I’ve been working on a legacy letter about Mom/Grandma which includes memories from several of us as shared throughout this book. I am so happy that we are providing these remembrances to pass down to the next generation. I want Mom to be remembered for the very strong, resilient, positive person that she is and I appreciate the contributions you have all made.
I also want Mom to be remembered for the courageous and positive way she has handled herself since the onset of her illness. Even as she is fading as the illness progresses, Mom makes many references to the importance of doing the best one can, taking things as they come, and making the best of things. This has provided her with the emotional strength she has demonstrated in coping so well. She is dearly loved by the staff at Sholom who provide for her care as she is always very sweet, gentle, and appreciative of everything that comes her way. I am very proud of her.
Memories from Daughter, Judy
My earliest memories of my mother are of resting in bed with her in the afternoon when she would stroke my hair behind my ear or hold my hand. I felt very secure and loved. I recall her telling me very early on how happy she was to have a little girl but, this didn’t negate her joy over having a son, as well, and having her complete little family.
I always felt unconditionally loved by Mom even though we may not have always agreed. She had taught me to expect and value being loved and treated respectfully. I would occasionally talk about a boyfriend or a friend, and if she felt I wasn’t being treated well, she let me know I deserved better and not to settle for less.
Mom was used to being treated well herself, first by her parents, and then by Dad. I’ll start with her father who adored her. She was the only girl and was special in that respect including to her two older brothers. My grandfather was a very warm and loving man and affectionately called “Boomie Batchie” (Uncle Bear) in Hungarian by the children in the family. She recalls how he would scoop her up and hold her close when their paths would cross as he was delighted by her.
Mom felt very valued by her mother in a different kind of a way. My grandmother was not demonstrative like my grandfather, but showed her love by the high expectations she had for Mom and wanting the very best for her. Mom acknowledges that this may have contributed to her own tendency toward perfectionism, but it also led to her competency in doing whatever she did and being known as one who could be counted on. If Mom said she would do something, there was no doubt that she would.
Mom was also very used to an equalitarian, loving marriage and learned to expect that for herself. She would recall her parents sitting together at the head of the dinner table holding hands and her father adoringly looking at her mother. She was also used to her parents sharing responsibilities with her father doing the buying for their textile store and her mother running the business. Mom always spoke of her mother as having been a wonderful businesswoman and she admired that. She also admired her mother’s beauty, but this was never more important than her strength and business savvy. I feel honored that Mom gave me the middle name Rose after her mother, Rose, or Rozsike in Hungarian.
Mom repeated much of what she observed in her parents’ marriage in her own to Dad. Dad adored Mom and often spoke of her as being the smarter of the two. I was always so impressed with that, as Dad was known as an intellectual and a scholar, yet he considered Mom to be more talented. Dad also looked to Mom as a guide in the ways of daily living which she lovingly provided. He always said that she helped make him the success that he was, and Mom was aware of that. My parents were also known for their loving affection and devotion to one another. Many folks would comment on how sweet they looked as they walked hand in hand in the neighborhood. It was also very sweet the way Dad would call her “Evike” and she would call him “Joszike” or “Joszi” – which were loving diminutives for Eva and Joseph.
My parents were role models for a good marriage with two equal partners sharing a life together. They passed this down as a value which I see represented in both Michael and me, the way we live with our spouses, and in what we have tried to teach our children. I see how our children, too, demonstrate these same values in the way they live and parent their own children.
I also always viewed my mother as very talented in her own right. She had a beautiful voice and sang in the synagogue choir. Music was always a large part of her life and she consistently played soft, soothing, classical music which filled her home. Mom played piano and I always loved to sit and listen as she performed. She was an artist and showed me drawings of beautiful women in clothes she designed when I was a little girl. Mom was also a voracious reader who would go through the paper daily from beginning to end and was always reading a book or two.
Mom is particularly talented at languages. She speaks fluent Hungarian, German, and English, and understands Yiddish. My parents didn’t speak Hungarian in the home when we were growing up as it was the melting pot back then and they wanted us to be as American as possible. Nevertheless, Mom taught me a few phrases in Hungarian over the years and we say these to one another to this day, especially “szeretlek” which means “I love you.
Mom was also an expert at English, her second language, and never needed a dictionary. I always remember from grade school to college, I didn’t need to look up a word if I didn’t understand it as Mom would always know and tell me. That made me so very proud! She had difficulty with idioms, however, and would often get them mixed up such as: “I wouldn’t touch it with a hot pole,” and Dad would good naturedly tease her for it.
