An occasional blog about things related to Arkansas, Vienna, 1930's, public policy, growing up in Fayetteville, little known people in history, Sen. Fulbright, Birch Bay, and German immigration, plus books about these topics and other interesting subjects. Certainly, the blog is eclectic (at best).
Marcel W. Fodor's journalist colleagues typically used
superlatives when describing him. For example, John Gunther, who worked closely
with him in Vienna during the early 1930s, wrote that "he has the most
acutely comprehensive knowledge of Central Europe of any journalist I
know." According to George Seldes, Fodor was "one of the best
journalists in the world." Even one of America's most famed journalists, Edward
R. Murrow, called Fodor "one of the greatest reporters I have ever
The reasons for the praise of Fodor's reporting is evident
in his books, Plot And Counterplot In Central Europe: Conditions South Of Hitlerand South of Hitler.
The first book was published in late 1937 before the German-Austrian Anschluss.
The second book, South of Hitler,
was published in early 1939; its contains, unaltered, all Plot and Counterplot chapters, plus three new chapters on the
tumultuous events of 1938.
Fodor's vast knowledge of Central Europe and the Balkans is
displayed in these books. They were positively reviewed at the time of their
publication, with reviewers often in awe of Fodor's command of a vast array of
facts about the recent past and the prospects in 1937 of the eight countries
that he covered, including Albania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia,
Greece, Turkey, Hungary, and Austria. Much of the books concern the situation
in the last two countries.
The revealing details in South of Hitler came largely from Fodor's seventeen years of
closely following events in Central Europe and the Balkans as a correspondent
for the Manchester Guardian and
several papers in the United States. They also reflect his strong ties to
Central Europe. Fodor was born (1890) and raised in Hungary. His father, Janos, was a rich Budapest industrialist
who had changed his name from Fischer to Fodor during the Magyarization
movement in the last part of the 19th century. Among his holdings, he owned a
newspaper in Budapest and in Vienna. Fodor's mother, Bertha von Auspitz, came
from a fabulously rich family in Brno, then known as Brünn.
As a member of this affluent family, Fodor was well educated
in his youth and learned several
languages. He mentioned in South of
Hitler (p. 188) that he first traveled throughout the Balkans in 1905 when
he was 15, accompanied only by a 12-year-old nephew.
M.W. Fodor in the early 1940s
Though a person with broad interests, Fodor studied chemical
engineering at the University of Budapest and the Technical College in Charlottesburg
(now, part of Berlin), earning a degree in the field in 1911. After that, he informally
studied art in Zurich and Paris.
Fodor's first job, in 1913, was at an Iron and Steel Works
in Frodington, England. According to his son, Denis Fodor, Marcel's father
helped him get an engineering position at this plant, which was owned by
Hungarian investors, so that he — a pacifist — could stay out of the
When World War I came, Fodor was interned as an "enemy
alien" in Great Britain, but soon after its end, he returned to Budapest.
As described in South of Hitler,
Fodor's journey home took him first in January, 1919, to Berlin, where he
witnessed the Spartacus uprising, then by train to Munich, where the communist
revolt was taking place. On his train ride from Munich to Salzburg, he watched
the desperate cross-border smuggling of food to help supply starving Austrians.
Fodor was back in Budapest in late February 1919 shortly
before Bela Kun's communist regime took power. He observed the turbulence and
violence of that short-lived regime. According to family history, as told by Marcel
to his son, his parents were murdered by this regime, which killed several
hundred "class enemies." Fodor does not mention this terrible event
in South of Hitler or any of his
other writings. (I have found no independent verification of the time, place,
or manner of the death of Fodor's parents.)
FODOR BECOMES A JOURNALIST
Foregoing his training as an engineer, Fodor got work as a
reporter for the Manchester Guardian,
a liberal British newspaper, in 1919, plus that year he did volunteer work as a
Quaker for the Society of Friends in Budapest. In 1921, when he was living in
Vienna, he was appointed to be a full correspondent for the Guardian.
