May it be bound up

When you set out from Lake Balaton to the south, to the archaic region of Somogy, you will cross long parallel hill ridges that follow each other like the waves of a sea frozen several thousand years ago. The hills are covered by the bedsheets of snow-covered plough-lands to the horizon. Only rarely appears a village with an archaic Hungarian name as if they were drifted here from afar by the sea. This is all that has been left from the rich medieval texture of settlements after the two centuries of Turkish devastation, reconstructed on the map of destroyed medieval churches by Emese Nagy: a handful of villages in the centers of the large estates, with scattered hamlets of the estates’ serfs between them, the “waste ranches”.

This landscape was the scene of one of the most shocking literary sociographies from the 30s, Gyula Illyés’ People of the Waste Ranches (erroneously translated to English by G. F. Cushing as People of the Puszta, as the real “puszta”, the Hungarian steppe lays on the other side of the Danube). Only a few miles from the site of this book, after the village of Nagykónyi standing on a hilltop, the road turns with a sharp bend to the southwest. After leaving the village, the road descends again among the fields, where you will meet a peculiar scene: a lonely stone, apparently a carved one, standing in the fields.

If you get out of the car and go nearer, you will see that it is not one but three stones, just the other two have their upper parts broken. Three Jewish tombstones in the middle of nothing.

According to the survey of Anikó Gazda on the former Hungarian synagogues and Jewish communities, in 1941 in Nagykónyi thirty-two persons declared themselves Israelites. On the net you will also find an unexpectedly detailed source on their fate: a report and collection of interviews on the deportation of the Jewish communities in Tolna and on the return of the survivors, composed in 2005 by the students of the high school of nearby Dombóvár:

“In my native village Nagykónyi there was absolutely no hostility with the Jews. The Jewish families lived among us. In front of our house there lived a tinsmith, Uncle Löwinger with his wife who was a needlewoman and two children of the age of fifteen and seventeen. I was a good friend of the boys, primarily of the younger one. They went together with us to the local elementary school, there was no Jewish school in the village. They were poor, the house was not theirs either, they rented from the inn-keeper those three rooms where they lived. Uncle Löwinger was taken to forced-labor service earlier than the rest of his family, but he never told where. Next to our house there was a pharmacy whose manager and his wife were also Jews, they were called Schönfeld. The wife returned, she lived one or two years in Kónyi, and then she moved to the city of Szekszárd because only there she got a job. The pharmacy was nationalized, a new pharmacist was appointed there. But she often came back also later, because the house that was theirs remained hers, a room, a kitchen and a bathroom were left to her. It was interesting that we were neighbors, she often came over to teach me, but she never told about what had happened to her. Behind our house there lived the Kirschners, husband and wife, they had a grocery store. But I do not know what happened to them. There lived also a Jewish soda-water producer in Nagykónyi, but I do not remember how he was called. Perhaps there were even more Jews in the village, but they did not differ from the rest of the people.

We only observed some difference with the Jews when they put on the yellow star. It was obligatory to them to wear the yellow star. When they came out from the house, they already had to wear it on the left side. Local people did not know anything about anti-Jewish laws, there was no television and radio at that time, and especially we, young people did not really know what was happening, so we were very surprised. I was about 12-13, and my 15-17 years old friend had this yellow star on the chest. We even could not speak with them about this, because they were told not to contact local non-Jewish population any more.

They were taken away in 1944. They were told to collect only the most necessary things. On a prescribed day they were accompanied by gendarmes to the station. They were taken by train to Tamási. There they were crammed into a central ghetto where they lived for one or two months. The ghetto was an isolated group of houses with beds inside, they could not come out of it, it was guarded by soldiers.

The Jewish houses were closed with the keys given over by the owners. They were also sealed up, and the seals were regularly controlled. If anybody went in, the gendarmes would have started to investigate. There was no local gendarme, they came out from Tamási twice a day by bicycle
in summertime and once a day on foot in wintertime. In Kónyi there was no looting of the Jewish houses.

Jenő Löwinger has survived, but his family has perished. After he returned, he became life-companion to a Christian woman, an inn-keeper, Mrs. Acsádi. The two survivors, Uncle Löwinger and Mrs. Schönfeld never spoke about what they had gone through. To me it is a mystery why they did not. I remember that Mrs. Löwinger who was a needlewoman somehow knew in advance when they would be taken away, because a week earlier she gave over to us her sewing-machine, a Csepel sewing-machine. When Uncle Löwinger came home, my parents purchased of him this sewing-machine. It had been taken to our house in the night by Uncle Löwinger and my father. My mother has kept it until her death.”

