Books

Kelemen Quartet dedication

As part of the New Zealand Festival, Chamber Music New Zealand presented the Kelemen Quartet last night in a concert dedicated to the memories of two fine Wellington musicians who died last month, pianist Judith Clark and especially to violinist Clare Galambos Winter.

This programme that included Kodály and Bartók, played with such virtuosity and feeling by young Hungarian musicians, would have stirred Clare’s own feelings about being Hungarian. She recalled in the 1950s an early occasion of playing a Kodály work with the New Zealand National Orchestra (later the NZSO) when conductor John Hopkins turned to her and asked, ‘Did we get it right, Clare?’ After playing something by Bartók, which was more painful, Hopkins asked her how she felt. She told me, ‘I felt the suffering in the music very deeply. It drove right to the bottom of my soul.’ 

For a glimpse of Clare playing with the first violins of the NZSO in 1980, see http://youtu.be/8YzIHZyObgk

Mihály Galambos, 1929–1944

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One of the buttons collected for the New Zealand Children’s Holocaust Memorial project was given by Clare Galambos Winter for her brother, Mihály, whom she called Mishu. Aged fourteen, Mihály was murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau on 7 July 1944. Clare’s death this week at the age of 90 leads to reflection about this other life unlived, extinguished in its flush of youth.

 How did Clare, the survivor, live with this knowledge? Initially with total disbelief. In fact she never completely accepted Mihály’s death, and it didn’t help her to wonder if he might still be alive somewhere, perhaps in the Soviet Union. So there was no closure. She asked me when I returned from my research trip to Europe in 2008, had I found any records of him and her mother? No, by July 1944 the German’s meticulous record-keeping system had broken down, so great were the numbers arriving daily at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Those selected for potential slave labour were sent in one direction, the rest in another that led to the gas chamber that day. They included children under sixteen. Mihály at fourteen was too young to live.

When she thought of Mihály, Clare would simply say ‘How could they?’ to which there was no answer. Having suppressed her memories for so long, she couldn’t remember her brother clearly, which added to her loss. What did they do together? What did they talk about? She tried to recall him in their last weeks together in the ghetto, where they lived in such close confinement, or on the terrible train journey to Auschwitz, but these memories had been buried too deep to surface at will. She recalled a bright athletic boy with an enquiring mind, a fascination for the unknown and a sense of humour. He played the accordion, which she said suited his personality. She kept his photo by her bed until she died.

 

Sarah Gaitanos

15 February 2014

Written for the New Zealand Children’s Holocaust Memorial website, honouring a promise Vera Egermayer made to Clare shortly before Clare died.

Tribute to Clare

photographer Vera Egermayer

Clare, February 2014.

The last time I saw Clare, ten days before she died, I wished for her the quick and gentle release she wanted, for living was becoming too hard. If the end came more quickly than I expected, it was as she wished.

Over the last weeks she had enjoyed public and private tributes. In a special ceremony, Victoria University of Wellington gave her the honour of  making her a Hunter Fellow in December, the Jewish community had held a special occasion for her, and she shared with friends a heart-warming celebration of her life on her 90th birthday, held in style at her home.

As no Jewish venue was big enough to hold the numbers expected to attend her funeral yesterday, it was held at Old St Paul’s. People from her many walks of life, including former colleagues from the NZSO, came to farewell her in a service led by Rabbi Adi Cohen of the Wellington Progressive Jewish Congregation. I was honoured to be asked to speak. Here below is my tribute.

 

Tribute to Clare at her funeral at Old St Paul’s, Thursday 13 February 2014

Clare had the gift of making people feel special to her – many of you will know this – and I certainly felt that my relationship with Clare was very special, not only as her biographer but as a friend.

I am going to talk about Clare’s experiences of the Holocaust, and as a Holocaust survivor.

Klári Galambos and her family were victims of antisemitism before the German occupation of Hungary, but their lives were relatively safe. Aged 20, in her final year of her violin studies in Budapest, Klári had all the normal hopes and dreams of a young woman, and also she had ambitions for her future career as a violinist. Everything changed from 19 March 1944, when the German tanks entered Budapest.

