|Katalin Farsang, my mother|
23 Mar 1909 - 27 Jul 1990
It was in 1989 that I last saw my mother alive. I was already keenly interested in genealogy by then and that I asked her the crucial question of just where exactly her family had come from. That is when I learned that my maternal ancestors had come from the village of Pázmánd, about 30 kilometers west of Budapest. I remembered that in 1938 my mother had taken me on a train trip to a village because she needed to obtain some documents of her Arian ancestry in preparation for moving to Hitler's Austria where we would rejoin my father who had gone ahead - supposedly to find some sort of employment. I had no idea where we had gone to get those papers. I was 8 years old then, and all I could ever remember was a small village of little white houses with thatched roofs, and lots of white geese walking about in the street. As I was able to confirm later, we had been to Pázmánd.
Kató, as my mother was known, was only five years old in 1914 when her father went to war and never came back. Her mother, a village girl from Pázmánd, found herself alone with three children in the big city of Budapest. She had moved to the 8th district of Budapest to a three-story concrete apartment building with an inner court yard at Dobozi-utca 41 I/40. The "I/40" means that she occupied apartment 40 on the first floor (which is one level above the ground floor). This was within walking distance of the Reméz, the garage where the street cars were cleaned and refurbished for the next day. Grandmother must have been a very stable person. She kept that job until her compulsory retirement, and stayed in that apartment until her death in 1972 at the age of 91. Kató's sister Mariska continued to live with her mother, and was also supported by her.
|Kató not quite 5 years old|
The obvious good which came out of it is that now I have a picture of my mother when she was under five years old, and because it documents grandfather's employer. Grandfather is called a gépmunkás which means machine, or equipment worker. Although this is not as elevated as machinist, or lathe operator, it is a respectable level of blue collar worker,and one that would require some training. Where would he have obtained such training? Since Pázmánd seems an unlikely place for it, perhaps the railway had some program of on-the-job training. Unfortunately he was no longer alive the year after Kató's railway pass had been issued.
A certified extract of Kató's her birth certificate was obtained on 1 Sep 1919fggdoc97 and it was most likely required for registration to one of the schools Kató attended. September was the beginning of the school year. She was 10 years old in 1919 and would have been finished with the four years of elementary school, and been heading for a secondary school of some kind.
Kató (14?) in white blouse in front of the priest, was among the prettiest in her class.
Kató had mentioned both having "gone to school with the nuns", and "going to a commercial school". The picture with the nuns would then be the secondary school picture. This photograph, in which she looks to be about 14 years old, confirms that the entire teaching staff consisted of Catholic nuns of the order of the Merciful Sisters (with those big white head covers reminiscent of the TV program "The Flying Nun"). It is gratifying to see that my mother, sitting in the second row center (in front of the priest), was easily the prettiest one in the entire class.
A second birth certificatefggdoc98 is dated 24 June 1922 when she was 13 years old. Although schools are periodically restructured, at that time it was customary that the first four years (age 6-10) would be spent in elementary school, and then the child would continue in a secondary school of four or eight years duration. Those aiming for a university education would go to a Gymnasium (a classical high school) for eight years to a senior matriculation. Those aiming to learn a trade would take a general course for four years, and then (at age 14) enter an apprenticeship for three years accompanied by attendance at a trade school. Kató seems to have taken this latter route, unless there was a commercial course offered, similar to the one that was offered in Canadian high schools. That second birth certificate with the June date would seem to be for the registration into a 3-year commercial course from which she graduated in 1925 at age 16. The question remains why the certificate obtained in 1919 was not good enough in 1922. We will have another look at this document later.
The second school picture was taken to commemorate the occasion of having finished the commercial course, because in my mother's handwriting it says "Abschluß von Handelsschule 1925" (Commercial School Graduation). She had glued this picture into an album many years later, when she was living in Austria, which is why the annotation is in the flawed German that was so characteristic of her. She had little competition for looks in that group, and wore her hair a bit more grown-up looking, which was probably important at age 16.
I am not sure what she learned in the commercial course, or what it was supposed to have prepared her for, or which of the two types discussed above it resembled. I always felt that my mother wrote very eloquently in Hungarian, and that she had a nice, round, easy-to-read handwriting. She was very clever with needle and thread, and had a distinct hunger for things cultural. She knew most operettas, and quite a few operas well enough to sing their melodious parts quite accurately and with their Hungarian lyrics - some of which stuck in my memory by default, so that today when I am over 60 years old, I can still remember, and sing some of them.
|Kató (17?) circa 1926|
I really do not know what she did for the next two or three years, or when exactly her path crossed that of my father Emó Zwierzina, the former captain of the former Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. Suffice it to say that I was born 28 April 1930 in the 9th district of Budapest, at Gyáli-ut 1, which I believe to have been the address of the Szent István Közkorház (a hospital), and I was baptized there seven days later into the Roman Catholic faith - as all my ancestors had been on both the maternal and the paternal sides. Kató's address is recorded as Pesterzsébet, Angyal-u 64. There is no mention of a father, and I was entered as törvénytelen, which means illegitimate.
