Eva explains that she eventually came to Glasgow because her Husband had been offered a job at Queens Park Synagogue. She describes the challenges she faced when trying to get a visa to leave Hungary.
INT: So how did you end up in Britain then?
E.S: How did we end up here? I got married to my husband in 1949.
E.S: And still the situation was not how it should be, you know. But we married, my husband wanted to marry. He was seven years older than me. I didn’t want to get married because I just was nineteen at that time but he was twenty-seven so he wanted to get married.
I was twenty when I got married. I was very young when I got married. And then my husband was a First Reader in this Bethlen Ter Synagogue [in Budapest].
I lived with my mother-in-law because there was no chance to get, you know, was no money; we had no money, and it was bombed down, a lot of houses. We couldn’t get a separate flat so I lived with my mother-in-law. It was not very convenient because we had a room and she had to walk through me and if she wanted to go to the bathroom or kitchen you had to go through me, so it was not very ideal for a young couple. But you know, but we had to be thankful there was somewhere at least to settle.
INT: What were the Russians like with Jews? Were you allowed to practise Judaism?
E.S: Oh no, oh no, no. No. It was, you cannot say that it was Communism in Hungary, Socialism you know. It was not very strict. Oh but, no, no, you cannot, you cannot do it.
That is why we came away actually because we were religious and you was not allowed to practise, not just Jewish, any. There was no religion. My husband was lucky because my husband at that time actually, before we came, he was not a Chazzan anymore.
E.S: No, he was an opera singer.
INT: Oh right.
E.S: He was a member of the Hungarian Opera, yes. And then, and then he just had to go on Saturday for rehearsals and he could walk because it was not a distance where we lived.
And then…So we always could keep the Shabbas you know. And then of course he was also still a Chazzan, very much sought after beside.
[**A Hazzan or Chazzan is a Jewish musician, trained in the vocal arts who helps lead the congregation in songful prayer. In English, this prayer-leader is often referred to as cantor.]
So we were financially, really was very good financially. But it is not the/it was not the matter because we still didn’t like the life, you know? You were not allowed to say a word, anything against the government or anything. But of course everything was… How do you call this word? You know that they took away everything the government.
E.S: Nationalised, yes!
E.S: They were all took away. All took away. We had nothing. They couldn’t take away anything. We had nothing; they already had taken away everything. We had nothing left to take away.
So one day, one day somebody rings the bell and who was there, my husband’s school friend from Mattersburg. They went to school together. He is called Samuel Soberman, we call him Shamo. He actually lived in Budapest.
He still lives in London.
So Shamo saw my husband, they saw each other. He came in and then he heard that my husband survived and asked around. But my husband was quite well known, you know? The Chazzan, you know, Jewish.
E.S: Between…So he find us and then he said to my husband, ‘Why are you living in this horrible anti-Semitic country with what they do to you?’
He said, ‘Why do you live here?’
And to my husband said ‘Why don’t you come to England’ And to my husband said, he said that ‘You are a good Chazzan, you could get a good job, good wages’
And my husband said jokingly, he said, ‘If you find me a job I’ll come’.
Shamo went home and soon after he send us…Queens Park Synagogue, they were looking for a Chazzan.
INT: In Glasgow?
E.S: In Glasgow.
I remember it was a beautiful spring day, we went out somewhere in the green and sat down at a little table for a coffee and my husband and me wrote a Yiddish letter to Queens Park Synagogue. And maybe after two weeks or three weeks a letter came, in Yiddish, and they said that they are coming with a car, a European tour and they would come to visit us if that’s OK. But they didn’t say when they were coming.
And I remember it was a summer day and every summer Sunday when my husband was free from the opera we always went out to the hills, you know. We liked to go every week. Agnes was alive by that time, my older daughter. And then I remember in the morning we left, even I didn’t make my bed. We just went away, made some sandwiches and we went out.
And then when we came home the house manager knocked on the door and said that, ‘Two gentlemen, foreign gentlemen was looking for you’ that, ‘I think they came from Vienna’ he said. He didn’t understand German or English probably. I don’t know what language they talked. And then, ‘They said they are coming back, eight o’clock’. So quickly made my bed and we changed and then made some coffee.
I remember and then really eight o’clock the two gentlemen knocked on the door, two old men. And then they said who they are and immediately, I am not a good Yiddish speaker but my husband was very good, you know. And then immediately they could talk to each other so they came in.
We had a very little flat as I said; we had one room and my mother-in-law lived in the other room. So they came in. We had a nice room, with nice furniture. It was nice but very small. I had a bed that I opened up for the night and closed it you know.
INT: Folded it.
E.S: So that you can sit on it during the day. So they, Mr Rosen and the brother came in and they asked my husband to sing something for them and then later they confessed that they thought the whole house will collapse on them because he’s got such a big voice, my husband! They thought that it will collapse on their heads!
