3PM: We return to Mrs. Lackner's house for our formal meeting. We are joined once again by the mayor and his wife. This time, we have an appointment. We are expected. Mrs. Lackner is all dressed up in a beautiful suit. Her daughters serve artfully sculpted sandwiches of ham and cheese. And we are served home made apple cider. Another memory is triggered. At the house where my father was served the egg sandwich, he was also given home made apple cider to drink. 60 years later, they are still serving apple cider. More talk. More stories. Mrs. Lackner's eldest daughter Cäzilia does most of the translating now. My father remembers being ushered into a veranda at the "egg house." Cäzilia reveals that their house once had a veranda, but has since been remodeled. More memories: The young woman with light brown hair. Cäzilia reveals that her mother, the now 85-year-old Mrs. Lackner, was 25 at the time with light brown hair. My father remembers the other girl who was a young teenager. Cäzilia reveals there were several young girls around -- the elder Mrs. Lackner's cousins. One was 12. Her name was Martha (we would meet her the next day). And what about the man in the house? My father remembers that he sat in an easy chair in the next room. Did not get up. Seemed to be disabled. Cäzilia reveals that her uncle was in the house, recuperating from a spinal injury received in the battle of the war. He had only one leg!
Could this be the place? Could this sweet and gentle 85-year-old woman be the one who treated my father to an egg sandwich? Nothing is certain, but the circumstantial evidence is strong. Too many coincidences. Still, my father is not entirely sure.
For 60 years, Mrs. Maria Lackner has told her story of how she helped give food to the laborers, but now she reveals something we find shocking: that for 60 years she has actually felt guilty. Guilty that she did not do more to help the Jews!
In the afternoon visit I was shown photographs of Maria Lackner dating back in the 1940’s. I was seeing pictures of her wearing different flowery printed house dresses, showing her light brown hair even though that the prints were in black and white. I sort of recognized her to be the young lady in question. While sitting around the table, Mrs. Lackner, her two daughters Cäzilia and Mary, Elisabeth Weinhandl the Mayor’s wife, Ron with his video camera and me. I started to explain the purpose of my trip and I told her: I was doing hard labor with very little food provided. I was hungry. The simplest basic necessities were denied from us. We had no water. Not for drinking, not for hygiene. The law of no abetting the Jews was on the books and strictly enforced. But local citizens braved and defied that law. Showed higher moral values to help other human beings and helped the Jews. Gave them food. I received life saving nourishment. With the food I got a little optimism also. Without food the outlook was starving to death, with the question of how soon death will come? With food, I felt that I might survive.
We, Jews received food from many actively participating members of the community, while the rest of the community silently approved, because nobody reported anybody to the authorities. Nobody got hurt. Then Mrs. Lackner revealed that they had the support of the community and they knew who the Nazi sympathizers were and they were kept in the dark. And she said that she was young, fearless, was not thinking about consequences, but acted her role, bucking the German laws, with a good conscience. And this statement perfectly meshed with my recollection of the episode, which was deeply embedded in my mind: The second or third house on Main Street. Modest house on the left side of the street. Windows facing the street. A heavy solid door portal in brownish color. I knocked. A young girl may be 12 or 14 years old, with light color hair, probably not blonde but light auburn, opened the door. Behind her, an older sister, may be 20 to 23 years old, grabbing my arm, pulling me inside and also pulling Gyuri inside. Her hair color was also light. She was about my height - 54 inches or may be 1 cm taller or shorter. In a brief conversation I told her the reason for our visit. She went into the kitchen and a short time later reappeared with two scrambled-egg sandwiches, one for Gyuri and one for me. She insisted that we eat the sandwiches right there, inside, before leaving. She also gave us a glass of apple cider, and put a couple of apples into our rucksack. (We had one rucksack with us.) The young lady acting her fearless, brave role and grabbing my arm pulling me in and also pulling Gyuri in to inside the house. This act was etched in her memory also!
I continued with saying that she was rewarded with two daughters who chose for themselves, one of the most noble profession, teaching young children, giving them knowledge. The parents of the future generation entrusted their children to the sisters, Cäzilia and Mary for their education and part of their upbringing. And this is the mother’s joy.
When Maria Lackner expressed her desire to invite us (Ron and me) again in to her house, her daughters worked on it to make the reunion a success. Thanks for them. And to keep up with her mother’s practices, food was on the table this time also. In 1945 it was two hastily made egg sandwiches with apple cider to drink, this time it was artisan-sculpted, open-faced ham and cheese sandwiches with apple cider to drink.
In the Lackner house, apple cider was served regularly, all year around, for more than sixty years.
We hear stories of how many local residents helped Jews by giving them food. We hear about a woman who used to throw food over the fence of the compound where my father was housed. Once, she was caught by the Germans and told if she did that again she would be killed. Did she stop? Not exactly. She didn't throw food over the fence anymore. She left it for laborers to find in nearby bushes. Another woman used to leave her home everyday and walk into town with two small loaves of bread under her armpits. These were smuggled to laborers. We're told there were Nazi sympathizers among the local population. So this conspiracy to help the Jews is all the more amazing because those involved had to keep not only the Nazis in the dark, but also their own neighbors. Later, in discussions with a historian, Dr. Eleonore Lappin, we would theorize that the local priest might have played a role in the conspiracy, perhaps by organizing the people.
