Auschwitz Survivor Imre Kertesz Wins Nobel Prize in Literature

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STOCKHOLM - Hungarian Imre Kertesz, whose novels often focused on his time in a Nazi concentration camp, won the Nobel Prize in literature Thursday for exploring how individuals can survive when subjected to barbaric" social forces.

Kertesz, 72, who was born in Budapest, was deported to Auschwitz in 1944, then to Buchenwald, where he was liberated in 1945.

"For him Auschwitz is not an exceptional occurrence," the Swedish Academy said. "It is the ultimate truth about human degradation in modern experience."

The award is worth 10 million kronor ($1 million.)

Kertesz said Thursday he was surprised and happy to have won the prize and that it should be help writers from Eastern Europe.

"It was a mixture of surprise and joy," Kertesz told reporters at the Ernst Reuter Scientific Institute in Berlin, where he is doing research and writing a new book.

"This should bring something to the countries in eastern Europe," he said.

Kertesz said he had just talked to Hungarian Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy on the phone and added he would celebrate with a dinner and then seek out close friends.

The citation singled out his first novel in 1975 "Sorstalansag," (Fateless) in which he writes about a young man who is arrested and taken to a concentration camp but conforms and survives.

"The refusal to compromise in Kertesz's stance can be perceived clearly in his style, which is reminiscent of a thickset hawthorn hedge, dense and thorny for unsuspecting visitors," the academy said.

On Wednesday evening in Berlin, Kertesz was awarded the 10,000-euro Hans-Sahl-Prize for literature, with the Hungarian writer being praised for his works about the traumatic events in Western civilization.

When he accepted the prize, concentration camp survivor told the audience if they want to know about the death camps: "We are the last. Ask us."

The 18 lifetime members of the 216-year-old Swedish Academy make the annual selection in deep secrecy at one of their weekly meetings and do not even reveal the date of the announcement until two days beforehand.

Nominees are not revealed publicly for 50 years, leaving the literary world to only guess about who was in the running. However, many of the same critically acclaimed authors are believed to be on the short list every year.

Last year's award went to perennial favorite V.S. Naipaul, a British novelist and essayist born in Trinidad to parents of Indian descent.

A week of Nobel Prizes started Monday with the medicine award, followed Tuesday by physics and Wednesday by chemistry and economics.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner will be named Friday in Oslo, Norway, the only Nobel not awarded in Sweden.

Alfred Nobel, the Swedish industrialist and inventor of dynamite, specified in his will endowing the awards that nationality should not be a consideration, but many believe the Swedish Academy tries to spread the honor over different geographical areas.

Nobel otherwise gave only vague guidance about the prize, saying that it should go to those who "shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind" and "who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction."

The prizes always are presented December 10, the anniversary of Nobel's death in 1896.