Thursday, September 1, 2011

English translation of Hungarian TV show about the life and work of András Pető (Part 1)

The post below is the rough English translation of the one episode of the series “Hungarians of Sterling Worth” of the Hungarian Television featuring the life of András Pető. I added some explanations in brackets where I felt it was needed. Please click on the link below to watch the show on the Hungarian Television's website.

Zoltán Vitó, poet/writer: I was his student for 7 years. When I was brought in there I couldn't even stand up by myself. When I left at the age of 15, I left on my own feet; I hopped on the tram and went home. He taught “impossible doesn't exist”, and this has been my governing principle throughout my life whenever I had to fight my battles.

Dr. István Eke, jurist: Let’s say “I clasp my hands” which is natural for a regular man—I don’t even like this word “regular” but it doesn’t matter now—for a non-handicapped person it is natural, but for us it wasn’t. We had been practicing it for months on end. As a child I felt this was tough on us, but now as an adult I feel it was well worth it because I was given a lot: both regarding my approach and my physical abilities. What I’ve got regarding my approach is this: never, ever give anything up; impossible doesn’t exist. There’s no such thing as ‘impossible’.

Sándor Török (Hungarian writer, 1904-1985): “I would’ve loved a little garden” /excerpt from his autobiographical novel/: “I was observing a youngster once in one of the rooms of the Institute: a patient—or to better suit the Institute’s philosophy, a student—he started off at 10am at one end of the room. His ‘homework’ for the morning was to reach the opposite wall. He was pushing a chair in front of him, slowly, inch by inch. The room was approximately 20-25 feet long. By noon, he reached the middle of the room. There he took a break, turned towards me, and he uttered his words triumphantly, with indescribable happiness written on his face: “They healed me in here!”
It’s not that you need to use your hands to help most of the time—as professor Pető was once explaining it to me—you have to approach them from the inside. The deeper I am able to connect with them, the more effective I become.”

András Pető, MD, 4 Klotild St., District 5, Budapest, non-party [the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party and its Stalinist predecessor, the Hungarian Working People's Party. This is significant, as being a non-party shows Pető was a non-conformist and rather brave], single, 57, Director of the Institute of Movement Therapy of the Special Education Teachers’ College:

“I’m coming from a lower middle class family. My father was a storekeeper and post office director. My mother was an elementary school teacher before she got married. I disappointed a lot of people. Some expected me to become an excellent mathematician. Some envisioned me to become the next great poet of Hungary. Others thought of me as an emerging German-tongue poet-star. Some others thought I would become the star of pulmonology. Nonetheless, just to add insult to injury, I lived a life of adventure, misery and pleasure; I often had no idea how I was going to make a living. At times when ill-fate caught up with me I took up jobs as a physician at various pulmonology hospitals, physical therapy institutes, mental health hospitals. Later I became a medical science writer, an editor of a medical journal, and the director of a medical publisher. I was just starting a medical and science press company in Paris, France when the war broke out. A friend of mine and his wife asked me to come to Budapest, where I was driven into movement therapy. I became famous, and I paid income tax as a physiotherapy teacher. One of the fully recovered patients forced me into the College of Special Education, and that’s where—after combatting a lot of difficulties—the Institute started off. I had less and less time for my adventures with women, men and objects, and with life’s strange circumstances; I held myself to a strict daily and weekly routine. They tried to fire me from the Institute several times with great vigor, but I fought my battles and held on tight.”

He died in the Institute in the afternoon on 11 September 1967, on his 74th birthday.

(A short footage of Pető’s funeral is shown; Maria Hari is saying goodbye.)

Mária Hári, MD, College Professor: “His mother was an outstanding pedagogue. His grammar school was a very famous monastic school; his teachers were outstanding monks, one of whom introduced him into modern literature. He became and remained very widely read. Pető was a Renaissance man.”

Tamás Vekerdy, psychologist: When I’m searching for Petö’s roots, I can pinpoint two things: The first is the Budapest of “Nyugat” [Extremely important literary periodical in Hungary 1908-1941], and the other one we can find in Buddhism I think—based on what he later became. He was unbelievably unique. He was the child of the Budapest of the early 20th century, the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy; he belonged to the folks of the “Nyugat”; Karinthy, Ferenczi, Kosztolanyi [2 important writers everybody knows and read in Hungary and a psychoanalyst who was their friend]—so don’t think of a Buddhist monk in the Eastern sense. He was a man who excelled in torturing his maid. He hosted fantastic dinners. He checked himself if the roast beef had the perfect texture and if it didn’t, he sent it back. In the meantime, there was an abundance of his own dramas that he wrote incognito in German at the bottom of his closet. I don’t know how to say this: He was a well-rounded man, and he succeeded in creating something extremely important from this; something deeply entwisted with this land.

Mária Hári, MD, College Professor: You can tell he was extremely well educated if you look at his library. He picked and chose each and every piece himself. It contains philosophy, history of medicine, history of religion, literature, in a fine and distinguished assortment. When there was a power cut and he was looking for a book in the pitch dark, he just reached over and found the exact page he was looking for. Sometimes the books were only pages because he got rid of what he didn’t find worthy of keeping.

