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The Ábrahám family
As we saw in Section 4, Rezső was hired by Ignátz Deutsch to teach at the Jewish Community School in Őcsény in 1907-1908. They maintained a close relationship even when Rezső was already teaching in Simontornya. He came to Őcsény regularly to teach German to Ignátz’s young daughter, Margit. The girl liked her teacher. When Rezső went to visit families with marriageable daughters, Margit ironed his shirt. In May 1909 they became engaged. He was 26, she barely 18. They were married on February 6, 1910.
Deutsch Margitka and Ábrahám Rezső are engaged. Őcsény, May 1909. The young couple liked the songs of Pista Dankó, especially these: Eltörött a hegedűm, nem akar szólani, Rózsi, Rózsi mi bajod? Mért nem akarsz szólni? A hegedűm majd megreparálom... Szólalj meg hát, rubintos virágom. and Madár vígan dalolva lombos ágon, Lágy esti széltől csókdosott virág, És minden, minden széles e világon, Szerelmet érez, hőn szeretni vágy!
Bevallanám én is titkát szívemnek, S elmondanám, hogy mily híven szeretlek, Elmondanám, de hasztalan beszéd, Hideg szobor vagy, meg sem értenéd. Rezső knew that an elementary school teacher’s miserable salary was not enough to raise a family. Ignátz had a relative who worked for the Déli Vaspálya Társaság or simply Délivasút (Southern Railroad Company) that served the transportation needs of Southwestern Hungary. This relative recommended Rezső for a job at the Company. To work for a railroad was considered a very good job with many guaranteed benefits including a pension plan. The popular slogan said: Teheti, mert vasúti, magyar állam fizeti. (He can do it since he is with the railroads and paid by the Hungarian state). Therefore, it was not easy to become a railroad employee. The Southern Railroad Company did not belong to the state, but later it became part of Magyar Államvasutak (MÁV, Hungarian State Railroads). Rezső passed the entrance exam mandated by the Company and started his railroad career on March 16, 1910. First he had to learn different skills necessary for this kind of job. Thus, he had to report to Mr. Gusztáv Zimmermann, telegraph supervisor in Nagykanizsa, to learn the basics of telegraph service. After passing the telegraph examination he was “candidate to station attendant assistant “ (!!!) for a short time, then appointed as “temporary file-clerk“ with a salary of 2.80 korona per day at the Department of Tariff Reclamations and Repayments Rezső is a temporary file clerk in Budapest on July 8, 1910.
The appointment meant that they had to move to Budapest. Margit did not want to live in the big city. As a compromise, they moved to Nagytétény, a village just south of Budapest on the West (Buda) side of the Danube, from where Rezső could commute to work by train. (Nagytétény is now District XXII of Budapest). They rented a room in the house of a German woman by the name of Mári Milch, who had two sons and two or three cows and sold milk in one of the markets of Budapest. László (Laci) was born there on November 13, 1910.
Six-month-old Laci is inoculated against smallpox In June 1911 Rezső was appointed file clerk of 2nd class with a yearly salary of 1200 korona. This was a permanent job that provided security to the family. Rezső signed his oath to be faithful to His Imperial and Apostolic Royal Majesty in February 1912. In May he was admitted to the Pension Fund of Servants (sic). In June 1913 his salary was raised to 1300 korona per year. Two years later he already earned 1400 korona per annum.
Rezső has a permanent job
So help me God (again)
The ultimate job security: Rezső is admitted to the Pension Fund of Servants
The family soon moved to Márvány Street on the Buda side of Budapest. This is where their second child, Ilonka, was born on May 21, 1912. Ödön, Margit’s youngest brother, came to live with the family in 1913 when he was 12 years old. He started as an apprentice mechanic but he had seen his father working as a furrier and wanted to become one himself. Later, he moved to a furnished room, married Sári Fenyvesi, and rented a workshop on Tisza Kálmán Square where he established his successful furrier trade. He employed about a dozen journeymen and several apprentices. He played all string instruments: violin, cello, contrabass, and cimbalom. He taught Rezső and Laci to play the cimbalom, too. The family moved again to Nagytétény, this time to a house with three rooms and a cellar, then back to Buda, to Greguss Street, just opposite the terminal station of the Southern Railroad Company. They first lived at 4 Greguss Street in a two-room apartment, then on
the first floor of 3 Greguss Street in a one-room apartment but with a bathroom. There was an empty ground at the corner of Greguss Street and Nagyenyed Street. The two children played there. It was also a place where funeral processions stopped on their way to the Farkasrét Cemetery. During military funerals the orchestra played Gotter Halte, the national anthem of the Empire. Count Károly Khuen-Héderváry was Prime Minister from 17 January 1910 till 22 April 1912. He was followed by László Lukács (22 April 1912 – 10 June 1913), then by Count István Tisza (10 June 1913 – 15 June 1917). Everything looked just fine.
