Stories from our Ancestral Homes
Memoirs of Yardena
by Yardena Winter nee Grunwald
(29 Dec 1914 - 11 Feb 2000)
Narrated to Ilana Shamir Dec 1999-Jan 2000
I was born in a little village in eastern Slovakia called Nemešany, on 29 December 1914, under the name Helena Grunwald. My maternal grandparents, grandpa Armin Racz (formally known as Herman) and grandma Amalia (Mali) Gutman lived in that village. They nicknamed each other-he as Hirsch (deer in German) and she Mali, an abbreviated form of Amalia. Together they had eleven children born and raised in a loving and caring environment within the extended family circle.
Grandma Mali was born in 1853 in Ordzovany, and was already ninety-one years old when deported from Spišska Nova Ves to Izbica, Poland, on 28 May 1942 with additional family members, including the Grunwalds.
pump in Nemešany-August 2005
Niza with a local
couple-the woman is probably the last Jew in Nemešany-August 2005
Agricultural Fields in Nemešany-August 2005
Armin, who fully mastered the Hebrew language, had us his grandchildren taught it, and even used to make dictations so that we would be able to read and write in Hebrew. At home a certificate from the Keren Kayemet L'israel Foundation was hung on the wall, attesting that Armin was registered in the Golden Book, listing all donors to the foundation. All the volumes of the book, twenty-five in number, are stored in Jerusalem and are accessible to the public.
Mali was a very religious woman, observing all the mitzvot. So observant was she in matters of kosherness, that she never sat at her daughter's kitchen table because she didn't make sure the meat served was obtained from kosher slaughtering.
Nemešany was a small village, and the roads were unpaved. The family house stood by the main road, which was unpaved as well. It was a big house with spacious rooms. It did not matter that not everyone had its own room, but that each person had a bed to lie down.
Adjoining the house was an outer wing (big room) of the house, serving as a sort of inn-by the inn there was also a butchery. Adjacent to the house there was a grocery store operated by Mali, who was also in charge of the inn. Armin, who was a butcher, was in charge of the butchery.
Armin had agricultural fields where he grew cereals, potatoes and additional field crops. Adjacent to the house there was also a vegetable garden supplying all the needs of the family, and even strawberries grown by Mali. At the age of four or five I remember myself mounting the window seal and falling out of the window straight into grandma's strawberry plot.
Just outside the house there was also a cowshed, a henhouse, geese and a parking lot for carriages. No external food supply was necessary.
By the house stood barracks for the farmers working in grandpa's fields and the servants doing the house chores, such laundry, cleaning and trimming poultry meat. They did everything except for cooking-that task was reserved to Mali, apparently due to kosherness grounds.
The summer was the fruit harvesting season, such as juicy apples, pears, strawberries and additional types of berries. Whether growing on trees or on the ground, it all turned into wine, jams and canned produce from which delicious roulades were baked. Everything was stored at the cellar for the snowy winter time.
Twice a year, before Rosh Hashana and Passover, we went shopping at the nearby township of Spišske Podhradie. It lies at the footsteps of the famous UNESCO world heritage site, the Spišs Castle (Spišsky Hrad). Hrad stands for "castle", and the literal meaning of the name is 'under the castle'.
Built in 1209, this castle is the biggest of its kind in Slovakia. It was ruined by the Tatars in the thirteenth century, rebuilt in the fifteenth century and burned down in 1780. Today it still stands, and the sight is impressive. At its highest point a Gothic tower can be seen, a water reservoir, capella and a quadrilateral Romanesque edifice overlooking the foothill of the castle. A dungeon equipped with various torture devices can also be seen there.
In those days transportation was carried out by means of carriages, and only those who could afford themselves travelled by carriage. Not far from Spišske Podhradie there was a welling of mineral water, attracting many visitors congesting the roads in that area. The road went on up to the Polish border in the North, and as far as the Hungarian border on the South.
Family members of the baron who owned the Spišs Castle, used to go by the family house with a carriage, while we, the grandchildren, played outside by the road. I remember the carriage coming to halt and the baron's wife gazing us and saying "such beautiful children".
