I was six when Father first left us. I didn’t fully understand what was happening but I felt miserable nonetheless.
It was the fall of 1938. Hitler was dismembering Czechoslovakia. After Hungary was allowed to reoccupy land it had lost in World War I, the Hungarian army was marched into the Felvidek in Slovakia. I had gone to the hospital to have my tonsils removed. The day after my operation, my father, an ordinary soldier in a foot brigade, received his marching orders. He came to the hospital in his army uniform to kiss me goodbye.
“Be a good boy now. You’ll be going home soon and I’ll be back as soon as I can,” he said in a choked voice. Father was not very good at expressing his emotions; many things, then and later, were left understood but unsaid between us. After he left, I stood by the window, watching his thin figure vanish around the corner. Alone in the room, I felt completely abandoned. My eyes welled up with tears and I felt terribly sorry for myself. Even the ice cream the nurses offered me couldn’t erase the foreboding feeling I had in my heart. This was my first inkling that something was wrong, that my father might be in danger, and that I might never see him again.
It was many months before he returned home. During those months, my mother decided that she and my father should start their own business so that she could work while he was away. In August of 1939, they purchased a small, run-down store in the city where they sold glass and porcelain and repaired broken windows and mirrors. When Father was home, he continued to work at the Gruenfelds, while mother ran the shop with the help of a full-time employee.
The store changed our lives completely. David and I only saw our parents in the evenings and then, they were usually busy doing the books and planning for the future.