Let’s rush with the rushing times! I need Dido for cosmetics! The Empire engaged in a hate campaign against Serbia in 1914. The popular sentiment was strongly for a war. People scanted the popular slogan: Megállj, megállj, kutya Szerbia, nem lesz tiéd soha Bosznia! (Wait till we catch you, dog Serbia, Bosnia will never belong to you!) Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. On July 23, assured by unconditional support of Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire issued an impossible ultimatum to Serbia. Nevertheless, the Serbian government accepted almost all the terms of the ultimatum. In spite of this, the Empire declared war on Serbia on July 28 and proceeded to bombard Belgrade with artillery the next day. The Emperor announced: “Mindent megfontoltam, mindent meggondoltam” (I have considered and thought everything over). He also promised that the soldiers will be back home by autumn “when the leaves fall.” Total mobilization followed. The war was supported by many Hungarians who believed the Emperor. However, the national minorities were not so enthusiastic. For example, Rezső witnessed Bosnian soldiers of the AustroHungarian Army defecating into the water of a public bath in
Budapest, to show their unhappiness to fight against their Serbian brothers. The military discipline in the “K und K“ (Imperial and Royal) Army was very strict as the following anecdote demonstrates it. The sergeant explains to his platoon: “The authority of a Private First Class is such as that of your village Notary. The authority of a Corporal is such as that of your District Administrator. The authority of a Lance Sergeant is such as that of your Chief Constable.“ A soldier asks permission to speak: “What is the authority at home that corresponds to that of a Sergeant?“ The sergeant replies: “That high an authority does not exist at your home or anywhere else outside the Army!“ It was generally assumed that the Empire would be on the winning side of the war. This belief, however, was based on emotions, not facts. For example, the authorities totally forgot to take America’s possible involvement into account. As a result, the war was not only doomed to defeat but it also led to the end of the AustroHungarian Monarchy.
Up with the war!
Laci and Ilonka celebrate the war Rezső was already 31 years old and unfit to military service. He was, however, enlisted in the Militia in November 1914. He was not actually called up because railroad workers were considered performing military service.
Rezső is enlisted in the Militia with the right to a braid on the sleeve of his uniform The war ended the universal blissfulness of the happy peace times. Béla Zerkovitz’s song reflected the new mood: Tanulj meg, fiacskám, komédiázni, Tanulj meg kacagni, sírni, ha kell, Tanulj a rosszhoz is jó képet vágni, Magaddal törődj csak, más senkivel. Ne higyj a barátnak, hű szeretőnek, Ne higyj az eskünek, ne higyj soha, Tanulj meg, fiacskám, komédiázni, Mert minden, minden csak komédia.
At the Railroad Company Rezső became a freight transportation expert. He specialized in auditing waybills. This was a rather complicated task because freights were transported using different railroads both inside and outside of the country and a complex system of discounts was in effect. The family had a permanent permit to travel second-class on all railroads of Hungary and even on some abroad. Only upper-class people traveled first class those days. Ladies, gentlemen and stowaways traveled second class. Third class was for ordinary people. Rezső‘s job required a high-school diploma. He had attended a Gymnasium back in Nagyszalonta for two years only. His Teacher’s Certificate was not accepted as a replacement, so he had to pass a matriculation exam for the required diploma in 1916. On top of that, he had to attend a school for training to become a railroad officer. He received this diploma a year later. As a result, he had three diplomas. Neither of them was from an institute of higher education, but he liked to mention his diplomas each time we had an argument about something.
Rezső’s diploma from the High School of Commerce
Rezső is qualified as a railroad officer Emperor Franz Joseph died on November 21, 1916. Charles I assumed the trone of the Empire. He was also crowned as Hungarian King Károly IV. The war took its victims by thousands. Everything was rationed. Acordingly, the enthusiasm disappeared and a strong antiwar movement developed. Tamás Emőd’s poem characterizes the mood: Temetőszagot hoz százfelől a Posta, Verje meg az Isten, aki ezt okozta. Aki ezt a nagy gyászt a világra mérte, Az Úristen előtt feleljen meg érte.
Rationing bread, flour, fat, sugar. Everything for the Army!
War casualties who were lucky to survive
Against the horrors of the war Rezső joined the Social Democratic Party in 1916. He was one of the organizers of the local chapter of the Railroad Workers‘ Trade Union. Together with Sándor Millok (1887 – 1959), the later editor of Népszava, the Party’s newspaper, they organized the Party in the 1st District of Budapest. Rezső became secretary of the Party’s section at the Railroad Company. Rezső also met Aladár Weisshaus (1887 – 1963) at the Railroad Company. Weisshaus was a prominent figure of the Hungarian workers‘ movement. He was imprisoned for his revolutionary activities. As a punishment, he was not allowed to read any books except the Bible. Then he asked a Bible in English and learned the language from this source (!) so well that when Ramsay MacDonald, the later Prime Minister of Great Britain, came to Budapest in 1919, Weisshaus was able to confer with him in English. We will hear of this remarkable man later. Count Móric Esterházy was Prime Minister from 15 June to 20 August 1917. Sándor Wekerle followed him (20 August, 1917 – 31 October 1918).
On November 7, 1917, the October Revolution triumphed in Russia.
Funeral hymn over the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy It was clear that the war had been lost. Soldiers deserted the front en masse. In the ensuing chaos, Count Mihály Károlyi established a National Council on October 24, 1918. A week later the “Aster Revolution” broke out (soldiers put this flower on their caps).
Tisza was assassinated. Count János Hadik was appointed Prime Minister, but the “Red Count” Mihály Károlyi replaced him the same day. He held this post until 11 January 1919. The enthusiasm was overwhelming and it flared up to an antimonarchy attitude. People in cafes sang Gotterhalte, the anthem of the Empire, replacing the lyrics with the listing of the suits of the socalled Swiss cards, which were and still are the most widespread type of playing cards used in Hungary: Hetes, nyolcas, kilences, tizes, alsó, felső, király, disznó. (Seven, eight, nine, ten, knave, boss, king, pig). DISZNÓ KIRÁLY (Pig king), felső, alsó, tizes, kilences, nyolcas, hetes.
The Aster Revolution
Revolution has broken out!
Up with the Republic!
