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3.

The Szilágyi family

This Chapter is partially based on the unpublished book “Létszámon


felül” [Redundant] by my late uncle, Béla Szilágyi.

Albert, the young house painter from Szilágy County could not
stay in one place for long. He went from town to town and finally
showed up in Komárom County. It so happened that he was hired by
the Weiners in Tata-Tóváros to paint the walls of their kitchen. He
immediately noticed Adél’s long black hair. He asked her out and after
several dates proposed marriage by asking her mother first: “Mama,
dear Mama, you are the most beautiful woman on this Earth! Please
promise that you will give your daughter to nobody but me.” When the
mother agreed, he embraced her in his dirty overalls smelling of
paint. The deal was struck. Ignátz Weiner couldn’t stand Szilágyi but
his wife’s will was stronger than his, as is usually the case. Mr.
Weiner never talked to Albert and even refused to see him on his
deathbed.
Adél was not particularly fond of Albert, but Mrs. Weiner
explained to her that there was no sense in waiting any longer. After
all, she was already 22 years old. He was 29, had a good profession
and could certainly raise a family. Adél was an obedient daughter and
finally gave in, so they married in 1901. A year later, Nándor was
born. He was a beautiful baby but died soon of blood poisoning. As
soon as his little body was put in a casket, his grandmother left home
and was not heard from for two weeks. Four other children followed:
Miklós in 1903, Károly on July 17, 1904, Malvin (Manci) in 1906,
and finally Béla on September 30, 1911 (Yom Kippur day).
Szilágyi (as the mother of Albert’s children called him) was not
an ordinary painter. He called the paint “grace” and considered
himself an artist. He fabricated an easel for designing new
decorations for wall paintings, and liked to be praised for his work.
Indeed, he worked diligently, painted hulls of warships as well as
walls of apartments, merrily whistling, standing on a ladder and
moving with it as if the legs of the ladder were continuations of his
own - but he always smelled of paint and could not make Adél love
him. She worked as a seamstress, cared for the children, cooked,
laundered, ironed at the same time. She worked fast; work was
burning under her hand. She was irritated by Albert’s relative
slowness and meticulous activities. He always had his own ideas

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about the walls that he was supposed to paint and these ideas did not
always meet with those of the walls’ owners. For this reason he lost
quite a number of orders. He was not able to establish a workshop of
his own, either. He tried once but it did not last long. At the same
time, Adél saw the business success of her sister Katica, which made
her even more irritable.
On the other hand, Szilágyi could hardly tolerate Adél’s
constant nagging and reprimands like this: “I can’t stand him. Other
men are happy if their wives criticize them because they understand
that this is based on caring. I have to put up with his tardiness and
then listen to his complaints about being tired. How about me? Oh,
how tired I am!”
Albert did not like the little town and after the children’s births
they moved to Budapest. First they lived in the Wekerle Settlement (a
slum for the poorest workers), then in Pestújhely. They liked the place
there but their landlady, a godly Catholic, could not tolerate their
religion and they had to move again, this time to a little house in
Telepes Street, then to Bosnyák Square in the Zugló district. Here
their apartment was at the end of the second court of a huge
tenement house. It consisted of two little rooms and a kitchen for the
couple and their four children. The sun never shined there. They were
so poor that they had to sub-let a little dark and wet closet to a young
couple. Eight people in a two-room apartment!
During World War I Albert was already in his forties. He found
work in a military shipyard and was fortunate, because this work was
considered important to the war effort; therefore, he was not called to
military service. (Hungary was not a major naval power, but it had a
flotilla on the Danube.) Although he was full of energy, he started to
get bald, called himself an over-aged (korhaladott) man and
frequently was tired. He also thought that any man who has a family
is old by definition and deserves more rest than bachelors. After work
he ate his dinner, and then went to bed with a jug of water that he
drank each time he woke up. When he went to sleep again, he
snored heavily. He behaved at home in an orderly manner, went to
the synagogue every Saturday, and put on a black suit on Sundays.
However, he needed all the space to himself, and this made Adél
furious.
Albert was very proud of being the head of the family. When
Johanna, his mother-in-law, wrote a letter from Tata, it was always
addressed “To the hands of the honorable painter and decorator, Mr.

