July 3, 2008
The heart and the drive
(Page 2 - Previous Page)What direct or indirect influence Hirschler had on the Hatschek family is not known. But I wonder if it is just a coincidence that Max and Bela were opticians, too? Could they be related? Could Hatschek be a Hungarian (Magyarized) version of Hirschler? These are all questions I hope to further research one day.
Regardless, Hatschek Bela was not an eye doctor as much as a businessman. His stationery, a copy of which was sent to me by Hungarian journalist Pal Negyesi, indicates that he owned the "first Hungarian glass eye factory."
Although this may sound a bit odd today, eye injuries and lost eyes were much more common in the age of the sword fight, particularly before eye surgery and repair became more sophisticated. It was also an enterprise in which artistry was valued.
My mother recalled being taken to her grandfather's factory, which her Uncle Hugo ran. A sign with a giant eye hung outside, and my mother recalls finding it frightening -- and memorable.
I also discovered that Hatschek Bela, or at least his factory, also made ocular equipment, such as binoculars. About three years ago, I received an e-mail out of the blue from a man who had purchased a pair on eBay. Upon Googling "Hatschek Bela" he had come across an article I had written and e-mailed me to ask for further details.
While writing this article, I decided to e-mail the man, and ask if he would consider selling me the binoculars. I can report that I am now the proud owner of a pair of World War I-era binoculars. They work, and they came with leather case lined with red silk. Stamped on the case's cover in bold gold letters is "Hatschek Bela," along with the address of his company store, located at 2 Vaci Utca (Budapest's most elegant shopping street -- akin to Rodeo Drive or Fifth Avenue).
Hatschek Bela died on Oct. 23, 1922 (his wife, Gizella Hatschek, died five years later). He had two children, Adrienne (my grandmother), born in 1892, and Hugo, born in 1895. He lived long enough to see Adrienne appear on stage, see her marry and to see his grandchild, Eva (my mother). He lived long enough to see Hugo become an optician and to know that his son would carry on his business. Adrienne lived in the family home and factory at 4 Munkas St. until her own marriage in 1915; Hugo continued to live there until it was taken over by the German SS in 1944.
In 2003, when I visited Budapest, I discovered that -- in the records of the Jewish Community Center at 12 Sip Utca -- Hatschek Bela and Gizella are listed as having been buried at the Kozma Street Jewish cemetery. However, when I visited the cemetery, I could not find their graves. Someone suggested that perhaps someone else had been buried above them. That, too, is a mystery I hope to solve one day (I did find Hugo's grave in the Kozma Street cemetery).
At the same time, I also discovered that my great-great-grandmother, Jeannette Reitzer, Hatschek's mother-in-law, was born in 1849 in Altofen (Old Buda) and died in 1891 in Budapest. Like Dr. Kayserling and other members of the 19th century Budapest bourgeoisie, she is buried in the Salgótarjáni Utca Cemetery. When I visited the cemetery in 2003, I found her grave marker -- a striking black obelisk.
To be able to trace my family's roots in Budapest back to 1849 was very meaningful. To imagine where their lives played out across centuries, to walk down those streets, to see buildings and synagogues and to be able to say my family walked these streets, my family members lived here, they were married in this place and buried here, it gives one a feeling that is larger than one's self -- a connection between present and past, a feeling of history.
As for Hatschek Bela owning Hungary's first automobile, Pal Negyesi, a Hungarian freelance journalist who writes about automobile history, published an article in 2007 that tried to find a definitive answer to who had the first car in history. He could not confirm anything.
As part of my own research, I e-mailed the picture of my great-grandfather in the Benz to Mercedes' own historians in Germany. They confirmed that it was a 1894 "Velo."
According to their records, in 1894 Benz launched the Velociped model -- nicknamed Velo -- a light vehicle that takes its place in history as the first small car and the first series-automobile in the world. The Velo had an engine that produced 1.5 horsepower at 450 revolutions per minute (according to their records, the engine's performance could be improved to 3.5 horsepower at 800 revolutions per minute). The Velo cost 2,000 marks in 1894.
However, Mercedes had no records of Hatschek Bela purchasing a Velo. Their records do indicate that in 1896, a year after the picture was taken, a Benz No. 375 was delivered to Hungary. No recipient is listed.
However, as our family lore has it, Hatschek traveled out of the country and returned with the car. Negyesi in his research turns up newspaper accounts from 1921 and 1967 anointing Hatschek as the first Hungarian automobilist, stating that "Hatschek learnt to drive a bit in Mannheim, Germany and Benz dispatched a ' driver' to Budapest, in order to help Hatschek learn how to properly drive and maintain his car."
This sounds very close to what I heard as a child and also leaves open the possibility that Hatschek purchased his car abroad from a dealer or a private party and then brought it home.