„Ultimately, music was his passion, but the gentle wings of literature stayed with him throughout his life.“

István Raics on István Kardos, 1976

István Kardos – Attempt at a biography

István Kardos, who later used the name Stephan Kardosch in the German-speaking world, was born to Jewish parents on 6 June 1891 in the city of Debrecen (spelling at the time: Debreczen) in the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy. Debrecen is the second largest city in Hungary and in the course of history was twice briefly the country’s seat of government: in 1849 the Hungarian National Assembly, which had fled Pest, convened in the Great Reformed Church there and proclaimed the independent Hungarian Republic. The decisive battle that ended the revolution of 1848/49 was fought in the vicinity of the city. At the end of the Second World War, Debrecen was once again the seat of government for a short time, after the city had been occupied by the Soviet army as early as October 1944.

Jews had been settling in Debrecen since 1736, but had only been allowed to acquire property since 1863. In 1867 Emperor Franz Joseph signed the Basic Law of the State on the General Rights of Citizens, which states: „All citizens are equal before the law.“ This put Austrian Jews on an equal footing with all other citizens. In Hungary, the law came into force a week later. This marked the beginning of the heyday of Austro-Hungarian Jewry which lasted until the end of the First World War.

István Kardos‘ parents were lawyer and publicist Dr Samuel (Samu) Kardos (1856 – 1924) and his wife Malvine, née Englaender (1863 – 1943). He had five sisters: Margit, Gizella, Etelka, Piroska and Anna. Samu Kardos published a biography of famous Hungarian politician and reformer Miklós Wesselényi in 1905, titled Báró Wesselényi Miklós, élete és munkái, which, incidentally, was reprinted in 2012.

István Kardos‘ uncle was renowned literary historian, linguist and educator Albert Kardos (1861-1945), who was headmaster of the State Grammar School in Debrecen from 1913 to 1921 and, after his retirement, from 1921 to 1929 of the Jewish Grammar School he founded, which existed until 1944. Albert Kardos enjoyed a high reputation as an educator, but also as an editor and author of numerous linguistic works. The family’s surname was originally „Katz“, but was changed to „Kardos“ in 1884 in the course of the Magyarisation of Hungary: More or less gentle pressure was put on the non-Magyar parts of the Hungarian population to adopt the Magyar language and nationality at the end of 19th century, and numerous place and family names were changed in that time. However, it can be assumed that the Katz/Kardos family, like the majority of Hungarian Jews, willingly magyarised for the reasons given above: after all István Kardos was named after the Hungarian national saint! His father was a supporter of the Independence Party (Hungarian: Függetlenségi és Negyvennyolcas Párt, literally: „Independence and 48 Party“) which sought the independence of Hungary.

In Debrecen, István Kardos attended the newly constructed Szent József Catholic Grammar School in Szent Anna utca. He was not necessarily destined for a career as a musician, as literature played a greater role in his family, and his school reports attest to his excellent performance in all subjects except sports. István Kardos was one of the best, if not the best student in his class in every year.

After graduating from high school, he studied composition and choral conducting with Viktor von Herzfeld at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest from 1910. From 1907, the music academy was located at its present site in the newly erected building on Liszt Ferenc tér; the director at the time was Ödön Mihalovich. In addition to Viktor von Herzfeld, Zoltán Kodály, Béla Bartók and Leó Weiner also taught there at the time. Parallel to his music studies, Kardos also studied law, but decided on music as his future career path.

Student records from the Music Academy from 1913: „Jeles“ (excellent) in composition, orchestration, score reading and conducting. The mark in „behaviour“ is also pleasing: „commendable“! Courtesy of the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest.
The Academy of Music around the year 1912 (picture postcard)
…and in September 2021 (photo: M. Wunsch)

After graduating in 1913, he first worked as a music teacher. Only a few weeks after receiving his diploma, the parents of then violin prodigy Ibolyka Gyárfás, at Jenő Hubay’s suggestion, offered him the opportunity to provide piano accompaniment for their daughter during her upcoming tour. Hubay was the head of the music academy’s violin department and later its director. Among the violinists who studied with him were Barnabás von Géczy, Edith Lorand and Paul Godwin, who were also well-known in Germany.

