Asking whose death (or loss) has influenced me creates a series of most inward seeking thoughts, stories, and ramblings, whether I've known, loved and admired them, or never actually met them. But, undoubtedly, the influence that the death of my Aunt Klari (or Klara, for whom I am named) in 1945 at Auschwitz has been part of my life as long as I can remember. I think of her and her story often. Even as a little girl, I knew that my aunt, uncle and two young cousins died during a war that ended not long before I was born. She was the second oldest in my mom’s family and the oldest daughter. I often try to explain to younger adults--including my own children--how we (somewhat older) “boomers” grew up with the intimate recollections, the sometimes frightening history and the conclusion of the Second World War looming over our shoulders, and how that always has affected me.
For some many of my friends with American-born parents, perhaps the War meant that the parents had purchased a tract home in the early fifties in a new town or subdivision. Others had parents who came back from the War and the dads studied on the GI Bill. My parents didn’t come to the US until 1949, so if they had friends with siblings or parents who died in battle, I didn’t know about it. Rather, I got to know others who immigrated to the US as young, young families or as couples who came here together and their children (as I was) were born mostly here, in Chicago. I only heard of personal American war experiences as I grew up. I also got to know some of my more extended family. But all those who were of my generation were many years older than I and born before the War.
The death of my aunt, uncle and their young daughters was a sad tale that nobody really talked about very much. Historically, they lived in Budapest and were rounded up in 1944, when Hitler and the Nazis were desperately doing what they could to escalate their “final solution” and even professional, educated Hungarians were blindsided.
As time passed, I spoke to relatives and others were also there and survived by hiding. Those who stayed in Romania (where they mostly were born) were OK. Most of the family who lived in Budapest had fled earlier to Switzerland (nearby – sort of), Israel, Canada, the US and even (like my parents) Nicaragua. I’ve continued to learn more about the history of the war (including this year when I went to the Illinois Holocaust Museum to hear Hungarian survivors speak), and have visited Hungary and Romania (my parents’ birthplace) myself.
Perhaps this is a bit of a serious note and inspiration, but I have been carefully watching The History Channel’s “The World Wars” on TV this week and, as most of these shows have always been, it’s mesmerizing and, truthfully, bizarre at times. Each time I watch or read about the World Wars, I am reminded of my family’s heritage and the loss of the cousins I never know, their father and their mother --my namesake--who I never had the chance to meet.
The photo is of my cousins Kathy (18) and Martha (16).