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Albert Szilágyi.” He was also a strict disciplinarian, but did not have
the strength to provide security for his wife and eventually keep his
family together.
Albert was a conservative Jew, but was unable to transplant his
religiousness into his more practical wife. He had an old prayer book
(I still have it!) where he entered the names of his children, Miklós,
Károly, Manczi (sic!), and Béla, together with their Hebrew names. As
Albert’s Hebrew name was Avrochom (Abraham). What a
coincidence! (See next Chapter). Károly’s name was Chaim ben
Avrochom. Chaim means life. Alas, it was a short life! Miklós and
Károly went through the ceremonies of their Bar Mitzvah while the
family was still together. These were festive days for Albert. He was
proud of his “grown-up” 13-year-old sons. Though Adél was not a
typical Jewish woman, she lit candles every Friday evening and was
genuinely afraid of the vengeful God of the Jews. They kept the holy
days like every other Jewish family.
The children went to school in Angol Street, but the school
building was partially occupied by a temporary hospital for wounded
soldiers, and education had become a secondary mission of the
school. Miklós and Manci loved this situation. Béla’s teacher was
Erzsébet Kunfalvi, a young lady who taught reading, writing,
arithmetic, and singing. The pupils had to learn patriotic songs like
this:

Tied vagyok, tied Hazám, e szív, e lélek.


Kit szeretnék, ha Téged nem szeretnélek?
Szent egyház keblem belseje, oltára képed;
Te állsz, s ha kell, a templomot is ledöntöm érted.

Miklós was a strong, skillful, handsome blond boy. His upper


front teeth protruded from his mouth. He was extremely stubborn,
shy, and very sensitive. He was full of energy, loved streetcars, took
revenge when another boy seemed to be rude to him, and liked to eat
and drink everything very hot. He had always been a lazy student and
his father had started to give him hard assignments at a young age.
He worked like a horse, bringing wood for heating from a remote
lumberyard and doing other heavy-duty jobs. He also had to stand in
line regularly for bread, which was rationed during the war. When he
felt hurt by his parents, he tightened his lips and cried a lot.
He received frequent thrashing from his father, who could not

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tolerate his stubbornness and also believed that a boy can only
become a man if he gets his dole of beating from his father. Adél
impotently watched these sessions. She could only cry and be very
unhappy. During these beatings Miklós usually behaved like a martyr
without uttering a word, but hate grew in him against his father, his
fate, and the whole world. Indeed, he did not ask to be the eldest son,
the war was not his fault either, and why were they so poor anyway?
Once his father brought home a huge package. He liked to
wrap his presents in several layers of paper to prolong the excitement
of opening them. This time it was a talking doll for Manci. The doll
was beautiful with long blond hair. Miklós soon decapitated the doll
“to see how the talking mechanism works.” Albert gave him several
slaps on his face and turned him out of the door. Károly found him at
the streetcar terminal and brought him back. On the occasion of the
boy’s Bar Mitzvah, Albert forgave him and even gave him his old
pocket watch inherited from his own father, but Miklós was already
lost to his family.
Károly was just the opposite of Miklós. He was the pride of the
family. When the other children did something wrong, their mother
immediately said to them: “My Károly would never do this, you know.”
Károly was short, anemic, not strong, had freckles, frequent nose-
bleeds, and weak eyesight (he wore eyeglasses), but he was an
outstanding student and an exemplary boy in every respect. He was
a kind-hearted, nice, pleasant person who even tried to make the
world more tolerable for Miklós. He participated in his older brother’s
escapades just to make him feel better. They went together to the
nearby streetcar terminus and pulled down the current collectors just
for fun. They also played soccer together with other boys from the
neighborhood. He was a steadfast, down to earth lad who loved life,
had a practical mind, and evaluated situations almost always
correctly.

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Károly’s 8th-grade report sheet from the Egressy-út Middle School