Armin made sure that his children receive Jewish education, which is why he rented a house at a nearby township, where there was a small Jewish community as well as a synagogue and a Jewish school. He and Mali had their children sent to this school. Helen, their daughter, was in charge of the house. During the week the stayed in that village and came back for the weekend towards Saturday. At the beginning of the week he used to call for a carriage to take them back. Those who had no interest in theoretical studies went to a vocational school-two sons studied fur making, and another how to run a grocery store.
Adolf went on to become a butcher, whereas Cornelius (aka Cornel) studied and then worked as a cook. Son Mano (Manuel), had scholarly aspirations-he graduated from high school and turned to academic studies at the Kosice University, a city much closer than Bratislava.
Grandpa Armin unwillingly had to sell a cow to pay for the tuition fee.
In his adulthood Mano became a professor and wrote a textbook on French and Hungarian for high school students, used for many years in Slovakia. The 196-page book was published in 1908 in Szeged
(a city on the Hungarian-Croatian border), Hungary.
The following list names all the children of Mali and Armin in a descending order, according to their date of birth:
1. Joseph-born on 27 June 1876 and sent to the US at the age of nine along with his aunt, Armin's sister, who had come for a furlough in Slovakia. Joseph was the father of my cousin Herman, who married Phyllis and adopted her sons from her first marriage, Kenneth and X (name unknown).
3. Adolf-born 13 September 1887
These four were sent to the US at the age of eighteen, the age when most men were conscripted into the Austro-Hungarian army. The family was worried for their sake, and to avoid conscription sent them to the US for so called study purposes. Each in its turn went in different ways through Hungary, Austria and Germany, to Hamburg, from which they sailed to New York. Upon arrival they were welcomed by the brother who made it before them, providing for assistance in acclimating in their new home.
6. David (aka Miksa)
These two were recruited to the Austro-Hungarian army and took part in WWI. Their battalion was sent to the Dnieper river area in Russia, where soldiers spent long periods in defense ditches filled with mud and water. In 1918 when the war was over, they made it back home. They were both very sick. One had meningitis and was lying at home in great pain until he passed away. The other became ill as a result of the continuous wetness and humid conditions, combined with freezing cold. He passed away as well not long after his brother.
8. Prof. Mano (Emanuel) married Theresa (Reschka) and lived in Kosice, the second largest city in Slovakia after Bratislava. He and his wife were childless, and therefore wanted to adopt me as their own daughter.
My mother refused.
9. Heinrich-born 20 November 1880. Married a woman also named Theresa (Reschka) and had two daughters. His firstborn was Armin and Mali's first granddaughter-her name was Helen, or Ilonka in Hungarian. The second was Viola.
At a later stage in my life their family and mine lived in the same village: Iliašovce. They lived at one side of the village whereas we lived on the other. The families maintained close contact, and I bonded tightly with Viola in particular, who was two years older than me.
Heinrich and Theresa had a house just like the one in Nemešany, where Armin and Mali lived. It had an inn, a butchery, agricultural fields and grocery store annexed to the house. That as well as horse stables, parking lot for carriages, henhouses and a cowshed. Heinrich preserved exactly the same lifestyle he had seen at home.
At that time Iliašovce had two Christian communities-the first and the largest was catholic, the second evangelical. These communities needed an arbitrator other than the village judge, to arbitrate in trials and conflicts between residents of the village. The Catholic chose Heinrich, who was appointed as judge and arbitrator, a position which earned him great honor. He also became manager of an inn at the village itself, where weddings and various events were held. Heinrich hired a woman who lived on the premises and ran the place in effect.
According to records of the Slovak Nation Memory Institute, Heinrich had a second butchery at the nearby city of Levoča.
10. Helen (formally known as Leonora)-born 1 May 1884. Was ten years older than my mother, and married Moritz Roth. They moved to the neighbouring city of Spišska Nova Ves, where they set their home. Grandma and grandpa who were very close to Helen, provided with the necessary funding for building their own house annexed to Helen and Moritz's. It was a corner house where on one side Helen and Moritz lived, and on the other Mali and Armin who left the village for that purpose.