In February 1973, Kardos recounts his experiences during this tour in an article for the newspaper Népszabadság. The tour began in Torino on 13 October 1913, and they also performed in Venice, where, as Kardos recalls, they trudged through snow on the Lido. There, by coincidence, he met the daughter of the „muse“ of Hungarian poet and national hero of the 1848 revolution, Sándor Petőfi: she was the grandmother of the young girl who turned the pages for the piano accompanist of the „child prodigy“ at the concert in Venice. On a later trip to Italy with his wife in the 1930s, he tried to find her again, but by that time only the granddaughter was still alive. Kardos describes the encounters and events of the Italian tour entertainingly and with fine humour. Petőfi’s poems were very meaningful to him and he set many of them to music during his life.

The concert tour took Kardos and Ibolyka Gyárfás not only to Venice but also to Verona, Parma, Genoa, Milan, Turin, Florence, Rome and Naples.

La Stampa announces Ibolyka Gyárfás‘ second concert at the Teatro Carignano in Turin on 20 October. At the piano: 22-year-old maestro Stefano Kardos! Source: http://www.archiviolastampa.it

Back in Budapest, Kardos revises Kornél Ábrányi’s Hungarian translation of the libretto of Georges Bizet’s „Carmen“ for a performance on 21 February 1914. This version of the Hungarian libretto was used until 1964. I have not yet been able to find out anything about a possible military service. In 1915, poetry settings by István Kardos were performed in Budapest and Debrecen, and in 1916 he took part in at least one charity concert for the patients of a hospital. From 1917 he was employed at the Belvárosi Színház as conductor and correpetitor.

From 4 November 1918 he held a position at the Hungarian State Opera as correpetitor and chief librarian.

Hungary in 1919

After the end of the First World War and the union with Austria, a republic was proclaimed in Hungary in November 1918. The country was initially led by a socialist-bourgeois government, but this failed due to the challenges of the post-war period (social and economic problems but also territorial conflicts with neighbouring states) and was replaced by a social-democratic-communist coalition, which proclaimed the Hungarian Republic of Councils in March 1919.

The consequences

The Republic of Councils was also short-lived, collapsing after the occupation of Budapest by Romanian troops during the Hungarian-Romanian War in August 1919. Admiral Miklós Horthy subsequently gained power and established an authoritarian conservative government with strong anti-Semitic and nationalist elements. In the ensuing period of counter-revolutionary "White Terror", numerous sympathisers and supporters of the Republic of Councils were imprisoned or executed.

Kardos had sympathised with the workers‘ movement since his youth, and many of his compositions as well as choice of poems which he put to music before and around 1918 reflect this inclination. He set to music, for example, the famous poem „Proletár fiú verse“ („Poem of a Proletarian Boy“) by Endre Ady, as well as numerous works by above-mentioned poet and revolutionary Sándor Petőfi, and by Mihály Csokonai Vitéz, also from Debrecen.

In November 1918, he took part in a concert organised by the Budapest Soldiers‘ Council in army barracks, which was part of the cultural promotion programme of the new government. Poems and songs were performed, István Kardos accompanied on the piano and played excerpts from Italian and French operas.
The end of the Republic of Councils brought about a first career break for him: he was dismissed from his position at the State Opera because of his political views. Albert Kardos was also dismissed from his position as headmaster at the grammar school in Debrecen and given early retirement. However, his dismissal in 1921 was related to the anti-Semitic currents in Hungary after 1919 rather than his political convictions.

Subsequently, from 1919 to 1924, István Kardos taught at the private Fodor Music School in Budapest’s Andrássy út, founded in 1903 by the music educator Ernő Fodor, which still exists today as the Tóth Aladár Music School.

In addition to his revision of the Hungarian libretto of the opera „Carmen“, Kardos also provided an updated Hungarian translation of Verdi’s „Othello“. On 8 June 1919, the opera is performed with the new translation, and Pesti Napló judges: „Stefan Kardos‘ new text translation adapts well to the musical phrase as a whole.“ This translation remained in use until 1990.

In the early 1920s Kardos often accompanied his future wife, opera singer Olga Váradi, in her recitals.

