough money, and was continually hungry. He took a break from his studies during 1919-1921 and returned to Lugos. In the beginning he wanted to leave Budapest only provisionally because of the communist rule, but an opportunity to teach students at home developed.

The Romanian government (Lugos belonged to Romania after the Treaty of Trianon) made life increasingly difficult for the Hungarians and Hungarian officials. In 1921, Szathmári's father has to choose whether to continue serving the Romanian government or to travel to Hungary. The father stayed with the six children and undertook a humiliating process: he became a Romanian official, which cost him the sympathy of his acquaintances, the local Hungarians. Although he aimed to save his family from misery, the Romanian government retired him and forgot to pay his pension.

Because of his family's misery, his siblings did not get an opportunity to study at a college or university and even Szathmári himself had frequently to interrupt his studies to help his family. He began working in 1920 in the Ruskica marble mine as a technician. There he noticed that the mine was tricking the workers by paying a single banknote to three workers. The workers had to travel – out of their own money and time – to the bank to get change there. He protested, and received his salary precisely, but did not dare further to make waves.

Although the Hungarian army six times found him unsuitable for recruitment, the Romanian army required him to enlist first time around. He decided to return to Hungary and finish his studies. In the spring of 1921 he returned and was approved for a tuition waver. He completed his studies after five years in 1926. During the period 1921-1922 he lived in misery, was continually hungry, and often homeless or living in unheated mass accommodations.

In 1923 he worked in Gyula as an office worker and lived with relatives (earlier he took gravely ill and was hospitalized). In July 1923 his father died. He lived in actual student housing between 1924 and 1926. Later he studied next to his work in the Gschwindt plant, and afterwards in the Martin-and-Sigray plant. Starting in 1924 he worked at MÁVAG, railway machinery plant, and began his true professional life.

Politics while a studentEdit

During his studies, he participated in the association [[Székely Egyetemi és Foiskolai Hallgatók Egyesülete]] (SZEFHE, Association of Students of the Sikuly University and Institutions of Higher Learning), where he became acquainted with the movements of the Habsburgellenes Liga (Anti-Habsburg League) and the Association of Bartha Miklós (BARTHA Miklós Társaság) When Charles IV wanted to retake the Hungarian throne in 1921, the young people took up arms at the call of the Association of Students of the Sikuly University and Institutions of Higher Learning and awaited battle at Kelenföld, but without adequate ammunition. Against the modern German machine gun Szathmari received not one cartridge.

Professional lifeEdit

From 1924 to 1957 he worked as an engineer at the Hungarian State Wagonworks (Hungarian acronym: MÁVAG) in the Hungarian ministry of heavy industry and in the project bureau.

Spiritual developmentEdit


In the empire the family most often worked among minorities (Slovaks in Alsókubin; Romanians and Germans in Lugos). So the young Szathmari was struck early with the problem of interethnic communication (some Slovaks, for example, laughed at him, when he didn't understand them at the border of a stream). He then felt himself already an Esperantist in spirit, since he began wishing for a language that would bind the ethnic groups together.

In a bookshop in Lugos he espied an Esperanto grammar and bought it. In fact, learning it began only in 1919, when he returned to Lugos, where he organized the Széchenyi Circle (pron. Se’tsenyi), which was the basis of the Free Organization of Christian-socialist Students. With his friends in the circle he went about learning Zamenhof's language (Esperanto), but without a teacher that was not very successful. He became a speaker of the language starting in 1935, when he participated in the a workers' culture course in Budapest, taught by the famous Esperantist poet Emeriko Baranyai, who helped Szathmári find his way to SAT, of which he remained a member until died at Budapest in 1974.

Other ideologiesEdit

Szathmári became acquainted with Christian-socialist ideas in 1918. He believed in Jesus, but did not attend churches, which was the result of the non-attentive behaviour of his father. When the family lived in Szombathely, his father wanted to enrol him in the Roman Catholic School, because it was the closest. But the school was one-denominational and did not want to admit the youth, since he was not Roman Catholic. „Well, how about if we baptise him Catholic? – asked my father.” The instructors were surprised, but were glad that a new lamb had come to the flock. Even the bishop nodded assent, but the baptism did not occur, still he was allowed to study in the elementary school. (Szathmari remained reformed for life, and when he was buried, the services were even led by a reformed pastor.)

When the family moved to Alsókubin, the Lutheran pastor explained that up till then he had learned only error, and that fortunately he could become acquainted with the true religion Although he left the church, his faith in Jesus remained, whose teachings he valued highly.

Politics after his studiesEdit

In the middle of the 1920s he discovered the ideas of Szabó Dezso (sAbo’ dejo’) and spent a bit of time on the ideological right. Because he was the chief secretary of the Anti-Habsburg League, his landlord evicted him. He was managing director during 1932-1933 of the BARTHA Miklós Association.

Beginning in 1935 he worked in collaboration with the Hungarian Communist Party, but in 1948 he became disillusioned and left communism.

Szathmari and literatureEdit

At an early age he very much liked Bible stories, but until 1917 did not take an interest in literature, although his literature teacher in high school was VAJTHÓ László, who got many students interested in literature. The young Szathmáry thought writing novels a bore, for him thinking up machines was more interesting.

In 1917 he became acquainted with the works of Frigyes Karinthy (pron. kArinti frItyes), whom he later came to adore. Influenced by Karinthy, he began working in the period 1919-1921 on a mathematics textbook and put on paper his first small attempts at belles lettres (The Serious Person (A komoly ember ~a kOmoy Ember) evinces a satirical view of someone who speaks of pacifist convictions, but who in the end hits someone else).

