The Kocsma of Leopold Salamon
By Cherie Korer
We were "reministing" once again, to use a word coined by my Bubbe, Regina Fox, a word which to me holds the promise of wondrous stories of her childhood in Kuritsfalva (Kudlovsa, Kudlovics), a town which no longer exists,
a way of life which came to end with the Holocaust.
"It's a park there," Bubbe laments.
Today is Saturday, October 31, 1998, and as usual she did not disappoint me.
"And they played the Chardash and they were swingin' it. They never learned a lesson, but could they play that fiddle! They played inside and outside the Kocsma. They used to have weddings there that lasted for three days, and the gypsies were swingin' it and the people were singing and dancing. It was such a jolly place. Freilach. It was very freilach. The people danced and sang and got drunk. Oh, could they drink. Never enough."
What did you do when you got up in the morning?
"First we milked the cows. My stepmother Rose (Kunslicher Salamon) milked one cow and I milked the other. Later we made buttermilk, butter and cheese for use in the Kocsma. I fed the chickens, geese, and lambs. I gathered the eggs. My mother, Yidas or Yehudas (Julie Eichler Salamon) died when I was very young. My stepmother worked very hard in the kitchen and cooked and took care of her eight children and my older brother and myself. I was always a big help to my stepmother."
Were you the only Jewish people?
"Yes, we were the only Jewish people in the village. The people were very poor and had to work very hard to make a living. On Mondays and Fridays, the market days, they would sell their goods in Humenne and then come to the Kocsma and have entertainment. (She shows me a picture, well known to me by now.) There is Father (Leopold Salamon) sitting in front of our home. On the left was the Kocsma and on the right was the grocery and delicatessen. Upstairs were the rooms for the family on the left (she points to her room) and on the right were the elegant rooms for the guests. At market times people would arrive and need a place to eat and drink and rest. The people would order drinks and food and I would bring it up to them. Outside in back were a bowling alley and a big vegetable garden. In front was a well and large yard and to the right was the castle of the Count Androshe Sondor. Beyond the castle was Humenne where many Jewish people lived. The people would eat and drink and play bowling. It was the amusement place. It was very nice."
Did you get any tips?
"No, it was nothing like that."
Tell me again how your father made liquor for the Kocsma.
"Father had a big barrel of alcohol and he used to dilute it. A servant carried water from the well. He poured it in. There was a marker to show when it was enough. Father would add the flavoring. Some came from our fruit orchards and some came from small, dark bottles called scents that he bought. He made all kinds of liquors people wanted. My favorite was Charsacurte (curte means pear). He also made beer on tap. I liked sometimes a beer. Every morning the baker of Humenne would bring fresh rolls called Kimfel and Zemel. Whatever we ordered he brought to us. The townspeople would come and sit at the big, long tables. They ordered the bakery goods and drinks. When they were drunk they talked like crazy. They talked vulgar language. Father used to tell me 'Hoyloch vese!' That was Hebrew words that meant get lost. He wanted me to go upstairs. When he told me 'Hoyloch,'they were drunk and vulgar and he didn't want me to hear it. He told me to go upstairs, but he told me in Hebrew. All the liquors were stored in big barrels in the basement. There wasn’t enough room so we stored some barrels in our neighbor's basement, and paid them rent."
You mentioned a grocery store and delicatessen. What did you sell there?
"We had all sorts of food like cheese and salami for sandwiches. The government brought big sacks of all kinds of things like barley, beans, flour, you name it. The people would line up and there was a scale because it was all sold by weight. Everything the people needed we sold at our place of business."
Did you have lots of land? Do you know what a hold is?
"Oh, yes, we had lots of land. Many acres. There were apple, pear, peach, and plum trees. There was a big vegetable garden in the back. There was a barn of the cows and a silo for storage of the crops. I don't know what a hold is.
Your father was a very busy man.
"Yes, Father was a businessman and a farmer. There was always something to do. We needed lots of good help to take care of the business and lands. I used to pack bread, vegetables, and lots of whiskey (wodka) which the servants liked, and we would go out to the fields. We ate and we drank. We planted potatoes, wheat, onions, green onions, anything. I showed them how to pile up the earth around the potato plants and give them plenty space too. Breath. You've gotta always loosen up the garden (cultivate) and take out the weeds. Loosen up. Loosen up. Put lots of soil on top. It's a lot of work. They harvested all that stuff. They harvested all kinds of vegetables. All the food they put away in the big warehouse for the winter. I saw Father take a big stake with a curved blade (a scythe) and cut down the wheat, bundle it and carry it over his shoulders and set it down to dry in big mounds (haystacks)."