Debrecen newspaper Egyetértés reports on 13 April 1920 the engagement of István Kardos, son of Dr. Samu Kardos from Debrecen, teacher at the Budapest Fodor Music School, who is known as a composer, music writer and translator, to opera and concert singer Olga Váradi, who is a member of the ensemble at the Medgyaszay Theatre.

An example of their artistic activities is a concert they gave on 28 January 1921 in the Pesti Vigadó, the magnificent concert hall on the banks of the Danube, in which they performed works by Schubert, Brahms, Beethoven and Richard Strauss, as well as some of István Kardos‘ own song compositions. This was the programme, which was probably exemplary for many of their concert evenings of that time:

Beethoven, Ludwig van: Sechs Lieder von Gellert, op. 48
Schubert, Franz: An die Musik, op. 88/4, D. 547
Schubert, Franz: Schwanengesang, D. 957: 4th serenade
Brahms, Johannes: An ein Veilchen, op. 49/2
Brahms, Johannes: Minnelied, op. 71/5
Kardos István: Die Brunnenschale
Kardos István: A sirató ember dala
Kardos István: Csak azért
Lessner: Ölelve tartlak
Lessner: Léda a kertben
Strauss, Richard: Allerseelen, op. 10/8
Strauss, Richard: Morgen, op. 27/4
Strauss, Richard: Zueignung, op. 10/1

The Pesti Vigadó by night, September 2021. Photo by M. Wunsch

On 24 October 1921, Ernst von Dohnányi conducted a concert of the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra at the Academy of Music, at which István Kardos‘ orchestral work, „Ünnep“ received its world premiere. The Világ newspaper’s review, under the headline „Two Hungarian Premieres“, writes about the performance of works by established composer and music professor Albert Siklós and István Kardos‘ „Ünnep“:

„The other composer is the youngest member of the guard. For Kardos István, former correpetitor at the opera and teacher at the Fodor School, this is his first orchestral musical work. From his atmospheric songs we have heard so far, we knew that their author was driven by serious ambition and deep thinking. His orchestral work is still marked by the search and not yet by its own self. Nor does it fully reveal its final direction, but it certainly shows the talent and knowledge of its author. ‚Ünnep‘ is the title of this short, colourfully orchestrated work, consisting of several free variations on a single theme. The audience was enthralled.“

Pesti Hírlap writes:

„The Philharmonic Orchestra at its second concert on Monday. The congenial conducting of Dohnányi. […] After the overture, they also played two original Hungarian compositions. One of these is István Kardos‘ pathetic, intricately orchestrated symphonic fantasy „Ünnep“, which skilfully varies a sombre theme.“

On 29 October 1921, the German-language Budapest daily Pester Lloyd reports on the awarding of the music prizes of the Franz Josef Coronation Jubilee Foundation (Ferenc József koronázási jubileumi díj) for the years since 1916 (presumably the awards had paused during the war and post-war period), and István Kardos receives the music prize, endowed with 1600 crowns each, for the years 1916 and 1917. The prize for 1920 and 1921 is awarded to a composer named János Szegheő, and apparently no prize was awarded for 1918 and 1919:

„The Music Prizes of the Coronation Jubilee Foundation. The jury which has to decide on the awarding of the due music prizes of the Franz Josef Coronation Jubilee Foundation held a meeting today under the chairmanship of the Deputy Mayor Dr. Johann Buzáth, in which the music prizes for the years 1916 and 1917 in the amount of 1600 crowns each were unanimously awarded to the composer Stefan Kardos and the music prizes for the years 1920 and 1921 of 1600 crowns each were also unanimously awarded to the composer Johann Szegheö. In accordance with the decision of the jury, the prizes for 1917 and 1921 will only be awarded to the above-mentioned composers on condition that the artists have ‚proved themselves worthy of the award by the end of this year through an independent composition or in some other suitable way'“.

On 20 April 1922 István Kardos and Olga Váradi (her name is often spelled „Várady“, but in most official documents the spelling „Váradi“ appears) got married. Olga was born on 23 October 1893 in Ujpest, which is now part of Budapest, and, like her husband, was of Jewish descent.

Kardos lived at the time at 18 Ráday utca in the Belváros district of Budapest, his bride at 6 Teréz-körút, where they later lived together and also gave private music and singing lessons.

