Tell us about your early life growing up in Hungary, your family environment and your formative influences.
I grew up in a middle-class family. I was the youngest, with a brother who was six years older, and three even older sisters. My mother was a housewife. My father began as a secondary school teacher; by the time he retired he was a deputy director at the ministry of education. I think what influenced me most was that at least once a week, my father would sit beside my bed – this was then I was between about 6 and 15 years old – and say that we could “discuss things” if I felt like it. I could ask him about anything I had been thinking about or wanted to know. These conversations, which could be about anything from the perpetuum mobile to the concept of justice, were about an hour each. I think those talks have had a decisive impact on my way of thinking throughout my life.
What impact did World War II have on you?
World War II dominated my teenage years. I graduated from secondary school in 1945, a few months before the end of the war. My brother died in a Russian labour camp in the aftermath of the war. Budapest was besieged for two months, and several times also bombed, so I experienced the hardships that war brings civilians. I became convinced that there are no humane or just wars, and I believed and hoped that the existence of the atomic bomb would end all wars.
What was it like to watch the genesis of a new global organisation (the UN) – a system that grew from the ashes of World War II?
I considered it completely natural to create a world organisation with the purpose of preventing all future wars. Unfortunately, it has become a half-measure, which has been unable to live up to this goal. My belated conclusion is that no governance system can guarantee that there will be no future wars – unless we implement global and total disarmament.
We’ve been told you used to work as a magician – could you tell us a little about this?
After graduating from secondary school, I studied law for three years and wanted to become a judge. But suddenly, about 18 months before graduation, there appeared a message on the university’s bulletin board with a list of about 20 books on Marxism-Leninism that all students had to read and be tested in order to get their diploma. This made it clear that the legal profession had been politicized. I turned on my heel and terminated my studies. Instead, I signed up for the magic programme at the state academy of the performing arts. Earlier, this had been my hobby. Being a performer was the least politicized profession in Hungary at that time. A couple of years later I had a diploma as a professional magician, and could almost earn a living doing magic. I also bought and sold used books – my other hobby – in my little “used book shop” located in my bedroom.
A true magician doesn’t wonder so much if something can be done, but focuses on how it could be done.
There is another dimension to magic. Since magicians are expected to do the impossible, a true magician doesn’t wonder so much if something can be done, but focuses on how it could be done.
What impact did the events in Hungary in 1956 have on you? Why did you come to Sweden and how did you experience your arrival?
In 1956, most people had had enough of Communism. The revolt gave me an unexpected opportunity to leave the system. The reason why I chose to go to Sweden – two of my sisters fled to the USA – was mainly that we knew a very nice old Jewish couple who lived in our building. A younger female relative of theirs had been allowed into Sweden directly from the concentration camp in Germany. She was married and lived in Stockholm. She used to visit the old couple and would talk about conditions in Sweden, which I thought sounded very pleasant. Besides, Stockholm was only a two-hour flight from Budapest.
My arrival in Sweden, and the first months in a refugee camp, were completely problem-free and exceeded my expectations. The only thing lacking was a course in Swedish. I felt deaf-mute. I knew no English (at school I had only studied Latin, German and French), and my only aid was a Hungarian-Swedish glossary of about 600 words. Consequently I mostly had to make do with the natural method – i.e. listening and reading, and then trying to guess the meaning.
How did you get established in Sweden, start to make a living?
During the first three years I worked as a labourer in a printing workshop and a warehouse, while sporadically making extra money doing magic in the evenings. When my language skills were good enough, I took a one-year course at a business school, which led to a job at the accounting department of Shell Sweden. In the evenings I took a business course by correspondence. Thanks to this, I became interested in stocks, and in 1966 I began to trade to a very modest extent on the stock market. In 1972, when I had earned an initial capital of SEK 100,000, I left my job to devote all my time to financial analysis and investments. During a number of years I also wrote financial analyses for a business newspaper, as well as being a partner in a stockbroker firm.
In 1987 I realised that I had more capital than I and my family needed, and that I wanted to spend my time doing other things than earning money. At the same time, I felt that the prices on the stock market were high enough, so I liquidated my active stock portfolio, luckily right before the great stock market crash.