I also want Mom to be remembered for how generous she has always been. She never worried about whether she would have enough for herself, and would share whatever she had including the last of a treat or whatever was on her plate! This extended to finances and us knowing that we could go to her when needed and, if not, she would provide unsolicited help. You could always count on Mom for being there, keeping a confidence, remembering a detail or fact, keeping commitments, telling the truth, and being loving.
I was and am very proud of Mom in so many ways. I’m especially impressed with her strength as a young woman in Nazi Europe when Hitler was in power. She was in Austria when the Nazis took over in 1938. She heard Hitler at a rally firing up the crowd with frightening anti-Semitic remarks. It was that experience that led to her decision to leave Hungary. For months she pressured her family to allow her to leave until her father finally agreed to help her. However, her parents were unwilling to go as they, like most Hungarian Jews, didn’t believe that their lives were threatened. Mom knew differently and was very determined in her quest to leave, and she was very courageous in doing so.
Mom would tell the story of travelling between Austria and Hungary before she left and being frisked by a Nazi on the train on the way back to Vienna. She had been asked by an aunt to smuggle out some valuables for safekeeping until after the war. Mom was wearing a brooch and had some other valuables hidden on her when the train was stopped at a station on the way. There was a female Nazi guard who frisked her, but ultimately let her go through. I remember Mom telling me that she always had the feeling that this guard knew she was smuggling some jewels, but turned a blind eye. How terrifying this must have been for Mom, but she kept going.
Mom became all the more determined to leave Hungary as time passed. She eventually persuaded her father to get her a passport to England, but the only way she could get into England was to work as a maid. She went into a gentile home to work, and when she got there the family realized at once that Mom had no experience doing household chores as she had actually grown up with her own maid and a cook. Mom didn’t even know how to make tea! The family loved her and treated her like family. Mom didn’t like it that they insisted she sit at the dinner table to eat with them while also expecting her to serve them, as this was very uncomfortable. They developed a good friendship, however, and this family helped Mom plan her wedding and they attended as her guests.
Mom would tell other stories about the amazing experiences she had. My parents lived through the bombing of London. She would talk about how she and my father sat in the Underground with the bombs falling around them. She used to say that the British were very stoic and that their good example enabled them to cope through this difficult time. I was so in awe of that.
After the war, when Mom was all of 25, she learned that all of her family had perished in Auschwitz. Mom took this very hard and realized she could no longer live in Europe. She had to get away and start a new life, and Dad agreed. They were sponsored by relatives in Chicago where they eventually settled with Michael until I came along and joined them as the first American-born member of the family.
As new Americans who escaped from the Holocaust, my parents took a lot of pride in being American once they became naturalized citizens. I remember how special they made me feel to be American-born. They instilled in me a love of this country and reminded me of how fortunate I was to be an American.
Dad always said that Mom lost her sense of adventure after the terrible losses she experienced and was never quite the same. Mom never lost her spark, however, and I have always described her as having been vivacious and full of life. This is just one of the many wonderful things Mom has passed on. She has an amazing legacy and I am grateful I can share it and still have her here to tell her how much she is admired and loved!
Memories from Son, Michael
Mom always took my side, even when it wasn’t necessarily to her best advantage. When Dad and I were estranged for several years, Mom always kept up contact with me, and I with her, even though I did not communicate with Dad.
Whenever I visited Minneapolis, Mom always had my favorite dessert waiting – her mocha cake. With her wonderful Hungarian accent, it sounded closer to “mucka” cake. And when it was time for me to leave, she almost always sent another mocha cake with me. I really miss those cakes!
Mom and Dad had planned a trip to England around my tenth birthday. Actually, Mom was a bit reluctant to accompany Dad. She had become less adventurous than in her youth, but she agreed to go to please him. They had made all the travel arrangements, then I fell off a garage roof trying to retrieve a baseball I had spied from another garage roof. I was perhaps too adventurous at that age. I broke my right arm and left leg and was confined to a wheelchair for many weeks. Mom and Dad had originally arranged with our landlords, who lived on the second floor above us in the three-story apartment, to take care of Judy and me. She didn’t think they could handle taking care of an invalid child so she canceled her travel arrangements to stay home and take care of me. Dad went to England alone. I had hated the idea of the neighbors taking care of us even when I was well, but dreaded them being responsible for my care while I was laid up, though I didn’t express such to my parents. So staying home and foregoing the vacation was a very loving thing for Mom to do.
