The Restless Hungarian is a true story set against the history of the Hungarian Jewish Diaspora, the rise of Modernism, and the Cold War. The restless Hungarian of the title is my father, Paul Weidlinger. He was as much of an enigma to me as the unopened box of his things I kept in the closet for years after his death. When I finally delved into the box and set out to tell his story, I half expected him to reach out from beyond the grave and shame me for my naiveté, for presuming that I could somehow make sense of his life on my own terms.
Paul Weidlinger was one of the most important structural engineers of the twentieth century. In his private life he was a divided man. He lost his family to war, mental illness, and suicide. He lived behind a wall of denial. Creating a new life for himself upon arriving in the United States in 1943, he told no one he was a Jew. My discovery of this fact launched me on a journey back in time and across three continents to reconstruct his life. Learning the truth of our identity linked seemingly disconnected events and moved me to see my father with compassion.
In telling his story, I found meaning in the juxtaposition of the disparate narratives of his life: a motherless child and captain of industry, a clandestine communist who came to design silos for the world’s deadliest weapons, a refugee from the Holocaust who denied that he was a Jew, the husband who was terrified of his wife’s mental illness, and a man whose personal saints were artists, elevated above all others.