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Boszi, Weiss and an unknown friend, April 1940 (Image courtesy the author)

The Corso was “a main walkway through the centre of town, lined by several elegant fashion shops, many Jewish-owned.” Some of my mother’s fondest memories of her teenage years were of walks around the Corso with girlfriends. They would carry books in order to give boys also doing the Corso walk the pretext to approach and ask them what they were reading. For her, the Corso beat anything Budapest had to offer. The Berger study records her as saying that if no young man asked what book they were carrying: “We just walked with our friends until they asked or they just joined without [asking about] the book . . . as far as I remember, we just walked and they joined . . We didn’t do anything. We didn’t even kiss each other. We just walked and looked at each other.” The flirtations sometimes led to lasting relationships and “some people ended in marriage.”

A picture in one of my mother’s albums shows a close girlfriend of hers, Boszi, who she told me died in the Holocaust, having first escaped from the Munkacs ghetto to find refuge with her brother and returned to the ghetto when this effort failed. In the same photograph is a youth she identified as Weiss who had wanted to marry her.

My mother’s photographs and those of the Mermelsteins show a series of mixed group outings for mountain walks, swimming, skating and skiing. Sole’s book about the Hebrew gymnasium includes photographs of Zionist groups which, according to interviews, also provided romantic opportunities. By contrast, many marriages, especially among the ultra-orthodox, were arranged through professional matchmakers. The negotiation of dowries was part of this traditional process.

As Anna Berger found during her interviews, those to whom she spoke kept returning to their experiences during the Holocaust despite her focus on prewar life in the town. While my mother was living, I must admit that the attempt to reconstruct the fateful weeks between March and July 1944, when some 430,000 Jews in Hungarian-ruled territory were deported to Auschwitz, dominated our conversations. It was only when her health was declining that I went through her photographs with her to ask the stories behind them and began to explore her life before the Holocaust. I wish I had urged her to describe her childhood and teenage experience in far greater detail.

Yet, there is more than enough evidence — including photographic evidence — to establish a basic conclusion. Munkacs had not been a place of gloom. The strong friendships that survivors maintained with each other after the Second World War, despite being scattered around the globe, and the care they gave each other in their declining years, must have been rooted in notably generative family and social life during their growing years.

With the Soviet takeover of Munkacs in 1945, few of its 2,000-3,000 Jews, who escaped the gas chambers in Auschwitz in May 1944 and coped with the rigours of the concentration camps, chose to remake their lives there. The loving attachment to Munkacs which so many of them retained suggests that the town had brought together diverse, albeit frequently discordant, Jewish groups with an unusual chemistry.
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Marilyn Herman
December 9th, 2018
11:12 PM
Thank you for this interesting article. It throws light on a lot of things. My father (David Herman's brother), was from Munkacs.

Ros Gelbart nee Herman
December 8th, 2018
12:12 PM
I so enjoyed your account of Jewish life in pre-war Munkacs. My father and his family lived near the Corso and he also spoke of the diverse and vibrant community. We self-published his memoirs, which included childhood memories of family life as well as his experiences in the Holocaust, in David’s Story - see www.45aid.org. Thanks also for so many helpful pointers to other writing on the subject!

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