I walked today in the footsteps of my Hungarian grandparents, and my life is more complete.
My grandparents, Sam Moldowan and Margaret Ornestein, came to Canada from Tolcsva, Hungary in the 1920's. Some of their family left with them, or came later to North America, but most stayed in Tolcsva, and with one exception, all of the remaining members of their family were killed by the Nazis in Auschwitz or Mauthausen. I owe my existence to my grandparents' departure. Since I never had the foresight to speak to them about their life in Hungary, I don't know many details but I believe that their family had lived in the Tolcsva area for generations. My grandfather Sam died when I was very young, and I only have a vague memory of him, but I knew and loved my grandmother Margaret. She was and remains, an important part of my life. She understood me and accepted me, and there was a special bond between us. I named my daughter Julianne Margaret. One of my greatest regrets is that my grandmother died only two years before Julianne was born; if only she could have met and held Julianne, it would have been wonderful.
When we arrived in Tolcsva, it was raining, we later learned that it has been raining there for weeks, and since our journey had taken four hours, we were all hungry and wanted to find a restaurant. None was evident so I went into a pharmacy, the employee at the pharmacy didn't speak English, but luckily one of the customers, whose name is Anita did, and she kindly offered to drive us to a restaurant. Its name was Kinzsen Etterem (which is the Hungarian word for restaurant) and since the owner didn't speak English and the menus were only in Hungarian, she stayed to help interpret the menu and choose what we would eat. We ended up asking for a number of typical local dishes and a local bottle of wine. We sat in the type of restaurant where my grandparents would have been, we ate the food they ate, and drank the type of sweet wine that was probably made in their day. It was authentic and felt wonderful. When we wanted dessert, I used google translate and showed the onscreen translation to the owner who brought us some delicious little cakes. We took pictures of the food, of the chef and of the owner, and when we left, he gave us a bottle of wine.
After lunch, we went for a walk through Tolcsva which is situated in the wine growing district of Tokai. There are vineyards in the hills surrounding the town, and by and large, the town looks fairly prosperous. Most of the buildings are well kept and it all looks very pleasant. I walked down the main (pretty much only) road, I saw houses my grandmother would have seen, I passed by what I think was at some point a Jewish school, with a plaque in Hebrew and Hungarian containing the date 1871, and evidencing the existence of a Jewish population destroyed by the Nazis. The Nazis may have destroyed people, but thankfully they couldn't destroy history, which continues to speak to us. Being in Tolcsva was very moving, it touched my soul, it spoke to my connection with my grandparents, and particularly my grandmother Margaret, who is still in my heart.
Just before we left Tolcsva, Vince stopped at a wine store and bought me a nice bottle of wine, which I will enjoy with my family. The owner of the store then heard we were going back to the train station at Olaszliszka-Tolcsva and rather than have us wait for the bus, he offer to drive us there. On the way, we passed through flooded areas, as a result of the heavy rainfall recently rivers are overflowing their banks and as the pictures below show, the situation is quite serious, people were sandbagging, rivers were flowing wildly and as the train took us through the countryside, there was ample evidence of flooded fields.
When we reached the train station at Olaszliszka-Tolcsva, we had about a half hour wait, and while I was waiting and looking at the train tracks, I realized that members of my grandparents' family were no doubt shipped along those very same train tracks to Auschwitz and Mauthausen where they were murdered by the Nazis. I was drawn to the train tracks, I couldn't stop looking at them and wondering what it must have felt like for my ancestors to be shipped in box cars along the same rails which I would be riding back to Budapest. Over sixty years have passed, but the rails are still there, and so are the memories.
I spent today in my family's old home. Tomorrow I return to my home. Both are now part of my life.