Over the following months she would lose her family, her home, possessions, most painfully, her violin; also any sense of dignity, self-worth, individuality, all basic freedoms and human rights. She said, ‘We lost the value of everything and became non-persons. We were alimentary tracks. The only thing we could think of was what we were going to eat and how to eliminate it.’ Then followed a slow recovery to feeling human again, and it’s a measure of her strength of character that Clare eventually embraced life, experienced love and joy, and gratitude for the new life she found in New Zealand.

My work with Clare started with recovering memories of her family, and herself as a girl and a young woman. It could have been painful, I’m sure it was, but it was also a release to talking about her childhood, especially her mother. She hadn’t allowed herself to think about her mother for so long. After one of our sessions she dreamt of her mother for the first time, and awoke feeling comforted.

I was concerned about recovering memories that were better left dormant. It’s a further measure of Clare’s character and courage that that she told me I could ask her anything.

Her initiation to what she referred to as ‘the horrors’ came soon after the German occupation when she was thrown into a jail in Budapest for three days. That she and others should be herded and locked up, simply because they were Jews, treated like animals with standing room only and no sanitation, expecting to be shot, was all the more shocking to her because at that stage she still had all her sensitivities.

She was released and managed to get home to her family in Szombathely On 14 May the Jews of Szombathely were thrown out of their homes and locked in the ghetto. Clare’s recollection of this was foggy, except for a flash of memory of the family being evicted from their home.  In a passing glimpse into her parents’ bedroom, she saw the rough hand of a thug rummaging among her mother’s linen in her wardrobe. He pulled out Klári’s precious toy, a donkey with its stuffing coming out. She had loved that donkey, and until that moment she hadn’t known her mother had kept it. This poignant memory, which says so much, foreshadows the brutality that was to come.

The Jews had to hand in all valuable possessions, but Klári had permission to keep her violin. Then, after nearly two months in the ghetto, when they were boarding the cattle trucks to Auschwitz, willingly because they thought they were leaving a hellhole for a better place in Germany, one of the guards took her violin from her, saying ‘You won’t need this where you’re going.’  It was like losing her right arm, and it hurt her more than anything, even more than saying goodbye to her father, Andor Galambos, when he was sent to a labour camp, because she didn’t know she’d never see him again. He died in Bergen-Belsen.

The next parting was at the ramp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where Klári and her aunt Rózsi were separated from her brother Mihály and her mother Zsuzsanna. By this time, after the horrifying journey, Klári thought only of her hunger and thirst. When she later asked about where her mother and brother were, she was told they were burned in the gas chamber. Of course she didn’t believe this. Mihály was aged 14, Zsuzsanna 45.

Rózsi then became her whole family. Their captivity in Auschwitz-Birkenau was relatively short, but the conditions of the part of the camp where they were interred, Birkenau III, called ‘Mexico’, were such that few survived. Klári knew that to survive, they had to get out, and the only way was to be selected for slave labour in Germany. On the third selection they were successful and sent to a munitions factory at Allendorf.

After Auschwitz, Allendorf was like paradise, and Klári recovered some of her humanity, until winter came, the food ran out and all the prisoners suffered from toxic poisoning from handling chemicals and breathing poisonous fumes. But the war was ending and the Americans arrived in time for Klári. Many of you will have heard her describe her last days before liberation and her emotional realisation that she was free.

She then had to come to terms with what she had lost, where she could live and how. She and Rózsi returned to Hungary to find none of their immediate family had survived. When the opportunity to emigrate to New Zealand arose, they grabbed it and came in 1949. In New Zealand Clare, as she now called herself, wasn’t confronted by the past, and she had Rózsi. She determined to build a new life, which she did through music. Recalling her first rehearsal with the National Orchestra, she said,

‘I opened the music and it was Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, and it was somehow as if I were in a dark room and suddenly the window was opened and there was brilliant sunshine outside.  … I thought, Oh yes, I’m home. I’m home.’

Through music she could escape her past, or she could express her sorrows without having to name or define them. All that she had experienced remained part of her, somewhere deep inside.