In the period 1930-1934 he worked on a trilogy of novels, but when that was ready, he no longer recognized his work, so it remained unpublished. During 1931-32 he wrote the past (Látván nem látnak ~ Seeing one sees not), in the summer and autumn of 1932 the future (Hiába ~In Vain), and in the spring of 1935 the present (Kazohinia). The first part of the trilogy was called „Látván nem látnak” ~Seeing one sees not, which was a pale attempt with excessive characterization. The second part of the trilogy (1932), called Hiába ~In Vain, takes place in the future socialist Hungary of 2080.

In 1935 he began writing his magnum opus, Kazohinia (Gulliver utazása Kazohiniában, Budapest 1941; Kazohinia Budapest 1957, 1972). The edition of (1946?) contains the parts left out earlier due to military censorship, and new details were added. He even modified the 1957 edition. This work he dedicated – as the travels of modern Gulliver – to Frigyes Karinthy. The interesting aspect of the genre is that it combines satire and utopia.

Works in EsperantoEdit

The international Esperanto movement became acquainted with his name only in 1958, after the appearance of his novel Kazohinia in Esperanto (Vojaĝo al Kazohinio). However, he himself said that his first article in Esperanto appeared in 1934 in Sennaciulo (The Nationless). Between the years 1937 kaj 1942, Szathmari was the managing president of the Hungarian Esperanto-Society.

In addition to the novel Vojaĝo al Kazohinio, which was originally written in 1935, and before the appearance of the Esperanto original, which was published three times in Hungarian translation, there also appeared in book form Szathmári's short story collection Maŝinmondo ~MachineWorld (J. Régulo, 1964), Tréfán kívül, a translation into Hungarian of the Esperanto novel Kredu min, sinjorino! ~Believe me, Mamm by Cezaro Rossetti (1957) and the Esperanto translation of a Hungarian children's book Cxu ankau vi scias? ~Do you Know it Too?. Szathmári is represented in the short story anthology 33 Rakontoj ~33 Stories (J. Régulo, 1964) with one short story.

More short stories by Szathmári appeared in the reviews Norda Prismo, La Nica Literatura Revuo, Belarto, Monda Kulturo and Hungara Vivo. He contributed with articles about the Esperanto movement and about literary themes to Sennacieca Revuo, La Praktiko, Sennaciulo, Hungara Vivo, and Monda Kulturo, among others. Szathmari did not write abundantly, but he, despite his stylistic deficiencies (which some have emphasized), managed to push himself forward as one of the most serious contributors to Esperanto proze, perhaps the only prose writer in the International Language with a creative format worthy of attention outside the Esperanto movement. Regularly dealing with an imaginary not too distant future of humanity, Szathmári's works flail human society, without idiological reserve and without any perceptible specificity as to time and place.

Matter of Tamkó Sirató KárolyEdit

In 1924, in his new lodgings he met a youth, with whom he became friends and later enemies. His roommate at school was Tamkó Sirató Károly, then still Tamkó Károly, who was studying law and who later became an eminence in Hungarian avant garde poetry. He started a lawsuit in 1958 against Szathmári, claiming that he too collaborated in the writing of Kazohinia. Szathmári won the lawsuit. (Although Kazohinia appeared in 1941, 1946, Tamkó started the lawsuit only after the third edition (1957)). The novel Hiába ("In Vain") could be proven to be in the same style as that of the winner, but the presentation of the (anti-communist) novel in 1958 would have put him in danger of prison.

Tamkó read Szathmári's trilogy only in 1936, when he returned from Paris.

List of worksEdit


In EsperantoEdit

  • Vojago al Kazohinio (SAT, 1958) ~Kazohinia
  • Masinmondo kaj aliaj noveloj (1964) ~MachineWorld and other Stories
  • Kain kaj Abel (eld. 1977) ~Cain and Able
  • Perfekta civitano (La Laguna, 1964) (1988) ~A Perfect Citizen (a full short story collection with bibliography)
  • Satirical stories:
  • Perfekta civitano (1956) ~A Perfect Citizen
  • Pythagoras (1957?)
  • Logos (1961)
  • La fluidumo de la ciovido (1962)
  • Honorigo (1963)
  • Liriko (1964)
  • Genezo (1965)
  • Enciclopeditis (1966)
  • Budapesta ekzameno (1968)
  • Kain kaj Abel (1968)
  • Tria prego de Pygmalion (1969) ~Pygmalion's Third Prayer
  • La falsa auguro (1970) ~The False Proficy
  • La guarbo (1970)
  • Kuracistaj historioj (1972) ~Physician's stories
  • La barbaro (1972) ~The Barbarian
  • Superstico (1972?) ~Superstition

In HungarianEdit

  • M. Fehér asszony, fekete férfi (Budapest, 1936)
  • Halálsikoly az áradatban (Budapest, 1937)
  • Kazohinia (Budapest, 1941)
  • Gépvilág és más fantasztikus történetek (Budapest, 1972)
  • Hiába (Budapest, 1991)

Translations (into Hungarian)Edit

  • Kredu min, Sinjorino, de Cezaro Rosetti ~Believe me, Mamm by Cezaro Rosettiro


  • Afterword by KERESZTÚRY Dezso to Kazohinia (1952, 1972) and to Gépvilág és más fantasztikus történetek (Masinmondo) (Budapest, 1972)
  • KERESZTÚRY Dezso: Gulliver magyar utóda (The Hungarian Successor to Gulliver) (appeared in the Élet és Irodalom (Life and Literature) #41, 1974)
  • TASI Jószef: Néhány szó Szathmáry Sándorról (Several words about Sándor SZATHMÁRY) (appeared in Életünk (Our life), 1976. #4.)


Vikipedio article in Esperanto

External linksEdit