The Road from Presov to Kosice
Over the last couple of years, I have written a number of essays on both my mother's and father's families. Since my mother's recent passing, I have intended to write about her and her family. But it hasn't yet materialised into words. Maybe I am still too close to the event to express what I have inside.
I realised that my mother may have preempted me a little when I found her autobiography in her house during the shiva mourning period. However her text, seemingly written about five years ago, is quite short. There is certainly a lot more to tell.
There is one story in our family which I have been wanting told for many years. As it largely revolves around my Aunt Bozsi, I really wanted it to be in her words. Over the years, I have asked her a number of times to write her unique biography. She knows it is a singular experience, but try as I might, I have been unable to sufficiently inspire her for the project.
Even when she started to go blind from macular degeneration, a condition which now appears to be endemic in our family, I did not give up. I offered to procure for her a dictation machine into which she could relate her chronicles. I promised to prepare a manuscript from these tapes, and we would edit it together. It's probably my fault that I wasn't forceful enough on the issue, but I do have the disadvantage of living far away, I in Israel and Bozsi in Montreal, Canada.
I write because I have an uncontrollable urge to bring things from deep inside, out into the light of day. I feel strongly that I have to relate the story which she hasn't. And when I get things wrong, I will simply retort, "I gave you the opportunity, but you left the gauntlet in my incapable hands".
Perhaps the reason I am doing this now is that my aunt's story obviously overlaps that of my mother's, and more importantly, it sets the background for my mother's family life. It allows me to be a little detached from her story which I eventually intend to compose.
A warning. All families have skeletons in their closets as do many individuals. I make no apologises to any of my cousins who may be in any way offended by what I say about their antecedents. What I write is a medley of things I have heard over the years, without significant variation, from many family members.
Going back a few of generations . . . my great grandparents were Israel and Yitta (nee Englander) Treitel. At some point in time they moved from Kurima in Slovakia where he was born and where they lived after their marriage, to Presov, the third largest city in Slovakia. I don't have an exact date, but it appears to me to have been prior to World War I. Israel and Yitta were married around 1890 and had nine children, six girls and three boys. My grandmother, Regin/Rivka, who was born in Kurima, was the oldest. They were an orthodox family as attested by the family portrait, taken in the grounds of Israel and Yitta's Presov home. The photograph was taken at the engagement of my great aunt, Anush*, to Bernard Goldberger, circa 1930. They settled in Bratislava after their wedding.
Of the nine Treitel children, seven survived the Holocaust (my grandmother, and the second oldest, Berta Ehrmann, who had seven children, were murdered). Israel and Yitta died before the war. I corresponded with and met all the surviving aunts and uncles, except Vince, at one stage or another of my life. None of them remain alive today, all of them living well into their seventies, eighties and even nineties.
And as I am certain is the case, in even the best families (which of course ours was), two of my grandmother's siblings gave their parents a rough time (uncontrollable was one word used). These were sister, Hermin, (I am not sure exactly where she came in the family, but somewhere in the middle) and brother, Jindra, also known by the German name, Heinrich or Henrik. Jindra was the youngest son, followed by two sisters.
At the age of seventeen, my grandmother married Emanuel Glück. They set up house in Kosice, about sixty kilometres south of Presov.
To alleviate some of the stresses at home, my great grandparents sent the "two difficult cases" to stay with their oldest sister. I can't imagine how good that could have been for newlyweds' nest building, but Rivka tried her best. Jindra wasn't too interested in religion; football was a more attractive Saturday passtime.
In Kosice, Jindra had a private tutor to teach him Judaism: bible, talmud, etc. Jindra offered his mentor a deal: "I don't want to be here, and you want the money. So let's split it 50-50 and I won't waste any more of your time". The tutor's response was not reported to me, but knowing my uncle, I assume he may have agreed. Jindra eventually settled down, marrying Gita, who was from Prague, where he subsequently relocated. Though he was the only one of his parents' offspring who was not observant, his father always eagerly awaited his visits (about an eight hour train ride away). He considered him his "successful" son -- not that my great grandfather himself was not successful. He ran a tannery, buying raw hides and selling them, processed, to furriers. His other sons, Vince and Nandor, worked with him in the business.
I don't know how Hermin and Rivka got on. But as Rivka's children began to arrive (at the rate of one every two years for the next twenty years -- there were ten all in all), Hermin was very helpful in looking after them. During the war Emanuel was often away, a soldier in the Kaiser's army.
Soon after the Great War, Hermin married Emil Preiss. She had been smitten with the dreaded Spanish Flu [H1N1] and fully recovered. They made their home in Presov. As Hermin and Emil were unable to have children, she continued to help Rivka with her offspring. Whenever a new child was born, Hermin would come to Kosice to help, leaving her husband at home to mind the shop. This continued for at least the first five children. I guess by then the older daughters could help.