Memories from Son-In-Law, Bill
Having read the contributions of my own family, I have somewhat different, though consistent, perceptions/memories of Mom.
During our engagement, Mom showed Judy and me pictures from Hungary. Though I knew much about the Holocaust, pictures of her parents, her two brothers, and her introduced the true meaning of the Holocaust to me in a new, transcendental fashion. Tears came to my eyes as I looked at this lovely family, knowing that all but Mom had been murdered, after terrible suffering, because of their Jewish identity.
This epiphany transformed my perception of Mom. How would I (how would anyone) have at age 25 and living in a foreign country, have handled the knowledge that their entire family had been slaughtered? From that moment on, Mom became heroic to me, simply because she had chosen to survive and become the good and responsible person/wife/mother/grandmother that was her life’s story.
Mom deeply appreciated what America is, how it has sheltered the world during this past, terrible century. Her personal experience has taught her in a way that no book can. She knows firsthand how the freedom, tolerance, and unselfish strength that America has projected has, indeed, been the world’s last, best hope, particularly during World War II.
On a far more personal level, my early adult years were rocked by terrible emotional distress. My own pain was hard on Judy who turned to her parents for support. Despite the fact that I had no objective reason for my suffering (and Mom and Dad had endured terrible losses at about the same age), they could not have been more supportive of Judy and me. Mom’s love and acceptance of me was a source of comfort and stability for both of us.
Later in life, Mom helped us all financially when she could. What was so very admirable about Mom’s generosity is that she dipped into her very “finite pot” with gifts that she could never replenish. And now, in the terrible company of Alzheimer’s, I watch Mom slowly fade away with great dignity and grace. Both Mom and Dad were/are heroic in how they gave comfort to others in their last days.
There are many other stories that I could tell, most of which Judy has already told. Let me summarize it this way. I love to make people laugh. Despite all her pain, her incalculable losses, and her many life’s challenges, Mom loved to laugh, and Mom loved to love. Mom is a wonderful example of the resiliency and strength of the human spirit. Its ability to endure the unendurable and to continue to embrace life. Mom exemplifies one of the greatest of the Jewish beliefs, “l’chiam.”
Memories from Daughter-In-Law, Kate
I met Eva for the first time in January 2010, nine months after marrying her son. Michael told me that she might not be able to have much of a conversation. So, I was delighted when she was alert and fully aware of who I was. She said something like, “I would welcome you to our family, of course, but it’s so easy to welcome you, because I really like you.” She was so charming. She talked about how she was happy for Michael and we talked about many things including our home in Calgary, my sons, and Michael’s daughters. I realized how amazing our conversation was when I looked over at Judy and Michael and saw the tears in their eyes. They were amazed! The next morning, we looked through Mom’s picture albums and she described what was happening in some of the pictures in great detail. I feel so blessed to have gotten to know Mom, to see what a delightful, loveable, and kind woman she is.
Memories from Granddaughter, Maurine
What stands out for me as I think back over my time about Grandma, is her positive attitude. She has survived more hardship, more than I can ever imagine, but still serves as a loving and supportive presence for her family. She never complains about what she has been through or what she is currently experiencing. She always has something nice to say and is invariably appreciative. This level of positivity deserves (and has earned!) my deep respect and admiration. It provides me with a very powerful and meaningful example of how to cope productively and gracefully with the expected and unexpected difficult events of a lifetime.
Memories from Granddaughter, Becky
Reading my own mother’s recollections of Grandma Eva helped me better understand who my mother is. She too has always been so very giving to her daughters, making us feel special. I have always felt anchored in the world because of her (and my Dad). Reading the beautiful recollections of her own memory of her mother makes me see in a more vivid way what I too have gained from my Grandma Eva.
Here are a few of my memories of Grandma Eva. When I was a little girl, I was much more “girlish” than my tomboy sister. I remember spending many Saturday afternoons with Grandma Eva in the kitchen as she washed lunch dishes, and I would dry. (Maurine would be more apt to play with Grandpa Joe, who in my mind was “a boy” and thus not as desirable to be around at that time as Grandma). I remember eating Grandma’s delicious lemon poppy seed and chocolate cakes on those Saturday afternoons, and drinking a little coffee with lots of milk and sugar. We would play dominoes and cards. I never remember Grandma refusing to play any of these games with me.
