Monday, November 18, 2013

I Kiss Your Hands Many Times: Hearts, Souls, and Wars in Hungary by Marianne Szegedy-Maszak 2013

"A magnificent World War II love story and family saga--it is epic history, finely wrought and deeply  personal." from a review posted on the website of the Jewish Book Council

This memoir is about the life of Marianne Szegedy-Maszak’s large extended family. Starting with the author’s great-grandfather, Manfred Weiss, the founding industrialist of a manufacturing conglomerate in Budapest, she demonstrates how his wealth and connections catapulted the family into positions of economic and political power and prestige. Two of Manfred Weiss’s daughters married into other powerful families which enlarged the extended family’s sphere of influence: the author’s grandmother married Moric Kornfield who was from a prominent banking family, and her sister Daisy married Ferenc Chorin, a prominent industrialist who served in the Hungarian parliament.

All of those named above were Jewish. In fact, Ferenc Chorin was the great-grandson of a rabbi. But when, in the early twentieth century, nationalist anti-Semitic Hungarians started restricting admission of Jewish students to universities, many assimilated Hungarian Jews converted. In the generation following Manfred Weiss, the author’s family began converting to Catholicism and marrying non-Jews. In fact, many became more than just nominal Catholics: they attended Mass regularly and went to confession. Conversion, of course, did not save them from the terrors of Hitler’s regime. Nor did being born Christian necessarily protect Hungarian citizens. The author's father, a Christian Hungarian diplomat with a conscience, bravely took an anti-Nazi stand and ended up a political prisoner in Dachau.

The author provides the reader with much of the contemporary politics of Hungary which contextualizes her family’s situation.  Many Hungarians did not know which external threat was worse: a takeover by the approaching Soviet Union army or an invasion by the Nazis. Many Hungarians sought to punish Hungarian Jews for either their perceived Communist sympathies or what they saw as their rapacious capitalist behavior. But most of her family members, overly optimistic about the duration of the war, and not wanting to leave their business interests and property behind, decided to wait it out.

How her extended family got out of Hungary (some to Switzerland, most to the United States via Portugal) makes for very interesting reading and raises vexing questions about privilege. Yes, they had to leave some family members behind as hostages - insurance that the Nazis got what they wanted. Yes, their factories, their mining interests, and their property were nationalized. And they lost most of their fortune. But they were lucky that their prominence and their former positions of power worked in their favor: they were able to negotiate a way out.

The author ends with some chapters about their early years in America. Predictably, the generation of the author’s grandparents felt displaced; they yearned to return to Budapest, but, barring that option, they became citizens of the world and traveled constantly. Marianne Szegedy-Maszak lived within a large circle of Hungarian refugees who carried their past lives in Hungary in their hearts.

To read an article about a branch of Manfred Weiss's family's efforts to reclaim art stolen by the Nazis, click here.
To read a current New York Times article about rising anti-Semitism in Hungary click.

Author’s mother’s mother's family
Manfred Weiss – married Alice de Wahl
     Elsa Weiss – daughter of Manfred and Alice; married Alfred Mauthner
           Maria Alice Mauthner – daughter of Elsa and Alfred
           Ferenc Mauthner – son of Elsa and Alfred
           Annus Mauthner – son of Elsa and Alfred
           Christine Mauthner – daughter of Elsa and Alfred
           Hansi Mauthner – son of Elsa and Alfred
           Istvan Mauthner – son of Elsa and Alfred
          Gabriella Mauthner – daughter of Elsa and Alfred
    Eugene Weiss – son of Manfred and Alice; married Annie Geitler
          Alice Weiss – daughter of Eugen and Annie
          Annie Weiss – daughter of Eugen and Annie
          Gyorgy Weiss – son of Eugen and Annie
   Marianne Weiss – daughter of Manfred and Alice; married to Moric Kornfield
         Maria Kornfield – daughter of Marianne and Moric
         Hanna Kornfield – daughter of Marianne and Moric; married Aladar Szegedy-Maszak
              Aladar Szegedy-Maszak – son of Hanna and Aladar
              Andy Szegedy-Maszak – son of Hanna and Aladar
              Peter Szegedy-Maszak – son of Hanna and Aladar
              Marianne Szegedy-Maszak – daughter of Hanna and Aladar; married to Stephen N. Xanakis; author
                        Joanna LaRoche – daughter of Marianne Szegedy-Maszak
             Thomas de Kornfield – son of Marianne and Moric; married Helen
                       Thomas  and James de Kornfield – sons of Thomas and Helen
            Gyorgy (George) Kornfield – son of Marianne and Moric; married Elsie Kavalski
                       Stevie Kornfield – son of Gyorgy and Elsie
  Alfons Weiss – son of Manfred and Alice; married to Erzsebet Herczeg
      Gabor Weiss – son of Alfons and Erzsebet
      Marta Weiss – daughter of Alfons and Erzsebet
      Maria Weiss – daughter of Alfons and Erzsebet
      Janos (John) de Csepel – son of Alfons and Erzsebet
  Daisy Weiss – daughter of Manfred and Alice; married to Ferenc Chorin
      Erzsebet (Elizabeth) Chorin – daughter of Daisy and Ferenc
      Daisy Chorin von Strasser – daughter of Daisy and Ferenc
      Ferenc (Francis) Chorin – son of Daisy and Ferenc
  Edith Weiss – daughter of Manfred and Alice

