Malka is getting married
Malka, my mothers pretty little sister was to
marry her choice, Meir Aaron Teichmann from the small town of Volova near
Majdan. The wedding took place in the grooms place of residence in the cold,
snowy time of the year. I was five years old at that time and remember quite
well the wedding and especially the cold weather of those days. The organizers
were looking for a festive hall that allowed for the ritual separation of both
sexes but still allowed the reception of all the wedding guests. They solved the
problem by erecting a tent for the women next to the community rooms.
Almost every member of the Majdan Hebrew Congregation traveled to the wedding.
It was obvious that every one wanted to take part in the celebration of Reb
Itzes daughters wedding. Many people turned up from the small town of Volova
as well. The festivities lasted for seven days, in accordance with the seven
blessings. My mother helped a great deal in the organization of the catering and
I kept her place free for her i.e. unoccupied. There were not enough chairs and
I fought for her like a lion. I clang to her chair like to the protrusions of
the Temples Altar and refused to let it go even when someone wanted to remove
it by force. We all traveled to Hungary after the wedding, to the small town of
Nyirbátor, where my fathers family had lived.
Malka gave birth to five children. Unfortunately they could enjoy their good
luck only for ten years. The family was deported to Poland in 1941. With the
exception of two children, who were able to escape, the entire family was
murdered. Jossele was taken up by our family and his sister by a family in the
little town of Satmar. 13) But their life was short too. They ended up in
Auschwitz some years later from which there was no return for them.
Malkas wedding was a turning point in my life. I did not know anything about my
fathers existence up to these celebrations. At this point I time, he turned up
with my mothers brothers, my uncles Alter and Shlomo. My two uncles wanted to
use the occasion and to make peace between my parents. They invited him to the
wedding for this reason. They told him that he had a son! It was there and then
that I first saw my father. As I heard from my Uncle Zwi much later, my parents
had separated shortly after their wedding. Following their separation, my mother
returned to her paternal home and thus I was born in Majdan. I couldnt stop
thinking about this story, but whenever I tried to question my father about it,
he evaded the matter so I could not get anything out of him.
But when I visited my father in his home at Bne Brak 14) approximately two years
before his death and he was on his own, I used the opportunity
and confronted him with the request to tell me more about my mother. How did it
happen that we only net each other when I was five? My father told me that they
had a fight shortly after their wedding and my mother decided to return to her
fathers place. My father had no idea that my mother expected a child. This
remained a secret later on as well as my mothers family never told him about
me. As a result, I grew up at my Grandfathers house that was to me like a
13) Satu Mare/Rumania, in the North of
Transsylvania, southeast from Ushgorod
14) Large city near Tel Aviv, founded by Polish Chassidim in 1924, the home town
of religious Jews
The small town of Nyirbátor
The small town of Nyirbátor is located in the
North East of Hungary, approx. 20 miles distance from the Rumanian border. The
towns name is a combination of two elements. Nyirfa means birch, a tree
most common in that district and Bátor stands for Stephen Bathory, the Fourth,
a warrior who fought the Turks and became in 1575 the King of Poland and the
Prince of Transsylvania. Bathory did a great deal for the development of the
little town. He supported the development of the Protestant Church in the town
and had erected a wooden belltower next to that church, a scheduled property to
this very day.
The first Jewish congregation was founded by
Simon Mandel, the offspring of a noble Jewish family in 1816. The Mandels
applied strict standards to the economic development of the town and the entire
district by founding their first industrial enterprise in Nyirbátor called
Bóni. These works bought the produce of the local peasants and produced bread,
spirits, tobacco goods and other articles.
The Jewish congregation grew fast and gained much influence upon the economic
life of Nyirbátor. Approx. 40 per cent of the inhabitants were Jewish before the
Holocaust. The relationship between the non-Jews and the Jews were passable. At
first the Jewish-Orthodox Congregation came into being that became dominant.
Liberal Jews founded later on the so-called Status Quo Congregation. Both
Synagogues were located next to each other and had a common fence between them
and that was about the only thing common between the two congregations.
In the ritual house of slaughter only poultry was butchered, no ox. 15)
The Orthodox Congregation possessed all necessary institutions. Rabbinate,
Talmud-Thora School, Jewish School, Ritual Baths, Kosher Slaughterhouse and
Funeral Institution (Chevra Kadisha). In addition several circles of study and
work functioned within the congregation, for example the one of Charity, mutual
aid and financial management. The Board of the Congregation consisted of the
President, the Cashier, the Bookkeeper and the Auditor.
The Board was elected by the Congregation every
few years. The Congregation occupied a number of paid employees. Next to the
Rabbi these were especially the teachers, (Melamed) but also the Kosher butcher,
the synagogue servant (Shames), the Bath Supervisor and of course the Sabbath
The entire organization of the congregation, all localities such as the
Synagogue, The Talmun-Thora School (Cheder) the Stiebel (a small room to pray)
and the Jewish School were located altogether in the same street in the city
center. The Rabbinate, Slaughter House, the Ritual Bath (Mikwe) and the dwelling
place of the synagogue servant (Shames) were all located in the courtyard of the
In addition the two Synagogues there was thus
another room , the afore mentioned Stiebel , also called Klaus a small room
where mainly Jews from Satmarand Chassids from Belz (Poland) said their prayers
The Status-Quo Congregation had its own dignitaries; a Rabbi, a kosher butcher
and a servant (a Shames).
First, I suffered from resettlement difficulties after our move to Nyirbátor. I
was unable to speak Hungarian and even the local Yiddish sounded strange to me,
as it was different to the Yiddish dialect spoken in Majdan. Our first dwelling
place was rented from an assimilated Jewish family called Fon, who also
possessed a printing place. The Fons lived at the entrance of the yard. Next to
their place four rented out properties followed for four other Jewish families,
similar to railway carriages. We were the last in the row. Our neighbors were
the families Kraus, Ellenbogen and Reich.
Our next door neighbors were the Reichs. They had a very pretty daughter called
Leah. Later on I heard it that my father and Leah had something to do with each
other. She traveled with him to Budapest to avoid the gossip. But the news
spread. It became known in Nyirbátor that a boy was born to Leah. My classmates
pulled my leg at the Cheder and said I had now a bastard brother. The story went
round the town like wildfire. The main victim of the story was of course my
mother. She locked herself in and wept bitterly. Loud cries and the sound of
arguments accompanied by my mothers sobbing was heard from their bedroom, when
my mother demanded an explanation from my father. Finally, we moved out from the
first flat in order to avoid the Reichs. I was not allowed to talk to them. As a
child I did not understand why. I loved Leahs mother like my own Granny.
Leah stayed in Budapest. I met her after our
return from the concentration camps to Nyirbátor. She too went through
Auschwitz, she survived and returned to Nyirbátor in the hope to find surviving
members of her family. She was just as beautiful as in her youth. Leah married
an Orthodox Jew and immigrated to the States. Later on, when I discussed with my
father the separation from my mother, I also asked him to tell me more about
this Leah-story. Much against his will he admitted that Leah had a son. But the
son was not his but that of Laci Fon, the printing press owners son where we
first lived. Our new flat was in the neighborhood of my grandfathers house. We
lived in the property of a peasant called Hatházi, first in a small flat in the
courtyard next to the sheeps pen and the cows byre, with an external earth
lavatory. The flat had two rooms and there were five of us. My brother and I
slept in one bed in the kitchen. A babys cot was put into the parents bedroom.
The kitchens wall had no tiles. Before the Sabbath with smoothened the floor
with clay. We had no electric current. A paraffin lamp was hanging down from the
ceiling, for lighting. The kitchen stove was wood-fired and served as heating
and cooking. Our firewood we stored in the shed which we also used as a tent.
Prior to the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkoth) we removed the bricks from the
sheds roof , covered it with twigs and decorated its inside. 17)
My mother had some non-Jewish woman friends as
well, The first two houses away, the last in a villa opposite Grandfathers
house. We bought all our milk and dairy products from Mrs. Baracsi. As we faced
the deportation at Passover 1944, Mrs. Baracsi begged my mother to leave my
little sister behind in her care; Shed look after her well, until we return. My
mother did not realized the horrors waiting for us just around the corner and
did not want to give up her smallest. She only handed over to her friend some
bedding and other unimportant things. When Father and I returned from the
deportation, Mrs. Baracsi gave back these items on the spot and said how sorry
she was, not having demanded more resolutely that my mother should leave my
little sister behind in her house.
Mrs. Molnár was an exceptionally pretty childless
woman. When we were deported to Poland in 1941, she did everything in her power
to help of financially and in other ways as well.. She applied to various
authorities for the cancellation of our expulsion she provided us with the
necessities while we were in the custody of the authorities and sat with us for
hours and hours trying to cheer us up in our impossible situation. during my
travels to Hungary in 1965 I made a special point of visiting Nyirbátor to see
my late mothers former friends, to the ladies to thank them again for their kindness and
all that they have done for us during those hard times. First I visited Mrs.
Baracsi. Upon entering their house, I was received by her son and daughter who
told me that their mother, Mrs. Baracsi is next door on her deathbed. But Mrs.
Baracsi recognized my voice from next door and called me quietly: Shlajme, is
that you? I went in her room. She got hold of my hand and asked me how were
things with me. Two hours later she died. The second house I visited was Mrs.
Molnárs but I could not find her. I found out that the Molnárs were expelled
from the town by the Communists i.e. deported to an unknown place as they were
considered to be Capitalists.
After a while we were able to relocate from the Hatházis place and to find a
larger and more comfortable flat, not next door to the byre. I became very ill a
few weeks later, around the time of the New Year Festival 18).
The physician, Dr. Balogh diagnosed diphtheria. This contagious disease was very
dangerous. My worried mother left the Synagogue and ran home. The local health
authorities posted the dreaded red notice at the entrance prohibiting the
entry to our premises because of the contagious disease. My condition grew from
bad to worse with every hour. I was choking. The Doctor ordered a new medication
from Debrecen, not yet available at the local Chemists in Nyirbátor. He asked my
mother to pray that the new medicament should arrive in time. It arrived in the
last minute. Shortly after the doctor administered the Diphtheria Serum, my
condition started to improve and my life was saved. Dr. Balogh who was not
Jewish, refused to accept any payment for my treatment. He would accept no
payment from a poor family, he said.
Old Molnár lived a few houses away in the same street. His house stood at the
street corner, opposite of that of my Grandfather. When he retired, he
transferred his flourmill to his two sons. One of his sons, the one hard at
hearing, was the husband of the previously mentioned pretty Mrs. Molnár. The old
Uncle Molnár, as we called him, was small, he had a bald head and was never seen
without his cigar in his moth. Most of the times he was sitting on the bench in
front of his door, dressed in a three-piece suit, with the fob chain dangling
from his waist pocket. He greeted the passers-by with a broad grin and passed
his time with the kiddies of the neighborhood. I was most impressed especially
by his cigar lighter and by his pocket watch.
On one occasion, I asked him to leave me these two things in the event of his
death. As an answer, he just shook his head and smiled. On passing his bench, I
used to ask him: Uncle Molnár, are you still with us? He just kept
Molnárs Flour Mill was in the next street that was leading to a small wood, a
veritable lovers lane, a witness of many young couples romantic actions. Old
Uncle Molnár inspected every young couple upon their returns from the woods and
said: Well, these have done something! Or: No, these have not! He explained
his logic with the following wise words: If upon the return from the woods the
man walked briskly in front of the woman, his result was positive, but when the
woman was leading on, then the result was negative, i.e. nothing had happened.
Most Nyirbátor streets had been unpaved. The only exception was the central
market place and a few streets leading to this actual center of the towns
business life. Most business premises were located at the market place and were
mostly in Jewish hands. For this reason, business and trade stopped on Saturdays
and on the days of Jewish Festivals. Peasant markets, artisans workshops and
small mechanics shops were located at the outskirts.
The Town Hall was the largest, most significant building in the town center. It
had a high tower with a clock visible from each side. This tower had a wide
balcony around it used by the fire brigade guarding the town. Once a fire was
noticed, the fireman gave alarm with a bell dangling over his head and signaled
the direction of the conflagration waving his red flag, pointing to the proper
On the Market Place, in front of the Town Hall, in the center of a small park, a
Heroes Memorial had been erected to commemorate Nyirbátors sons who lost their
lives in World War I. A marble tablet listed the names of the dead, 14 Jews
among them. On the other side of the place, the second tallest building of
Nyirbátor rose, the only commercial banking corporation in the entire district.
It belonged to a Jew named Elek.