For Sandor Petőfi’s 100th birthday, well-known Hungarian poet Árpád Tóth wrote a one-act play about Petőfi, accompanied by some songs by István Kardos. The play, entitled „Petőfi szülei“ (Petőfi’s Parents), was performed from 29 December 1922 to 20 January 1923 at the Művész Színpad, a small literary cabaret located at 68 Csengery út from 1922 to 1925, where Kardos was the musical director at the time. (Árpád Tóth had attended grammar school in Debrecen and had written a poem in honour of Albert Kardos entitled „Köszönöm!“ – „Thank you!“)

From September 1925, the couple lived in Germany, with the exception of the period from September 1927 to June 1928, when Kardos worked as a Kapellmeister at the Theatre of the City of Bern, while Olga had an engagement there as a singer. One can assume that the political situation in Hungary as well as the anti-Jewish laws enacted in the early 1920s and increasing anti-Semitic currents contributed to the couples‘ decision to leave the country. In 1920, for example, a law came into force that limited the proportion of Jewish students at universities to six percent, the so-called numerus clausus. Furthermore, it was almost impossible for Jews to work in civil service. These laws were one of the reasons why many young Hungarian Jews moved to Berlin in the 1920s, especially since many of them spoke good German and felt connected to German culture.

Der Bund Bern, 23 November 1928, Schweizer Nationalbibliothek

On 12 November 1928, István Kardos‘ piano piece „Monologues“ was premiered in Berlin’s Beethovensaal: played by Erwin Bodky, pianist and professor at the State Academy for Church and School Music in Berlin. According to the programme, Bodky played works by Georg Böhm, Johann Christoph Bach, Kaspar Ferdinand Fischer, Johann Sebastian Bach, Ferruccio Busoni, and Stefan (sic) Kardos‘ „Monologe“.

concert announcement for 12 November 1928. Source: Staatliches Institut für Musikforschung Preußischer Kulturbesitz

Der Bund Bern reported on 23 November about a „beautiful success“ of the former conductor of the municipal theatre:

„By Stephan Kardos, who was third conductor at the municipal theatre last year and is the husband of the former contralto of our opera, Olga Varady, a composition for piano ‚Monologe‘ (Poco lento, Scherzo, Intermezzo, Vorfrühling, Melodie) was premiered with beautiful success at a piano recital by Erwin Bodsky (sic) in the Beethovensaal in Berlin last year.“

whereas the critic of Signale für die musikalische Welt criticises the composer’s „lack of invention“, but positively emphasises his „storming rhythm“.

In September 1929 Kardos took over musical direction of the well-known Abel Quartet in Berlin, which mostly performed as „Five Songs“ after the departure of their founder Pál Ábel. The Abels/Five Songs made hundreds of records between 1928 and 1933 and were the pioneers of jazz vocal singing in the style of the American Revelers in the German-speaking world. Although the group consisted entirely of Hungarian singers, they were advertised in the press as „German jazz singers“ or „the German Revelers“.

Kardos led the Five Songs until May 1932. Under his direction the group produced numerous records for various labels and also contributed a song for the film „Es war einmal ein Walzer“ („Wo steckst du Mädel mit dem süßen Profil“). However, the group that appeared on the „Kristall“ label as the Abel Quartet from 1931 to May 1932 was a new formation of Pál Abel, which later became known as the „Melody Gents“ with Rudolf Goehr.

The „Five Songs“, photo kindly provided by Josef Westner

This photo shows István Kardos (top right) with the „Five Songs“. Next to him Jenő Vigh, in front Imre Révész, József Balassa and Rezső Feleki. More about the history of the „Five Songs“ can be found here.

From about June 1932 Kardos was the musical and business director of his own singing group, the Kardosch Singers, which was quickly engaged for films, stage performances and recordings. Kardos was presumably able to draw on the contacts he had made through his work with the Five Songs, but the singers he engaged for his group were also convincing in their vocal qualities, and in combination with his creative arrangements the ensemble developed an irresistible and distinctive sound. With Nyiri, Coste and Angermann, Kardos had found three top-class, well-trained singers who also possessed enough freshness and wit to convey their pieces with ease and charm. Nyiri and Coste had stage and acting experience, which they used with audible enthusiasm, while Kardos masterfully led the four voices: Paul von Nyiri, the impressive, deep bass, Coste’s lyrical, almost weightless tenor, Angermann’s sonorous baritone. The voice of the as of yet unknown second tenor does not seem to have been quite of the calibre of these three, but with the entry of Rudi Schuricke in autumn 1933, Kardos had an ensemble of unrivalled vocal quality.