The Empire signed the armistice that ended the First World War on November 3, 1918. The Empire was officially dissolved on November 11. On November 16, the National Council proclaimed the Hungarian People’s Republic. Károlyi became its President on January 1, 1919. Dénes Berinkey was Prime Minister from January 18 till March 22, 1919. Károlyi tried his best to establish order in the country. Among other things, he allowed the regular sergeants to wear golden shoulder straps like officers. (The Soviet Republic later abolished all ranks. No wonder, most of the commissioned and non-commissioned officers were against Károlyi Mihály, the the Soviet regime.) Red Count
The proclamation of the Republic The chaos that followed was complete. Serb, Czech, and Romanian troops occupied two-thirds of Hungary. The Serb and Croat population of Southern Hungary issued a proclamation in the city of Újvidék that they wished to join Serbia (November 25). On December 1, the Romanian population of Transylvania issued a similar proclamation in Gyulafehérvár to join Romania. On March 20th, 1919, the Entente Powers (France, Great Britain, Italy, the United States, Serbia, Romania, the Czechs, etc.) delivered the "Vyx Ultimatum" that allowed the enemy states to annex whatever territory was under their occupation. The next day, Károlyi and his entire government resigned. The more radical socialists jumped at the opportunity and joined forces with Béla Kun (1886-1938), the Bolshevik agitator whom Károlyi had released from prison earlier that day. Unfortunately, Kun’s original family name was Kohn and this caused a lot of problems for the Hungarian Kun Béla Jews later. The Hungarian Communist Party was organized in a Moscow hotel on November 4, 1918, when a group of Hungarian prisoners of war formed a Central Committee and dispatched members to Hungary to recruit new members, propagate the party's ideas, and radicalize Károlyi's government. They started to publish Vörös Újság (Red Newspaper) on December 7. By February 1919, the party had some 40,000 members, including many unemployed ex-soldiers,
young intellectuals, many of them Jews. In the same month, Kun was imprisoned for incitement to riot, but his popularity skyrocketed when a journalist reported that he had been beaten by the police. Kun emerged from jail triumphant when the Social Democrats handed power to a government of People's Commissars, who proclaimed the Hungarian Soviet Republic on March 21, 1919. Sándor Garbai was Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars from 22 March till 23 June, 1919, followed by Antal Dovcsák (24 June – 1 August), but the real power belonged to Kun who officially held only the post of People’s Commissar of Foreign Affairs.
The Red Newspaper On June 25, Kun's government proclaimed a dictatorship of the proletariat, nationalized industrial and commercial enterprises, and socialized housing, transport, banking, medicine, cultural institutions, and all landholdings of more than 40 hectares.
Dictatorship of the Proletariat! Long live the Hungarian Soviet Republic in alliance with the Russians
The new regime was enthusiastically supported by the intelligentsia. They sang revolutionary songs like this: Fel vörösök, proletárok, Csillagosok, katonák! Nagy munka vár ma reátok, Állnak még a paloták. Királyok, hercegek, grófok, Naplopók és burzsoák, Reszkessetek, mert feltámadt Az elnyomott proletár. Orchestras all over the country played the International: Föl, föl, ti rabjai a földnek, Föl, föl, te éhes proletár! A győzelem napjai jönnek, Rabságodnak vége már! A múltat végképp eltörölni Rabszolgahad, indulj velünk! A föld fog sarkából kidőlni, Semmik vagyunk, s minden leszünk. Ez a harc lesz a végső, csak összefogni hát, És nemzetközivé lesz holnapra a világ!
Proletarians of the World, unite!
Even the greatest Hungarian poets saluted the revolution: Im eljöttem! Eljött a Vörös Isten! És megy s dörgő léptére messze reszket A sárga Szajna s medréből kicsap, Jerichós visszhangot ver vén Westminster, S az Óceán zöld üvegén vörösen Elõre rezg ezermérföldes árnya, S átfogja a Fehér Ház vak falát... Hozsánna néked, új Isten, hozsánna! Ismerj meg minket, tieid vagyunk! A szíved hajtó, élő, drága nedv, A diadalmas vörös lüktetés A mi bús bérünktől is gazdagult, S világra ömlő harsonád sodrába Gyötört torkunk reszkető hangverése Szerényen s mégis egyítve simul A kicsiny, árva magyar jaj-patak A messze zengő, nagy moszkvai árba, Mely most tisztára mossa a világot; Hozsánna néked, új Isten, hozsánna! Legyen szavad teremtés új igéje, Formáld át sáros, bűnös, ócska bolygónk, Mit elrontott sok régi, úri isten. Te istenek közt új és proletár, Formáld boldoggá pörölyös kezeddel, Emelj minket roppant tenyereidre És a magad képére gyúrj át minket! - Árpád Tóth: Új Isten szól hozzátok, emberek! Ez az ország a mi országunk, Itt most már a mi kezünk épít, Tobzódtatok, tobzódtatok, Éppen elég volt ezer évig. Hír és dal ma riongva vág szét Városfalak közt, falvan, pusztán: Itt van a nép, megjött a Nép Vihar-irammal, Hadak Útján.
Itt van a nép, trónt ülni fog most Ezer évig férge a rögnek, Itél a nép, ítélni fog S ezerszer jaj a bűnösöknek. - Endre Ady: A Hadak Útja Nyakatokon vad, úri tatárok, S mégis büszke a ti fejetek. Frissek a vérben, nagyok a hitben; Csák Máté földjén ti vagytok az Isten. Előre, magyar proletárok! Ami csak szépség s ami reménység, Mind ti vagytok a Tisza körül. Nincs a világon még annyi bánat, S annyi láncosa nincs még a világnak, Mint itt és nincs annyi nagy éhség. Éhe kenyérnek, éhe a Szónak, Éhe a Szépnek hajt titeket. Nagyobb igaza sohse volt népnek, Hitványabb Nérók még seholse éltek. Vagytok: a Ma; vagytok: a Holnap. Én, beteg ember, csupán csak várok, Vitézlő harcos nem lehetek. De szíveteket megérdemeltem, Veletek száguld, vív, ujjong a lelkem: Véreim, magyar proletárok. - Endre Ady: Csák Máté földjén Ady was celebrated during the Károlyi regime as the storm bird of the Revolution. He did not live to see the Soviet Republic (he died on January 27, 1919).
