Wednesday, April 16, 2014

In every generation

We had two lovely Seders at my son's Ben's and daughter-in law's. Geraldine's place. Seders always bring back powerful memories, and this year, as we handed over the responsibility for the Seder to the next generation I thought of the Seders at my grandparents' place in the 1940s, which had a powerful influence on me and my view of my Jewish roots. I must be thinking of about 1940 or 1941, but certainly before 1942, by which time my aunt's,Marta's, first husband, was gone, had died in a military hospital on the Russian front in the wake of the battle of Voronezh where the whole Hungarian army was wiped out. 

I was thinking of the people sitting around the Seder table. They included my grandmother, grandfather and my handicapped aunt, Margitka, us, the four Czegledis, my aunt Marta and her husband Anti, my other grandmother, Matild, then friends and relations, Maca and Sari, my mother's cousins, daughters of my grandfather's sister, Roza, who moved to Budapest from Lugos, where their father, Tauszig, was a municipal officer, a rare occupation for a Jew, such occupations were usually reserved for the gentry or the Christian middle class. The girls virtually grew up with my mother and her sisters, and were like older sisters to them. Then there was the Gross family, Janka, the grandmother, a friend of my grandfather form his bachelor days, Toni, Janka's daughter and my uncle Jules's sister, her husband Kalman, killed in 1944 during the Holocaust, and their son, Andris, I am fairly certain that my grandfather's sister in law, Ella, widow of his late brother, Pali, was also there. My grandfather had such a soft spot for her that he named his daughter after her. Ella starved to death and died in the Budapest ghetto. Her daughter Erzsi was certainly there, with her son, Gyuri. Erzsi was deported in 1944,  died somewhere and, never returned. Gyuri, orphaned, was cared for by my aunt Marta, but as a university student, perhaps even a a lecturer in pharmacology, got involved in the politics of the 1956 uprising. My grandfather and Marta advised him to keep out of politics, but as a hot-headed young man, didn't listen. He was arrested, spent time in prison, and blamed my grandfather and Marta for this. My grandfather's clerk, Policer, was there; a young bachelor, my grandfather's only employee apart from my mother, perhaps the one who looked after the accounts while my grandfather was the sales and marketing man and my mother the secretary. He died somewhere serving in a Jewish labour unit. 

Among the nineteen people, and possibly more, sitting around the table, there were only four children: Jancsi and I, Andris and Gyuri. We were a family already dying out, perhaps the Jews of Hungary and indeed, Europe, were dying out even before they were murdered. 

I found the Seder interminably long. There were no concessions for children, we just sat, listened and ate. Yet the memory of the lavishly set table, the rich meal, the warm family circle left me with such an indelible memory, that there was something I could pass on to my children after all these years.