Part One -- The Old World

Chapter 1 -- Life with Mother

The firemen wielded their axes with skill and force. The door splintered under their powerful blows.

Dense smoke poured out of the doorway. The firemen advanced through the small, smoke-filled kitchen of the basement apartment. In the tiny bedroom, in the corner of the drab bed a two-year old child was crying. On the floor a box of matches lay scattered, while the straw mattress was smoldering and emitting the dense smoke. One of the firemen swept up the child in his arms, while his comrades doused the flickering flames and sparks.

Paul -- that was the child's name -- was taken to the apartment of one of the neighbors, to wait for the arrival of the mother. Afterwards, the neighbors gathered in the yard, talking angrily about her carelessness. She not only had an illegitimate child, but also was irresponsible in bringing up her son. It was fortunate that they noticed the smoke. All the men were at work, and the women were not strong enough to break down the door. One had the presence of mind to run across the street to the grocery store that had a telephone. Luckily the efficient fire department of Budapest was able to respond in time. Otherwise much of the apartment building could have burned down...

Suddenly a loud scream pierced the air. The mother came home from her cleaning job. She saw the smashed door, the burnt mattress, the smoke still clinging to the walls and furniture, and her child missing. She nearly fainted, and almost had to be carried to her son now playing happily in the court yard.

With immense relief she clung to Paul. She could even take the neighbors' angry scolding for her carelessness. If only she did not have to work so hard, she would be a better mother.

She thanked God for saving her son. He was the only thing that she had of value in her life. Now even some of her meager belongings were ruined in the fire. And she had to endure the stern warning of the neighborhood policeman, who came by to investigate the incident.

As darkness fell she was still clinging to her son, now peacefully sleeping in her arms. She was remembering the other misfortunes of her past.

Roza was the youngest of four daughters of a poor Jewish family. She was fated to be given away in an arranged marriage once she reached child bearing age. This was the custom of the traditional community of the small town in the Hungarian countryside. But World War I interrupted her foreordained fate. The entrance of the United States into that bloody conflict caused the defeat of Germany and its allies, which included Hungary. Romania was on the side of the victorious powers, and invaded the defeated country. During the chaos of this occupation Roza, at the age of 15, was raped by Romanian soldiers of the occupying army.

Although not her fault, the violence done to her ruined her life. Considered disgraced by her conservative community, she was no longer suited for marriage. Roza followed the example of the unwanted daughters of poor Hungarian families in the rural districts. She moved to Budapest, the center of business and industry -- and also of exploitation. Forced to make her living as a servant, she suffered the usual fate of young, uneducated and therefore innocent women. She was seduced by the son of the family where she worked. Paul was the fruit of this love affair. Although the relationship started out as something of a love affair, it was terminated soon after Paul's birth. Because of the social disparities of the lovers a marriage was not possible. At the age of 25 Roza started to raise her son, with but little support from family or society.


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