After the Nazis seized power, many of his colleagues left Berlin, including the Five Songs, all of whom were of Jewish origin. István Kardos, however, stayed in Berlin, where he and his wife first lived at Uhlandstraße 49. He converted to the Hungarian Reformed Church in July 1934, and his wife took the same step in 1939 possibly under the impression of the new anti-Jewish laws passed in Hungary in 1938 and 1939. As a foreigner, he managed to hide his Jewish origins for a long time – almost certainly even from his fellow singers – but in the course of 1934 and especially in 1935, with the coming into force of the Nuremberg Laws, the pressure on him to produce a so-called Aryan certificate grew. Concert agencies and promoters now demanded a membership card from the Reichsmusikkammer. As late as December 1934, the concert agency Oscar Angerer in Stuttgart concluded a contract with his group, and as Kardos later mentions, he let Angerer in on his secret. Two acquaintances of the couple at the time later reported that they had found them in a „very bad nervous state“ in autumn 1935: Kardos had received a police summons at the end of October and had been asked to present proof of his Aryan ancestry within 30 days. Since Kardos had been publicly active artistically as a so-called disguised Jew – the Kardosch Singers had not only performed on concert stages and the radio, but had also appeared in films and even at NSDAP party events – he had to expect the worst consequences in case of exposure. One such party event was, for example, a „comradeship evening“ for the civil servants, employees and workers of the city of Karlsruhe in February 1935, which the group participated in as part of their engagement with comedian Willy Reichert and his troupe of artists.

One can only imagine the pressure he was under in 1934 and 1935.

By 1934 the Kardos couple lived at Nürnberger Straße 3, while the business address of the Kardosch Singers was now Joachimsthaler Straße 9 at Kranzler Eck. (There was a „von Eberswald“ boarding house there and it can be assumed that rooms were rented there as offices, because a „Pension Kranzler“ appears as the group’s address in a business correspondence in 1934). On 1 October 1935, the couple moved from Nürnberger Straße to this same „von Eberswald“ boarding house, presumably they gave up their flat because they were already planning their escape.

Joachimsthaler Straße 9 around 1934. At least for a time, business address of the Kardosch Singers and a stopover for Olga and István Kardos before their escape in November 1935.

Not only was Kardos under pressure to present the so-called Aryan certificate, he also feared having been denounced. Thus the couple secretly fled Berlin.

„In October or November 1935, Mr Kardos asked me to visit them as soon as possible. I found the couple in a very bad state of nerves. Mr. Kardos informed me that he had been summoned to the police, where he was given a deadline of 30 days to provide Aryan proof, otherwise he and his wife would have to leave the Reich territory. He also mentioned that he feared that charges had been brought against him and that they would therefore have to leave the country the sooner, before the 30-day deadline expired. They then left in secret and I accompanied them to the railway station to say goodbye.“ – affidavit from Mrs. Hajnal Lengyel, Budapest, 1963

(Hajnal Pataki-Lengyel had lived in Berlin since the mid-1920s and became friends with the Kardos couple who lived in the same house. She later married architect and designer Kálmán Lengyel, and the two couples maintained friendly relations in Berlin.)

Another acquaintance, the widow of cellist László Buttula, who had been friends with István Kardos since their time studying together at the Academy of Music, also submitted an official statement for Kardos‘ compensation proceedings in 1963, in which she wrote:

„We emigrated to Berlin at the beginning of the 1920s, a few years before Mr. and Mrs. Kardos, where I got to know both of them. A good friendship developed between us and we maintained regular family contact […].
Then, in the autumn of 1935, he informed us very anxiously that he had been summoned by the police authorities for Aryan proof and that he had been given a deadline of one month to prove Aryan descent, otherwise his residence permit would not be renewed and he would have to leave the country. Since he was already living under constant threat of exposure and now his residence permit was also not renewed for lack of Aryan proof, he had to leave the country and we discussed that he and his wife, in order to avoid any publicity, would leave in complete secrecy. About two weeks after the police summons, Mr and Mrs Kardos secretly left Berlin.