Péter Popper, psychologist: He had a very peculiar way of looking at people and the world; a way of thinking and the way he related to people. Pető said: “my son, in each stage of your life the most important thing is to live your fate”. I said “but Professor, how do you know what your fate is?” “You know you’re living your fate”—he said—”when you do what others are pressing on you to do”. The professor said “look son, if you happen to take a bitter piece of bread into your mouth, swallow it, don’t spit it out; because if you spit it out, it’ll get back into your mouth a hundred times, each time even more bitter than it was before”. I know this is a Buddhist doctrine but Pető didn’t tell me that; he just gave me this piece of advice in relation to one of our conversations. However, don’t think we were always talking about fate. I remember that once he looked at me and said: “my son, if you ever get into the blissful situation that two women are fighting for you, then your job is to do nothing. The more aggressive woman will take you and that will be perfect for you”.

Tamás Vekerdy, psychologist: His references made it clear that he was very familiar with Judaism as well as Christianity; he could make sense of its deep mysticism. By all means we can say that he was a man for whom transcendency—the transcendent origin of the human individuum—played a significant role, even though these thoughts weren’t fashionable at that time.

Sándor Márai (Hungarian writer, 1900-1989): "Diary" /excerpt from his autobiographical novel/: “P”, the wonder doctor is visiting me in the evening. He looks like Karinthy, but older and even uglier. They brought him to me when I was ill. I didn’t venture to take his remedies, but at the end he helped me: he shook me up from my lethargy. His knowledge is vast, especially in the field of medical history, Chinese medicine, etc. He’s a nutter, but he’s a colorful, strange, precious nutter who has his mind in order. He’s currently working with 20 crippled children in an institution. He gives the paralytic, sclerotic, handicapped children back the desire and ability to move; he gets rhythm into them. It’s quite possible that his method is worth a lot more than medicine that has been by and large ineffective so far.”

Mária Hári, MD, College Professor: He really found absolutely everybody suitable for something. He looked at the world in a way that he could make everyone useful; he found something positive in everybody. The examination [of new patients] at our place was not the way it was elsewhere: we weren’t examining the knowledge or ability that was missing. We call it ‘operative observation’. I’m inspecting what is it that I need to do so that he can do what he now can’t…because disability lasts forever, it stays, but you can chance the dysfunction into function.

Tamás Vekerdy, psychologist: “What happened was that patients officially deemed incurable by medical science suddenly just started getting ‘cured’. For example a girl who broke her spine stood up. When the assistant professor came to visit from the Medical University what was going on, he said: ‘I can see it, but I don’t believe it’. They preferred calling him a charlatan from then on, because there were examples of ‘miraculous recoveries’, but he couldn't explain how he achieved it. That is to say he could explain it, but it would've been difficult…

Mária Hári, MD, College Professor: There’s a gap between the conception of the movement and the performing of the movement. He intends to do it, but he can’t accomplish it in an appropriate way. The wonderful thing what Pető came up with was that he figured he had to change the way of the intention, and he had to teach the way of the intention. This concept was non-existent. [He taught] how to want [to do a movement]. For example: I want to hold onto my ear. If my muscle tone is spastic and I want to hold onto my ear I’ll do this [Maria pretends that her arm jerks up]. This is a bad automatism and I can’t hold onto my ear. However, I can be taught how to want to hold my ear; I can be taught a different strategy. I can be taught to slow my will down, put my elbow forward [on the top of the table], wait for the stiff muscles to relax during the slow rhythm (because slow rhythm relaxes stiffness), then use the relaxed tone and hold onto my ear [Maria shows how].

Sándor Márai (Hungarian writer, 1900-1989): "Diary" /excerpt from his autobiographical novel/: "I was in Dr. P’s Institute in the afternoon. The equipment is incredibly scanty and clean. They are just having their ‘treatment’. They are singing and counting in groups. They’re making rhythmical movements that look like some old, cultic religious chants. All cases are incredibly severe. P’s method gives rhythm to the handicapped limbs through singing and counting together. His experience is that the group gives you self-confidence; it becomes a collective rhythm, which has the effect that the handicapped limb will revive. ‘If you can move your arms, you can move your legs as well’—says P. Then: ‘man doesn't write with his hands, so what’—he’s right. This constant buzz, whoop-de-doo, rhythmic singing shuts the children up without a doubt and releases something inside them. One of the boys—looks like 6, he’s name is Palika—he’s really 15. His limbs are completely atrophied, he can’t speak. I’m sitting by his plinth for an hour as they’re teaching him to speak. He’s getting individual treatment, they’re stretching his limbs. At the end they’re pushing the chair to the common dinner table. The ritual singing and hand-moving doesn't cease here. The little ailed fingers are grabbing the spoon, the rhythm doesn't leave them for a minute; something started moving inside them, and it’s now artificially kept alive by P’s method. Palika is smiling because he’s allowed to sit at the table with the others. This smile is the oddest I've ever seen on a human face. ‘It’s not worth dealing with anything but hopeless things’. "

This is about 1/3 of the show. To be continued


  1. Thank you so very much, Vikki, and thank you, thank you for the other two thirds!


  2. THIS WAS POSTED ON MY FACEBOOK, I'D LIKE TO SHARE WITH YOU: "Conductive Education Press" This TV program (in Hungarian) and Vikki's English-language translation and transcript, make a substantial contribution to the pathetically small published corpus on András Pető. Even better, publishing this on her blog as she has makes its content immediately and freely available to all.

    It is interesting that the original stimulus for this programme appears to have come from a TV company looking for subjects for an end-of-millenium series of biographies – not from people in Conductive Education – typical, one might say, of CE's general slackness about its origins (and its philosophy). In the light of this Vikki's initiative and efforts here are all the more welcome and commendable. We are all in her debt. Also perhaps typical, it is the lone individual, working alone, unpaid and in her own time, who is showing the way here. Where are CE's institututions, large and small?