Helen and Moritz had two sons and a daughter. The firstborn, Beno, studied medicine and was one of the few who survived the Holocaust in Auschwitz. After the War he married Mika, a gentile woman born to a Christian family who saved his life. He had two sons, Jan and Yarzi, living today in the Czech Republic-Jan himself is living in Kladno, twenty-seven kilometers from Prague. Both brothers are medical doctors. My mother and older brother Benny had met with Jan in Prague)
The second son, Zoltan, opted for vocational training and became a butcher.
Magda, the daughter, was born in 1921 and worked as a medical assistant to Beno, her older brother. She was deported to Poland at the end of May 1942 and ended up in Auschwitz, where she died on 6 March 1943. The rest of the family had the same fate.
11. Frida-my mother and the youngest of eleven siblings. Born in Nemešany on 26 November 1894, and at school age sent to a school run by nuns.
At that time Helen and Moritz's house
was being built in Spišska Nova Ves. Since Mali and Armin were about
to move out of the village into the city, all their money was given to
Helen and Moritz as funding to building their own house, and for
Heinrich and his family to buy their village home. However, Frida was
promised that in time when her own children start attending high
school, Mali and Armin would host them so that they could study in the
city. And so it was.
My Father Bela (Joshua) Grunwald
Born on 8 July 1889 in the village of Szakald, near the city of Miskolc, in present-day Hungary. He studied in Budapest at a vocational school, where he specialized in alcohol distillation as well as mechanics of alcohol-making machinery. Though he was the youngest in his class, he finished his studies with honors. In those days many knew how to produce alcohol but not how to distill it. He was a specialist in his field and made a dignified living out of it.
My paternal grandparents were Moritz and Bertha (Betti) Grunwald nee Weiss. Theresa, Heinrich's wife, introduced between Frida and Bela and matchmade them. They married in 1912 when Frida reached the age of 18. The wedding had assumingly taken place at the inn in Nemešany. After the wedding they moved to the nearby village of Mečedelovce, which was like a baron's estate with a big train station on the premises.
*Moritz and Bertha, born 1865 and 1866,
respectively, were deported to Izbica, Poland, on 29 May 1942 along
with Alzbeta Grunwald (identity unknown) and her daughter Edita.
Childhood at the Village
Tova was the first granddaughter of Moritz and Bertha-every week they would take her to their place in Smižany. When she got back she always came along with new presents they bought her, such as new shoes, golden necklace and so on. I was never jealous of her and never to went to visit them on my own.
However, every week I went with my mother by train to visit grandparents Mali and Armin in Nemešany. I remember the big train station with little shacks, a small building and a platform for the passengers. I recall how the train came to a halt with a steam blow, and the cars stood still for a while. We were waiting on the platform and my mother would hold me tightly so that I wouldn't be blown away by the steam blast coming from the locomotive. I still recall the weekly visits with much family warmth.
On 5 October 1916 the third sibling was born-my brother Aladar (Ali) Alois. According to correspondence between Yardena and the family in Slovakia, Ali married during the War.
In those years when WWI was still running, my father was recruited to the Austro-Hungarian army, and was away for two years According to a demographical book published in 1940, he spent substantial time on the Romanian front.
The family was left without a breadwinner, and thus towards the end of the war in 1918, we moved into his parents' house in Smižany. In front of their house was a little store-one day when I went out of the store, soldiers were walking along the road, returning back home from the war. One of them extended his hand to me and I thought he was my father: "daddy daddy" I called at him. Only later on did I understand it was someone else-that is my only memory of that place.
When the war ended the Austro-Hungarian empire collapsed. and the Hungarians had their share of criticism on the Slovaks. In return the teaching language at schools was switched to Slovak. My older sister Tova studied at such school. It was a small one with only one class and one teacher. Children of different age groups gathered in that class, aged six to ten. The teacher provided for individual tuition for each and every student.
In 1920, a year and half after the war ended, I started attending that same school at the age of six. For six months I wouldn't speak to the teacher because he called me Helena, my official name, whereas at home I was nicknamed Ilonka. Only after a few months he started calling me Helena.
