Furst Brothers BRATIA FÜRST
Journeys to Our Roots
Upon the end of the communist regime and the liberation of Czechoslovakia, we Israelis could visit again the country of our origin. For four decades we could not even think about such visits…
Our journey came about after some hesitation within the family, and in the light of our grandson Ofer’s special request to see the sites of our youth. The journey was our Bar-Mitzva present to him.
Although I was well informed on events that occurred in and around our family’s history and residence, the shock I went through was apparently inevitable. I was very excited when I set again my feet on the earth of Czechoslovakia, to which I had ambivalent feelings. On the one hand, our suffering there is beyond imagination; on the other hand, we were born there, and the songs, smells, the flavors, the river, the tree, and the grass were part of us.
Our plan was to begin with the sites of our childhood and youth, and then take a sightseeing tour around the country. Our group consisted of Ofer and his parents Hila and Eitan, Nira and Iri, and, of course, Naomi and me. We visited the tombstones of our predecessors, just to find out that some of them seized to exist, and that some cemeteries were forsaken. Our most emotional visit was in the cemetery of Prešov, the town were Naomi was born. Her father was murdered and buried in that town.
The second part of our tour – probably the most difficult one – was our encounter with places we knew. Nothing was left of them. They were all devastated. On the place of our house and ground, the site of our birth and childhood, a huge bridge was built. The house of our grandparents on mom’s side vanished totally. New, gigantic housing projects were built instead. Sites, which existed after the war, disappeared. I felt that even physically, beyond the level of my emotions, the world fell apart. I enjoyed the local food and music, but even for one moment I did not think that I belonged to that country. The idea of living there never crossed my mind.
For me, the awareness that the past has gone forever indicated the closing of another chapter in my life. I suppose that the journey to our roots was a most meaningful experience for my children and Ofer. Its significance goes much beyond my previous thoughts.
I visited Czechoslovakia in 1989, ten days before the “Velvet Revolution” that put an end to the communist rule in the country, together with my girlfriend Rachel. During my seven-day visit, red flags and communist slogans and banners were still fluttering. My return to a communist country was accompanied by a strange feeling. A strong urge pushed me into visiting Slovakia and the sites of my growth, carved in my memory. Those were seven days of grief and tears.
We traveled from site to site. I took many photographs, which I wanted to show to mom and Shmuel.
I tried to get in touch with people we knew, especially with Jožko who was of great help to us at the time we were in concentration camps. He worked for uncle Andor, and took upon himself various missions. He also supplied food to us. I met him and his wife. I renewed contacts with a distant cousin, Inga, and with another woman, Shmuel’s classmate and friend. Part of my tour was dedicated to visiting Jewish cemeteries in Bratislava.
Despite the emotional burden I felt during my visit, I completed it with a sense of triumph: Here I am, well off, coming from a developed and flourishing country to visit a backward and miserable society! We, the survivors of the Holocaust, are free and vigorous, and proud of our country. That was a very strange sense of triumph…