The family’s only entertainment was the silent movie. On

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Sunday afternoons, while Albert was sleeping at home, Adél took her
children to a cheap movie theater to watch Harold Lloyd, Paula Negri,
Waldemar Psylander, and Tom Mix’s cowboy movies. There were
also news reels showing the latest developments on the front.
By 1918 the war situation had worsened. The markets were
empty. Families were losing their sons. Poor kids whom no one would
have noticed were immortalized on monuments to dead heroes.
Wounded soldiers were coming back from the front in ever increasing
numbers. They stood at the street corners on crutches, their stumps
bandaged with dirty cloth, some of them wearing dark glasses, and
begged. Anti-war leaflets appeared on the street. Károly read them
with the interest of a thinking young man. Albert furiously hated the
government of István Tisza and participated in the general strike of
the workers.
The financial situation of the family grew increasingly serious as
the war went on. They rarely ate any meat. One summer Adél and
Béla went to spend a month with Uncle Jakab in Alpár while Manci
was sent to her grandmother in Szilágysomlyó to gain some strength
under the hills of Transylvania. Adél and Béla also visited a distant
relative, Aunt Juliska in nearby Hódos. Adél repaired all the clothes of
the families with whom she was staying. The two older boys
remained with their father and assisted him in his extra assignments
to paint walls in private apartments on top of his work at the shipyard.
The boys carried the paint and performed any other hard work for
their father.
Emperor Franz Joseph died in November 1916; two years later
the war ended in defeat; Tisza was assassinated; then the Hungarian
Republic was proclaimed and Count Mihály Károlyi came to power.
All these major historic events, however, had little effect on poor
families like the Szilágyis.

* * *

Albert and Adél lived together for 18 years without love (he
probably loved her but she never loved him). Like many other
languages, but unlike modern English, Hungarian has formal and
informal tenses; in the old days, informal tenses were only
appropriate among close family and friends. Albert and Adél always
used the formal tense with each other, as did the children, addressing
them with the German words Mutter and Vater. (This was rather

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common at the time among other families, too). Before Albert went to
work, he melted his glue on the cooking range. Adél found the smell
unbearable.
One winter morning in 1919 she could not stand Szilágyi any
longer. She took her two younger children and returned to her mother
in Tata. The two older boys remained with their father. Albert was
desperate. He begged her to stay, even followed her to the railroad
station to make a final attempt, but she remained adamant. They
never saw each other again.
She was a tough woman anyway. Her thin lips were tightened
most of the time. She never kissed any of her children; Manci was
just “you, girl” to her. Károly and Béla, the two favorites, received
exceptional treatment. Károly was “my best child,” Béla “my sweet
little boy.”
The situation in Tata was very tight, so one day Adél decided to
move with Béla to Komárom where Katica lived in upper middle-class
circumstances. (Albert used to call Katica a princess). Manci was left
with her grandmother.
Manci was then a nervous, easily scared, clumsy, anemic
thirteen-year old girl with thin legs clad in constantly sagging
stockings. Her shoes always looked too big for her size. However,
she had beautiful long curly hair. The whole girl looked like a huge
stack of blond hair. Her mother liked to braid it, and when she was
ready she held the girl’s cheeks in between her palms for just a little
bit longer than a moment. That was the way she expressed her love.
Manci did not want to continue attending school, and was not forced
to do so.
The eight-year-old Béla was a tall, shy, sad, melancholic child.
His teeth were similar to those of Miklós. He adored his mother with
an almost religious zeal. Early in his life he had already decided that
life is not really worth living, but he could fluently read and write at
five and was reading one book after another with enthusiasm. He had
also started to write down on small slips of paper all important events,
like “Mutter had a toothache” and “Vater was angry.” He had the
talent to find a meaning in things that most people would not even
notice. Writing his diary had become a daily routine and he continued
it until his death. His writing was very beautiful. I remember his
calligraphic letters and diary that are lost because I valued them so
much that I put them into the Box in 1979 (more about this later).
Béla sank into a deep depression. He blamed himself for

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everything: “I should have shown more love to Miklós. I should have
jumped in between them when Vater was beating him. I should have
remained in Budapest with Vater and my two brothers. I should have
…”
In Komárom, Adél and Béla first did not stay with Katica but
lived in a modest room with one bed where the two of them slept
together. Lőwinger helped Adél to rent a small tobacco shop where
she was selling matches, shoelaces, candies, and cigarette paper
(she did not have a permit to sell tobacco).
After the Hungarian Soviet Republic was proclaimed in 1919
and the country descended into anarchy, Komárom became a theater
of war. The new countries of the Little Entente (Romania,
Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia) attacked Hungary from all sides.
Adél’s little shop was destroyed during the first days of the war. They
moved to the Lőwingers’ house and Adél went back to sewing.
Although Komárom is not far from Tata, soon it became a
foreign city. The Trianon Treaty gave it to Czechoslovakia.
Lőwinger’s shop had a new signboard: “Alexander Lőwinger –
Obchod s koreninomim tovarom.” The population, however, remained
mostly Hungarian and the schools continued to teach in Hungarian.
The Lőwingers continued to thrive. Soon they built a new house
where they planned to live and reopen their shop on the ground floor.
Adél and Béla had to move again and again, from one small one-
room apartment to another. Adél refused to accept any furniture from
her sister, except for an old bed. Her sewing machine was constantly
at work. She was only forty years old, but her legs were already full of
phlebitis, and wrinkles started to develop around her lips. To ease the
strain on her varicose veins she wore full-length slippers made of soft
material (I saw these same slippers on her twenty five years later in
the Ghetto). Her legs were constantly on the move as she drove the
sewing machine, but she seldom left the apartment because walking
was difficult for her.
A year after their departure they received a letter from Tata. It
was from Károly. He informed his mother that a woman, Aunt Emma,
had moved in with his father. She did not love Albert’s sons and did
not let Károly go to school any longer. (Emma and Albert would later
marry, after Albert’s divorce from Adél.)