Time went by and my father came back and got a position as manager of an alcohol distillery in Iliašovce. We packed our belongings and moved into that village, where my uncle Heinrich and his family were already living.
In Iliašovce there was a bigger school with eight classes, but still with mixed age groups. My sister Tova, cousin Viola and I, all studied in one class which was in fact one big room where eight different age groups studied together. I remember the teacher as a very good one-he taught me arithmetic, fractions, grammar and geography. I mastered all the study material of the higher classes, especially what Tova and Viola studied. In addition, the teacher's wife used to teach handicrafts-she had two children who were our friends.
In class we used to write with chalk on a personal blackboard, made of black schist. When the blackboard was already full we erased everything, and those who didn't remember what was just written did not know the study material. Only students of higher classes had notebooks. When Tova and Viola could not recall what the homework was, I gave them a reminder.
As children of Jewish families we had privileged life compared to children of local gentile farmers. We dressed and behaved differently. A priest from the neighbouring village would come to teach religion classes-as Jews we were allowed to skip them, though the priest narrated and explained the stories of the bible so beautifully and with such interest, that we stayed in class. Since then I remember all the stories of both the Old and New Testament. When he tested other students' mastery and they didn't know the answer, I raised my finger and answered.
At home I used to help my mother with whatever was necessary. This is how I learned to cook and do all the house chores. I was also nanny to my younger sister and brother.
On 23 July 1923, Melania was born. She was a weak baby and had pneumonia, if I recall correctly. We rushed in a physician from Spišska Nova Ves, who after examining her made us understand she's not going to live for much longer. Mother obtained ready-made porridges by Nestle and had her well fed. We watched after her carefully until she grew up.
On 23 January 1923, my younger brother Laci-Ladislav (Laszlo in Hungarian) was born. I was very attached to him and loved him dearly.
In 1924 Tova, Viola and I graduated from the village school in Iliašovce after 4 years of studying. After that we continued our studies at a private school for girls in Spišska Nova Ves. That year marked a twist of events in my life: I moved living in the city with grandparents Mali and Armin, where Ali and Viola were already staying so that they would be able to study in the city, as promised earlier to my mother. I lived there in the years 1924-1928.
Building-Yardena, Tova and Viola may have studied there-August 2005
Tova moved in with grandparents Moritz and Bertha in Smižany, and travelled to school every day by train. Ali attended a Jewish high school with five classes, and I attended a private school for girls where the teaching language was German. In that school the Catholic paid a third of the tuition fee, the Evangelical two thirds, and the Jews full tuition for their children.
In that year I have not yet mastered the German language and experienced great difficulties. During the summer vacation grandpa Armin taught me the Gothic letters. I practiced reading and writing even though I didn't understand a single word. Despite the difficulties I was welcomed very nicely at school-they had me participate in various school activities, and I, on my part, did my best to succeed. I worked hard on my studies and became known as a diligent and ambitious student, even though I was the youngest in class. Being good-looking and nice to others helped as well.
I especially recall a school event in honor of the German poet Schiller. The students staged a show with a group players playing in the background, and a group of dancers, of which I was a member. We also had to recite Schiller's famous poem-The Song of the Bell. My parents made sure that I pay a visit to a seamstress who made me a beautiful red silk dress. One of the teachers invited me over to her house in the afternoon, to practice and see how I recited that song. The lyrics were as follows (eighty-five year old Yardena stands up and recites):
in the earth
The night of the show, which was fun and exciting, all the students' parents gathered to watch the show. On the break I went off the stage and approached my parents sitting at the crowd. While walking I heard the German women saying to each other "such a little girl with such a strong and beautiful voice". In those days there were no microphones and not everyone could speak loudly, clearly with the right accent.
On Saturday afternoons I took part in a story reading course, where we recited and analyzed stories, articles and poems, while discussing a selected piece of work.
By then I already mastered German completely, and my teachers highly appreciated me-this is why I enjoyed going to school. The teachers at school used to call students by their last name. I was called Grünwaldchen, a kind of nickname, and not just Grünwald. In German, the suffix –chen indicates a diminutive, and is sometimes used to form nicknames.
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