The few Jewish families of Nagykónyi were unable to maintain a synagogue of their own. The nearest prayer house was four miles away, in the town of Tamási. The ghetto where they were collected before deportation was also here. The deserted synagogue of Tamási was pulled down in 1951. Its photo as well as the picture of the memorial tablet of the local Jewish heroes of WWI have been published in the blog Nem felejtjük, dedicated to the WWI monuments in Hungary.

However, as these photos attest, they seem to have had a cemetery of their own outside of the village, along the path coming from the Catholic cemetery. We do not even know until what time this cemetery was in use, for all the three gravestones left to us are dated to the 19th century.

It has recently snowed, and the sky is already overcast with snow clouds again. On the photo made in the February twilight Gyuri is not able to discern each word:

יחזקאל הלך לדרכו ערירי
ששששויפגעו בו מלאכי שמים
חן וחסד מצא בעיני אנשים ואלהים חיים
זך וישר פעלו בר לבב ונקי כפים
קל כנשר וגבור כארי עשה רצון קונו
א*** *** *** *** מהונו (?) ו
ל*** ליראים (?) ול*** היה
ששששתשוקתו ורצונו
בגן עדן יהי *** *** *** *** ***ב
נשמתו בגנזי מרומים תהיה צרורה
ששששששששבצרור החים
צדיק כתמר יפרח ********

“The initials of the first seven verses of the poem are larger than the rest. They form an acrostic with the name Yechezqel. Verses 9 and 10 also begin with large initials forming the word Ben (=son of).

Yechezqel halakh ledarkho ariri
vayifgeu bo malakhe shamayim
chen vachesed matsa beeyne anashim
veelohim chayim
zakh veyashar po’olo bar levav uneqi kapayim
qal kanesher vegibor kaari asa retson qono
***** mehono (?)
***** layereim (?) ule-***** haya
teshuqato uretsono
began eden yehi *****
nishmato beginze meromim tihye tserura
bitseror hachayim
***** tsadiq katamar yifrach
Yechezqel went on his way childless
and the angels of God met him.
He found favor and kindness in the eyes of people and of the Living God,
he was pure and upright in his deed, he had a pure heart and clean hands,
light as the eagle, courageous as the lion, he did the will of his Creator.
(*****) of his goods (?)
(*****) to those fearing God (?) was all his wish and will.
May he be in Paradise (*****)
May his soul be bound up in the boundle of life in the treasurehouses of heaven.
(*****) The righteous will flourish like the palm tree. (Zsolt 92:12)

In the biblical quotation of the last verse the letters taw-mem-resh are highlighted, and their numerical value gives the date of Yechezqel’s death: (5)640 that corresponds to the civil year of 1879-80. (I mean only if in the first, illegible part of the verse there is not another quotation also with highlighted letters.)

I also send you the biblical and rabbinic sources of the first five verses, just in order you see in what a beautiful and ingenious way they were combined by the epitaph’s author.

1-2. And Abram said: “O Lord God, what wilt Thou give me, since I am childless.” [literally: “I go childless]” (Gen 15:2) — Now as Jacob went on his way, the angels of God met him. (Gen 32:2)
[An important comment to the above two verses: both include the verb “halakh” (go) which is used by the author to inventively bind and reinterpret them.]

3. And the king loved Esther above all the women and she found favor and kindness with him more than all the virgins. (Esther 2:17) — But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. (Gen 6:8)

4. If you are pure and upright, surely now He would rouse Himself for you. (Job 8:6) —  He who has clean hands and a pure heart. (Ps 24:4)

5. Be strong as the leopard and light as the eagle, swift as the deer and courageous as the lion, so that you might do the will of your heavenly father. (Pirke Avot 5:23)

I find it really beautiful. And if I consider it better – no, I lie: after I have checked it up better –, I must say that such epitaphs in rhymes and acrostics are not very frequent. This tombstone is also special in this respect. Because it might be possible that the stone-cutter had some poems on stock that he could use more than one time; but I doubt he had poems with the acrostics of each Jewish name.

By reading this text, I feel it dreadfully beautiful that in the wasteland of Nagykónyi there has been standing for a hundred and thirty years a sophisticated poem carved in stone which has not been read by anybody in the past sixty-five years, because there is nobody there who could read it any more. It is like the well of the Little Prince which is hiding in the desert until somebody finds it again.”

