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A Post-War Christmas, 1947

Night configuration. During the day, 4 chairs were taken out to the balcony, and the table with the remaining chairs moved closer to the sofa.

A Post-War Christmas, 1947

Remig A. Papp

 FAMILY NEWS # 20                                                                                         Essen-Steele                                                                                                              December 23, 1947

Immediately on the Eve of Christmas, we would once again like to thank all of our dear relatives, who thought of us with so much love all year and have showered us with visible and edible signs of their love, and wish them a very pleasant and happy Christmas and a contented, peaceful and successful new year.                 

Yesterday, we received three letters ... and Dad’s little package with sugar cubes (all from Hungary).  We received Raul’s last two packages mailed to Hannover, which were forwarded, and now we’re glad that we didn’t consume them there, but thus have insured that the holiday is a good one.  Vivy had the poppy seeds, which had been sent from America some time ago, ground up and so it seems that, after four years, we’ll have “mákos beigli” for Christmas once again.

Our provisioning situation is picking up here.  It was solely the reserves Vivy had saved up from the packages in Hannover that helped us over the first two weeks.  One can’t even get vegetables here.  Two weeks ago, Vivy had to go back to Hannover to take care of some of our affairs, and from there brought back five heads of cabbage, some carrots and celery.  There they saw her off at the railroad station, and here Remy went for her, so she wouldn’t have to carry so much.

This Saturday we went for an outing in the vicinity, and at a garden center got some dried peas and celery in exchange for some coffee.  This is typical of the worsening situation, and of the difference between the two provinces (of Niedersachsen and Nordrhein-Westfalen), namely, that it was possible in the former to get, for coffee, some finer foodstuffs such as eggs, meat, perhaps some type of fat, and vegetables were available for money and sometimes for a little something else; here not even vegetables are freely available, though it’s also true that this year’s drought was especially bad for vegetables.

Our lodgings are still very tight, but also very warm.  We can barely handle the small iron stove; in a trifle it’s hot as h—— in the little room, and we have to strip to shirtsleeves.  The room also keeps the heat rather well ...  The kitchen on the other hand is cold, because our landlady, who is on a toughening course, keeps opening the door to the balcony so it won’t get too hot.  We have a little bathroom, which we were so happy about, but it seems it cannot be heated.  There is a gas water heater in it, which doesn’t heat the room at all (and only barely heats the water) and it’s no great fun to wash in a cold bathroom.  It’s not really possible to take a bath either, because the low amount of gas allocated doesn’t suffice...                 

We placed two beds and the sofa in our room.  At first we tried to have either me or Erika sleep with Vivy, but neither worked.  We poked each other a lot...  Thus we finally brought in our four chairs from the balcony where we had stored them for lack of space, and now we make Erika’s bed on six chairs facing each other, putting a featherbed and head mattress under her.  So now everyone sleeps alone and well, only putting it together and dismantling it takes some time evenings and mornings.  But we have no room for our papers, nor is there enough space for our underwear and clothes in the only wardrobe the landlady has put at our disposal.  Our plan now is to have the other wardrobe, in which her other tenant’s clothes are stored but which stands in our room, put out without a fuss.  In its place we would bring up our pretty new crates and put them one on top of the other, and hang some kind of curtain in front of them.  Then we could arrange most of our things.  For the time being, though, the top of the wardrobe and the space under the beds is full, and for every one thing to be taken out or put away, we have to turn up a hundred others.  Each family member has been given a carton, the packing of an American package, in which to keep the things which are precious to each one personally.  These cartons we then push under the beds...                    

Today, on December 29th, having gotten over Christmas, I’m able to report on that too.  It’s very fortunate that Erika has been enlightened about the Christ Child or rather the angels, because we’d not have been able to create any kind of illusion in the one room. 