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Szilágyi Albert and his new wife, Emma in 1926

As soon as Miklós graduated from his apprenticeship as a


journeyman electrician he left home. He was seen at the streetcar
terminus but soon disappeared. Then Albert received a letter from
Jakab telling him that Miklós showed up in Alpár on his way to
Bucharest.
Károly left his father, too. He went to Tata, then tried to join his
mother, but could not get to the foreign city of Komárom. Being stuck
in Tata, he stayed with his grandmother who lived there in deep
poverty. He enrolled in a local printing shop as an apprentice without
pay. He received food from the printer, part of which he brought home
for grandma and Manci.
Adél was stricken by these news. She drove the sewing
machine in silence for weeks, but her tightened lips and sleepless
nights testified to her grief. She applied for a permit to cross the
border and stay in Hungary for three days, left Béla with a neighbor,
and went to Tata. When she got off the train and walked toward her
mother’s dwelling, she saw a barefooted boy in torn pants pulling a
cart full of books. It was Károly! The boy was overwhelmed with joy.
He fell on his knees and covered his mother’s hands with tears and
kisses.
Two weeks later, Adél went to Tata again. She brought some
clothes for Károly and took Manci with her to Komárom. She
arranged work for the girl as an apprentice milliner. The workshop

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was hardly ever heated and the poor girl tolerated the cold very badly.
Béla was the only one in the family who had the opportunity for
education beyond middle school. At ten he wrote the following
application to the Rector of the Benedictine High School
(Gymnasium, as it was called in Latin) in Komárom:

“Honorable Very Reverend Master Rector!


I am applying to you, Honorable Very Reverend Master Rector,
with the respectful request to have the kindness to accept me as a
first-year student of the Komárom High Gymnasium with full tuition
waiver.
To support my application I would like to mention my spotless
excellent grades in the elementary school and the fact that my poor
mother does not have any movable or landed property. She maintains
her and her family’s subsistence by the work of her diligent hands.
Hoping that The Honorable Very Reverend Master Rector
accepts my humble request, I remain
Your humble servant,
Béla Szilágyi, 4th grade elementary school student.
Dated: July 15, 1921.”

Two weeks later Adél and Béla stood in the office of the
Honorable Very Reverend Master Rector. He greeted them kindly but
asked two unpleasant questions: “What is your citizenship?” and
“Where is the father of the boy?” When he heard about the
separation, he became stricter: “Don’t you know that marriage is a
sacrament? You have four children. Do you know what you are
doing?”
The lecture on marriage was just the old monk’s moral duty.
However, the problem of citizenship was more serious. Adél had to
write a petition to the “Ministerstve Skolstva” (Department of
Education) of the Czechoslovak Republic to admit Béla to the school
in spite of his foreign citizenship.
The petition was successful, Béla passed the entrance exam,
and he was admitted to the Gymnasium. Instruction was in Hungarian
and co-educational. There was a Latin class every day but ancient
Greek and Slovak were also mandatory. Béla diligently studied Latin
declinations – and slept on the floor at home. The Slovak teacher had
translated Ferenc Molnár’s famous Hungarian book about the boys of
Pál Street into the Slovak language: “Chlapci z Pavlovskoj ulice.”