In his role as a Manchester
Guardian reporter, then correspondent, Fodor traveled extensively in the
huge territory he was covering for the paper. From 1919 through 1937, he repeatedly
interviewed political leaders and others making news in all of the countries on
his beat. He augmented the knowledge obtained from his trips with information
from regional news services; with facts, tips, and rumors obtained from
tipsters, spies, and others who hung out at Vienna's Cafe Louvre; and with
interviews of prominent people from the region who visited Vienna.
We can see a large sample of his encyclopedic mind in South of Hitler. It is crammed with long-forgotten
names, places, and events that were part of the mosaic of regional politics at
the time. For example, the book includes the history of numerous treaties that
were made and broken as countries tried to counter threats from Italy or
Hungary or Germany through alliances with neighbors. If you want to know the
details of the Little Entente and its evolution, you can find them in South of Hitler.
Fodor's ability to keep facts about Central Europe and the
Balkans at his fingertips was noted in his obituary published in the New York Times on July 1, 1977. After mentioning
that Fodor spoke five languages fluently, the obituary stated: "In his old
age he could on request name the deputy police chief in Vienna at the time of
the Nazi assassination of Engelbert Dollfuss in 1934."
Fodor was not only able to assemble intimate, detailed
knowledge of who did what and how in the countries he covered, he also went
beyond the facts to analysis and prediction. He used his vast store of facts,
opinions, rumors, and assessments to try to make sense of the political
dynamics of Central Europe and the Balkans and to project what was likely to
happen in the future. South of Hitler
is full of his analysis and predictions.
FODOR'S FAMOUS COLLEAGUES
In comparing Fodor to some of his more famous friends and
colleagues, he falls short on one aspect of his work: he did not write as
fluidly and interestingly as some of them. After all, English was not his first
language, and he had the mind of an engineer, not a novelist. His prose is rational
and competent, not dazzling.
This picture was published in South of Hitler
Likely Fodor's rationalistic prose and modest personality
contributed to the fact that he did not achieve the fame that came to three
fellow journalists he met and worked closely with in Vienna. He was a mentor of
two of them: Dorothy Thompson and John Gunther. He was friends with the third,
William Shirer. All three became renown journalists in their post-Vienna days.
Fodor met Thompson in 1921, when she was just starting to
work in Vienna as a journalist. She was a prolific, facile writer with
boundless energy and strong opinions. She had quick success as a reporter and
later became a widely read nationally syndicated columnist. Gunter came as a
young man in 1930 to Vienna. A would-be novelist whose talent lay in telling
rich "people" stories, he parlayed the knowledge he gained as a
reporter, his interview skills, and his narrative writing abilities into the bestselling
"Inside" books. Shirer was a Chicago
Tribune correspondent in Vienna from 1929-1932; he returned for a few
months in 1937 and 1938 as a CBS radio correspondent. Shirer's Berlin Diary, a passionately written
account of his job as a radio correspondent in Nazi Berlin prior to the start
of World War II, was a best seller in the early 1940s. In the 1950s he wrote a
massive history of the Third Reich that also became a best seller.
Though Fodor lacked the writing sizzle and outsized ego of these
talented and successful correspondents, he surpassed them in other ways. He had
an unparalleled memory for facts and superior analytic talent: He could make
connections and draw conclusions from the huge matrix of facts that he had
assembled. In addition, Fodor's language skills enabled him to interview a much
broader array of interesting people in
their own language.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Given Fodor's strengths and weakness as journalist, the
value and power of South of Hitler —
as might be expected — lies in its deployment of facts and its analysis of
their meaning to better understand events occurring in the late 1930s.
Sometimes, South of History gets a
bit bogged down by the huge array of characters and happenings that appear in
the narrative, but they all are pixels in the larger picture of important
developments in Central Europe and the Balkans during the first part of the
20th century. If a reader would like to immerse him- or herself in
understanding people and events in this area during the 1920s and 1930s, this book
cannot be beaten.
For a biographical sketch of M.W. Fodor, go to this link: