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Helen Rodak-Izso

The Last Chance to Remember




After many, many sleepless nights, when all my thoughts revolved around our most painful experiences, I finally decided, that these memories should not be forgotten, should not disappear without a trace.

Going back carefully almost on tip-toes into our past, I shall try to find it again from far, far away. It is almost unbelievable but it was real and true.

Many, many years ago I had a family too: parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and other family members, who never returned from their tragic destination. A family which was unique because its members were rare people. Only my sister came back together with me miraculously. Our brothers live in Israel with their families. Whoever came back from anywhere, any part of this hell, it was just a miracle. When I think of my dearests, of my unforgettable parents and grandparents my heart is full with deep, painful pride.

Our dear parents:
Mark & Terez (Teri) Friedmann, née Moskovics

Our dear grandparents:
Herman and Rosa Moskovics

Our grandparents lived in a small place in Slovakia (Czechoslovakia) where they owned a nice, friendly, comfortable home, surrounded by reliable neighbours. It was____ a quiet, simple way of life, which was unfortunately later disrupted in the most rough way. My grandfather lived there like a gentleman farmer and on the side he still looked after his small beverage and liqueur business; take out only.

We spent many beautiful vacations there together. They will always be remembered. It is hard to believe that there was a time when we were all carefree children, who led a sheltered life full of devoted attention, warmth and love. It probably belonged to this era. I don't think that I am prejudiced; it was really like that. Unselfish love from all sides of the family guided us in our growing and formative years.

To visit our grandparents, we had to take a train to Kozkovce, where we had to change for another type of travel. The village where my family lived at the time was called: Zbudske Dlhe (Dluha). Waiting for us at the station was a coach with two beautiful, impatient horses in front with a friendly, familiar greeting from the coachman. The road was so beautiful between poplar trees for a long way; after this the scenery changed always, only what nature can produce. We were full of happy anticipation and could hardly wait for the moment when we can spot these two dearest who were already waiting for us in front of their house. There they were, searching the road, trying to shield their eyes, looking far ahead with eager and happy looks.

Our grandparents moved away from there to Humenne because of their aging and gave in to the family's wishes. This was a little town, where our grandfather felt at home. They built a little house for themselves.

They had nice neighbours and grandfather was honored with the invitation to the Shule to be the Reschekol. He was educated in Frankfurt a/M (Germany) and widely read. He always read at least three newspapers daily and mostly aloud so my grandmother could listen. She settled herself across the table with her knitting and participated in the precious time. Often some of the neighbours joined them to discuss the news and current events. They often played a game of chess.

This was the kind of life they led, peaceful and quiet. Grandfather was interested in everything, even in our progress in school and in his quiet way he won respect in the family and community alike.

This was all disturbed and put to an end in the most unbelievable way. In 1942, in May, things happened that we never for one minute could believe. How could anybody touch such fine hearted, innocent, 82 years old people, who were totally helpless and never bothered anybody. Unfortunately those times were merciless and hopeless.

And now I come to the most painful part. How can I taLk about my most respected, cherished and deeply loved parents, who were the finest people on earth? It is hard to describe our family, difficult to find simple words, because they were such noble minded, generous individuals. We shall try to preserve their memory — forever!

We lived in Czechoslovakia and our home was in Kosice-Kassa. This place belonged before 1918 to Austro-Hungarian Empire. After the First World War in which our father served for four years there were big political changes. Hungary lost big parts all around the country which made the people bitter. Since we were in the North, we belonged to Czechoslovakia and received the title: Highland, or Northland.

Here my father built up over the years with tireless work a nice and prosperous business in cork, in partnership with his brother-in law Martin Moskovics, my mother's brother. The raw material came from Spain, Africa, or Portugal and was used for all kinds of useful things. It was a kind of tree with its trunk covered with cork-wood which had to be stripped off the bark and prepared for shipment tightly hooped into big bales. After receiving them these thinner or thicker pieces were soaked in a big vat (tub). After drying, part of the material was crushed, ground- down and molded into different sizes of sheets. It proved practical to cover the floor in gymnasiums (gym). We supplied the big beer factories with the tin covers for the beer bottles with the required lining, and the many small or many different sizes of cork for all purposes. Our customers were also the mineral water businesses and big beer cellars.

