It would have been best to publish the following text right after the post about the memorial plaques in Kőrösmező/Yasinia, they have so many common threads: the place, the time, and partly even the actors and fates, as we will see. The Transylvanian writer Sándor Török (1904-1985), Jewish by origin, Protestant by religion and adventurous by nature, author of a number of favorite books of our childhood, visited Subcarpathia in the summer of 1939, after the region was regained for five years by Hungary. His travel diary A szemtanú naplója (Diary of the Eyewitness, 1941) is a unique report, among others, about the uncertain and evolving ethnic identities of this peculiar multi-ethnic mountainous region. In an earlier post we already accompanied him to the town of Huszt/Khust, in the company of his local guide, who was a strange mixture of Rusyn-Russian-Hungarian ethnic identity. Below we quote from a day he spent in Kőrösmező/Yasinia, his excursion to the pre-1918 Hungarian-Polish border, restored between 1939 and 1944, and his encounters with the transitory cultures of the borderland.
…The previous night the traveler asked his hosts to look for an intelligent boy for the morning, who knows Hungarian and would accompany him to the Polish border. Now it is five o’clock in the morning, and the traveler is standing in front of the gate, not knowing what to admire more: this clean, beautiful morning under the mountains, or that at five in the morning he is already up and is here, waiting for the boy. For in Körösmező certainly there are many intelligent boys, and also enough poor boys whom one or two pengős come in handy. But from the whole constellation – a poor boy who for those few pengős is willing to go the way which is about 25-26 kilometers there and back; an intelligent one who also knows Hungarian – a Jewish boy must appear. And in fact, he appears, giving occasion to the traveler to admire the assimilating power of the landscape.
This young Jewish boy was born in 1924, that is, under the Czechs. – What is your name? – Artúr Blutreich – he says – but… please call me Nyumi. I’m also called this at school. Artúr… it is… it is so ugly.
The traveler is not surprised at all that the Jewish Artúr Blutreich in Kőrösmező speaks Hungarian with more or less the same accent as the lad of Huszt, József Kovács, who claims to be a Protestant and Little Russian. The traveler is already not surprised at anything, he has given up. He accepts the fact that if he closes his eyes, he can believe that this boy here is Little Russian. And vice versa, he might also believe that József Kovács of Huszt is a Jew. Perhaps Nyumi’s speech is somewhat kinder and softer, more Rusyn-like, for he himself lives among Rusyns. The clever rural force of his expressions is also akin to those of the Rusyns of Huszt or here, but there is also a great difference between him and the lad of Huszt, which the objective traveler cannot ignore. On the question concerning his identity, the lad of Huszt proudly replied that he is a Great Russian who “loves Hungarians”, and he said that the Hungarian language “just stuck to him” in the course of his wanderings, and his brothers and relatives do not know Hungarian, only Russian. Nyumi, however, considers himself Hungarian, and went to a Russian school – he adds: there was no other! –, and on the question as to from where then he knows Hungarian so well, he says: from home! – So do you talk in Hungarian at home? – And lo, he replies on the question with a question. Why, a Jew remains a Jew. He spreads his arms, and says: – Well, how should we talk?
• After the first formalities of getting acquainted, Nyumi – as if casting the job in a final form – says: well then, so we go over to Pole. – This is the local, border region railwayman and postman argot: we go over to Pole. – So Nyumi says it like this.
On the way Nyumi praises the little calf like this: very cute little cow. – He examines the horses of the oncoming military cart, and by stopping and staring long after them, he says: you have great nice horses. – I think you do not have to be one particularly involved in languages and words to understand from these few examples, how this Jewish boy of Kőrösmező – who, as you know, went to Russian school – learned Hungarian at home, or more precisely, what kind of Hungarian language he learnt. Well, certainly, it is a very beautiful Hungarian language. As in Budapest certain classes, Jews or non-Jews, standing roughly at the same low cultural level, speak alike the so-called “boulevard argot”, here in Kőrösmező Nyumi Blutreich speaks a clear Hungarian, whose basic components of thought are identical to those of the Rusyn peasants.
For example: we are already coming back, when it turns out that if we had just arrived earlier at the Polish border, then the Hungarian commander would have put us on a military cart, and we could have come back more conveniently. The traveler regrets it. Nyumi, however, comforts him: no matter, it is better to go than to travel. And reassures the traveler: we will surely reach the train, as to home we go faster. The horse also goes faster when it senses the smell of his stables.
Nyumi knows the things of trees, grasses, mountains, animals. He climbs up the mountains like the Rusyn of Huszt or like local people in general. On the Tisza bridge he steps up on the small concrete sidewalk – it really impresses him – and asks the traveler: Are there sidewalks like this everywhere in cities? I have been to Rahó/Rakhiv many times, and there it is! – The little Jewish boy steps on the sidewalk, but after three or four steps he jumps off the road again, and says: it is not good to go on it, it’s very hard.