Is there anything you didn't do?
You were your father's right arm.
"And they respected me like a big businesswoman. Such a big respect they had for me. Big respect. The principal of the high school in Humenne, who was Jewish, he used to come by and would tip his hat to me. Such a respect he showed for me. All the people handled us with great respect. The peasants were the peasants and we were the big people."
Were you very religious?
"Oh, absolutely! Religion has nothing to do with the business. Every Shabbos we went to the Synagogue in Humenne. We never worked on Shabbos. We observed all our Holidays. Every Saturday I would take the shortcut through the castle gardens and go into Humenne to visit my family, my Aunt Hya Gestettner and Uncle Wolf and my cousins. They spent the whole day in bed resting. We had help to take care of the business on Fridays and Saturdays. We gave them five gallons of liquor. When they sold that we gave them five more. They sold everything and gave us the money. They would do anything for us. A Yeshiva student lived in our home and taught us Hebrew and the commandments. My parents taught me to love G-d, to always mention G-d, and to make the best out of life."
Did you have an indoor bathroom?
"No, it was outside in the back. It wasn't so modern. There was a well in the front of the house. No telephones or horses, but we had plenty of trains. My boyfriend, Haskell, he was so sweet. When I was visiting Munkacs, he met me with a box of chocolates and walked me to the train station when it was time to go home back to Humenne. Something happened and the train went only as far as Kassa (Kosich). What could I do? I had no money and it was the last train. I asked if there were any Jewish people around there. They told me there lives a Jewish family not far
from the train station. I went there and I went in bed with the two daughters of a poor shoemaker. It's a good thing I had all the goodies. I gave them all the goodies and they had a good time. The next day I took the train back to Humenne.
Did you every meet the Count Androshe Sondor?
"No, he was too big. A bigshot. I was free to go in the Castle and the gardens. Inside were big, elegant rooms and a greenhouse. His wife would sometimes set up a table and chair outside the Kocsma and draw and paint the beautiful scenery."
Did you ever speak to her?
"No, she was too big. I never interrupted. I had a lot of repect for her. They were bigshots."
Did you ever see the Count?
"Yes, I saw him and the Countess, his daughter, riding their big, white horses in the hills. They had a big stall with lots of horses. They were very graceful horses. We used to sit in front of the Kocsma like in the picture, and watch them. Father loved to sit in front of the Kocsma and watch the beautiful scenery, and the elegant highnesses."
What did the townspeople call you?
"They called me 'Kishasohn,' (your highness) or Fraulein (German). They would ask me, "May I have the fruit that falls on the ground?" and I would say, "Yes, sure, take all you want." They called father 'Naghagoshur' which means 'big man.'"
Did you ever go to Budapest?
"Oh, yes, the capitol city. It is very beautiful. I traveled all over. I never sat still. Wherever I went I was handled with big respect. They gave me big honor. Big honor. They were nice to me and I was nice to them. It was a wonderful life. We worked hard, but we were happy then."
But you left all that. Why?
"Well, after WWI, we couldn't make a living. Hungary lost the war. There was a new government. People didn't have money. They couldn't pay. They were very anti-Semitic. They did us so much dirt. I was 22 years old and I came to America in 1920."
I'm glad you did!
"My brothers Armin and Karl and my sister Francis followed me. My brothers, Mono and Bennie went to Israel. They begged Father to come, but he said a new life he couldn't start. The rest of them stayed, my brother Herman, his wife, and their eight children, my sister Piri and her family, my brothers Itsu and Sonye Salamon,
"My Aunt Hya Eichler and Uncle Wolf Gestettner, my Uncles Wolf and Monochem Eichler and their families, and my Uncle Joseph Salamon and his family. They all perished in the Holocaust. All in ashes. Serene Eichler, Monochem's daughter survived by going into hiding and getting false papers. Her brothers Gabriel and Moishe fought the Naziis alongside other partisans. They were hunted down in the forests of Humenne and tortured and killed in 1944. Another brother, Yitzhak survived. After the war there were still threats against his and Serene's life so they went to Israel. The Jews never have any peace in this world!" said Bubbe with resignation. Let's go to lunch… .
. Somehow I know Bubbe will have more stories the next time we go "reministing."