Saturday, July 9, 2011

Reconnecting Across the Years

My great-uncle Mikula Papp and his family in 1932. The portrait was taken in Chust, in what is now the Ukraine. The man sitting on the right may be another great-uncle, Ivan Papp, but I am not sure. 

Mikula was the youngest of Ivan and Maria Tegze Papp's surviving children (the one who had no shoes). He and my grandfather Stefan corresponded for many years but after Stefan died in 1948 contact with the family was lost. When we went to Europe after the Berlin Wall fell we were reunited with my grandfather's family. My father and aunt met several first cousins, including Mikula's two surviving children.

His daughter, Maria, and two of her sons were still living in the Ukraine. They were an amazing family - welcoming us with open arms with only a day or two's notice. We asked there, as we asked everyone we visited, if they had pictures we could see. His daughter pulled a photo album from the shelf and showed us an entire album of empty pages. Only old fashioned small white corners outlined where the photographs had been.

Mikula had been arrested by Stalin's men one day after World War II and sent away. He was gone for many years, but did survive and return home. The family's photographs were destroyed (it wasn't clear to me whether the men who took Uncle Mikula destroyed them or the family themselves, out of fear) but forty years later they still had the album. Despite the scars Maria and her family lived and continue to live full and successful lives. One son is a surgeon, another is a dentist and the third, a Moscow-trained classical musician, emigrated to Mexico where he is a concert violinist.

Maria's younger brother, Laszlo, had settled in Budapest and joined us there for dinner. He looked very like his father. Laszlo would have been one of the two younger boys in this picture. He had worked as a bureaucrat in Hungary for many years and was retired when we came. For my father and aunt to meet these first cousins more than seventy years after their father left Europe was a gift we will treasure always.


  1. This is a touching story, yes, surely a treasure.

  2. That is so sad about the photo album, but wonderful that he survived and that the two branches of the family were able to reconnect after so many years.

  3. Bill and I had the privilege of traveling to Budapest. I think it is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen. What did you think?

    I'm so glad the family was able to reunite after the Berlin wall fell. We also stayed in Berlin in what had been East Berlin. The people were wonderful, even though where we stayed, no one knew any English. Russian was their second language.

  4. That photo album is such an appropriate symbol of the post-Berlin Wall emergence of Eastern Europe. So much was lost, and yet so much has been recovered. I've heard many stories of pictures and icons being hidden and buried, then uncovered years later. A truly touching story.

  5. Not sure why, but for some reason, out of all the loss the family surely endured, the loss of their precious photos is affecting me so much.


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