Work! Bread is scarce! Rezső as a social democrat and also as an intellectual was naturally attracted to this new life. He was elected to the Great Soviet and also to the so called Executive Committee of Twenty. In the latter he served together with People’s Commissar Mátyás Rákosi, the later dictator of Hungary. I have seen a document in the Museum of the Hungarian Workers‘ Movement that proved this fact. These were not full-time positions; he continued his work at the Railroad Company. His salary was raised to 2900 korona per year. As might be expected, not everybody was happy with this regime. However, Tibor Szamuely (1890-1919) organized a very effective commando force (the so-called Lenin Boys) who went from place to place to suppress any counter-revolutionary activity.
The Lenin Boys
Szamuely Tibor You! Counter-revolutionary, hiding in the dark and spreading disquieting rumors, tremble! The following anecdote is typical of those times. An old peasant and a young man are sitting in a train car. They start a conversation. The old man consistently calls the young lad “Comrade People’s Commissar.” The young man protests and asks why he is called so. The peasant answers: “Because you are a sniveling brat and also Jewish.” (“Mert taknyos is, meg zsidónak is tetszik lenni.”) Shadow counterrevolutionary governments formed in Szeged (occupied by French troops). The “Szegedi gondolat” (Szeged’s Idea) was created by bloodthirsty military officers who gathered there ready for revenge.
Don’t despair! The triumphant campaign of the Red Army (May-June, 1919).
Red soldiers, forward! In, into the Red Army!
To arms! To arms! In late May, Kun attempted to fulfill his promise to restore Hungary's borders. The Hungarian Red Army marched northward and reoccupied part of Slovakia. Despite the initial military success, however, Kun withdrew his troops about three weeks later when the French threatened to intervene. This concession shook his popular support. Kun then unsuccessfully turned the Hungarian Red Army on the Romanians, who broke through Hungarian lines on July 30, occupied and looted Budapest, and ousted the Soviet Republic on
August 1, 1919. Kun fled first to Vienna and then to Soviet Russia, where he was executed during Stalin's purges. Szamuely was killed around the border with Austria while he was trying to escape. Gyula Peidl (a Social Democrat) formed a new government but it lasted only six days. He was followed by István Friedrich (7 August – 24 November, 1919. Károly Huszár’s government was formed on November 24. He stayed in power until 14 March 1920, when he was replaced by Sándor Simonyi-Semadam (14 March – 19 July, 1920). The revenge of the counter-revolution was horrible. The White Terror that followed the fall of the Soviet Republic caused the torture and death of thousands of communists and Jews (of course, without any legal procedures). We can read about the unspeakable atrocities committed by the beasts of the white commandos in Andor Gábor’s Letters from Vienna. The castrations, buryings alive, hangings, and other tortures and mass executions committed in Siófok and Orgovány were especially well documented.
Three prominent butchers of the White Terror: Prónay Pál, Héjjas Iván, and Bibó Dénes (from left to right) Rezső was arrested, too. He was released on September 5 on the condition that he had to report to the Police every week. His colleagues testified in his defense.
Rezső is a political prisoner
Proofs of Rezső’s reporting to the Police
“I hereby testify that Ábrahám Rezső, clerk of the Southern Railroad Company, did not commit any crimes during Communism, and he behaved himself with utmost righteousness. – Horky Ferenc, August 15, 1919.“ The Railroad Company also started an investigation that lasted almost two years. Interestingly, Rezső‘s promotion during the Soviet Republic was approved already on November 28, 1919.
Ábrahám Rezső is acquitted of the charges for his behavior during the so-called (sic) Soviet Government. April 15, 1921. The leader of the counter-revolution was Miklós Horthy of Nagybánya. He was born in Kenderes on June 18, 1868. He was a Rear-Admiral of the Austro-Hungarian Imperial Fleet. He served as aide-decamp (confidential assistant) of the Emperor from 1910 to 1914. In February1918 the sailors mutinied in Cattaro (now Kotor), a port in the Adriatic Sea. Horthy ruthlessly put down the mutiny, ordering the execution of many sailors, and earning the nickname of The Butcher of Cattaro. After this heroic deed he was appointed Commander in Chief of the entire Imperial Fleet. He surrendered the Fleet to the new State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs (the later Yugoslavia) on October 31, 1918. Horthy Miklós
After the Romanian occupation he ceremoniously entered “guilty Budapest” (his own words) riding a white horse on November 14, 1919. On March 1, 1920 he was proclaimed Ő Főméltósága a Magyar Királyság Kormányzója (His Serene Highness, Governor Regent of the Kingdom of Hungary). Endre Nagy characterized him in his Cabaret: Volt egyszer egy tenger, Azon volt egy ember, Felmászott a trónra, Nem mászik le róla. Indeed, athough he was Regent of the Hungarian Kingdom, he was not planning to allow the King to occupy his throne. When King Károly IV attempted to do so, Horthy’s troops unceremoniously threw him out of Hungary.
