The Truth by Ern? Szép

Translated from the Hungarian & edited by Thomas Ország-Land (July 2014)

This poem, composed in 1942 in outrage at the psychological preparation of society to commit mass murder, was probably the author’s last. It is included in Survivors: Hungarian Jewish Poets of the Holocaust, a landmark anthology in Thomas Land’s English translation to be launched by Smokestack Books on July 7 at the Poetry Society Cafe in London. [Right: The Hungarian despot Miklós Horthy with Hitler in 1938.]



The Truth



The truth is that they lie to you

inciting docile folks to hatred.

Resist, resist, resist their truth

of infamy, of ruthlessness.


The newspapers project a lie.

They twist the truth and peddle drivel

and spew their raving explanations

to kindle mass hysteria.



They’re teasing you. It’s all a game.

It’s not just on your mind. Resist it.

You must have lost your sense and faith

if you can chew it and digest it.


Resist, resist such wickedness.

Insist: Their truth is odious!

And have the strength to ridicule

the preachers of such lunacy.


Close up, retreat, escape from here,

protect yourself from their corruption,

from their polluted mist of truths that

consumes unguarded souls alive.


Resist, you hear!.. what’s foul and ugly,

and what torments and nauseates you.

To see the truth, behold the spring and

your features in your photograph.


For truth appears in mirth and youth,

in consolation and assistance,

in tenderness and in affection,

in pard’n-me, in thank-you-kindly.


For truth is found down in this world

in friendship only and attention

and in persistent, robust love

whose very roots spring from the heart.


For truth is beauty, truth is goodness.

For truth dwells in your own sweet dreams.

It is absent from fickle fashion.

The truth is, truth will last for ever.


They’ve struck their knives in you… but even

should they tear out our entrails,

while we can breathe, while we can think,

we must resist, resist their deed.


I seize you by the wrists, my friend.

Look in my eyes! I scream: Resist it!

Insist upon your innocence!

Defend your truth! Do not surrender!


Be strong, be straight, be wise, a hero,

or shield your truth in drink or madness,

or view this frenzy from without

like God… if God should not exist.







Ern? Szép (1884-1953): poet, journalist, novelist and for long a fashionable playwright. The Smell of Humans: A Memoir of the Holocaust in Hungary, his narrative describing the deed, is a treasure of Hungarian literature hardly known in Hungary. But it has been ably translated into English by John Bátki (Central European University Press, Budapest, 1994). Szép survived the Nazi horror to die in deep poverty – some say he starved to death – alone and forgotten, after the war during the Soviet era.




THOMAS ORSZÁG-LAND is a poet and award-winning foreign correspondent who writes from London and his native Budapest. His poetry appears in current, forthcoming and very recent issues of Acumen, Ambit, The Jewish Quarterly, The London Magazine, The Hungarian Quarterly and Stand.


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