Once there was a big exhibition in our town and we decided to take part in it. We prepared a huge illustration of the dom, (our famous cathedral), using all different materials, all made by hand. It was such a success, that we were awarded with the gold medal.

It was interesting to watch the business grow, gain respect and most importantly to achieve a good name. This was a very important value in Europe. After the war, when we came back to an empty home and life, we received letters from some of those firms with whom we were previously in business contact; they were inquiring after the fate of the "gentlemen." When they found out what had happened, they were deeply shocked and tried to offer their help! We were moved by their humanity.

1938 was the critical year, when the south part of Slovakia fell to Hungary. This decision made some people happy, but the bitter news made our future cloudy. It brought only many, many unhappy hours and months of uncertainty and family tragedies for most of us. Our soldiers wore civil clothing, but performed serious duties with the most dangerous assignments. Their uniform consisted of a cap and a yellow arm band.

The clouds were always darker and heavier!

We were encouraged to learn languages and my father had a special request to me: to acquire the German language, because at the time it was a Weltsprache (universal language).

Our father had planned, like most fathers in Europe, that he would like to see his son in the business, which he built up with so much ambition and work. It was a strange time; how could anybody make any plans when everything was so uncertain. My brother Alexander just finished high school (gymnasium) barely 18 years old. The war was on with real fury at Kharkov or Stalingrad, so there was reason to be afraid. My brother and his friends were very concerned about their future and they saw only one way to save themselves: to leave - and right away - to Palestine. His friends tried to persuade our parents also. It was not an easy decision but finally they gave in. The ship was supposed to pick them up in Budapest, where our father accompanied his son and with heavy heart said good-by to him. The ship originally started out from Vienna but when it arrived in Budapest was almost filled up. The list with the names was prepared in alphabetical order, so to my brother's greatest disappointment, his friends were not allowed to board the ship. They were turned down and they couldn't join him as they were planning and this was more, than my brother could take. These schoolmates were sent to the front and never returned.

This journey lasted several weeks in terrible circumstances, in constant danger. They were travelling on the Danube river, which flows into the Black sea. Here their situation became even more complicated because the most unusual, unexpected problem made their situation even harder. The sea became frozen and the ship was the prisoner. This situation just added to the already more than enough difficulties. There was no food any more and hunger was the new problem. My brother never would have complained or admitted the truth; we found out by accident. In his letters he described their plight, as if they would actually enjoy their stay among the frozen masts on the frost covered ship. He mentioned casually, in his own way, that they had some troubles. When we found out the real tragedy, we tried frantically to search for someone in Romania, but we didn't know anybody there.

Finally, Clara, our aunt remembered some distant relatives who were really strangers to us. We wrote to them, describing the situation and asking for the big favour if they would be kind enough to send a parcel with food for him. We, of course, offered to repay all expenses with our heartfelt thanks. We were most thankful for any help, not only for the food, but that he shouldn't feel abandoned and some help be near.

This family understood our appeal and were most generous. They sent two parcels not only one, for what unfortunately were too many hungry people. The beauty of this experience is that this family, who were really strangers, not only didn't take a single penny from us, on the contrary, they thanked us for the address and were grateful for giving them the opportunity to help. They were well informed.

After many, many crises the ship was able to start after all and miraculously they made it. For us there was nothing else to do than pray and ask the Almighty to guide them safely on this most dangerous way. The destination was far away and sometimes only hope gave them the inner strength to tolerate the almost intolerable existence. Thank God, wonder of wonders, the day arrived finally. They couldn't believe it, when they reached dry land - and this dry land was Israel (then Palestine).

They all were interned for three months in Atlit. The struggle just started in another form and continued. To describe the ship is difficult, a boat, or a ship, that may have given some good service some time ago.

Correspondence was possible only through the Red Cross. Only a few words were permitted, even those were heavily censored. Words were cut out with some sharp object. But we could see the hand-written signatures and this told us what we mainly wanted to know. Who is still at home?! We became very modest.

Those who had some opportunities had gone much earlier. Some were successful in getting away, but the truth came out only after the liberation. For us there was no way out anymore, we were trapped and frightened beyond words.

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