The trouble began with spruce trees having joined the list of black market items, available only for a great deal of money or with “compensation”...  Finally, on one of the fine days before Christmas, we managed to buy three tiny trees for 10 cigarettes and 6 marks.  Two were scarcely taller than a hand’s breadth; the third was perhaps three hands’ breadth tall.  Vivy skillfully combined them, one above the other, and so got an almost three-foot high tree, a little slim and the tip slightly drooping, but still a nice-smelling fir tree.  We even managed to get simple decorations for it (last year, the shoemaker’s wife had lent us glittering, peacetime decorations), and she put the candy received from Louise’s on it.  She couldn't make the traditional szaloncukor because she didn’t have any sugar and I kept secret Raul’s package containing sugar, which arrived at the office on December 23rd, holding it as a Christmas surprise.  Gifts nowadays are such small nothings without value, that an American package arriving the day before would have taken the thunder out of Christmas.  So we put the contents of the package among the gifts and at one stroke had a high-class Christmas. 

It seemed as if we wouldn’t have much to eat for Christmas.  However, the above-mentioned package arrived, and so did another American one, mailed on October 25th (both forwarded from Hannover, and both arrived intact.)  On the morning of the last day I also received a shopping bag full of food from each of my bosses (they are considerably better off in the matter of foodstuffs, but even so it’s extremely nice of them, because their sources of supply are also limited).  In addition, I too had taken steps to get a kilo of meat for which they wanted 11 English or American cigarettes.  They promised beef (pork we haven’t eaten in years) and I had gone to get it four times, until I finally got it in great secrecy from a waiter late the last evening.  Only when we opened it at home did we see that it was horse meat.  But we ate it with gusto, because Vivy prepared it in mock-venison style, with mashed potatoes.  Vivy too had gotten a can of meat which she used to make stuffed cabbage, and so we had plenty to eat during the holidays.  She even made poppy seed rolls, of real peacetime quality, but I believe every single ingredient was American.                                        

On Wednesday morning, I took Erika to the office with me, so Vivy and Remy could work undisturbed at home.  I set her up in the bathroom (the marble one), and we brought her a small table.  She had brought a coloring book with her, and she used the colored inks I got her from our draftsman.  Meanwhile she received cookies, jam, tea; the above-mentioned packages arrived and so did three letters from Raul.  We had to pack things into the suitcase, so it was a very eventful morning, which the young lady thoroughly enjoyed.  She declared too, “Daddy, you’re not doing much work today!”

Afterwards, we ate my Christmas lunch together.  From the office I received half a pound of cookies.  We put them into the shopping bag with the others and took the train home.  Then we spread the packages and the gifts on the table and the sofa and covered them, while Vivy and Remy worked in the kitchen.  Afterwards, they sent us out into the bathroom (because the tree had to be brought in from the balcony through the kitchen), and there we sat on the edge of the bathtub until they were finished inside.

Vivy received a handbag made of paper, with which she can go downtown in dry weather, a book (“Daddy Longlegs”), and we also put the entire package with her gifts to make it seem as if she received more.  Erika received two skirts from the package, a storybook (from Grandpa in Hungary.  Trans.), a coloring book, and most importantly, the large American doll, a rubber ball from our former landlord in the garden colony, and a little Christmas fairytale.  Remy received a book, a map and the Christmas supplement of an American newspaper.  For me, the Christ Child had one of my drawings framed; I received a cutlery case because we have to bring our own cutlery for the office lunches, and two copies of “Szabad Száj” (a Hungarian humor magazine.  Trans.)  which we had received a few days earlier, but which I fortunately didn’t have a chance to read before Christmas.

                                                                                                              Translated by EPF 

Remig A. Papp (1901-1985) was born in Budapest, where he obtained a diploma in Civil Engineering, and worked in Germany and France before the Depression.  Returned to Hungary, he designed the Budapest winter harbor, among other projects.  Leaving with his family before the siege, he emigrated to the US in 1949, where he worked his way up to Associate in an engineering consulting firm, designing dams and other structures.  


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