The town of St. Anna am Aigen and its neighboring villages are made up of extremely devout Catholics. Now we know that there were many Catholic priests who were NOT sympathetic to the Jews. In fact, some openly collaborated with the Nazis while others simply turned a blind eye to the atrocities. But perhaps the local priest in St. Anna preached a higher set of moral values. That all life is sacred, even Jewish life. We tried to visit the local church, but it is under renovation. What part did the local priest play in the heroic acts of these women? Sadly, it remains a mystery.
While we were rehashing the past and helping ourselves with the delicious refreshments, Mayor Weinhandl joined us. He kept his fingers on the pulse of our agenda. While he was attending his official duties of governing the Marktgemeinde, he always knew exactly where we were in any given moment and was able to plan his days or hours with that knowledge and meet us where we were. He found us without requiring any unnecessary search for our where about.
And there is still the mystery of the barracks: where was my father housed in St. Anna? During the discussion, Apu draws a diagram of the barracks compound on a small piece of paper. The building he draws has an L-shape. Single story. Large rooms. Big courtyard where the laborers could assemble. Several outbuildings. All surrounded by a chain-link fence. The fence is critical because it is not square or rectangular. It angles in and out around the property. Mayor Weinhandl and Mrs. Lackner begin an excited discussion in German. After a few minutes, Cäzilia translates. They believe that Apu's drawing is of the old Lippe Warehouse (a portion of which burned down two years ago). We will need to visit the Lippe House soon. We say goodbye to Mrs. Lackner and her daughters begin the short drive back into town. It has been another eventful day, to say the least.
I made a quick sketch on the top sheet of a stack of notepaper, the size of about a half a post card. The Mayor immediately recognized that the sketch I drew was of the old Lippe Warehouse. Before we left St. Anna for our return trip to the USA, Mayor Weinhandl gave me a disc of digitized pictures, (and another piece of the psychological liberation) old photographs of St. Anna and vicinity. After arriving home I played Sherlock and kept looking those pictures and I found a very interesting photograph. The view is the skyline of the village downtown, looking west from the valley east of the village. A view encompassing from the Church northward about 10 houses, including the old Lippe house. Clearly showing the back fence, in about the original 12-meter length with an auxiliary building of the southern neighbor of the enclosed compound.
3. The chain-link fence at the east side of the Lippe property.
Even though, I kept saying that I was billeted in the school building, but this picture vindicated me.
June 15th, Wednesday morning, we had our breakfast, on Mrs. Schäfmann’s patio. The patio is covered with trellises full with running growing grape wine. I was soaking up the view. From the patio looking east, the valley lit by the morning sun came in to view. Beautiful view. Seeing the different patches of green, the color of the different vegetation’s. The orderly rows of sections of the wine grape made the view more inviting. For added texture: a patch of earthen color highlighted with straw colored yellow stubs remained from the previous harvest. Slowly undulating meadow, with mountains on the edge of the horizon suggesting another valley beyond. Idyllic place. Beethoven’s 6th symphony “The Pastoral” came to my mind. Beethoven’s music describing a beautiful set with lush meadow. While the shepherd tending his flock, singing birds are flying around. Then a storm breaks out, a summer shower with lightening and thunder. And after the storm the tranquil rejuvenating peace. Santa Anna and the surroundings are in a peaceful place in a beautiful setting. Then the storm during the war breaks out. I was in the eye of the storm. And after the storm came the tranquil peace. In June 2005, I saw that tranquil peace. I felt that tranquil peace. I saw the butterflies flying with their fluttering wings. I met people whom generosity, during the storm, made possible that subsequently I was able to enjoy that tranquility. After the storm, I was able to spend 57 very precious years with Anna. My wife Anna and St. Anna are interconnected. Quoting from “We Couldn’t Cry”:
Sankt Anna am Aigen, a little village. Was my life spared there to be a life partner for Anna?
The answer is YES. Now I know what did I saw and what I felt in that tranquility.
I know that the storm during the war produced a different “lightening and thunder” for the inhabitants of St. Anna and the surrounding villages. The big “storm” claimed tens of millions of lives. Brutal barbarians, the Nazis, set up shops in the peaceful area of St. Anna and vicinity and killed hundreds if not thousands of Hungarian Jewish Forced Laborers. Today grown up people who were children in 1945, were witnesses of the atrocities and are telling their stories for the new generation. When I was in St. Anna in June 2005, I saw the war memorial at the Church Square. The middle section contains the list of names for the fallen during World War I. The two sections on the sides have the names engraved in marble of who lost their lives during World War II. Just glancing at the side panels, I estimated that about 130 names were engraved. The names of the lost young husbands and sons. The population of St. Anna and vicinity numbers about 1800. What percentage of the population had to die needlessly for Hitler’s war? How many widows and orphans and grieving parents were left behind?
By now we know the number of the victims of World War II, from the different villages:
Aigen 10 6
Jamm 22 14
Klapping 8 3
Plesch 21 13
Risola 4 3
Waltra 17 6
St. Anna am Aigen total 82 45
The people of St. Anna were rebounded after the war. Continued their lives living fully. And they live in an idyllic, beautiful place. Anna and me, we rebounded, created our new family. With daily remembrance of our struggles and losses in the holocaust, we still lived an extremely precious life together. In 2005, I revisited St. Anna, where my life was spared. I met with people whose generosity is the same as their mother’s, who helped me to survive. Mayor Josef Weinhandl and his wife Elisabeth are leaders among them.