It is safe to assume that the other members of the Kardosch Singers did not know of his Jewish ancestry. His departure at least hit them unexpectedly – he himself reports in the aforementioned statement for the compensation authority in Berlin in 1956 that he was only able to inform them of the circumstances later in a letter from Budapest. One can assume that he had concealed his ancestry from them in order to protect them in case of exposure.

In any case, the couple could only take the bare necessities with them; Kardos‘ piano was not one of them. (Acquaintances with whom he left it later sold it. It was a piano of the „Lehmann“ make from 1932 at the price of 800 RM at the time; perhaps it survived the Second World War in Berlin?)

At the end of 1935 the Kardos couple was back in Budapest after 10 years. As early as November 5, 1935, newspaper 8 Orai Ujság reports:

„400 concerts in two years. Few people know that the founder and leader of the world-famous jazz quartet Kardosch-Sanger, known well known from radio and countless recordings, is the famous Hungarian composer and conductor István Kardos, who left Budapest many years ago. This quartet, described by Western European critics as the most cultured and beautiful-sounding vocal ensemble, has triumphed in the Western world, giving nearly 400 concerts in two years. Kardos is currently staying in Pest, from where he is organizing further tours.“

Because of his success in Germany, Kardos was given the opportunity to make two recordings at the Odeon studio in Vörösmarty út. He put together a quartet that recorded the two titles „Keresek egy jó útitársat“ (from the then hot operetta „Budapest-Vienna“) and „Barcelonában“. The quartet also participated in the Budapest premiere of Paul Abraham’s operetta „Fairy Tale in the Grand Hotel“ in February 1936. Apparently Kardos had hoped to build on the success of his Berlin Kardosch Singers in Hungary, but unfortunately this was not the case. Only two recordings were made. Until 1939, however, the quartet appeared repeatedly at jazz and entertainment events, occasionally only as a trio. Some newspaper reports gave the impression that the Budapest quartet was the „world famous“ Kardosch Singers.

Miskolci Reggeli Hírlap, 1 August 1936

Miskolci Reggeli Hírlap reports in August 1936 on a concert with Olga Váradi, István Kardos and László Szücs. It says here about Olga that she had engagements in Bern, Berlin and Osnabrück, while the theatre conductor, symphonist and song composer István Kardos, as founder, artistic director and conductor of the world-famous Kardos Vocal Ensemble, was known to listeners in Europe through radio appearances and hundreds of gramophone recordings.

From September 1936 to September 1937 he was musical director at the Csokonai Theatre in Debrecen, then until 1939 temporary musical director without a permanent engagement at the Magyar Színház in Budapest.

After the end of the short-lived Republic of Councils in 1919, an anti-Semitic policy had already been pursued in Hungary by the subsequent regime under Miklós Horthy. In the late 1920s and early 1930s there was a brief period of liberalisation, but in the second half of the 1930s the situation of the Jews worsened again due to new anti-Semitic laws. From 1939 it was impossible for Kardos to find employment.

He now taught jazz singing, piano and instrumentation privately.

However, with the coming into force of the new anti-Jewish laws, which were intended to drive Jews out of public life altogether, similar to the German Reich, he could only give lessons illegally and in secret from 1939/40 onwards. At that time he mainly gave accordion lessons and his pupils were mostly workers and students.

On 26 December 1940 he was still able to perform as a pianist at a celebration of the 50th birthday of the Social Democratic Party. Probably at the beginning of 1941 there were new recordings, this time with a trio as chorus singers with the Solymossy Lulu orchestra. Unfortunately, it is not possible to determine whether these were three singers from the Kardos Quartet or a completely new line-up. The following titles were recorded:„Egyszer Talán Megérzi“, „Lánc, Lánc, Eszterlánc“, „Az Egész Csak Egy Szívdobogás“ and „Nem Igaz Hogy Szeretem“.

Unfortunately, it is not yet known who the singers of the two Budapest vocal groups (Kardos Kvartett and Trio) were.

Kardos did not have a permanent position or regular income at this time.

