From A Charmed Life
by Marika Somogyi
Something magical happened. I woke up to something I thought was an apparition. At the foot of my bed stood an angel in a gray cloak, her face partly hidden under a hood. She was tall, slim, and very soft spoken.
She said: “I am sister Natalia. I came for you, Marika. Tonight is your last night being Marika Harmat, daughter of a company executive in Budapest. From tomorrow morning on, you will be called Mária Gál, illegitimate daughter of a farmhand and, of course, Roman Catholic. Tomorrow, when your family moves to the Jewish house, you will not stay with them. You will remove the yellow star from your coat and take a streetcar to Thökölyi Street 69. This is the convent for the Gray Sisters. The mother superior, Slachta Margit, will welcome you and will protect you.”
She gave me a new birth certificate, kissed my forehead, and left. She was Palágyi Natalia, a name I will never forget.
The next morning, I still went with my parents to the Jewish house, closing the door of our beloved apartment behind us. I would never see that front door again until I went there with my granddaughter Rianna more than 70 years later.
There was some discussion about what to put in my little suitcase for my future life as Mária Gál. (My real given name is Marianne, and the nuns had been clever to give me a new name, Mária, that has the same nickname, Marika, as Marianne. I would not have to learn to respond to a new nickname.) Decisions had to be made. Should I pack the small gas mask? Should I take some warm clothes? In the end, I took only simple clothing, since from now on I would pretend to be an impoverished farm girl.
I Wonder What That Little Girl Is Doing
I wonder what that little girl is doing? Running frantically around the barn. Chasing the chickens. Now she sits down and cries. Almost all the chickens escaped.
This must be the little girl from Budapest. She is staying in the house of the village priest, Bela Kormendy. Very far from Budapest. Very far from her previous short little life. Her father was holding her in the palm of his hand. Sending her to a private German kindergarten. Then to an exclusive English elementary school. She had a live-in Austrian nanny. She would be able to speak three languages before the age of ten.
But now she must pretend to be a poor, illegitimate child of an impoverished farmhand. The poorest of the poor. And of course, she must convince the priest in whose house she was living now, that she is a good Roman Catholic. Knowing all the right prayers at the right time.
Everything was going well. Until this Sunday, when she was handed a large knife and sent out to the barn to slay a chicken for the festive dinner. The nuns who taught her all the right prayers didn’t prepare her for this.
She knew she couldn’t do it. She also knew she couldn’t go back to the house and tell them she couldn’t do it.
She must run away. But with her false papers, she would be soon caught. And that would be the end of her. She was helpless.
Then she cornered a poor lame chicken. Took her to the tree stump where they chopped the firewood. Tied the poor thing’s head down and stretched her body across the stump. Then took an ax and slashed the poor thing’s throat.
Then she went to the corner to throw up. I remember I was shaking for a very long time after that.
copyright©2019 Marika Somogyi