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School started with prayers: “Deus vicorda fidelium sancti spiritus
illustratione decuisti…”
The Catholic education was beneficial to Béla. The Benedictine
priest-teachers gave him a good education and were very tolerant of
the Jewish students. As a good and needy student, he received not
only a full tuition waiver but also free textbooks and even some
clothing.
He was very fond of his headmaster, Father János Gömör-
Kapisztrán, with whom he maintained a friendship until the priest’s
death. The Father taught geography, chemistry, and biology. He
frequently took the class to side trips to nearby towns and villages,
even to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. When they reached the
eleventh grade, he took the class to Prague for ten days! Béla never
forgot this visit to one of the centers of European culture and the
beautiful capital of the only democratic country in Central Europe.
When he was already at higher grades, Béla earned some
money by tutoring younger students. He met his first unreturned love,
Klára, an affluent girl who was one year older than he and engaged to
a Czech officer. He also developed some friendships in the school
that lasted all his life. His class had regular get-togethers even many
years after their graduation. On the other hand, Gyula Alapy, the
dreaded later prosecutor of Cardinal Mindszenthy and László Rajk,
was also one of his classmates. Alapy was a sadist even as a child.
When they went rowing on the Danube, he was always happy to
catch a duck and break the poor bird’s neck.
Béla diligently prepared for the matriculation exam. As usual, he
got good grades in all subjects except mathematics. As a result, his
final result was not “excellent” but only “good.” Therefore, he lost
hope for exceptional treatment in the pursuit of his dream to become
a teacher.
The Father presented him an elegant suit for the graduation
ceremony. His uncle gave him a walking stick as a symbol of an
educated gentleman. He was singing “Gaudeamus igitur” and the
traditional Hungarian graduation song at the ceremony together with
his more fortunate classmates:

Gaudeamus igitur, juvenes dum sumus


Gaudeamus igitur, juvenes dum sumus

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Post jucundam juventutem, post molestam senectutem.
Nos habebit humus, Nos habebit humus.

Ballag már a vén diák, tovább, tovább.


Isten veletek cimborák, tovább, tovább.
Ez út hazánkba visszavisz,
Filiszter leszek magam is.
Tovább, tovább, tovább!
Fel búcsúcsókra cimborák.

Szilágyi Béla at graduation (1929)

He could not attend university for three reasons: 1) He was very


poor and could not afford to enroll either in Czechoslovakia or in
Hungary. 2) As a Hungarian citizen, no Czechoslovak university
would have accepted him. 3) Because of Numerus Clausus (the law
that severely restricted the number of Jewish students in Hungarian
universities) it would have been even more difficult in Hungary. He
tried to enroll in a two-year teachers’ college that prepared teachers
for elementary schools but was not accepted because of his
citizenship.
Károly comforted him with his letter. He wrote to him that the
situation in Hungary was intolerable for those few Jewish students
who were accepted to universities. The student members of the

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fascist Turul Society regularly mocked and beat them up.

* * *

Miklós was 17 years old when he left his father. He somehow


managed to cross the Romanian border, spent a short time with
Uncle Jakab, and then continued his long lonely walk. He tried to find
shelter on his way, but most people chased him away, so he slept in
roadside ditches. After some wandering in Transylvania he settled
down with a Gypsy girl in Bucharest. His parents did not hear a word
from him for sixteen years. He did not even bother to send them a
postcard, so everybody thought that he was dead.
When he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease in 1936, he
suddenly remembered his mother and one autumn day he simply
showed up in Budapest as if he had just left the day before. When he
learned that half a year before his return another Miklós Szilágyi was
born who received his first name in his uncle’s memory, he was
seriously hurt. How could all his folks believe in his death while he
was still alive?

Szilágyi Miklós Miklós in Bucharest

Károly became a journeyman at 19. He was an excellent


typesetter. He fell in love with the printing profession and became a
master of it. He moved to Budapest where he joined the Printers’
Trade Union, which was a powerful workers’ organization. The
printers helped each other in every respect. They preferred

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unemployment to working for less than the pay established in their
collective bargaining agreement.
He was also an outstanding human being. He was smart and
devoted to his mother, brothers,
and sister. He signed his letters to
Komárom as “your faithful son and
loving brother.” It was enough to
look into his eyes to see that he
was a good and cheerful man.
Everybody loved him. He had lots
of friends. He was rather short but
had long curly hair and was a
handsome young man. He was
very popular with girls.
He was a down-to-earth,
steadfast man who became the
pillar of the family. He supported
them, helped as much as he could,
and also tried to raise their spirits.
He never gave up on anything
worked diligently and supported all
who needed his support.
Szilágyi Károly in 1923

He found temporary work in Budapest that did not last long. He


had to endure the life of the unemployed. He even tried to find
employment abroad. He went as far as Galati, Romania, but soon
came back to Budapest.
He lived in a rented room. Going back to his father was out of
the question because Károly and Emma did not get along.
Eventually, a large printing house employed him. His new job
gave him some security. He started to enjoy life and also wrote
novels and poetry. (I had all his manuscripts but was foolish enough
to put them in the Box. I still remember one of his poems that was
about two brothers who found themselves on the two sides of the
Great War. They had no other choice but kill each other: “Beleestem
és beleestél … Beléd küldöm a gyilkos ólmot.”)

