Autobiography Index


My mother's family

My mother was Karolina Gerstenfeld (Kraindl on her birth certificate). Her father, Joachim, was born around 1850. He was a surveyor, a civil servant, in Drohobycz, a town that was then in Galicia, a province of Austria. His profession was an important one at the time in the region, because the largest oilfields in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy had been discovered in nearby Boryslaw. Before World War I, my grandfather uncovered some illegal activities in the course of his work in connection with the ownership of certain oilfields. He notified the authorities, which almost led to his losing his job, because his superior, or superiors, had been mixed up in the affair. Things were smoothed out eventually, but he had no hope of getting a promotion after this.

His wife, my grandmother, whose name I do not remember, was a highly cultivated woman. She read a lot, preferring in particular contemporary Viennese authors, such as Arthur Schnitzler. My mother liked to tell the story that her mother used to get very upset if it came out in  company that others had not read these books. She would shout in consternation: "Das haben Sie nicht gelesen! (You haven't read this!)", at people who may not have been readers, or if they read books at all, they read in Yiddish.

At the beginning of World War I the Russians advanced rapidly and occupied a large part of Galicia. The Austrian authorities evacuated government employees by train, under perfectly civilized conditions. This is how my mother found herself, together with her family, in Vienna where they lived for about a year. My grandfather worked in a government ministry, while my mother enjoyed the theatre and concerts, and continued her piano studies. When the Russians retreated from Galicia, the Gerstenfeld family returned there, and found its family home intact.

My mother had two older brothers. The older one's name was Zigmunt, who was called Calusz ("Tsaloosh") within the family. Calusz was a civil engineer, thus following in his father's footsteps, but having a university degree as well. He had a son and a daughter, neither of whom I ever met. His son died young in Prague, while a university student.

My mother's other brother was Jakub, called Wilusz ("Viloosh") within the family. He was a lawyer, a fine-looking and very pleasant man, who visited us in Budafok around 1930. He gave me 100 pengoes (about $30) as a present. I bought myself a Maerklin mechanical toy set with the money. Wilusz brought his two daughters with him. The older one, about two years older then myself, was Ludka, who already played the piano well. The younger daughter was called Blanka. Uncle Wilusz's wife was from Vienna, and the entire family spoke flawless German. Later on, Ludka became a piano player, and a number of times she played on the radio in Lemberg (in Polish: Lwów, in Ukrainian: Lviv). Blanka studied the ballet.

The whole Drohobycz branch of the family, with the exception of Wilusz, was killed during the German occupation. Calusz was executed immediately when the Germans arrived, probably because, being a land surveyor, he had worked with the Soviet occupiers in connection with the land reform programme. The rest of the family was in all likelihood taken to one of the death camps, unless they were murdered by Ukrainian collaborators, who killed most of the Jews in Drohobycz. Originally there were about 6,000 Jews in Drohobycz, but this number increased to 25,000 during the brief Soviet occupation (1939-1941), the numbers swelling with refugees from the German-occupied parts of Poland. Wilusz alone survived World War II, using fake papers. After the war, after Drohobycz was transferred to the Ukraine (i.e. the USSR), Wilusz moved to the Polish city of Lodz. He changed his name to Wladislaw Grabowski, and married again, to a woman also widowed during the war. He and his wife visited us in Budapest once, in 1950.

My father's family

My grandfather, father of my father Nándor Sándi (Sauer), was Ignác Sauer, born in 1847 in County Vas, in western Hungary. I know very little about his parents, except that they were traders and spoke only Hungarian. Their ancestors must have lived in Hungarian for many generations - they may even have arrived with Árpád's incoming Magyars in the 9th century. Ignác was called Náci (pronounced "Natsi") by everyone in the family - this was evidently in pre-Hitler times. He was a merchant as well, and owned a general store in Lágymányosi utca (street) in Budapest, on the Buda side of the Danube. But he did not spend much time in the store, he left the work there to my grandmother, and preferred to spend his time in the nearby coffee-house, playing chess and cards. He was a small, jovial man. Once, when we already lived in our new house in Budafok, that is after 1930, he dropped in on us unexpectedly. We asked: which HÉV (suburban electric train, there was a train to Budafok every 20 minutes) did you take? He said: I didn't come by train, I walked, my dears. This was a distance of 8 km (5 miles), and he was 84 years old...