Somewhat belatedly, Kató and Emó did marry on 20 January 1931. (A marriage certificatefggdoc100 issued on 22 August 1938 was provided "without charge on the basis of a certificate of poverty". She must have required this document in conjunction with her imminent emigration to Austria to rejoin her husband). The delay in getting married could have been caused by the Czech District Court of Praha which considered Emo and his first wife Felizitas to be Czech citizens, and dragged out the divorce until the 5th of December 1930, although it had been finalized by the Vienna Court in 1926.fggdoc187 I have yet to find out how, and when my name was changed from Farsang to Zwierzina, but frankly, I doubt that it was ever legally changed.
Kató's birth certificate obtained in 1922 provides food for other speculatation. On its back is stamped the name of the Royal Hungarian Ministry of Justice and three separate entries: 14 November 1929 (#H08129), 25 October 1930 (#07601), and the third "26305/1937)". What business did Kató have with the Ministry of Justice, or putting it differently, what other portfolios did the Ministry of Justice oversee? Were they the competent authority for social assistance? That would be the most logical explanation because the dates coincide with events in her life when social assistance would have been needed. In November 1929 she was 20 ˝ years old and four months pregnant. By the second date, October 1930 she was the single mother of a six months-old baby. In 1937, although married since 1931, she was again a single parent - her husband was in Austria, perhaps never to return, and she supported herself and her son by sewing for other people.
After my birth Kató was learning how to be a mother, and it is logical to expect that she was also learning to be a wife. Although I am convinced that she applied herself to both challenges, subject to natural priorities imposed by her mothering instincts, I really do not think that she succeeded all that well in either department. She nursed her baby, but it caused her much suffering. When I was already a middle-aged man, she would relate to me how I had bitten her nipples which had then become swollen and painful, how she had suffered, and how she endured - "out of love", and how she continued to nurse me with tears running down her face. When she told me, the way she told me, I had the distinct feeling that I was expected to feel terribly guilty for having inflicted physical pain on my mother, and very grateful that she continued feeding me instead of throwing me into the Danube.
She had nothing in common with her husband who tended to look down on her humble origins, calling her family proletarians. This wonderful husband of hers was not very well equipped to find lucrative employment - certainly not of the kind that he found acceptable in view of the way he perceived his social status as a former officer. Consequently there were things lacking, and whenever there are things lacking, a couple starts fighting. They moved around frequently, and it may have had to do with the rent being too high, or overdue, or both. The places they lived in were never plush or even particularly comfortable. These were the cold-water flats common in those days, and usually rather bare. A young couple very much in love, rejoicing at having a place of their own, might have thrived in their combined efforts to battle the challenges Kató and Emó had to face. Unfortunately I do not remember my parents as a loving couple. I wish I did.
|Kató with Felix circa 1937|
The third entry on the back of that second birth certificatefggdoc98 shows that yet another contact, with what were probably the social assistance officials, took place in 1937, at a time when Emo was in Austria, and perhaps was not really expected to be ever seen again. Kató earned a bit as seamstress, but it could not have been enough to support herself and her son, so it would be logical for her to seek some sort of social assitance.
Some communication came from Emó in 1938 which caused great happiness. Kató took me with her on a train trip to Pázmánd to gather documents, and the next thing I knew, we were on a different train bound for Vienna where Kató and Emó were re-united. He had found all sorts of opportunities during the era of the Anschluß, and certainly was able to keep us living in a hotel for several weeks, after which we moved out into the country.
Kató suffered through the agony of meeting her husband's relatives in Vienna. She was a very attractive woman, so that part was easy, but she probably felt that they also wanted her to be intelligent, charming and entertaining. She did not speak any German; not a word, and she could only converse with Adolf Birman, who was a Slovak Jew and spoke Hungarian fluently. The rest of them were treated to big, toothy smiles to their faces and catty comments about them after the meeting. She felt very ill at ease and decided to dislike them all. Emó was often running after some business or other, and parked his wife and son in places where they were neither particularly wanted, nor the least bit comfortable. Emó's sister Gretl Hablé was elected more than once to baby-sit her brother's uncommunicative family. During one of those visits Gretl very innocently gave some dog biscuits to her splendidly ugly British Bulldog. Not knowing that biscuits for the exclusive consumption of dogs even existed, Kató considered Gretl extremely insensitive to offer her dog a "cookie" without also offering one to the little boy watching it all. After that incident there was nothing that poor Gretl could do right.
|Kató circa 1940|
Emó was away most of the time, which was good and bad. It was good because it afforded fewer occasions for getting into fights, and bad because it left Kató too much on her own at a time when she needed coaching and support to overcome the rough spots of integrating into Austrian society.