Author's mother's father's family
Zsigmond Kornfeld – married Betty von Frankfurter
    Gyorgy Kornfeld – son of Zsigmond and Betty
    Mitzi Kornfeld – daughter of Zsigmond and Betty
    Moric Kornfeld – son of Zsigmond and Betty; married Marianne Weiss (see above)
    Pal Kornfeld – son of Zsigmond and Betty
    Ferenc Kornfeld – son of Zsigmond and Betty

Stefan Mauthner – cousin; relationship not clear
Vera, cousin of author’s grandmother, Marianne – married to Janos Zwack
     Peter Zwack – son of Vera and Janos

Friends and Acquaintances
Vilmos Bohm
Miklos Buk
Leo Goldberger
Vilmos Billitz
Pal Fodor
Jolie Gabor
   Magda Gabor – daughter of Jolie
   Zsa Zsa Gabor – daughter of Jolie
   Eva Gabor – daughter of Jolie
Jacques Kanitz – cousin of Farenc Chorin (husband of Daisy Weiss - see above)
Zoltan Friedman (changed to Merszei)
Bela Kuhn
Matyas Rakosi

Budapest, Hungary
Ireg, Hungary
Oberlanzendorf Camp, Austria
Mauthausen Concentration Camp, Austria
Dachau Concentration Camp, Germany
Curia, Portugal
Lisbon, Portugal
Estoril, Portugal
Basel, Switzerland
Zurich, Switzerland
Rakovik, Slovakia

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Tiger in the Attic: Memories of the Kindertransport and Growing Up English by Edith Milton 2005

"In a series of vignettes, [Edith Milton] describes adolescent challenges both universal and unique to her displacement ..." from a review by Alana Newhouse in the New York Times 10-16-2005

Edith Kohn Milton, who was the daughter of a young German Jewish widow, was sent in 1939 at the age of 7 with her older sister on the Kindertransport to England. There they lived with an English Protestant family for the duration of the war. This memoir recounts those years: what it was like for seven-year-old Edith to separate from her mother and be brought up by a loving couple who became surrogate parents. And what it was like to grow up in England during World War II. The author writes about how memories of being brought up by her mother faded and how, despite feeling foreign and like an outsider, she absorbed the English way of life.

She and her sister spent seven years in England, finally reuniting with their mother who had made it to America and wrote to them regularly. The author's powers of observation are keen in her descriptions of growing up in England, a country suffering during the war. She vividly describes scenes in America as well: visits to Vineland, New Jersey where relatives had started a chicken farm, and her growing up in Great Neck, New York in a neighborhood of other German Jewish refugees. In America she also felt like an outsider, but she managed to find a place in a country of immigrants.

Milton’s discussion of her reuniting with her mother is interesting even though predictable. They are strangers to each other and had to feel their way toward a genuine mother/daughter relationship. Milton reports that it took many years. She realizes that during the years she was growing up in England, her mother had her own difficulties. The author had, in fact, created an entire fantasy about what her mother looked like and what her life in the United States was like. When she and her sister arrive in New York she was surprised to find her mother living in reduced circumstances.

This memoir does not deal with the history or the logistics of the Kindertransport. Nor does it deal in any depth with life in pre-war Germany or the Holocaust, although she does report her reactions to a trip she took back to her hometown of Karlsruhe, Germany many years after the war. She discusses her Jewish identity and how that did and did not shape her life, but this is not a large theme in her memoir. Its primary focus, as stated above, is what it was like to be plucked out of the  German Jewish culture she was nourished on for the first seven years of her life and then to be planted in an English one for the next seven, only to be displaced again and have to adjust to America and its culture.

To see a press release and film clips about a film called Nicky's Children which is about Nicholas Winton, the son of German-Jewish immigrants who was behind the rescue of so many children who took part in the Kindertransport, click here.

To read about the Kindertransport Association, click here.

Family on her mother’s side
Wilhelm Heidingsfeld – married Henrietta Willstatter (related to Richard Willstatter and Kurt Weill)
     Liesel Heidingsfeld – daughter of Wilhelm and Henrietta; married to Julius
         Clare – daughter of Leisel and Julius
         Kurt - son of Leisel and Julius
     Helene Heidingsfeld – daughter of Wilhelm and Henrietta; married Bruno Cohn
         Ruth Cohn – daughter of Bruno and Helene; married to Harry
                Dickie- son of Ruth and Harry
                      Max – son of Dickie
         Edith Cohn – daughter of Bruno and Helene; married to Peter Milton; author

Fred Reichenberger – distant cousin of mother – married to Andree
     Dorothy and Bernice Reichenberger – daughters of Fred and Andree

Friends and Acquaintances
Helen Westheimer
Ludi Kohn
Joe and Ellen Steinhardt
      Roger and Carol Ann – children of Joe and Ellen

Karlsruhe, Germany
Swansea, Wales
Leeds, England
Kracow, Poland
Great Neck, NY
Nirvana Avenue, Great Neck, NY
Vineland, New Jersey