The last Armenian tombstone on the Aghtamar Island of Lake Van in Turkey where until the
genocide of 1915 there stood the seat of the Armenian Catholicos. This photo
was given to us by Andranik, husband of the great Armenian
folk singer Hasmik Harutyunyan with the permission
of publishing it whenever we want to.
This is the best place for it.

8 comentarios:

Effe dijo...

I found this post following in Bruno Schulz's footprints from my homeland, Italy. Strange paths of the net.
What a nice job you made on the Poemas del Rio Wang. Please, keep on doing it.

Studiolum dijo...

Tante grazie, Effe. Torna a visitarci presto.

Nei prossimi mesi progettiamo di visitare la terra natale di Bruno Schulz, la Galizia in Ukraina. Visiteremo anche Drohobycz, le “botteghe color cannella”, e Lvov, la città dell’educazione di Schulz. Ne scriveremo e pubblicheremo delle foto qui nel blog.

Effe dijo...

Progetto ottimo e invidiabile. Vi auguro di realizzarlo e, da Schulz-dipendente, attendo con molta curiosità il vostro resoconto (e le foto, che sono, a quanto ho visto, una presenza significativa e forte in questo blog). Intanto continuo a seguire con grande interesse i sentieri di questo luogo, che sono davvero lieto di aver incrociato per caso (se il caso esiste)
Segnalo un vecchio articolo del giornalista Gad Lerner sui luoghi (e le donne)di Bruno Schulz:

(parte precedente del reportage)
(parte successiva del reportage)


Studiolum dijo...

Articoli affascinanti. Questa persona sì che sa scrivere. Man mano leggerò il resto del suo blog. E come ha scelto bene i punti che definiscono il triangolo Schulz: Drohobycz, Boryslaw, Leopoli (in ungherese Ilyvó, solo per aggiungere uno di più alla lista dei nomi della città in varie lingue, elencata nel suo articolo).

Hai letto il libro di Martin Pollack, Nach Galizien. Eine imaginäre Reise durch die verschwundene Welt Ostgaliziens und der Bukowina? (Mi immagino che sia tradotto anche in italiano.) Lui offre un panorama magico di questa provincia tramite i testi dei tantissimi scrittori provenienti di quà, da Roth a Schulz.

Effe dijo...

Roth è naturalmente un altro nome eccellente.
Purtroppo quel libro di Pollack non risulta tradotto in italiano, ma la segnalazione è interessante e vedrò se è rintracciabile un'edizione tradotta in una lingua un po' meno... tedesca :-)
Grazie dello spunto.
(spero che i commenti in italiano non disturbino gli altri lettori)

Studiolum dijo...

Stranamente Pollack ha una pagina di Wikipedia in italiano. Ma neanche qui risulta che si abbia tradotto la sua Galizia. Magari la versione polacca la troverai meno “tedesca”? ;) Pare l’unica lingua a cui questo libro, il migliore che io abbia letto su Galizia, sia tradotto.

Non credo che la chiacchiera in italiano disturbi i lettori. Quei pochi che si conosce lo capiscono, e per gli altri sarà una voce assolutamente in tono con l’armonia babelica del blog.

Effe dijo...

mmh, oltre a inglese, spagnolo e francese io non vado. Avrei dovuto studiare di più :-)
Parlando di Galizia, e quindi di Schulz (ancora! Ma si sa, le passioni son passioni) e leggendo poi i post sui coccodrilli a Brno e altrove, mi viene in mente che la traduzione inglese delle Sklepy cynamonowe dovrebbe essere The Street of Crocodiles, se ricordo bene, così come il film di animazione dei fratelli Quay, di cui ho letto ma che non ho, purtroppo, mai visto.
Così, tanto per sottolineare che tutto si tiene.

Studiolum dijo...

Il film dei fratelli Quay è veramente eccezionale. Se non l'hai visto, lo puoi scaricare di qua. Ma il libro inglese “The Street of Crocodiles”, se non sbaglio, non era la traduzione del “Botteghe color cannella”, ma una selezione differente di racconti di Schulz a cui si è dato il titolo dell’“Ulica krokodili” che così, in singolare, era solo uno dei suoi racconti.

Scrivendo il post sui coccodrilli cecchi e altrove, anch’io pensavo di includere questo motivo, ma poi esso è diventato tanto lungo e mi sono rimasti in mano tanti materiali che ho pensato di dedicarci un altro post più tardi.