Horthy enters guilty Budapest
Horthy is greeted by the triumphant new rulers of Hungary
His Serene Highness On June 4, 1920, the Peace Treaty ending World War I was signed in the Grand Trianon Palace of Versailles. Its portion known as the Trianon Treaty sanctified the dismemberment of Hungary. It is a fact that less than half of the population of old Hungary was Hungarian. It is also a fact that the national minorities had been oppressed by the Hungarian authorities and looked down upon by the Hungarian people. They were even referred to by derogatory names like tót for Slovak and oláh for Romanian. Transylvania was called the land of three nations: Hungarians, Székelys, and Saxons. The Romanians who formed a considerable proportion of the population were not even mentioned, let alone represented. Many Slovaks took their sons to a high mountain and showed them the land below: Vidish Yano, Magyarzország [Look, Yano, Hungary (with a Slovak accent)]. And Yano traveled from place to place as a drótostót (tinker Slovak).
Therefore, it was justified that after the collapse of the AustroHungarian Empire the Romanians, Slovaks, Serbs and Croats were allowed to join Romania and the newly formed countries of Czechoslovakia and the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs, respectively. However, the creators of this Treaty headed by the senile French Prime Minister, Georges Clemenceau (18411929) established the new borders without regard of the actual distribution of the population. They took away two thirds of historic Hungary including such territories as, for example, the Csallóköz where the population was almost purely Georges Clemenceau Hungarian. The entire province of Transylvania was summarily swallowed by Romania including all of the Hungarian Székelys.
Justice for Hungary!
Cursed be the hand that signs this peace!
This is our cross! He is our supreme leader! This is our Motherland!
The dismemberment of Hungary
Horthy’s troops in front of the Royal Castle Although Horthy came to power on Romanian bayonettes, his regime was based entirely on revenge against all states that acquired Hungarian territory in Trianon, especially Romania. He did not forget the Jews, either. Numerus Clausus was intruduced in 1920 by his Prime Minister, Count Pál Teleki (19 July 1920 – 14 April 1921). This was the first anti-Jewish law of 20th century Europe. No wonder, Horthy bragged that he had been a Fascist before Mussolini. The number of Jews who could be admitted to the Hungarian universities was officially designated as no more than five percent of the total enrollment. As a result, talented Jewish young men left the country by the thousands, among them Ede (Edward) Teller, Jenő (Eugene) Wigner, Dénes (Dennis) Gábor, and many other future prominent scientists. According to the famous anecdote, during the development of the atomic bomb, when Einstein went to the bathroom, somebody exclaimed: “Gentlemen, now we can speak Hungarian.” The extreme right-wing elements formed parties like Magyar Országos Véderő Egyesület (Hungarian National Defense Force Union) and Ébredő Magyarok Egyesülete (Union of the Awakening Hungarians). They hysterically demanded revenge.
Meeting of the Awakening Hungarians
Demonstration of the new masters of Hungary Horthy used all available means to establish himself as the real ruler of Hungary. He went as far as creating his own nobility in the form of the Vitézi Rend (Order of Courageous Warriors). Needless to say that the first Vitéz was Horthy himself.
Vitéz nagybányai Horthy Miklós initiates new members into his Order of Courageous Warriors
A few surviving freedom-fighters of 1848 are celebrated in 1920
Opening an academic year of the Pázmány Péter University
Horthy’s gendarmes in action Teleki was followed by Count István Bethlen as Prime Minister (April 14, 1921 – August 19, 1931). His task was to make Horthy’s blood-stained regime presentable. He is known as the creator of the era of consolidation. Tortures and killings were replaced by a corrupt gentry heel-clicking old-boy regime. To get ahead, one had to know – or even better be a relative - of influential people. The novel Rokonok (Relatives) by Zsigmond Móricz (1879-1942) clearly demonstrates the true nature of these “happy“ times when decisions were made behind padded doors by the ruling political and economic elite, poor people were starving, but others started to laugh again.
Bethlen István (far right) and his Cabinet
The consolidation has already started As always, the Cabaret reflected the mood: Tudja az Isten, hogy mért lettem ilyen röhögős. Kiderül abból, hogy sohasem voltam nős. Temetés, vagy esküvő, vagy egyéb gyászeset, Nekem az olyan mindegy, mert csak röhögnöm lehet. S ez olyan ragadós, akár a kanyaró, Az én röhögésem elkapja a bon fülébe dó (?). Nevet a gróf, nevet a tót, nevet a Csortos, nevet a Kohn, Nevet az ember, ilyen még nem volt. Kacag a Spock, kacag a Spitz, kacag a Spitzer, kacag a Blitz, Kacag az ember, nincs is benne vicc. Röhög a Bloch, röhög a Blum, röhög a Kohn es Grün, Röhög a Grosz, röhög a Klein, röhög a Silverstein. Remeg a háj, röcsög a máj, reped a mellény, a vese fáj, Nevet a színház, hál’ Isten good bye.
Hogyha a tárcám elcsórja egy szegény zsebmetsző, Nevetek egyet, de becsapódott ő. Ha a végrehajtó jön foglalni engemet, Nevetek egyet, s felkérem, hogy foglaljon helyet. Ha a lábamra hág egy mázsás asszonyság, Én igy röhögök: “Ne keljen fel, érezze jól Magát!” Nevet a zsé, nevet a faj, nevet az izr, nevet a gaj, Nevet a színház, hál’ Isten nincs baj.
