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Magda Denes (1934–1996)

Author of Castles burning : a child's life in war

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Magda Denes was born to a wealthy Hungarian Jewish family. She was five years old in 1939 when World War II began. The authorities seized the newspaper published by her father, who fled the country, abandoning his family. First she and her mother and brother had to vacate their luxurious apartment and move with her maternal grandparents and other relatives. For a while, they hid in houses protected by Swiss diplomats. Conditions worsened, and they subsisted in a series of attics and basements, and on occasion in a filthy bathroom and an oven. At one point, the family debated whether to commit suicide or continue trying to hide from the Nazis and Arrow Cross, the Hungarian fascists. Magda, then age 9, cast the deciding vote for survival. In 1944, her 16-year-old brother Ivan, who had been working as a secret courier for the Zionist resistance group Hashomer, was caught and shot. After the war, she and her mother, grandmother, and an aunt fled Europe and emigrated to the USA, settling in New York City. She attended City College and did postgraduate work in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis at Boston University, Yeshiva University, and New York University. She became a psychoanalyst and a faculty member and supervisor in the psychiatry department at Mount Sinai Medical Center's School of Medicine. She was a member of the original study group that developed the foundations of Gestalt therapy. She served as chairwoman of the New York State Psychological Association's Committee on Public Information. In 1976, Dr. Denes published her first book, In Necessity and Sorrow: Life and Death in an Abortion Hospital. Her second book was Castles Burning: A Child's Life in War, about her own experiences, published a month after her death in December 1996 at age 62.
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