E.S: Oh yes, so they were very impressed, very impressed and they said they would be coming home just after the tour, they said, about three weeks time and we’ll have a big meeting in the Shul and then you will hear from us then.
So in the meantime, you know, in Hungary, I don’t know about other opera houses, in Hungary the opera closes for two months. July and August, there is no opera for summer break.
So we went on holiday to Balaton Lake. That is very nice in Hungary. We went to holiday and then, but my husband had to come home, every Saturday night he came home, he went home to Budapest because he was appearing in the open-air theatre in the Margaret Island. It was open-air, beautiful.
He came home and he said that he’d got the letter from… and they said, ‘They’d send a ticket for me and they want me to come to…’
E.S. To here. So they sent me a ticket from Vienna to Glasgow and then sent money to buy me for Budapest to Vienna…not Vienna, Glasgow. It was later when we came eventually.
And then I had Agnes. And then we had a passport but we did not understand because it was a visitor passport because we couldn’t go travel anywhere from this Communist country but they gave occasionally. If you were lucky you could go. If you could afford it you could go. And my husband had a cousin, a second or third cousin, in Vienna, Max, and then he invited us. And my daughter Agnes was on my passport because you know, no separate passport. And, but we couldn’t take her – I mean we wouldn’t / couldn’t take her because they wouldn’t let us.
E.S: The whole family, because they knew that many people just forget to go back. So we didn’t want to risk that, you know. So we left Aggie with my mum, my mum and then we went there.
And actually we spent three weeks here because we were so inexperienced to travelling we didn’t book a seat to come home and they couldn’t get a seat for us.
I was not there on Friday night but I walked down to wait for my husband to walk home. That is he put his hat and went on the floor before my husband he was so, so…
INT: So impressed.
E.S: Impressed, yes. So Sunday next day was a meeting. They made a contract. They wanted him already. So it was all beautiful like a….like a…
INT: A fairy story?
E.S: A fairytale. But because we knew that we don’t know how we are able to come away. So… They were lovely to us. They took us to the seaside, by cars. Max Berkley – was lovely. They took us there I remember. So they show us around.
Everything was nice, I just said to my husband that I don’t want to live in Glasgow because it’s so hilly. I said that because Mrs Wolfe, you know, where she lived it’s up the hill. I found hard to walk. I was not used to it you know. It’s a joke because we couldn’t wait, you know, until we could come.
So anyway, shortly, we went home eventually. They gave us a lot of presents and were really nice to us, and some money, so very nice. And then we came home and for a whole year we planned how can we come away.
We had a Jewish lawyer friend so we went to advice if we could we apply for a passport. How do you call this passport, you know? Emigration. An emigration passport.
And then this guy said that you cannot apply because you will be refused and then they watching you. Even if you just say you are going on holiday, you’ll be watched. That was the story with the Russians you know. And…But it happened that this passport was still six months valid.
INT: Valid. Right.
E.S: So my husbands cousin in Vienna, Max, they talked Yiddish on the phone because even you couldn’t talk things like this because of…
INT: In case they were listening in.
E.S: But Yiddish, you know, there was a hope that they can’t understand.
So Max said that, ‘You just come. You just come. All of you.’ Because my Agnes was on the passport. ‘You just come. Say you are coming on holiday to me.’ And he rented a flat for us, you know. Just say that. So when it was a holiday, as I said during the, again the opera holiday, we decided we try. If we can’t go, we could come back and still have a job, you know, in Budapest.
So we came eventually and we just take with us a little summer clothes. We are going on holiday to Vienna for two weeks.
So when we arrived there Max said just come, we will see what can we do.
And then we went there and then took us to the British Embassy and we showed our contract and they didn’t believe us very much. It was over a year ago it was dated; maybe the job is not available.
But they phoned to Glasgow and they checked and it was OK. So they said that… the situation was that everything was arranged from this part.
INT: From Vienna.
E.S: Work permit and visa and everything, just from there. We couldn’t, we couldn’t use that to put in a passport, the visa, because we didn’t have an emigration passport.
E.S: So the Hungarian… I went to the embassy, the British Embassy. I talked to them because you could talk there, I felt.
But I didn’t say. I didn’t say we ran away. I just said that we got a job. My husband got a job, and later on when we are ready, we will go.
And I got a house, it’s true, it was true because they offered us 10 Third Avenue, you know, and then I said that I have to go there and see what I want to buy – furniture, blah, blah.
But they said, you know, that they still cannot put my visa, you know because it was an agreement with the Hungarians.
INT: Yes, right.
E.S: They couldn’t work against them, you know. So we just went on a train. It’s not far, Vienna. It’s maybe three hours on the train, or less, from Budapest.
So anyway we spent nearly four weeks, by the time they managed to get our visas. They sent a courier from the British Embassy from Vienna to the Hungarian, to Budapest British Embassy.
E.S: And this courier brought us the visa and in Vienna they put it in for us. So it was a very unique situation you know.