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This handsome young man is Szilágyi Károly (around 1926)

Károly in 1926 Szilágyi Károly, the established


printer (around 1930)

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Károly (with the cane) having “To Karcsi with sincere friendship,
a good time with friends in the Klári, March 9, 1933”
Budapest City Park in 1930
(On the back of the picture:
“Ujjé! A Ligetbe nagyszerű!!”)

In 1928 Károly finally managed to visit his mother, sister, and


brother in Komárom. He decided to take
all of them to Budapest so that Mutter
would not have to work. Soon Adél and
Manci left Béla alone in Komárom
because there was still one year to go
before his graduation. He was given
room and board at the Gymnasium, but
Lőwinger was afraid of appearing as
though he did not care about his
nephew, so Béla was forced to move to
them. He obeyed, but felt abandoned
and unhappy. He tried to deserve their
care by tutoring his cousin, Laci, who
attended the same gymnasium but was
more interested in music than in ancient
Greek.
Adél took her sewing machine with
her. Mutter and her two children rented Szilágyi Albertné
a small apartment in the Josefstadt district Weiner Ida Adél in 1930
of Budapest. They suffered not only from poverty but also from the
bedbugs that overwhelmed their beds. Adél tried to get rid of them by

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treating the beds with kerosene.
Béla soon joined his family in Budapest. He had to find
employment at the time of the Great Depression, when there was no
employment available. Finally, he had to accept menial jobs for little
pay, like checking credit information for banks, going from address to
address on foot to save the cost of a trolley ticket.

Béla in 1930 Béla strolling about the Béla around 1931


streets of Budapest

Although at that time a high-school diploma meant a very


substantial education, eventually he became a bookbinder’s
apprentice. He learned this trade well and in a couple of years
became a journeyman. He worked long hours in big printing shops
under rude masters and sometimes had to work so late that could not
get home before 10 pm when the gates of the big apartment houses
were closed. He had to wake up and pay the gatekeeper to let him in,
then eat something, go to bed, soon wake up and start his
monotonous labor all over again. Although he was a responsible
young man who liked his work with books, he saw no perspective in
his life and became a depressed and morally crippled man. He
adored his mother like a goddess and was too shy with girls. He did
not even have the time and money to date. He started to believe that
he had been chosen by fate to be unhappy. He accepted his fate with
resignation: “I will not sit behind a teacher’s desk and behold my
students. Instead, all my life I will bind books in a smelly workshop.

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My only consolation is that sometimes, secretly I can raise the covers
of the books to take a look of what is inside. I am a redundant man.”
No wonder that the communists found him. After the defeat of
the Hungarian Soviet Republic in 1919, the Trianon Treaty, and the
military coup of Admiral Miklós Horthy, the Communist Party was
outlawed in Hungary. Most of its leaders escaped abroad, and many
of them were hanged or tortured to death during the White Terror, but
the Party was still alive. Once the Szilágyis had a tenant by the name
of Mr. Kovács (literally, Mr. Smith). His real name happened to be
Károly Kiss. He later became one of Mátyás Rákosi’s closest
comrades and Chairman of the powerful Control Committee of the
Communist Party, then Secretary of the Presidium of the Hungarian
People’s Republic. He and his comrades were capable of organizing
relatively massive demonstrations like the one in 1930 that was
brutally dispersed by the sabers of mounted policemen. Béla was
there as a member of the illegal Communist Party.
Manci continued to make hats. She
worked in a milliner’s workshop for 30
pengő a month at a time when a
reasonable salary was about 200 pengő.
(“Havi 200 pengő fixszel az ember
könnyen viccel.”) She became a beautiful,
sensuous young woman. Her hands,
however, started to give up. She
developed arthritis from the years of
working in the cold workshop. Soon she
lost the ability to move her fingers and had
to stop working.

Szilágyi Manci (about


1928)

* * *

This is the story of the origins of the Szilágyi family. While I was
writing this, I constantly struggled with tears. I wish I could resurrect
these people for an hour, just to tell them how much I love them.

18

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