Adventures in Wartime Hungary
by Ralph Brewster
‘This country is like a little island, where the people live so happily, as if nothing was wrong with the world…’ When Ralph Brewster wrote those lines, in the summer of 1943, Hungary’s involvement in WWII was still barely felt in Budapest. Less than a year later the Nazis took over. Born an American but given Italian nationality as a child—the ‘Wrong Passport’ of the title—Brewster refused to return ‘home’ to Italy to fight for Mussolini. Instead he went into hiding in Budapest and his story of life in a country at war, resorting to ever more desperate measures to dodge detection, makes fascinating reading. As Fascists tighten their grip and the Soviets begin their advance, the once-carefree city of coffee houses, concert halls and thermal baths is torn apart and Brewster’s world disintegrates, together with that of his extraordinary cast of characters: the Archimandrite, the art-dealer spy, the cinema impresario, the Jewish philosophy student who refuses to wear the yellow star and the real-life ‘English Patient’.
Originally published in 1954, Wrong Passport is reissued now for the first time by Blue Danube. With extensive notes bringing the context and historic background to life and tracing the subsequent fortunes of Brewster and his friends.
About the author
Ralph Brewster (1904–51) was born in Italy into a family of mixed American and German ancestry. The milieu in which he grew up, in a house in Florence belonging to his grandfather, the sculptor Adolf Hildebrand, was multilingual and artistic, described by his brother Harry Brewster in A Cosmopolite’s Journey. Both his mother and sister were painters; Ralph was a talented musician, photographer and writer. He proudly regarded himself as American, a descendant of William Brewster, one of the Plymouth pilgrims who sailed to America on the Mayflower. Shortly after WWI, however, his father had relinquished his American citizenship and adopted Italian nationality for himself and his family. It was to this decision that Ralph owed his ‘wrong passport’. Frustrated by the narrowness of Florentine expatriate society, he embarked on the life of a wanderer. His 6,000 Beards of Athos was published by Leonard and Virginia Woolf in 1935. The early 1940s saw him in Hungary, on the run from Italian conscription, as described in Wrong Passport. His fight to regain American citizenship was ultimately unsuccessful. He died in Florence in 1951.