Kőrösmező/Yasinia. Railway bridge on the Galician (at the time of the narrative, Polish-Hungarian) border
• Such is this Nyumi like, with whom the traveler makes an agreement for this morning. By the time the traveler gets to know Nyumi, he fairly well suspects the relationships of mountains, waters and people, he traveled through villages of many languages and mixed population, and got to know the dear old Rusyn, Uncle Frickon, who burst into tears by swearing allegiance to the Hungarian motherland, and finished it so: “long live the whole Austrian nation!” – since he was a gunner in Miskolc in 1915: Kanonier Frickon. – It happened to the traveler that in Aknaszlatina/Slatina he asked a coffee house servant whether they had breakfast. And as from her stuttering reply he sensed her Romanian language, he continued: știi mai bine românește? – Da, domnule, da! – Yes, sir, yes – and they continued in Romanian. Ten minutes later an old servant lad came in, who tortured the Hungarian words with the same accent as the girl before. – Știi mai bine românește? – asked the traveler with all familiarity, but he spread his hands, and regretfully replied: I not know Romanian, sir, I be Hungarian… […] But the traveler also sat in the restaurant next to the railway station of a small town, and he wordlessly enjoyed the following scene: the gentlemen coming from “the mother country” – as Hungary is called here – at a long table cruelly cursed the service, the food and the drinks, everything. Of course, doing so by cursing the Jews plentifully and at ease. For the Jewish innkeeper and his family, however, it did not matter if the entire kitchen and all the universe turned over, because they were sitting around the radio, since in Budapest there was a literary evening of Endre Ady! Well, what do they care about a few pieces of wiener schnitzels? Zsigmond Móricz speaks about Endre Ady in Budapest!
The traveler is already beyond all this, he has already listened to the story of the professor in Huszt, who avowed himself to be a Great Russian, so the Ukrainian extremists poked out his eyes with a hot needle. He already knows all these stories, when he meets Nyumi Blutreich, who formulates his opinion on the short-lived Ukrainian rule in Subcarpathia like this: you know, it was like when the hen tries to give birth to ducks.
Kőrösmező/Yasinia, the source of the Tisza. A Hungarian postcard written in Romanian, and posted to the Keviszőllős/Seleuš, today in Serbia, on 30 July 1913.
• If the reader considers the above, he will understand the joy of the traveler on Nyumi’s beautiful Hungarian language.
But the image of Nyumi would not be complete if the traveler held back what the boy asked of him on the way. First – another coincidence – he asked more or less the same as the lad of Huszt: whether Budapest is greater than Prague. This is natural. Any other simple soul would have asked this of the traveler after a morning-long acquaintance. Both also asked whether the Castle of Buda is as beautiful as the Hradžin. – They measure on this how much they – they, personally! – gained with the change of government, where they fell, and what the “new rule” is like. To them it is “new”, since they were born in the “old” one, and the “oldest” one they only know from hearsay. The Russian also asked whether Brünn is larger than Debrecen. So he was in Brünn and heard about Debrecen. And Nyumi asked whether Kecskemét is as large as Rahó. He was never beyond Rahó, and heard about Kecskemét. The answers and descriptions of the traveler helped both of them to understand, to which and how large a country, and into the shadow of what kind of power they had come.
The circle already known by them has more or less the same radius, at least of a different quality: the Russian learned everything himself during his wanderings, and Nyumi learned at home what he could. But they long for the same thing: to get to the city.
Later Nyumi reveals one more field of interest. He asks: what now is the price of stamps? Well, the traveler does not know this. He also inquires about the price of a camera, film and a bike, but soon it turns out that he is interested in them not as a Jew, but as a boy. He has a collection of stamps, had a bike, and would like to have a camera.
Thus, all things considered, it turns out that in language, way of thought and physical characteristics, the traveler has found no essential difference between the Russian lad of Huszt and the Jewish boy of Kőrösmező.
The traveler and his guide leave for the Jablonitsa on this bright morning after five o’clock. The traveler already refuses to describe for the reader the landscape, the elfish game of the sunshine with the water of the mountain creeks, the light and shadows… and then the scents!
Suffice it to say, that as soon as they leave behind Kőrösmező, they start to climb up along the suddenly meandering Lazestina creek in the gradually thickening and darkening pine forest. The sun rises from behind the Hoverla mountain, higher and higher, in the infinite blue, just occasionally covering itself with a small white cloud, just to have this in supply, too. Nyumi presents the traveler with the glistening snow-capped peaks around: there is the Pietros, the Shesa, to the right the Chorna Kleva – and he points with deep reverence behind them: and there, the Bliznitsa!
The Bliznitsa – the name means ʻtwins’ – are two beautiful, majestic, huge snowy peaks, Nyumi’s favorites. Apparently, the Bliznitsa is to him what the post office was to József Kovács in Huszt. Nyumi stops every quarter of a hour, turns back, and points to them: Well, now the Bliznitsa is beautiful! – From here you see well the Bliznitsa! – Now soon from there, from the bend!