Clare’s need for security and her hunger for love and for family were also met in New Zealand, through her marriages to cellist Karl Kallhagen and Dr Otto Winter, also through Carol McKenzie and her family, her other colleagues in the NZSO, and her circles of friends that widened in her retirement. To the end she was cared for and cherished by devoted friends, and that, she said, made life worth living.

We have lost our friend, but she touched us, opened our eyes and enriched our lives in ways that we will never forget.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clare Galambos Winter, 1923 – 2014

Clare died peacefully yesterday morning at the Mary Potter Hospice. I mourn her parting and my thoughts go out to those who lovingly cared for her on a daily basis. Her funeral is to be tomorrow morning at ten o’clock at Old St Paul’s. I will update this post in the days ahead.

Memorial to victims of Münchmühle concentration camp

The memorial site at Münchmühle in 2008

The memorial site at Münchmühle in 2008

This week the Documentation and Information Centre (DIZ), at Stadtallendorf in Germany, opened an exhibition commemorating 25 years of the memorial site to Münchmühle.

This was the camp to which Clare Galambos Winter was sent from Auschwitz in August 1944, one of 1000 women, mostly Hungarian Jews, to provide slave labour in the munitions factories.

 

In The Violinist I have described their arrival:

Continuing their journey into Hesse, they arrived on 19 August at their destination, a village called Allendorf. To their surprise, they saw no grey rubble or any sign of war, but rather, neat houses and flower gardens. The trees were red and gold which was unusual in August, but they thought little of that as they walked a few kilometres through a ‘gorgeous’ pine forest to a small camp. Here too, flowers had been planted. It seemed like a dream.

Named Münchmühle after the nearby mill, their new camp had been converted from a forced labour camp to a concentration camp by surrounding it with a three-metre barbed-wire fence. Its new inmates noticed that it wasn’t electrified. The wooden huts had dry wooden floors and bunks. ‘On each bunk was a thin grey blanket … One light bulb hung in the middle of the ceiling. We felt as if we had landed in the Ritz.’

It was infinitely better than Auschwitz, but, as they soon realised, it was to be no holiday camp.

I visited Stadtallendorf in 2008 as part of my research for The Violinist. The help I received there from Fritz Brinkmann-Frisch and Lydia Hartleben at the Documentation and Information Centre (DIZ) was invaluable to my research for this important chapter.

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Wellington Writers Walk

Wellington’s Waterfront just got a whole lot better with four new word ‘sculptures’ for Wellington Writers Walk. Designed by architect Fiona Christeller, the concept is simple and subtle, and a little bit quirky. (Look for the pole!) The newly celebrated writers are Jack Lasenby, Joy Cowley, Sir James McNeish and Elizabeth Knox. Their words were unveiled in a happy occasion yesterday
by Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae. Congratulations to all concerned.

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Interview with award-winning author Joan Druett

Joan Druett

Congratulations to Joan Druett whose biography Tupaia: the Remarkable Story of Captain Cook’s Polynesian Navigator has won the general non-fiction section of the 2012 New Zealand Post Book Awards. Published by Random House New Zealand, this is a beautiful book about an extraordinary genius who had, until now, been overlooked in accounts of Cook’s voyages.

Joan, if we consider that biography is like a marriage, it follows that you and Tupaia were destined for one another. It seems he was waiting for you, his story was waiting to be told, no one could tell it as well as you –  and the timing was right. From your point of view, why have you and Tupaia been such a good match?

That such an astonishingly gifted and powerful man was “waiting” for me to write his biography is quite a daunting thought, and yet I feel as if you are right.  That I have been writing novels and stories about my fictional Polynesian sleuth, Wiki Coffin, was probably ideal preparation for writing Tupaia’s story. Wiki, half-Maori, but raised as a Maori until the age of twelve, is abruptly carried off to Massachusetts by his American father, and is forced to make rapid adaptations to foreign thoughts and ways, much of it on European vessels.  Accordingly, I had a very good idea of the challenges Tupaia faced when he embarked on the Endeavour — not just the alien food and the strange daily routine, but the very peculiar social restrictions, focused on status and rank, that prevailed in what was a very small and crowded environment.

