Exhibition on Jewish Women

 

 

The Jewish Community in Szombathely has opened a new exhibition with special emphasis on women. I’m delighted to learn that The Violinist was a useful source. The sharing and recovery of the past continues. See the leaflet: leporello-elekt_eng

Róbert Balogh, who has translated the curator’s narrative and forthcoming album from Hungarian to English, sent me photos that historian Krisztina Kelbert located in the Savaria Museum of Szombathely. (I went there in 2008 but came away empty-handed!)

I found it particularly moving to see the happy face of young Klári in 1940 and the striking picture of her mother Zsuzsa (1941) that captures her warmth and wisdom. I’m only sad that Clare (Klári in her former life, before she came to New Zealand) did not live to see this. She struggled hard to remember her mother’s face. The third is Klári’s aunt, Rózsi Brill (1938), who survived the Holocaust and came to New Zealand with Clare.  An earlier photo of Klári and Mihály shows they would rather be outside playing – or in Klári’s case, playing the violin! But it’s wonderful to have all these.

 

HK14984_Galambos Klára_1940

Horváth Lászlóné 2009

Horváth Lászlóné 2009

HK5315_Brill Rózsi_1938HK5734_Galambos Klára and Mihály

Posted on 13th February 2016 in Books |education |Jewish Holocaust |Music |Research |Work in progress

 

Clare’s story in Veszprém

 

 

On Tuesday 24 March The Violinist was ‘launched’ in Hungary with a public event held in Veszprém, hosted by the University of Pannonia and the Library of Veszprém County. This event was inspired by the article András Dési wrote in Népszabadság (see my previous post). András was invited to take part in the presentation. He sent me this account:

First, I have to say that I’m still under the emotional impact of the event.

It was very well organized, about 50-60 students of the University of Veszprém attended.

 I can only appreciate the highest standards of the efforts of the organizers, Ms Eszter ADAM specialist at the Eötvös Károly County Library, Ms Boglárka FALUSSY, Director of the American Corner Veszprém and Ms Judit PALMANN, Director of the County Library. They really deserve all acknowledgement and honour.

The event began with music, two students played violin pieces of Béla Bartók.

After I read the message of Sarah, I introduced Sarah, and spoke about the book, and Boglarka read some excerpts of The Violinist.

Eszter found on the internet a video interview with Clare which was made on the occasion when she donated her two violins to music students in NZ.

It is an excellent video. Clare was saying that one violin was a “female one”, the other a “male one” and how much the latter one complicated her life. Some times she hated the male one, but mostly loved it.

The video was played and followed by a video message of Tibor Weinberger (Tibby Weston).

At the end of the event an old Jewish song was played from the internet, performed by a very famous Hungarian folk singer.

I think everybody attending the event was deeply moved.

 

Tibby’ Weston’s video, just over 5 minutes, is well worth watching. Tibby, now aged 95, was Clare’s first love and as far as I know, the only living person who knew her before the Holocaust. They found each other again decades later and he remained her dear friend to the end of her life. Tibby was hugely helpful to me in my research and I’m thrilled to have him on record here, from his home in Texas. He answers questions the organizing committee put to him, reading their questions in Hungarian, answering in English. (The questions are understood by his answers.) He illustrated his answers by reading extracts of Clare’s letters to him, again in English.

Tibby himself is quite something. It was originally suggested he should have a Skype interview, but he has a hearing problem which makes that difficult. Undeterred, he came up with this alternative idea, taught himself to make his ‘movie’, then posted it on You Tube!  http://youtu.be/wcc2KwqB0Vo

During our email conversations with Klara Szentirmay, who helped organize the event from Wellington, Tibby suggested the music to end the event. He explained:

There is an old Hungarian Jewish song that people in the death camps were singing, that men in the labor camps facing death sang at night to find peace. Here is a version sang by Marta Sebesteny with a violin crying the melody. I am not sure this is being heard in Hungary today, but the song was written in the 15th century and it is the equivalent of Amazing Grace, the melody of the slaves. Listen to it and see how it makes you feel. It was part of the music I sent Clare.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=siZtBxCCTDs