The other side of the consolidation
Shimmy was the fashionable new dance: Jön-e velem Nagysád shimmyt járni? Bizsereg a talpam, nem tud várni, Ha a zenekarban hottentotta tam-tam szól. Shimmy ma a táncok fennkölt csúcsa, Már a csecsemő is mind ezt nyúzza, Ajándékba kaptuk eztet mink az Antanttól. Erre tanít mostan Pest és Danzig, Ez lesz a divat itt hundred zwanzig, Most kreálta épp egy néger bölcs a Kongónál. Csak a szerecsen nő volt rá büszke, De ma lobog érte minden nőcske, Shimmy, shimmy, shimmy szívem csücske, Shimmy nélkül nincsen bál! Poor people danced polka: Sej, haj, Rozi, vasárnap kirándulunk, Meglásd, Rozi, unatkozni nem fogunk. Két szép szemed hamisan kacsint le rám, Polka közben súgom neked, Hogy egy csókra szomjas a szám. They also sang songs like this one: Éjjel az omnibusz tetején, emlékszel kicsikém, de csuda volt. Lent nyikorogtak a kerekek, s felettünk nevetett a telihold. Miközben a lovacskák bandukoltak Budán át, eloltottam égő ajkad, s a lámpát, Éjjel az omnibusz tetején, emlékszel kicsikém, de csuda volt. It looked like better times appeared to the Ábrahám family as well. György (Gyuri), the family’s third child, was born on March 12, 1920. Three years later (March 5, 1923) another son was born: Tibor István (Tibi). The Railroad Company changed its name to DunaSzáva-Adria Vasúttársaság (Danube-Sava-Adria Railroad Company) and Rezső advanced to the position of Controller.
Ilonka around 1920
Gyuri’s birth certificate
Tibi’s birth certificate
Tibi is inoculated against smallpox Rezső became a member of the Chevra Kadisha (Jewish Holy Society) of Buda in 1924. The family, however, could not afford to attend the Dohány Temple during the high holidays. Instead, they prayed at their relatives, the Friedmans (see Chapter 4), or at small prayer houses. Some theaters (e. g., Budai Vigadó) were also transformed into prayer houses during the high holidays.
Rezső is a member of Chevra Kadisha
Ábrahám Rezső around 1924
Rezső is a Controller
Laci was a very smart and quite mercurial boy. He played excellent chess since early childhood and was quick to take a boxing stance and hit everyone (including adults) whom he did not like. Once he came home from school beaming: “Dad, I know German,” he yelled. “What do you know?” inquired Rezső. Laci answered: “A, a, a…, I have forgotten the rest.“ The children went to school in Attila Street. Rezső wanted Laci to go to a gymnasium (see Béla’s story in Chapter 3) after the 4th grade. The Verbőczy Gymnasium was at the end of the same street, opposite the Horváth Garden. (As the popular song said: Legyen a Horváth Kertben Budán, úgy este fél nyolc után.) Rezső went to the director of the school in his railroad officer’s uniform and was greeted with the respect due to a Hungarian gentleman of high standing. This respect immediately evaporated when the director looked at Laci’s documents that stated his religion. So, Laci went to an ordinary middle school. Laci studied to play the violin, Ilonka the piano, without too much success. The two children spent all their summers in Őcsény. There, Ilonka met her first love, László Filler.
Laci’s first-grade report card has good grades
Laci’s third-grade report card has no grades (so ordered the People’s Comissar for Public Education)
Laci is through with elementary school
Laci graduated from middle school
Soon, new problems developed in the world. Mussolini came to power in Italy in 1922. In Russia, a bloody civil war was going on. In 1924 Lenin died and Stalin started to consolidate his grip on power in the Soviet Union. Europe suffocated in the grips of the Great Economic Depression. Inflation started in both Germany and Hungary. It swallowed Ilonka’s dowry. Korona was replaced by pengő on January 27, 1927 (1 pengő was equal to 12,500 korona). During the Great Depression Béla Zerkovitz’s song was very popular: Az egyiknek sikerül, a másiknak nem. A sors olykor nem tudja mit akar. Az egyiknek kiderül, s a nap fénylik fenn, a másiknak nem jut csak zivatar. Az én szívem nem sejti, mi a csók és napsugár, mert nékem nincs senkim, ki szívdobogva hazavár. Az egyiknek sikerül, a másiknak nem. A sors olykor nem tudja mit akar.
Have YOU signed up as a volunteer (in the Civil War)?
Lenin and Stalin in 1922
Lenin is dead
A little piece of the emerging “socialist realism:” Female workers and peasants! All to the elections! Under the red flag, together with men! – We bring fright to the bourgeoisie!
A ten-fillér (one tenth of a pengő) coin of the Hungarian Kingdom (without a king). The Sacred Crown of Hungary is on the head side.
Rákosi Mátyás, the later dictator of Hungary, as a prisoner in 1925
The Nazis were already marching
Have you forgotten what happened seven years ago at Trianon? This was also the era of the roaring Twenties. Josephine Baker conquered the world by singing with very few clothes on. Everybody danced charleston:
Szívemben vágy parazsa nő, meggyújt egy fekete nő tüzes szemével. Beleszerettem rögtön, csak az a baj, hogy szívem olvad, akár a pirítóson a vaj. Az én babám egy fekete nő, a szeme fénylő fekete kő. Fekete hajú, fekete fajú, jól tudom, boldog, akit megölel ő. Fekete gyöngysor van a nyakán, fekete testén csak a banán. Piros, mint tűz a szája, a charlestont úgy riszálja, az én kis fekete babám! Oly jól csúszik ez a banánhéj, Együtt csúszni ezen, babám, kéj, Dobd el valahova, jobb, mint a datolya, Jaj, csak ne nagyon félj! Ebből származik a banán-blues, Oly jó, mit a zene aláhúz, Egy kis muzsika kő, máris csúszik a nő, Jöjj hát velem, és csússz! Egy kis banán, mindig van ám, Csúszhatsz babám hát, Ha nincs talán, ültess babám Egy kis banánfát!
After her husband’s death in 1917, Róza (Rezső’s mother) lived alone until 1929. She sold geese at the market together with her daughters, Margit, Cili, and Mili. The Marksteins, parents of the later well-known humorous actor, Alfonzó (József Markos) sold geese there, too. Róza convinced the younger Margit (her daughter-in-law) that she should buy geese from the peasant women right at the railroad station. Goose trading was a good business in those days, especially because of great demand for the liver of forcibly fed geese (this cruel practice is illegal now). The goose traders were mostly Jews. To this day, the anti-Semites shout “Libások!” (goose traders) in soccer stadiums to demonstrate against the MTK soccer club that used to be affiliated with Jews.