Before World War I, my grandfather had the possibility of buying a somewhat marshy property in the Lágymányos section of Buda, just by the Danube river. He went to a rich and experienced uncle for advice. The uncle said: "This kind of thing is not for people like you, Náci. Why don't you buy war bonds instead?" My grandfather followed the advice, while the uncle bought the property for himself. He must have made a lot of money on it, for this is where the Budapest University of Technology and Economics stands today. Náci bought his war bonds, the value of which fell to nothing after the war was lost.

My grandfather Ignác Sauer chose his year of his death well: he died in 1939, at the age of 92.

My grandfather had four children with his first wife. She died quite young, after which my grandfather married her niece, Ilona Kohn, with whom he had another four children.

My grandfather's older brothers were Ferenc (Francis) and József (Joseph) - I should note that all eight of his children were born during the reign of Francis Joseph I, King of Hungary and Emperor of Austria. Despite their names, these two uncles of mine never made anything of themselves. They did not study while in school, and did not learn a trade either or help out in the store. Occasionally they showed up in the store, and my grandmother caught them trying to steal gold coins from the cash register (before World War I, 10 and 20 crown gold coins were still in circulation in Austria-Hungary).

The next child in the order was Aunt Giza, who married Jenő Rosenberg (or Rosenfeld?), a carpet merchant. I have a good memory of her, she looked really old. She had four children, one son and three daughters. I do not remember her son, I may have met him a few times when visiting. He was taken away during World War II, and did not come back. Her oldest daughter was Irén, who moved to Paris before the war, and became a high- or middle-level call-girl. She was quite well off, and regularly sent money to her mother. I met her once, she came to Budapest around 1950, in her own car, well-dressed and beautiful. She talked freely about her life, with a good sense of humour. She openly suggested to my cousin Ági (q.v.) that she should not marry the pennyless writer Ferenc Karinthy, but should instead accompany her to Paris, where she could find her some wealthy friends.

Giza's second daughter Margaret (Manci) married Sándor Lichtmann, who was in the men's wear business. His store was on Rákoczi Street in Budapest, just opposite the well-known Guttmann store, in a very busy location. He was drafted into the labour batallions (this is where Jews were sent instead of the regular army - few survived the experience), and did not return. They had a daughter, who studied medicine at the University of Szeged, and now works as a doctor in Ottawa. After the war Manci married Dr László Eidus, a medical researcher, who emigrated to Canada and worked in Ottawa when I arrived there in 1968 - he helped me find a job. Eidus died in 1975. He and Manci had a son in 1950, also called László (now Leslie) Eidus, who today works as a doctor in Ottawa as well.

Giza's third daughter was Ibolya, whom I hardly knew. I know that she moved to Australia, from where she may have gone on to the US or Canada.

The next sibling in line for my father was Arnold Sauer, who worked in a bank, and became a financial expert. When my grandmother wanted to find a husband for her daughter Irma (q.v.), she took her to the well-known cosmetic salon of Sarolta Pollák in order to have some hairs removed from Irma's chin. My grandmother really took to the young, pretty and successful cosmetician, and introduced her to her son Arnold, who then married Sarolta. Within the family, everyone called Sarolta Pollák Aunt Juliska. Her salon was on Andrássy Boulevard (Budapest's Champs d'Elysée close to Nagymező Street. Her clients were singers and dancers working in the night clubs nearby, as well as elegant rich ladies and prostitutes. When I brought this up once, her older daughter Frici objected, saying that one should not discuss such things.

Arnold managed Sarolta Pollák's considerable income, and made a lot of money on the stock market as well. Another source of income was buying paintings and sculpture from young poverty-stricken artists. Their apartment was full of paintings, you could hardly see the wall because of them. Arnold had good taste, and he sold a lot of pictures. It was very hard to extract money from him, though. If the family needed a doctor, they always called my father, who of course never asked to be paid. When I was about 15, I asked my father for money, so that I could buy a bicycle. He gave me a note, addressed to Arnold, in which he listed all the taxi expenses he had incurred in connection with medical visits to his family. I stayed with Arnold's family for three days, I ate and slept there, until he gave me the money (70 pengoes, about $20).