While Clare’s feelings about Hungary were complicated, she wished her story to be known there. And it’s appropriate that this first presentation was to a predominantly young audience. She was very involved in Holocaust education for the young, and since she donated her violins to what is now called the New Zealand School of Music at Victoria University, she took a close interest in and supported the young musicians who earned the privilege of playing her beloved instruments. Here is the video that András refers to above:  https://vimeo.com/53551302

I’d like to thank everyone mentioned above, and anyone else who helped make this event a successful and memorable occasion. For those working towards a Hungarian translation and publication of The Violinist, I hope the response is promising.

 

Posted on 29th March 2015 in Books |education |Jewish Holocaust |Music |Research

 

‘The Violinist’ in Hungary

 

 

Late last Sunday night I was interviewed over Skype by András Dési, senior editor and reporter for the large Hungarian daily newspaper, NÉPSZABADSÁG, for an article to be published on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, 27 January. The occasion this year marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. András Dési approached the subject with the understanding one one who has written about the Holocaust himself – most notably he covered the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz ten years ago. I thought that if I were to reverse the situation and interview him, I would have learned things, not least because his grandmother’s family came from Clare’s home town, Szombathely, and would have known her family.

For those who read Hungarian, here is the link for the internet version: Szólt a Csendes éj

http://nol.hu/kulfold/szolt-a-csendes-ej-1512223

 

 

Posted on 28th January 2015 in Books |Jewish Holocaust

 

Hate starts small

 

 

Holocaust Remembrance Day, 27 January 2015, took on heightened significance as the world marked the liberation of Auschwitz 70 years ago. Having attended these occasions in Wellington over the years I knew the format: it is an occasion for speeches from dignitaries, witnesses and their families. One might think that everything had been said many times, but every year, as speakers strive to make the occasion relevant to the world we live in today, they somehow raise our consciousness, even though we already know and believe the home truths they speak of.

At the Makara Cemetery commemoration, for example, race relations commissioner Dame Susan Devoy stressed that human rights begin at home. ‘They are ours to hold and ours to lose.’  She told a story that illustrated how hate starts small, how it is born when a small child and his mother are abused on the street as they walk home from kindy. Her story was not about something that took place in Berlin or Warsaw 75 years ago, but in Mt Eden Auckland just months ago. Nor is it an isolated instance. Such attacks have been reported on New Zealand streets to Jewish and Muslim children alike.

The lesson we learned from the Holocaust is that hate starts small, on the streets we live in, at the places we shop and gather.

It grows when good people stand by and do nothing.

It’s up to everyday New Zealanders to stand up for peace and human rights right here at home. This is how we honour the past and guarantee a future we can be proud to leave our children and grandchildren.

Dame Susan’s speech can be read at http://www.hrc.co.nz/2015/01/27/holocaust-remembrance-day/

 

 

Posted on 28th January 2015 in Jewish Holocaust

 

Baby it’s cold outside

 

 

This morning I received an email from Clare’s childhood sweetheart and lifelong friend Tibby Weston of Texas who helped me in my research for The Violinist. Now in his 90s, Tibby has written about his own life as a Holocaust survivor in his autobiography The Vision (Xlibris Corp 2002) and continues to write on related issues. He tells me, ‘I am, as Clare was and most survivors are, a little bit insane. There is a lot of material on this issue on the Internet. One report, however, found that those survivors who wrote a book about their experiences belong to the 8% who show no significant PTDS symptoms. I am attaching my newsletter from January, when it was winter here. I hope you’ll like it.’ 

I do like it, and share it here:

BABY IT’S COLD OUTSIDE
Cold weather brings on memories. To some they are pleasant memories of skating, snow balls, skiing and sitting around a warm fireplace. To others who suffered through wars in winter it is a memory of despair and terror. Ask a survivor of the Korean War, the Holocaust or the Battle of the Bulge and they may reveal memories of horror if they are able to face them.