After March 19, 1944 the German Army took over
this building and set up their Headquarters in these premises. After the defeat
of the Germans, the Russians took it over and it became the Russian
Commendatory. The Guards Room was located in a former store at the entrance
that belonged before the Shoáh to a certain Jew called Gálet. As it happened,
the Russian Officer of the Guard was a certain Sergeant Major of the Red Army,
called Buchstein, who forbade me to call him by his family name and expressly
demanded that I address him as Sargent Major. The Russians wanted to renovate
the store to adapt it to the new use. For this reason they arrested the
passers-by at random and gave them the task to clean the localities. I visited
the Russians after my return from the concentration camps a number of times.
They had a number of Jews among them with whom I could conduct some
conversations in Yiddish language. Sometimes I assisted them in translations,
I was there during the aforementioned renovation
jobs. Suddenly I noticed that the old Mesusah 19) was still attached to the
doorpost. I detached it with my penknife. When I returned approx. one hour
later, I saw Sergeant Major Buchstein hitting one of laborers with a stick while
crying out loud: Where is God? I went up to him and tried to qualm him down by
explaining that I was the one who dismantled God. Ill extract now the parchment
roll from its capsule. Ill return the Mesusah to him if he can read the text.
He looked at the piece of parchment, turned it upside down and back again and
was obviously much distressed. He never saw Hebrew letters before in his whole
Thursday was the usual weekly market day. In addition, there was an annual
market each autumn, when the peasants could sell their own produce. Rows of
tents were erected for this purpose at the market place with broad passages
between them so that visitors could inspect the goods on both sides at their
Most artisans who offered their products for sale
were Jews, especially in the rag trade, i.e. clothing, shoes, furniture and
haberdashery. At the edge of the market place peasants sold hen, geese, and
bundles of firewood.
The manual workers had months and months of hard work behind them to make up a
proper selection of their goods for the annual market. Even we, the children of
Nyirbátor had our little jobs. We were employed by the stallholders as look-outs
I at the tent of a tailor. My special duty was to keep an eye on the
gypsies, the members of the Romany tribe who came to the market with the sole
intention to steal. I did not earn a lot of money but it was an experience, I
can tell you!
The sales were conducted by well-versed salesmen, belonging of course to the
Jewish race. They knew the nature of their customers, the peasants and spoke
their dialect, too. Almost every sentence they uttered was colored by Jewish
wisdom, impressive curses, and hidden jokes. One of the tailors was stuck for a
long time with a faulty three-quarter long overcoat with oblique i.e. slanting
pockets. By accident or mistake, the apprentice attached the pocket slanting in
the wrong direction and as a result, it was impossible to put the hand into the
pocket. This tailor had a salesman, a genius called Patyi who was asked to get
rid of the overcoat which had been dragged from one annual fair to the other.
Sell it at any price,
Patyi, the main thing is you get rid of it! Patyi did not hesitate for long
when he saw a farmer coming to the market stall with a whip in his hand. He
greeted him as an old acquaintance: Uncle Jánosh, have you seen the latest
overcoat, the American design? Before the farmer could utter a sound, Patyi
took off the farmers old overcoat and dressed him in the new one. He made the
prospective customer stand in front of the mirror, pulled tight the overcoat at
the back so that at the front it looked like made to measure, he got hold of the
farmers right arm, guided it along the pouch and finally stuck the farmers
hand into the pocket slanting in the wrong direction. He pushed the whip under
the manipulated arm and said: Do you see it now? If you travel in a wintry day,
you wont feel the cold! The price, not more than
he said, he added to the
original price five more per cent and asked him not to show the overcoat to
anyone , not for the time being, as it is only a trial effort. The next shipment
shall arrive from America in one months time! The overcoat with the originally
wrong pocket had to be made in series and became a hit.
My father had an entire collection of pocket watches at home, left over from his
watchmakers business. Some parts were missing, as they were used to replace
faulty parts of other watches. The salesmen purchased these old shabby watches
according to weight. They equipped their overcoats and jackets with them, by
putting always one watch in the right hand pocket. If a peasant tried on a piece
of clothing, he liked to out his hand into the pocket. Whenever he had the
feeling of an apparently forgotten watch, he wanted to know how much the price
of that piece.
15) According to the ritual laws of Kashruth
16) A non-Jew who is allowed to perform certain
duties during the Sabbath not allowed for Jews.
17) The tents used at Sukkoth must not have tiled roofs but a transparent cover
made up of twigs.
18) Rosh Hashana, at early autumn
19) Hebrew for door post. A capsule on the right-hand of the door post of
Jewish houses and dwellings, containing the text 5 Moses, 6, 4-9 and 11, 13-21