Kató with Schloß Ort in back
|Kató circa 1941|
|Excursion to Steyrermühl. Kató looks exceptionally happy and pretty in Laci's company (Felix at left front)|
Kató: "To remember the unforgettable"
A document dated 1 January 1942 indicates that Kató had been employed on 17 December 1941 as a war-replacement employee at the gross pay rate of 160.74 Reichsmark per month. The document is called a contract between the General Medical Insurance for Upper Austria in Linz, and Katharina Zwierzina. No employer is named, and her signature is missing. It is entirely possible that this was a mere formality needed to make her eligible for medical coverage while she functioned as a self-employed seamstress. But if she was self-employed, how can they state a precise monthly wage? Or was this the amount sent to her from her husband's army pay?
About the time Emó lost a leg to diabetes (June 1941) Kató was suing him for divorce. I seem to remember a slight change in the atmosphere at home, and it is possible that she felt sorry for him, and perhaps felt that her place was with him now that he needed someone, but the gestures of reconciliation soon dried up and the divorce ran its course to be finalized effective 24 Feb 1944. Kató had to share the blame (although the court found it necessary to add that Emo's guilt weighed heavier). Since both parties were considered indigent (im Armenrecht), the court denied Kató's claim for support. It is noteworthy that Emo is shown as Captain a.D. where a.D. means außer Dienst, in effect retired - although not necessarily in receipt of a pension.
1948-Kató with Gandi
After the war the Austrian government began sorting out its population to try to determine who was really Austrian. On 11 January 1946 Kató obtained a typed transcript of her marriage certificatefggdoc101, and then had it translated into German on 16 April 1948.fggdoc102 Although these dates are two years apart, they most likely pertain to her attempt to obtain Austrian citizenship, which she did receive in January 1949.
Shortly after, on 20 May 1949 she had her second birth certificatefggdoc98 translated into Germanfggdoc99. Inasmuch as she had very recently obtained her Austrian citizenship, I can only surmise that she was applying for a passport to go to Budapest and establish the fate of her mother and sister who were still living there. It is also possible that, having reached the age of 40, she wanted to go there to recapture her youth, and perhaps meet someone from her pre-war life.
The sign says Kato Zwierzina, Made to Measure Ladies' Fashions
|Kató's Graduation grin|
After Felix's departure to Canada in 1951 and until Emo's death in 1956 correspondence was carried on between Felix and his father, but there was never any doubt that Kató received all the news about her son's life in Canada, albeit second-hand through Emo. Starting in 1956 Felix and Kató were exchanging letters regularly. These were always civil but not necessarily friendly, and there was every indication that they both had their own concerns and very different priorities, and they, consequently, often talked right past each other.
Felix was intensely aware that he was an only child on whom the responsibility would fall to look after his mother when she could no longer fend for herself. He suggested that Kató move to Canada where it would be feasible to care for her. Kató on the other hand did not envision herself in need of care yet, and was fiercely independent and did not want to fall under anyone's control. So she kept on complaining about financial difficulties of which she was the chief architect. Her son was more than willing to care for an aging mother when the time came, but he was not prepared to invest in his mother's projects or property in Austria. Thus the exchanges continued with Felix inviting his mother to Canada and offering to send the plane tickets, and Kató saying she would rather have the cash.
In a letter dated 25 April 1959 Felix explains to his mother that he should not be thought of as the "rich son from America", and that the plane fare he had offered would have been purchased for her under the "fly now, pay later" plan. He enumerated his obligations towards his own family, and in the same letter, proudly announced that he had been promoted to Branch Manager by HFC (Household Finance Corporation), and would be opening a new office in Richmond Hill (Ontario) four days hence, on 29 April.
|Kató sees Niagara Falls with her grandsons|
Kató happened to be present when the Olson family came to visit from New Orleans. Felix had met Otto Olson after the war when Otto was was still in the US army and stationed at Gmunden. Felix used to take him around along the river and show him the large fish that were easy to see a few feet away in the chrystal clear water.
Kató in Aurora when Olsons visit from New Orleans. Left to right: Angus Olson, Adrienne Game, Sarah Olson, Kató Zwierzina, Otto Olson.
Somehow she ran into a Hungarian physician who was in desperate need of someone to look after his two children. Kató took the job and became a live-in housekeeper herself. She earned good money and could visit her grandchildren on week-ends. She also explored Toronto on her own and in no time found more Hungarian districts and stores than her son, who had been living in the area for years. She even took the ferry and visited Toronto Island, something else her son had never done. Her joie de vivre was still in place, and it should have been a good time for her.
