Istvan Eszterhas escaped with his three month old son Joe and his wife from Hungary in 1945 and spent five years in a camp in Austria before getting to the Hungarian ghetto of Cleveland, where he worked as the editor of a local Hungarian newspaper.
Instilling in Joe values such as compassion and tolerance, Istvan raised his son to become Hollywood’s most successful writer.
Five years after MUSIC BOX, fiction became reality as Istvan was accused of being a war criminal. Joe found himself protecting his father, the man he loved most and who had made him into the man he was. But what if your hero ended up being everything you had been taught to detest? And what if he was your own Flesh and Blood?
WRITTEN ACCEPTANCE, BY JOE ESZTERHAS OF HIS LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD:
I would never have received this award without the lifelong and constant love and encouragement of my father, Eszterhas Istvan, Hungarian novelist and journalist.
My mother was chronically ill and it was always my father who impressed upon me that I could be a success as an American writer…if I worked hard and never gave up.
I am the man my father taught me to be. Judge no man by his religion or skin color, my father told me. Judge every man only…only…by his character.
When I was almost fifty years old, I discovered that Eszterhas Istvan, the man I loved most in the world, the man who loved me most in the world, had written ugly and vicious anti-Semitic screeds in Hungary during the years of the Second World War. I discovered, too, that the man who told me to judge no man by religion or skin color, had organized book burnings of Jewish authors.
I was shattered by what I discovered.
My relationship with my father was forever severed.
I was never able to forgive him.
I chose not to be with him when he died.
To all of you here tonight, I want to say thank you from my heart for the award you have bestowed upon me. I am honored, flattered, and humbled.
I would like to dedicate this award to my father, Eszterhas Istvan, alleged war criminal, without whose love, this award and my career would not have happened.
I forgive you, Papa…finally. I ask you to forgive me for not forgiving you. I ask you to forgive me for not being there when you needed me the most; at the end of your life. You were always there when I needed you the most, but I let you down. Forgive me…please.
I also want to dedicate this award to the United States Department of Justice’s Office of Special Investigations and its head, Eli Rosenbaum. They investigated my father. They came up with the evidence that damned my father, the man I loved most in the world.
The OSI has made this world a better place. The OSI has, throughout its history, underlined over and over again the overwhelming moral imperative of the phrase “Never again!”
Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you. May God bless my Magyar brothers and sisters everywhere. May God bless Hungary!
And…my friends, my brothers and sisters…my countrymen… Never again! Never again! Never again!
It’s up to all of us everywhere — Never again!