YNWA-Blog #8

Molnárs New York (New York 1)

In New York, the Hungarian play “Liliom” is given its most important makeover: Author Ferenc Molnár approves the scoring, and the musical “Carousel” and consequently “You’ll never walk alone” are born. Our first stop in the City That Never Sleeps takes us to the Central Park apartment of a man who knew Molnár.

Joachim Król is on the trail of Ferenc Molnár. The Jewish author fled Nazi-occupied Budapest in 1937, first moving to Switzerland and then to the United States in 1939. After Liliom starting on the path to international success in Vienna, the suburban legend became world theater, playing in Berlin, Amsterdam, London, and New York.

On our arrival in New York, we take a taxi along the Hudson River to the Upper West Side. In a Central Park apartment Joachim Król meets the famous mathematician Dr. Peter David Lax. In 1941, the 15-year-old Lax and his parents escaped from the Nazis to New York—with the help of Ferenc Molnár. The now 90-year-old winner of the renowned Abel Prize—similar to the Nobel Prize for mathematics—reports together with his son Jim on Molnár, New York’s Hungarian community, and life in exile.

To immerse oneself in New York’s Jewish life, one can’t eat at a more famous place than Katz’s Delicatessen. The deli on the Lower East Side, a typical diner, is New York’s oldest Jewish fast-food restaurant and itself a famous film backdrop since it appeared in the movie “When Harry Met Sally.” Here we enjoy a late lunch and sample generously filled pastrami and cheese sandwiches. A whole series of celebrities smile down on us from photographs on the restaurant wall. We don’t have time to stay long as we need to head further south to the site of the World Trade Center.

This is because “You’ll never walk alone” is also associated with this place: The famous U.S. opera singer Renée Fleming sang the song at the Concert for America on the first anniversary of September 11, 2001 and again in January 2009 at Barack Obama’s inauguration ceremony in Washington. Joachim Król paused at the 9/11 Memorial. There, where the twin towers once stood, are two large pools that look like giant footprints. The names of the 2,983 people who died in the terrorist attacks are inscribed in the parapets. In spite of the sad undertone, the message of the song “You’ll never walk alone”—always continuing with hope in one’s heart—provides comfort in dark moments. The song was also originally written for this purpose: as encouragement for the pregnant Julie, who lost her Liliom (renamed Billy Bigelow in the American musical). But more about this later, because the musical “Carousel” takes us to our next stop: Broadway. Stay tuned!