Pál Bárdos: Stan és Pan (Arbeitstitel: "Stan and Pan") Novel, 227 pages (Hungary, 2001)
Two men are conversing in a ditch many years after the end of the Second World War, somewhere, perhaps in South America. They may well be agents of Mossad. All that is certain is that they are hunting for Mengele. They are keeping a house under constant surveillance and are to report whenever a light goes on. Perhaps the light means that Mengele is there. Perhaps not.
The two have been working together for many years. Each knows the thoughts of the other. Yet both sense a continual need to relate their past experiences and thereby remain silent about the present.
One of the pair is a simple man. His mother was murdered in Auschwitz. He sees the death of Mengele as his life’s work. The real reason for his anger is revealed only toward the end of the novel: He was an illegitimate child, a fact that he cannot get over.
The other man is well educated, from a respectable family. For him, Mengele is a wicked old man, but not a deadly enemy. He wants to get rid of his Auschwitz-syndrome.
What can one do with another person? Use him or kill him? That is what happened in the concentration camps, and what takes place today, throughout the world. Mengele is merely an insignificant episode in the story. The cleverer of the two cannot get his comrade to understand this, for the latter asserts that it was Mengele who was standing on the platform on their arrival in Auschwitz and separated him from his mother. “Even that has not been proved,” counters his companion. “Someone did the selecting whom the prisoners called Mengele. Mengele the phantom. One cannot capture a phantom,” and then all the freezing and damp in the ditch are in vain. What makes matters worse is that the simpler of the two had the job, as a courier for a Jewish organization, of distributing counterfeit passports to refugees during the siege of Budapest. He could not provide everyone with a passport, and so he, too, made his selections. Thus he, argues his friend, is himself a “Mengele” who should be arrested. This is too much for the simpler man. They quarrel, to the point where they cannot agree on which of them should eat the fish sandwich, and which one the cheese.
At the end of the novel it is not clear even whether there are two men speaking or even whether it is two different intellectual viewpoints—possibly in the same brain—who are at loggerheads. The novel ends grotesquely: The two are discussing their earlier names, which were first Hungaricized, then changed to Hebrew, until finally, they received aliases for their secret work. And here one of them says, “Your god-damned name is the number tattooed on your arm.” The other begins to cry. Then the cleverer one says, “Don’t cry, you have a lovely name.” As with circus clowns, the smarter one attempts to ease the suffering of the dumber one with a prank. For at heart, he loves him.
The following is from an essay by the respected Hungarian literary critic Erzsébet Berkes:
Can one measure a sin by the number of people, whether three or three million, for which it is responsible?
Stan puts himself in opposition to none less than the philosopher Hegel, for in the relationship between the part and the whole, he has subordinated the part to the whole. In life this means that it is reasonable to sacrifice the minority for the good of the majority. Thus a sacrifice can be made of any group. Now it is the Jews, and then come other nationalities, races, skin colors, those who think differently, and so on. “Anyone can be a Jew,” cries Stan….
Stan and Pan is one of the most intelligent Hungarian novels of recent years. Although it engages in abstract philosophical questions, its linguistic material is simple… The foundation of this novel is the persecution of the Jews. However, Stan and Pan, should not be categorized as a work in that genre. Bárdos has something more universal to say than about the fate of a single group.
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