The most vivid memory I have from those early childhood days was sitting by Grandma as she sat in her brown armchair in the living room. I would hold her hand. I remember feeling close to her and loved by her. In my college years, I was very interested in her story. At nineteen I interviewed her for a class project I was taking on the Holocaust. I acted out the part of young, nineteen year old Eva in a video I made for that project, and I remember feeling dashing, beautiful, and terrified, as I imagined myself in her place. This was probably the most interactive time I shared with my grandma as an adult. I saw her much more regularly in my college years than I did later on. Just like when I was a little girl, I would sit by her as she sat in her brown armchair and hold her hand.
When my husband and I got engaged in graduate school, he offered to convert to Judaism if it would be meaningful to my family. He was thinking of my grandmother. But Grandma Eva was very accepting of Dylan. He had no need to convert (which is good, as he is an atheist). I was glad that Dylan got a chance to meet Grandma Eva before she began to really decline (right around the time we got married). She laughed a lot in those years, seemingly feeling a little freer perhaps than she had as a younger woman.
I wish now that I had gotten to know Grandma Eva better as an adult. Since my early twenties I have lived away from Minnesota. While we spent time together in my twenties, I didn’t have the opportunity to ask her some of the questions I would like to know. Nor did I have the opportunity to really learn who she is, as an adult and not just my grandmother. But I am fortunate in that I can talk to my own mother to learn more. Grandma Eva, and my mother’s feelings about her, are an excellent reminder to me to take advantage of the current moment, and to value my mother, who I now see was shaped fundamentally by her own mother.
Memories from Granddaughter, Chloe
When I think of Grandma, I picture her soulful dark eyes and model-esque cheekbones, and I hear her soft accent, impeccable manners, and grace. When I was very little, I usually saw Grandma just once a year when our families would journey together to vacation in San Diego. I tended towards shyness in those early years, feeling most comfortable around those I saw frequently, and fretted that I might unknowingly disclose that I normally drank milk with dinner or had received some gift from Santa. I was afraid she and Granddad weren’t well aware that my family lived a life far removed from Judaism’s strictures. Yet as I grew up I felt less timid around her and became more fascinated and taken by her unique stories and attributes. One time, during a visit to Minnesota when I was 15, I implored her to join my cousins and me in a game of ping-pong in her furnished basement. We were astonished at what an astute player she was! I remember her rushing back and forth and smashing the ball, although she collapsed in her favorite chair soon after and declared herself spent.
A turning point of our relationship came for me when I spent a semester in Paris and took time to travel in Europe, including Hungary. Although Grandma was not with me, being in Europe made me feel closer to her and gave me an appreciation and affinity for her history and lovely tastes. She sent me a letter while I was in France about a time Granddad had taken her to Paris and described what she had seen and how much she had loved it. I felt such a connection with her. When I returned from my time abroad, I became much more intensely interested in her past and stories. I had always been immensely moved and heartbroken by the story of her family, but now I wanted to know all that she would share. I longed to absorb and record every detail. I am thankful that around that time my father filmed a long interview of me asking her many details about her life, when her memory was still razor sharp and immediate.
When visiting Grandma, she sometimes would put on a Klezmer CD and then would soon leap to her feet and begin dancing in a circle, grabbing my hand and pulling me along, unable to resist the catchy beat. I loved walking around her home and looking at all the beautiful treasures she had collected over the years and lovingly displayed, including Bohemian crystal, English china teacups, and perfectly polished silver. Her home abounded with photos of family members, her love for us all so prominently displayed in every direction.
I loved to sit with her, to hold her hand which was always so soft and warm, even after painful arthritis twisted her fingers, to listen to her melodic accent. It has been heart-wrenching to witness her slowly succumb to the ravages and brutality of Alzheimer’s these past several years. Yet her sweetness, her lovely voice, her luminous dark eyes, remain the same. Grandma has been a true gift in my life, and it is so hard to fathom a world without her presence. Yet I know that her spirit and soul lives on in her children, in her grandchildren, and now in her great-grandchildren. I am forever thankful for her presence, influence, and inspiration.
Memories from Friend, Terri
When I think of you my sweet Eva, I see beautifully colored light from the love that you give others, to the love that others want to give you because of your kindness. I enjoyed so much the dinners you invited me to at your home and what a gracious host you have been; making sure that everyone had enough to eat and telling your stories. Your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren love you and treasure you. I treasure you and appreciate all the kindnesses that you have always extended to me and my family, as strange as they are. You are a wonderful, gracious, lovely woman and able to give back and I so thank you for that.