Gyuri in 1927
Rezső at about the same time
The Ábraháms moved from Buda to Pest, to 53 Népszínház Street, to be closer to the market. The Friedmans (Mili) and the Grófs (Margit) also lived nearby. Then Margit (Ábrahám) became ill. She developed an organic heart disease. It was believed that the original reason was that she had punctured her finger with a needle, but it is more probable that the cause was her latest pregnancy with Tibi. It became desirable for her to live in a place with fresh air. They chose Mátyásföld, a very nice, green settlement not far from Budapest (it is now District XVI of Budapest) in February 1929. Although this is a flat region, its elevation is approximately the same as that of Mount Gellért in Buda (about 100 meters above the Danube).
Margit had to spend most of her time resting with cold water on her chest. This was the accepted practice to treat heart diseases then. Housekeeping and cooking became Ilonka’s job. She was only 12 years old when she started cooking for the entire family. She had to stand on a footstool to reach the top of the oven! They rented a big house (five rooms and a veranda) with a large garden around it at 6 Szép Street, Mátyásföld. The rent was not very expensive because the owner lived in Romania, but when he returned he gave them notice. In June they moved to a newer part of Mátyásföld, 11/A László Street. Their real estate agent was Sándor Szentkirályszabadjai Mozgai, a retired captain of the AustroHungarian Army. Ödön asked him if there were any furriers in Mátyásföld. He replied with disgust: “Come now! Only gentlemen live here!”
Ilonka’s registration card for moving to Mátyásföld It was a relatively good time for the family, not counting Margit’s illness. The Consolidation worked well and Rezső had a good salary (270 pengő per month). This was the time when Count Kunó Klebelsberg, the Minister of Culture, managed to reform the Hungarian educational system. He created 5,000 new schools in rural areas, established new types of high schools, and fundamentally improved the university system by supporting academic research. There was a Jewish community in Mátyásföld. Its rashe kol (chairman) was Mr. Szekeres, a rich needlework merchant. He wanted his daughter to marry Laci. He was not the only one. Laci was a very handsome, smart young man with a good job, but he was not thinking about marriage at all.
Laci’s graduation tableau After graduation from the 8th grade Laci continued his studies at the High School of Commerce in Márvány Street. He graduated in 1928. To find a job was not an easy task. Based on the recommendation of his French teacher, he got a job at the Book Distribution Company of the Athenaeum Printing House. He was a good typist and stenographer. His skills were used in the Legal Department of the Company. He had been working there for half a year when one of Margit’s cousins offered him a job at Laci in 1928 the British-Hungarian Bank. When he disclosed that he had had a kidney infection, the physician of the Bank decided that he was unfit for the job. (Once he went to the Velence Lake with his friends. While rowing on the lake their boat turned over and they had to swim in the cold water. He developed a kidney infection, of which he was totally cured.) Laci tried again with the Hungarian General Savings Bank where he was admitted as a “bank boy.“ This was a starting position that involved many menial tasks (according to a contemporary joke, the bank boys‘ job was to lick the envelopes before they were sealed). Nevertheless, it was considered a good job because it could lead to a well-paid position in 10-12 years. Later he was transferred to the Magyar Általános Hitelbank (Hungarian General Credit Bank) where he worked for eleven years.
Laci was an excellent sportsman. He won several fencing, rowing, and target practice competitions. One of his prizes was a good size bronze lion on a marble base. I am sorry it disappeared after Laci‘s death. The most influential and richest man in the Jewish community in Mátyásföld was Lipót Götzl, the inventor, manufacturer, and distributor of Szidol, a very popular liquid for cleaning silver tableware and copper door handles. We will meet him again soon. The Ábraháms were lucky to get acquainted with Dr. László Szemere who was a wonderful, compassionate, and very intelligent physician. In addition, he was also a poet who translated Hungarian poems into German! His book Ungarische Dichtungen was recognized as an excellent introduction of Hungarian poetry for the German audience. He was also a doctor for the Southern Railroad Company, so he became the family doctor of the Ábraháms. He was born before Rezső’s father, but was a very vigorous man. He went on house calls on his bike until he was 90 years old. When Margit needed him, he came even in the middle of the night. Once Margit complained about a pain in her belly and asked the doctor where the appendix was. He replied: “I know, but will not tell you.” On Sundays Ödön visited with his wife. They played music together. Rezső played the violin, Ödön the cello, Laci the cimbalom, and Sári sang (she had a good voice). During Margit’s illness old Róza always felt when she was needed and appeared immediately. She loved Margit from the bottom of her heart. When the family moved to László Street, she moved in with them.
The Ábrahám family in Mátyásföld, 1929: Tibi, Rezső, Ilonka, Margit, Laci, and Gyuri
Tibi, Ilonka, Laci, and Gyuri A Hungarian peasant girl: Ilonka in 1930
Gyuri graduated from elementary school in 1930
Tibi is a first-grade student
Ilonka became a furrier’s apprentice in Ödön’s workshop. She diligently prepared food for the entire family and sang softly to herself sweetly plaintive Hungarian songs:
Akácos út, ha végig megyek rajtad én, Eszembe jut egy régi szép regény: Nyáreste volt, madár dalolt a fán, S itt kóborolt, csavargott egy cigány, Megszólítám: De jó hogy megtalállak itt, A legszebb lány tudod-e, hol lakik? Ott arra lenn, túl az akácsoron, Ma estelen egy ház elé osonj. Egy ablaknál állj meg cigány, Úgy muzsikálj, hogy sírjon az a szép leány, Olyan legyen, mint egy szerelmi könnyes vallomás. De csak csendesen, Ne hallja senki más. Szép asszonynak ábrázatja vitt engem a gyalázatba, De kár, de kár, jaj de kár. Ha meghalok, jó emberek, anyám mellé temessetek, Megbántottam életében, tán megbocsát lenn a földben, De kár, de kár, jaj de kár.