Laci was the first boy in the family. He was born in 1917 following three girls: Anush, Etus and Magda. Probably because of the work load in the house, especially after the birth of the next child, Bozsi, Hermin took the young Laci back to her place in Presov. He was still there when at age five years he was afflicted with scarlet fever. Bozsi was then two and a half.
Hermin brought the sick little boy back to his mummy. At that point Rivka was happy for Hermin to take young Bozsi back to Presov with her. Houses with scarlet fever were quarantined, a red cord hanging from the front door, warning potential visitors. They were worried that Bozsi may too become afflicted. So it was a good arrangement, which worked out well for a while. By now, there was also Rozsi, the sixth of the Glück children, who was just a few months old.
Even though she wasn't yet three years old, Bozsi still distinctly remembers being taken away from home. She cried that she wanted to go to her mother. Hermin and Emil walked with her around the house, from room to room, pretending to be looking for her mother. "Perhaps she's in the next room?"
Even at that tender age, Bozsi remembers herself as a sad little girl. She remembers sitting quietly by herself on the stairs. Hermin called her a mope. "Of course I was depressed, dejected -- I wanted to be at home, with my family, with my parents, with my siblings."
Eventually it became apparent that Hermin had no intention of returning her new charge. She had merely swapped a little boy for an even littler girl.
It was the mid-twenties and already the Preisses had a car, necessary for their business, manufacturing liqueurs. It was still quite rare at that time to have continuous access to a vehicle. But it was good for Bozsi. Each Sunday the three of them would drive to Kosice so Bozsi could visit her family.
And each Sunday Rivka would say to her younger sister, referring to Bozsi, "She can stay here now thank you very much". To which Hermin would shout and scream, "you have five [six, seven, eight] more and I have just this one". Then she would put on such an act, invariably ending with her threat to climb onto the roof and jump off. And each Sunday Emanuel would give in and say, "take her, go home", to diffuse the situation.
Very sad really. I unfortunately never knew my grandmother, but Auntie Hermin was one tough lady and invariably got what she wanted.
Being an "only" child, Bozsi was showered with many things her siblings never had. She lived in a beautifully furnished bedroom, with a brass bed. Her sisters, who would come to visit and stay over during school holidays, were jealous of her "golden" bed. Bozsi would always answer that she was happy to exchange it, at the drop of a hat, for a simple white bed like they all had, to be at home with them. The Glück family lived in cramped, but happy, conditions in two small apartments located between their two grocery shops, each opening onto a different street. Bozsi craved to be cramped with them.
Another "advantage" Bozsi had over the others was her relationship with her grandfather. She reports they were very close. "I loved my father very much; and I really loved my grandfather a lot too." She also had a close relationship with Uncle Vince, the oldest Treitel brother, for whom she later worked in the family business, and with his wife, Auntie Regin.
People in Presov referred to Bozsi as the "Glück-girl", a form of insult, but she wore the title with pride. In addition to her other burdens, Boszi remembers each shabbat in shule having to go to the old Rebbetzin Jungreis, kissing her hand and wishing her shabbat shalom. As a result she hated going to the synagogue.
She also hated getting new dresses. In those days, this involved visits to the "dressmaker". "Stand straight and still." "Tuck in that tummie, little girl." Like with many other things in her life, Bozsi would cry at the dressmaker's, but only on the inside. She kept her tears to herself.
Ironically when she came to Kosice on a Sunday visit, wearing her new clothes, sister Rozsi would see the new clothes, and start crying. "I don't like that dress!" She knew she was next on the hand-me-down chain. But Bozsi always got new things.
My mother was the seventh in the family. She often related how much she enjoyed staying over with Bozsi in Presov. Their relationship remained extremely close until the very end. They both report that my when mother visited Montreal, the two of them would sleep in the one bed, telling each other stories and giggling like two schoolgirls until overcome by sleep, just like the old days in Presov.
After completing school, Bozsi continued living in Presov, working there. By this time she had a train pass, and would come to visit her family whenever it suited her, which was quite often. These were the happiest years of her life -- she had the best of both worlds.
But in 1938, the idyll began to evaporate, as Neville Chamberlain brought mankind "peace in our time", at the expense of sacrificing Czechoslovakia on the altar of appeasement.
But that, perhaps, will be the next chapter in my narrative . . . .
* The actual name, both of my aunt and my great-aunt, is spelt Anus, but pronounced Anoosh. Cousin Andrew thought it didn't look right having an Auntie Anus. A single 's' in Hungarian is pronounced 'sh'. He thought the 'sh' spelling looked more sympathetic in English. So I modified my text here in accordance.
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