In March 1944, Hungary was occupied by German troops and the organised extermination campaign against the Hungarian Jews began. From this point on, it was definitely impossible for Kardos to have any kind of employment or income. From 5 April 1944, he and Olga had to wear the yellow star like all Jewish citizens. On 16 June, the mayor of Budapest issued a decree obliging all Budapest Jews to move by midnight on 21 June into so-called „yellow star houses“, which were distributed throughout the city and marked with a yellow star. István and Olga Kardos had to move from their flat at Teréz körút 15 to such a house at Andrássy út 21.

Andrássy út 21, photo M. Wunsch

The Jews of Budapest were moved in about 2000 such houses. Today, most of these houses have nothing left to remind us of their history. The Jews were supposed to be gathered there before deportation, and each family had one room at their disposal. Of course, there was also a strict curfew in place for Jews.

Andrássy út 21, photo M. Wunsch

At the end of October 1944, Olga and István Kardos fled from the Yellow Star House – a few weeks before the Budapest ghetto was established – and hid with false papers throughout the winter until the liberation of Budapest in January 1945. They were saved thanks to a network involving some of István Kardos‘ relatives: siblings Sándor, Piroska and Balázs Lengyel, and their mother Irén Gonda. Sándor and Piroska were chemists and had developed a method for forging identity papers, which they used to save the lives of numerous Jews. All those involved were recognised as „Righteous Among the Nations“ by the Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Centre in the 1990s.

22 members of the Kardos family fell victim to the Holocaust, including István Kardos‘ mother Malvina and at least one of his sisters. The uncle mentioned at the beginning, Dr Albert Kardos, was deported to Austria and died in Goestling an der Ybbs on 9 January 1945 at the age of 84. His wife was also deported and lost her life. Their son Pál, Istvan Kardos‘ cousin, like his father a literary scholar, teacher and writer, had to do forced labour and lost not only his parents but also his wife Klára and his only son Ferenc.

Both were murdered in Göstling on the night of 12-13 April 1945: at around three o’clock in the morning, the SS set fire to the prisoners‘ barracks and fired machine guns and grenade throwers at those trapped and the few who escaped from the barracks. As in many such cases, the murderers were not held accountable after the end of the war.

In Göstling there is a memorial in the form of an obelisk for the Hungarian-Jewish forced labourers, which includes the names of the Kardos family.

Of the approximately 825,000 Hungarian Jews (including about 60,000 baptised Jews like Kardos), about 565,000 fell victim to the Holocaust, the majority were deported and gassed. An estimated 100,000 were forced to do forced labour: of these, about 40,000 died. The chances of survival for Budapest’s Jews were higher than in the countryside – an estimated 119,000 Jews survived in Budapest, 25,000 of them hiding with false papers like the Kardos couple.

István Kardos was lucky and escaped with his life, but after 10 years, during which he had only been able to pursue his profession as a teacher and conductor with great difficulty – if at all – his existence and career were destroyed and his family largely wiped out. He was confronted once again with the need to build a new existence – now in his mid-50s and as a survivor of the Holocaust.

In July 1945, he and Olga were able to perform at a chamber music evening: works by Bartók and Hindemith and some of his own song compositions were performed.

Radio programme. István Kardos accompanies Rezső Feleki, November 1947. Photo: MTVA Archivum

After the end of the war he was a conductor at the Medgyaszay Theatre, and began to work as a corepetitor for Hungarian radio, temporarily as an employee, but mostly on a freelance basis. During that time, interesting encounters occurred: in 1947, for example, he accompanied the former member of the „Five Songs“, Rezső Feleki (who had lived in Budapest as a singer, singing teacher and cantor since his return home in 1933) in radio broadcasts on at least two occasions.

Feleki had lost his wife in the Holocaust. The fate of his former Abel Quartet/Five Songs colleagues during the Holocaust is not yet clear; one can assume that they were deported for forced labour like most male Hungarian Jews, or, if they were lucky, survived in the ghetto or underground.