Ödön and his employees in front of his workshop. He is the third from left; Ilonka stands beside him.
These times are well represented by the annual publication of the Triple Books of the newspaper “Az Est:” one book for men, one for women, and one for children. The Book of Women was dedicated “to working women as a useful tool, to rich women as a gorgeous ornament, to young girls as a headlight to the future, and to elderly ladies as a music box with the sweet songs of the past.”
The Book of Women, 1930 Szökik az asszony, ha nincs GFB harisnyája (The wife runs away if she does not have GFB stockings)
Part of a bourgeois home in the 30s
Franciska Gaál (aka Szidónia Silberspitz, aka Fáni Galizenstein) was the most popular actress at this time. When Fyodor Shalyapin, the great Russian singer, gave a guest performance in Budapest, he had a little affair with Franciska. A frivolous story said that the lovers were walking in the rain, and then Saljapin ázott, Gaál Franci ázott. (Try to translate this from Hungarian!) Young servant girls sang songs like this: Meguntam az életemet, felmegyek Budapestre. Ott sétálok a fő utcán minden áldott este. Kicsínosítom magamat, a fejemet jól feltartom, Majd valaki belém szeret odakint a Dunaparton. Meanwhile, the family enjoyed its peaceful existence in Mátyásföld.
Rezső and Margit relaxing in Mátyásföld (1932)
Three Graces of three generations: Róza, Margit, and Ilonka in 1932
Count Gyula Károlyi became prime minister on August 19, 1931. He held this office until October 4, 1932. On September 13, 1931, Szilveszter Matuska blew up the viaduct near Biatorbágy under the Budapest-Vienna express. Matuska had nothing to do with the communists, but the government used this act to announce martial law and do away with the communists who were still in Hungary. Sándor Fürst and Imre Sallai were executed in spite of strong international protest.
The Biatorbágy viaduct after Matuska’s attack
Young Hungarians pray to Prince Saint Imre
The openly fascist Gyula Gömbös became prime minister on October 4, 1932. Although he died on October 6, 1936, Hungary started her irreversible path to total catastrophe under him.
Vitéz jákfai Gömbös Gyula (sitting in the middle) and his Cabinet Laci was called to military service first on October 1,1932 and served in a machine-gun company in the Hungarian part of Komárom until June 30, 1933. He was called to service three more times later. He reached the rank of corporal with a braid on the sleeve of his uniform that indicated that he was a man with Laci the soldier high-school education.
Horthy’s soldiers (including Laci) The soldiers sang military songs like these: Horthy Miklós katonája vagyok, legszebb katonája. Vígan élem katonaéletem, nincsen gondom másra. Masírozok káplár úr szavára, úgy gondolok az én violámra. Százados úr, sej-haj, százados úr, ha felül a lovára, Hátratekint, sej-haj, hátratekint az elfáradt bakára. Ugye fiúk, szép élet a katonaélet? Csak az a baj, sej-haj, csak az a baj, hogy nehéz a viselet.
Diófából, sej-haj, diófából nem csinálnak koporsót, A bakának sej-haj, a bakának nem írnak búcsúztatót. Ágyúgolyó lesz a baka búcsúztatója, Barna kislány, sej-haj, barna kislány lesz a megsiratója . They also marched while singing better songs: A faluban nincsen kislány csak kettő, Az egyiket elszerette a jegyző, A másik meg a kapuban neveti, Mert őt meg a segédjegyző szereti. Jaj de magas, jaj de magas ez a vendégfogadó, Van-e benne, van-e benne barna kislány eladó? Ha nincs benne barna kislány eladó, Dűljön össze ez a vendégfogadó! It is very interesting to read the postcards and letters to Laci from his family and colleagues:
Letter from his grandparents in Őcsény
Postcards from Etel and Ödön
“You must avoid card players by all means. … Your Father”
“Drága Laczi fijam!“ Letter from Margit. (This is the only surviving handwritten remembrance from her!)
Letter from Ilonka
Letter from Gyuri (the gipsy)
Letter from Tibi (the frog croaking)
Letter from Aunt Fáni (see Chapter 5)
Private Ábrahám László may leave the barracks before 12 o‘clock
Excerpt from a long letter from his colleagues (He was very popular! Note his nicknames: Ábris, Áborka, Ámpor). In 1932 the Danube-Sava-Adria Railroad Company was nationalized and became part of the Hungarian National Railroads (MÁV). After twenty-two years of service, Rezső was promoted to intéző (a manegerial rank equivalent to captain in the Army).
Rezső is a manager at the Hungarian National Railroads
The family celebrated Rezső’s fiftieth birthday on December 18, 1932. They bought him a leisure coat, a bottle of cognac, four packets of tobaco, two pairs of socks. They also prepared a bottle of coffee liquor for him. A month later, on January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany.
Hitler bows to President Hindenburg accepting the Chancellorship of Germany (Göring stands behind him on the left). On March 17 another catastrophe struck the family: Margit died. She was only forty-one years old! They buried her in the Budapest Jewish Cemetery. A rose bush was planted on her grave. The small bush grew wild and became a big tree that was removed twenty-one years later when another dead person was buried in her grave.
Telegram to Laci: “Mommy died; funeral on Sunday. Your Father.”
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