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Publishing a Memoir a Lifetime Later: Q&A with Frances Pinter

Publishing a Memoir a Lifetime Later: Q&A with Frances Pinter

August 31st, 2020

We talked to Frances Pinter, editor of Escaping Extermination: Hungarian Prodigy to American Musician, Feminist, and Activist by Agi Jambor. The memoir was written by Jambor shortly after WWII and is being published for the first time now. From the hell that was the siege of Budapest to a fresh start in America, Jambor describes how she and her husband escaped the extermination of Hungary’s Jews through a combination of luck and wit.


Q: Can you tell us a bit about how you came across this memoir? And what motivated you to have it published?

Frances Pinter: Agi gave me the memoir shortly before she died in 1997. It was a while before I got around to reading it as I was very busy with my career. Once I settled down with it, I was shocked because none of this had been spoken about while I was growing up. I’d read many wartime memoirs, but they were often written decades later. As I read and re-read Agi’s memoir I felt it had a quality of freshness that only something written soon after the events could achieve. I passed the manuscript around to friends, all of whom without exception said I must get it published. Now, of course, I wish I’d had the opportunity to discuss it with her, but alas all I could do was read through her papers, now housed in the Bryn Mawr College Library Archive. That’s where I found the material for the afterword I wrote for the book. Publishing this memoir means a lot to me. Many of my generation came rather late to knowing what happened to our families in the War. Eva Hofmann explains why this is so very well in her book After Such Knowledge’. Now, we are desperate to know and understand the mark it’s left, not only on us, but to all of society. Finding a sympathetic publisher is my small contribution to ensuring that we do not forget these horrors and celebrate the strength and resilience of an extraordinary individual.

Q: You mention your shock, what were some details that surprised you the most on your first read through?

Pinter: The clearest details that I didn’t know about were about people I knew nothing about, or that they’d even existed, such as the child Agi gave birth to during the War, or a godson who was killed in Auschwitz. But generally, it was more a sense on reading that I was descending into a Hell, taken by the hand and led down the dark stairs into the deepest crevices of human depravity. That someone so close to me managed to crawl out of it with her head held high and her spirit undeterred still fills me with awe.


Picture of the cover of Escaping Extermination a tan book with red lettering


Q: Written shortly after WWII and not published until now, this memoir is kind of like a time capsule. How does this affect the way it reads?

Pinter: The writing style reflects the author and it is one of crispness, modern in style, and entirely lacking in self-pity. I think people of all generations can relate to its directness. Working with the copyeditor was an interesting experience. We agreed at the outset that we should leave the text as much intact as possible. Agi’s grammar stands the test of time, but there were some small points raised such as whether to retain practices of the late forties for instance regarding when to use capital letters and when not. Language evolves, and here we see some subtle examples of it. That said, the text reads like a thriller written today with a pace all of its own.

Q: Jambor went on to have a brilliant career in America in her later life. This clearly won’t be covered in the memoir by virtue of when it was written. Does any part of you wish that this project was one she took on later in life, or that you had her whole life’s story in her own words?

Pinter: Alas, yes, it would have been wonderful to have a complete autobiography of this exceptional woman. She was such an inspiration to so many women with her own very specific way of forging a life as a woman on her own in the second half of the 20th century. There is more material about this on the website and in the Afterword. Perhaps on reading this memoir a writer will come forth wanting to write Agi’s whole biography. From scolding Albert Einstein when they played duets and he proved incapable of counting correctly, to standing up to McCarthyism and campaigning against the Vietnam War this was one very gutsy woman!


Thank you to Frances! If you would like to know more about this book you can get your own copy or request it from your local library.

You can get 30% off Escaping Extermination and all other Purdue University Press books by entering the code PURDUE30 when ordering from our website.

Stories of Survival and Hope

July 15th, 2020

The stories of Holocaust survivors are as inspiring as they are haunting, but the common thread holding them together is persistence in the face of unthinkable devastation and suffering. Purdue University Press is proud of our part helping preserve their stories, several of which you can find below.


Escaping Extermination: Hungarian Prodigy to American Musician, Feminist, and Activist

by Agi Jambor, Edited by Frances Pinter


Written shortly after the close of World War II, Escaping Extermination tells the poignant story of war, survival, and rebirth for a young, already acclaimed, Jewish Hungarian concert pianist, Agi Jambor. From the hell that was the siege of Budapest to a fresh start in America, the author describes how she and her husband escaped the extermination of Hungary’s Jews through a combination of luck and wit.

Unpublished until now but written in the immediacy of the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust, Escaping Extermination is a story of hope, resilience, and even humor in the fight against evil.


Eva and Otto: Resistance, Refugees, and Love in the Time of Hitler

by Tom Pfister, Kathy Pfister, and Peter Pfister

Eva and Otto is a true story about German opposition and resistance to Hitler as revealed through the early lives of Eva Lewinski Pfister and Otto Pfister, who worked with a little-known German political group that resisted and fought against Hitler in Germany before 1933 and then in exile in Paris before the German invasion of France in May 1940.

The book provides a sobering insight into the personal risks and costs of a commitment to the duty of helping others threatened by fascism. Their unusually beautiful writing—directed to each other in diaries and correspondence during two long periods of wartime separation—also reveals an unlikely and inspiring love story.


Finding Edith: Surviving the Holocaust in Plain Sight

by Edith Mayer Cord

Finding Edith is the coming-of-age story of a young Jewish girl chased in Europe during World War II. Like a great adventure story, the book describes the childhood and adolescence of a Viennese girl growing up against the backdrop of the Great Depression, the rise of Nazism, World War II, and the religious persecution of Jews throughout Europe.


Rebuilt from Broken Glass: A German Jewish Life Remade in America

by Fred Behrend with Larry Hanover


Fred Behrend’s childhood came to a crashing end with Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass) and his father’s harrowing internment at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. But he would not be defined by these harrowing circumstances. Behrend would go on to experience brushes with history involving the defeated Germans. By the age of twenty, he had run a POW camp full of Nazis, been an instructor in a program aimed at denazifying specially selected prisoners, and been assigned by the U.S. Army to watch over Wernher von Braun, the designer of the V-2 rocket that terrorized Europe and later chief architect of the Saturn V rocket that sent Americans to the moon. This book tells his story.


Of Exile and Music: A Twentieth Century Life

by Eva Mayer Schay

This fascinating autobiography is set against the backdrop of some of the most dramatic episodes of the twentieth century. It is the story of a stubborn struggle against unjust regimes, sustained by a deep belief in the strength of the human spirit and the transcendental power of music. It is also an account of a rich spiritual life, during which the author has built upon her Jewish roots through the study of Eastern philosophy and meditation.



You can get 30% off all Purdue University Press titles by entering the code PURDUE30 at checkout on our website.