Kőrösmező/Yasinia, the Bliznitsa. This postcard was sent from Máramarossziget/Sighetu Marmației shortly after Sándor Török’s journey and at the same time of the tragic last journey of the “stateless Jews”, in August 1941, by a Hungarian soldier on his way to the Russian front: “My dear good Mother and Father. This morning we arrived at Máramarossziget, and soon we go on. Perhaps this night we will already sleep on Russian land…”
Here already only the waters move… sometimes a bird… or a light wind caresses the forest… Down there, far away, the bell of small-horned mountain cows and sheep… and the traveler is listening to the stamping of his own feet.
– Up there – points Nyumi at a red roof emerging from the trees –, it is already the tselnitsa, the customs house. Beautiful red, isn’t it?
– Up there it is not that red any more. It appears so red only from here, from the much dark green. – Nyumi knows a lot! And he also knows every grass and tree, the footprints of the animals, everything that belongs here, in the forest. A kite! – he points to the sky – it is hunting. A magpie… can you hear it?
But they already speak little, the traveler and his guide. They have long left the road behind, they climb up in gullies and trails, higher and higher… they cannot hear the bell of the cows and sheep any more, only the rustling of the water and of the trees. Suddenly, a slight noise… and a nice, fat pine cone tumbles at the feet of the traveler. Nyumi points not upwards, but at the cone, by stating: a squirrel! It was thrown down by a squirrel. – The traveler bends down for the cone, then he looks up, and in fact, there is the squirrel sneaking over there, now it jumps away, by saying goodbye with its leafy tail before disappearing in the forest. The traveler puts the cone in the pocket of his jacket, among the acorns, pebbles and other such stuff. Thank you – he says after the squirrel – thank you, young man! And neither the squirrel, nor the traveler know yet, what honor awaits this cone, far away, in Kassa/Košice.
Kőrösmező, from 16 March 1939 to 17 September 1939 Hungarian-Polish, after the division of Poland Hungarian-Soviet border
Kőrösmező, still today with an existing Polish border mark (from the tisza-forras.hu site)
• We are on the Jablonitsa. Beyond, Poland. Things go unceremoniously here. The Hungarian commander looks at the papers of the traveler, but he did not ask for them. The traveler himself took them out. In the meantime two customs officer arrive from the village on motorcycle. They have no official task here, they only came for what the traveler wants: to go over to Pole for a while. All right, let’s go over to Pole. The customs officers lay down their guns, and walk beyond the barrier together with the commander. The Polish commander is already coming. Just so welcoming and informal, rather like a host greeting his guests.
The border – as a border – cannot be sensed here. The traveler forces the Polish commander to have a look at his papers. But he gallantly refuses. They take it literally… or rather sentimentally, that Polish-Hungarian, two brothers. They receive all Hungarians with open arms.
Encounter of Hungarian and Polish soldiers on the Subcarpathian border reannexed to Hungary on 16 March 1939. Life Photo Archive. See also the contemporary Hungarian-Polish newsreel.
With open arms and broken German. And since the traveler does not know German either, the conversation consists mainly of gestures suggesting “thank you”, “everything is so beautiful here”… “Oh, come on, come on!” – The traveler is guided into the neat tourist house, where the walls are decorated with pine branches, and on the main place, the portrait of the Hungarian governor Miklós Horthy, on the other side Moscicky. with Pilsudsky and Ridz-Smigly.
The traveler buys Polish Mewa cigarettes here, the customs officers clink their glasses with Polish wine, and the manager of the tourist house, who is also the postmaster, gives out postcards and stamps, and undertakes to send them home from the other, Polish side. Then, having said goodbye to the Poles, the traveler is standing on the Jablonitsa. There is the Hoverla, with the source of the Lazeshtina, says the Polish officer, showing them around. There, the Pietros, and the Bliznitsa. And here, our mountains, the Svinitsa, the Chomniak, the Gorgon…
The Lazeshtina at sunrise. Río Wang’s Maramureș tour, 2013.
The Hoverla at sunrise. Río Wang’s Maramureș tour, 2013
– Thank you… – says the traveler, and not only to the Polish officer.
• On the way back down in the forest, the traveler and his guide enter a cemetery. Two rows of small concrete crosses are cared for by a huge pine tree. Under the nameless crosses, unknown soldiers have slept for more than twenty years. They fell here, at the Tatar Pass, in the first years of the world war. On the first cross facing the path, a candle has burnt down to the bottom. On the large common cross, an inscription: Valaji K Vam: “Zachorejte mir”. Since then, the traveler would have had occasion to get to know what this means – these sorts of things he considers his duty –, but this time he did not do so. According to Nyumi, this simply means: let there be peace… – And the traveler accepts it and forwards this translation.
The file of Nyumi – Artúr Blutreich – in the death records of the Mauthausen concentration camp