Kató in the 1960s
Shortly before returning Mark, she wrote a rather funny letter, "warning me that his suitcase was full of murder weapons, and if he did not show up, I should first check with customs, who may hold him and who may have thrown away the key". I should especially watch for four live shells he was carrying. Then she finished by telling me that she had been unable to work as she had intended, and had to borrow money from the bank, which did not help her health either.
|Gloriette of Schönbrunn in Vienna|
She wrote funny letters again about the exploits of grandson number two. Kató insists that "Vance was my best product", not only in appearance, but that he had also inherited from me some nice streaks of character. In a letter of 26 July 1971 she reported that (after hot debates - she had found him very strong-willed.) this was the first day on which Vance was allowed to go out without Kató. He was going out with his little Hungarian girl friend from whom he was learning words. Anyhow, that afternoon's episode ended when the girl came home alone. Kató could not stand the waiting and went out to look for Vance, and spotted him from afar ambling along, in no hurry at all to go home. When she met him, he swore like a trooper about the girl not showing up as agreed.
he letter was quite funny, and also had some elements of intrigue having to do with Kató's woman friend, who had begged that Vance should be told she was Kató's sister. To please the friend, she agreed to this minor deception, but it seems Kató was also planning a trip to Budapest, and was now worried about how she would explain her real sister there. Vance git a good deal out of this competition. The "Tante" was showering gifts on him, particularly a strange assortment of models he was expected to assemble such as the Battleship Bismarck, Apollo 11, planes, sail boats, etc. His grandmother Kató showed him all the places she thought would interest an 11 year-old boy. So he got to experience the giant ferris wheel called "Riesenrad" and Vienna's "Tiergarten" (Zoo), and of course the nearby Castle of Schönbrunn and the Gloriette. Vance also collected things from Kató that his father used to own when a boy. He came home with military medals, stuffed animals, a sheath knife and the Austrian flag which the Quo Vadis, our 28 foot keel boat, proudly flew off the port spreader until the day she was sold. Vance returned from Vienne in August of 1971..Whether it was worsening paranoia, or just her personality, Kató not only considered the neighbor woman an enemy thereafter, but she also got into a feud with the building's superintendent whom she accused of stealing from her, of spying on her, and of having installed a pipe into her ceiling from which to watch her and from which to emit strange noises to annoy and frighten her. She even hired a lawyer to handle this dispute.
Son Felix, as he aged, was to her chagrin looking more and more like his father. He visited her twice in that apartment (1974 and 1979). Both times she started off, in good old Hungarian tradition, to force-feed him, but then their conversations became strained. At the end of the second visit in 1979 Kató told her only son that he should not come back any more because it upset her too much. She also stopped responding to his correspondence from then on.
Consequently when she started to have serious problems with her memory, her hearing and her goitre, and when she had fallen and broken a hip and was hospitalized, her son remained unaware of these developments. It was not until 1989, when Kató was 80 years old that her son Felix found himself in Vienna looking for her after his transatlantic telephone call had produced a strange voice on her phone, and the realization that her whereabouts were unknown.
Kató had been befriended by a practical nurse, Erna Masek, in the hospital where she spent time with her hip. This woman quickly assessed Kató to be a lonely woman with some assets, who did not seem to have anyone in the world. Erna started to take over Kató's life. She introduced her to a lawyer by the name of Wiesenwasser, found her a nursing home, moved and stored her furniture, and played along with Kató's inherent paranoia. Felix's unexpected arrival in Vienna threatened the plans Erna may have made, and Kató was quickly spirited away so that it took a week of running around before Felix found her again in a different nursing home in the opposite end of Vienna. When he did find her, Kató was unkempt and disoriented, or at least she acted that way. Although she took an instinctive liking to Felix and called him a nice gentleman, she maintained that he was not her son, could not be her son, because "they had told her" that her son had died years ago. She was frightened of Erna but had no one to turn to, nor did she seem to want to. She died six months later in yet another nursing home she had been moved to by Erna, who emerged as the sole inheritor of all of my mother's earthly possessions - most of which had already passed into her hands each time she moved Kató to a different place. At the time of my visit in 1989 there was little left apart from a closet full of custom made suits and overcoats. Kató's will, scribbled under pressure from Erna Maschek was upheld by the District Court of Hitzing. I was never more ashamed of the Austrian legal system.
My mother Kató Zwierzina, born Farsang Katalin is buried in the cemetery in Ober St.Veit, a suburb of Vienna. The exact location of the grave is "Gruppe H212B".
Zwierzina, née Farsang lies in the cemetery at Vienna
- Ober St. Veit, Gruppe H2 12B
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