On 28 January 1950, István Kardos appeared on Hungarian radio accompanying former Kardosch Singer bass Paul von Nyiri in a broadcast. Since they moved in similar circles, it can be assumed that they met occasionally. In her compensation proceedings, Anna Jeanette Nyiri switched to the same lawyer who represented István Kardos, namely Berlin lawyer Dr Kurt Landsberger, who himself had been banned from practising law in 1938 because of his Jewish ancestry, as the Berliner Anwaltsblatt reports in its July/August 2013 issue

In February 1945 Kardos became a member of the Social Democratic Party, which merged into the Magyar Dolgozók Pártja (Party of Hungarian Labourers) in 1948. After 1945 he became a member of the cultural committee in the textile union and was a founding member and later vice-president of the musicians‘ union. His activities in party and union included primarily the organisation of cultural and musical events. From November 1949 he taught as a lecturer at the Franz Liszt College of Music, a position he described in 1951 as the fulfilment of a decades-long longing.

Olga and István Kardos after the war lived in what was then Lenin körút 73 (today: Teréz körút 19). The house is located directly at the busy Oktogon intersection, in the centre of Budapest.

Lenin körút 73 in the 1950s (FOTO:FORTEPAN / Budapest Főváros LevéltáraCC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

In the 1920s Kardos lived just a few houses away at 6 Teréz körút, and after his return from Berlin in 1935 at number 15.

Teréz körút 19, Oktober 2021, Photo M. Wunsch
Photo M. Wunsch

1956 the Kardos‘ found themselves in the centre of the fighting between Russian troops and Hungarian insurgents:

Russian tank in Lenin körút. Source: FOTO:FORTEPAN / Pesti Srác2, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons. The house the Kardos‘ lived in is the second building from the right with two balconies in the second floor.
Demonstration marching past Lenin körút 73
Excerpt from a CV he wrote for the Music Academy in 1951. Courtesy of the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest.

Between 1952-1963, in addition to his work at the Academy of Music, he taught at the Theatre and Film Academy and also continued to give private music lessons.

In 1952 he published his „Harmonika Iskola“ (Harmonica School). In addition to his own compositions (chamber music, songs, symphonies, choral works and numerous settings of poems by well-known Hungarian poets), he also worked on translations of Italian or French operas into Hungarian, and translated song texts, mainly from Russian. He spoke at least seven languages.

On archive.org a recording is available of his Piano Concerto #1, performed for Hungarian radio in 1956.

A review in „Muzsika“ of a concert with a cross-section of his compositions in the summer of 1959, emphasises his artistic versatility, sensitivity, creativity and eagerness to experiment (Muzsika, 1 August 1959: Kardos István. Szerzői estje, by Zsigmond László). In 1962, his radio opera „Mátyás Diák“ was broadcast. In addition to his work as a composer and lecturer, he published numerous articles in music journals such as Nyugat, Esztendő, Zenelap and Zenei Szemle.

In 1971, he received the Munka Érdemrend Order of Merit in Gold for his life’s work. In the same year, the Budapest MÁV Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Miklós Lukács (the long-time director of the Hungarian State Opera), performed his Fourth Symphony.

A complete listing of István Kardos‘ compositions, which include hundreds of songs and poetry settings, choral works, chamber music and dances, but also several symphonies and operas, is difficult. His musical estate was handed over to the Széchényi National Library in Budapest in 1979, where there are over 300 scores. A list, unfortunately without detailed information, can be found here.

Photos: M. Wunsch

He died on 25 December 1975 and is buried in Budapest’s Farkasréti Cemetery.

Death notice of Olga Váradi. Source: Hungarian National Library

Olga Váradi died on 4 November 1978 „after a long period of suffering“. Shortly before his death, her husband had placed an advertisement looking for a nurse to care for her.

The couple did not have any children. Well-known writer and translator Endre Bajomi Lázár and architect László Gábor were István Kardos‘ nephews.

In the 1950s and 1960s Kardos submitted several applications for compensation to the West German government, but all were rejected.

Obituary of István Kardos by his colleague István Raisc, in Muzsika, 4 January 1976

In writing this biography, Mr Máté Hollós was of great help to me. I sincerely thank him for his support, translations, and memories, and last but not least for taking the time to accompany me to István Kardos‘ grave.

I would also like to thank the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest for their kind and always accommodating support (with special thanks to Ms Luca Varga), as well as the Compensation Office of the State of Berlin and the District Court of the City of Gernsbach.

Also, I want to thank Christof Janik of the Bröhan Design Foundation for the details on Hajnal Pataki-Lengyel.