You hear about veterans of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan who are suffering from PTSD in surprisingly large numbers. What you don’t hear about is that of World War 2 veterans and Holocaust survivors experiencing a massive re-occurrence of PTSD with the advance of old age.

Elderly Holocaust survivors show a high simultaneous presence of chronic PTSD (91.8%), with psychotic disorders more than 50 years after the experience of the massive psychic trauma of the Holocaust.

The occurrence of chronic PTSD of such magnitude is significantly higher among Holocaust survivors than the rate reported for war veterans, which is less than 45%. This difference may be related to the unique nature of the Holocaust trauma, combining dehumanization, confrontation with death, and massive loss for a prolonged period. The exposure to such trauma puts into effect mechanisms to deal with traumatic memory and its psychic repercussions.

The weather in Europe during the winter of 1944-45 was some of the worst ever recorded in the 20th century with the temperature going below zero on the Fahrenheit scale. At Christmas, the Hungarian capital was surrounded, so that hundreds of thousands of civilians as well as German and Hungarian soldiers were trapped in the besieged city.

I was lucky that suffering from typhoid fever in the spring of 1945 wiped out most of my memory of the trauma of the winter of 1944-45. I am, however, experiencing a gradual return of memories of the traumatic experiences and I am less and less able to successfully hide or mask such memories.

Experts discovered that survivors of traumatic events could overcome debilitating psychosis and PTSD through “historicizing” their memories by facing them and writing about them. Among Holocaust survivors these amount to about 8%. In contrast, other psychotic survivors are unable to reach this calm state of balance and for them memory is a lifelong burden.

I am now faced with the dilemma of writing about recurring memories and thus prevent developing possible debilitating old age PTSD, or trusting my defense mechanism that made it possible to reach old age without burdening the world with memories that are best left untold.

Today’s world has its own horrors. Millions are in refugee camps fighting for bare survival, genocide is rampant, and billions have no access to minimum civilized standards of life. Looking at the past from the bird’s eye view of nine decades, there is really no good reason to dwell on the past horrors. History keeps repeating itself. I fervently hope that our loved ones be spared PTSD and the recurring thereof.

For the thousands of veterans, however, there is hope. Learn from the experience of Holocaust survivors. Perhaps someone somewhere will start a movement to assist today’s veterans to “historicize” their traumatic memories. It will help them mobilize effective skills for coping and adapting to social roles and prevent recurring PTSD at advancing old age. Perhaps some college, or university could establish courses in writing memoirs as a patriotic undertaking to assist veterans of recent wars.

As to myself I have a plan. Survive the cold and soon it will be spring with memories of winters gone. The red bud trees will bloom, the humming birds will buzz by again and the exciting signs of rebirth and new beginnings will wipe out memories of the winter, and all the winters before.

P.S. IT IS SPRING! HALLELUJAH!

Tibby Weston, veteran survivor

Tibby Weston, veteran survivor

Posted on 14th April 2014 in Books |Jewish Holocaust |Research

 

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

Posted on 14th March 2014 in Books |Jewish Holocaust |Music

 

Clare’s obituary

 

 

My obituary for the Dominion Post was published on Saturday 1 March. See http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/obituaries/9783722/Music-helped-violinist-survive-the-horrors

Posted on 3rd March 2014 in Books |Jewish Holocaust

 

‘The Violinist’ back in print

 

 

I have just picked up my new copies of The Violinist which should be available at all good bookshops and online at http://vup.victoria.ac.nz/the-violinist-clare-galambos-winter/

Posted on 27th February 2014 in Books |Jewish Holocaust

 

Mihály Galambos, 1929–1944

 

 

20140203_172246-2

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.

Posted on 20th February 2014 in Books |Jewish Holocaust

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted on 13th February 2014 in Books |Jewish Holocaust |Music