I recall talking to you years ago about writing non-fiction. You said ‘Think like a novelist’ – I’ve always thought that good advice, and relevant not only to writing but to research as well. How did an imaginative approach help you in your research of Tupaia?

The important thing to remember when dealing with character in both fiction and nonfiction, is that no one does anything without a good reason.  Once you understand motives, the character becomes credible, and it is possible for the reader to empathise with him (or her).  It was this approach that made writing the biography of a man who left no written record at all possible. I was forced to rely on what other people wrote about him, so my approach was to think, why did this person choose to record that, and why did Tupaia say or do that particular thing?  Each time, not only did the deductions I made reveal something about the writer, but it opened a window into yet another aspect of Tupaia’s nature.

How would you describe your creative process of writing Tupaia? Where do you allow yourself the freedom to invent, and where do you draw the line?

To write like a novelist, you have to have a clear picture of a character’s appearance, which posed a problem. While Parkinson (Banks’s draftsman) sketched Tahitians, apart from the boy, Taiata, they were not named, so I had to make deductions in order to describe what Tupaia and Purea looked like. Purea, the so-called “queen of Tahiti,” and Tupaia’s lover when Wallis arrived, posed a problem, as she was obviously flamboyant as well as tall and goodlooking, and needed a detailed description.  In 1785 the artist de Loutherbourg designed costumes for a pantomime called “Omai, or a Trip Around the World,” and I decided to use his very colourful sketch of “Obereyan Enchantress.” Finding out that John Webber, who had been with Cook’s third expedition, was a stage painter for the pantomime helped justify this decision.

Describing Tupaia was even harder. I deduced from a Parkinson sketch that priests were cleanshaven, which meant that he wasn’t bearded. Robertson, Wallis’s sailing master, wrote that Purea’s “attendance were drest in white,” so it seemed logical that Tupaia wore pure white robes. Missionary accounts stressed that members of the arioi society, like Tupaia, were goodlooking, tall, and athletic. Then studying photographs of more modern Polynesian navigators gave me the details of a crease between the brows, and the far-seeing eyes. When I had finished, the description seemed apt and right, and yet it depended on imaginative deduction.  

Describing his nature went through much the same process. I became convinced that he understood and spoke English very well indeed, which gave me clues to his sense of humour and his use of irony.  Finding a vocabulary of words provided by Tupaia and written down by Solander opened a window into his state of mind as he became increasingly disappointed and disillusioned by his experiences on the Endeavour. Recently, new evidence has come to light that confirms that the deductions I made from the vocabulary are absolutely right. The assistant surgeon, William Perry, wrote that Tupaia was told that it would take just ten months to get to Britain. (It took exactly two years to voyage from Tahiti to London.) With bitter irony, Tupaia finally remarked that Britain must be a “mere story” — that the ship must have risen from the bottom of the sea. When Perry laughed in disbelief, pointing out that great Tahitian canoes did not come out of the sea, Tupaia rejoindered, well, if it had not, “you have lost your way, and can never find Britain again.”

That Random House New Zealand used the pictorial material so lavishly and well had the effect of substantiating as well as illustrating the story I told and the deductions I had made, which was very satisfying. Unfortunately, for some technical reason, these images are not reproduced in the electronic book, and I do wonder if the text is as convincing without them.

Thank you, Joan, and congratulations again for your well-deserved success.

Thank you, Sarah, for the chance to be interviewed on your blog, and particular for your most thought-provoking and revealing questions.

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‘Survivors of the Shoah’ oral history interviews

Before I started my own interviews with Clare, I watched the video interview she did in December 1997 with Jason Walker for the project ‘Survivors of the Shoah’ by the Visual History Foundation, the organisation Steven Spielberg set up in 1994, now called the USC Shoah Foundation. I watched the interview again from time to time in the process of writing The Violinistand finally I watched it the night before the book went to print. It still moved me. You can hear Clare online at http://worldupsidedown.co.nz/viewer/19-memories-of-father,-oil-business-in-1920s