The older daughter of Arnold and Juliska, Frici, married Miklós Berczeller. Frici became a cosmetologist, having learned the trade from her mother. Her husband Miklós was a lawyer. In 1938, just before World War II, they emigrated to Chile. But first they had their honeymoon in Italy, and they even paid me a visit in Bologna. Frici opened a salon in Chile, while her husband tried to make a living in commerce and industry. Among other activities, he sold pig bristles to American brush factories. Frici is still alive, she turned 90 in 2002. She lives in Chile, where her son Pancho also lives. Her daughter Susan, who is an economist with an MA in Educational Administration, married Mark Cogan, an engineer. They emigrated to Canada, and live in Vancouver. Frici and Susan visited us in Edmonton, and we have also visited the Cogans in Vancouver several times.

Arnold's younger daughter Éva, who is a few months younger than I am, somehow survived the war in Budapest, together with her parents. Afterwards, on the invitation of Frici and with her help, the three of them emigrated to Chile. There Éva met the well-known Hungarian composer Gábor Darvas, whom she married. Sometime after, they returned to Europe, and Hungary, on a cargo ship. They had three  sons. Two of these sons, András and Tamás established a picture frame company, which came to be one of the leading establishments in the field (Darvas Képkeret) in Hungary. The third son, János, is a musician and film director, who lives in Germany.

In order of birth, my father's next sibling was Aunt Irma. She was born around 1890, from my grandfather's second wife Ilona Kohn. Her husband was Jenő Sas, chief accountant of the company Egyesült Izzó, today known as Tungsram. This firm is an affiliate of the US multinational General Electric (GE). Tungsram was the first company ever to manufacture long-lasting tungsten filament lamps, and it supplied coiled filaments to all other GE factories around the world. Thus this was an important firm, and Jenő Sas had an important position in it. I stayed a lot with Irma and Jenő when I was little. I went there, for example, whenever there was an epidemic of childhood diseases in Budafok, because my parents did not want me to be exposed, because either sick children were brought to my father for medical care, or he went on home calls to them. Irma and Jenő had no children, because Jenő was infected with syphilis as a young man. When I knew him, he was past the infectious stage, and he began to develop Tabes dorsalis. Much later on, Aunt Irma cried as she told me how Jenő had been raped and infected by his landlady when he was a young man. In the end Jenő Sas submitted himself to an experimental treatment. This consisted of being infected with malaria, and when his fever was at its peak he was given Salvarsan, on the theory that this would cure his Tabes as well as the malaria. It did not quite work out this way: he died of the experiment, as did his fellow sufferer, Árpád Donszky, one-time mayor of Budafok.

My father had yet another brother, Lajos, somewhat older than himself, who studied law. Lajos had a complicated affair with an actress, and then disappeared - he either left the country or killed himself, no one knows. Even the "Bottomless Lake" in Lágymányos was searched for his body, but it was not found. This lake has since dried up. (Editor's note: it has not dried up, the lake is still there in front of the Hotel Flamenco)

My father's next sister, Sári, who was two years younger than him, married Béla Boros, who was an inspector, or maybe Chief Inspector, with MÁV, the Hungarian State Railway. He travelled a lot, and had a problematic private life involving women, alcohol and so on. In addition, he converted to Christianity. After this happened, his brother Gyula Boros, who lived in Budafok, named his new-born son Béla. It was not usual in a Jewish family to name a child after a close relative who was still alive, but the older Béla was considered dead after his conversion. The boy, who was a bit older than me, was called little Béla within the family. Little Béla was drafted into the labour batallions, while his pregnant wife was taken to a concentration camp and was killed. Béla managed to survive, and emigrated to Israel, where he died.

The older daughter of Sári, Magda, was almost exactly as old as myself. Of all my cousins, I got on best with her. Her parents had a drugstore on the "Circle Square" in Buda (a square originally named after the Regent Miklós Horthy, then after King Saint Imre, finally after the writer Zsigmond Móricz). The drugstore was also a circulating library, source of the enormous number of books that Magda and I went through. Magda went to a commercial high school, and she married an assistant of the optician who employed her sister Sári. Ági herself was more ambitious, and married the optician himself. I do not know much about the circumstances of these marriages, because I was already in Bologna when they took place.

Ági's husband and Magda were taken to camps during the War and were killed. Magda's daughter, a nurse, later moved to Germany and married a German man. Ági later married Ferenc Karinthy, son of the famous writer Frigyes Karinthy, who became a prominent writer himself. Ferenc adopted Ági's daughter Judit from her first marriage. When she grew up, Judit married Ferenc's French cousin Pierre Karinthi, thus making her Judit Karinthy-Karinthi.