In the early forties, Radnóti was conscripted by the Hungarian Army, but being a Jew, he was assigned to a weaponless support battalion (munkaszolgálat) in the Ukrainian front. In May 1944, the defeated Hungarians retreated and Radnóti's labor battalion was assigned to the Bor, Serbia copper mines. In August 1944, as consequence of Tito's advance, Radnóti's group of 3200 Hungarian Jews was force-marched to Central Hungary, which very few reached alive. Radnóti was fated not to be among them. Throughout these last months of his life, he continued to write poems in a little notebook he kept with him. According to witnesses, in early November 1944, Radnóti was severely beaten by a drunken militiaman, who had been tormenting him for "scribbling". Too weak to continue, he was shot into a mass grave near the village of Abda in Northwestern Hungary.

 

Forced March

You’re crazy. You fall down,   stand up and walk again,
your ankles and your knees move   pain that wanders around,
but you start again   as if you had wings.
The ditch calls you, but it’s no use   you’re afraid to stay,
and if someone asks why,   maybe you turn around and say
that a woman and a sane death   a better death wait for you.
But you’re crazy.   For a long time now
only the burned wind spins   above the houses at home,
walls lie on their backs,   plum trees are broken
and the angry night   is thick with fear.
Oh, if I could believe   that everything valuable
is not only inside me now   that there’s still home to go back to.
If only there were! And just as before   bees drone peacefully
on the cool veranda,   plum preserves turn cold
and over sleepy gardens   quietly, the end of summer bathes in
   the sun.
Among the leaves the fruit   swing naked
and in front of the rust-brown hedge   blonde Fanny waits for me,
the morning writes   slow shadows –
All this could happen!   The moon is so round today!
Don’t walk past me, friend.   Yell, and I’ll stand up again!

 

September 15, 1944
Miklós Radnóti
(Translated by Steven Polgar, S. Berg & S.J. Marks)