Posted in 1940s, Historical fiction, Imre, Writing

WeWriWa—Mrs. Goldmark’s magic


Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. I’m now sharing from Chapter 45, “Imre’s Revenge,” of my hiatused WIP The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees. This week’s snippet comes right after last week’s.

It’s November 1945, and Imre chose to stay behind in Budapest when his girlfriend Csilla and their friends were smuggled into Italy. Hoping to prove himself a hero, he went to Csilla’s hometown Abony to recover important possessions she hid last year.

Imre broke his entire left hand after a violent fight with the gendarme who took over Csilla’s house, and has been advised to hide in his mother’s apartment till a smuggler can be found. Less than 24 hours later, that smuggler has arrived and promised to get Imre into Italy.

View of Pasarét, Copyright Globetrotter19

“Their ultimate destination is France,” Mrs. Goldmark said. “My beautiful Imcsi wants to study literature at the Sorbonne.”

“How did you know my address?” Imre asked. “I didn’t have a chance to tell you.”

“I took today off work, claiming a personal emergency, and asked around in all the Pest synagogues and Jewish committees. I was finally directed towards a smuggler, whom it turns out knew someone who’d recently helped with smuggling a group in Pasarét. When I spoke to this other smuggler, I got the address, and I went over there immediately to retrieve your luggage. Mirjam was shocked to learn what’d happened, but promised to keep mum. She wishes you well, and looks forward to seeing you again when she comes to France.”


Mirjam is the much-older sister of Imre’s friend Eszter. She and her roommates opened their apartment to Imre’s female friends, and found a vacant apartment across the hall for the boys. Mirjam fled home to Abony after the Nazis invaded Budapest. Though that made her fate much worse, it also enabled her to send her youngest two siblings to safety in a last-minute miracle.

Posted in 1940s, Historical fiction, Writing

Livia’s Jewelry Box

Write…Edit…Publish holds a flash fiction contest the third Wednesday of every second month. This month, the theme is jewel box. Click the button for the full list of participants.

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve worked in flash, so I know this might not be my strongest work. I edited a lot of dialogue out of this story to keep the focus on the theme.

Wordcount 925: MPA

Livia Rachel Kovács gazed into a large jewelry store window on Fifth Avenue as cold air whipped at her face. There, on display among the dazzling diamonds, sparkling sapphires, radiant rubies, enticing emeralds, gorgeous garnets, and amazing amethysts were a dozen jewelry boxes, each one more ornate than the next. The most simple were made of fine woods, while the fanciest were gold and encrusted with gemstones. Some had miniature pictures on the sides or tops. The richness of the choice overwhelmed Livia, who couldn’t decide which one she wanted most.

Livia transferred her fancy Jumeau doll Ambrózia to her other arm. “Miri, can I have a jewelry box for a Chanukah present, or a belated bat mitzvah present?  My twelfth birthday came and went without any special ceremony or acknowledgment, and that little bag isn’t good enough anymore. I’m too old to be happy with that.”

Livia’s oldest surviving sister, Mirjam, looked away from the windows of a bookstore several buildings down. “You want a jewelry box more than actual jewelry?  I’ll be happy to buy you anything you want for the rest of your life, but a meaningful purchase is never impulsive. For all you know, you might find another jewelry box you like even more on another day, or something else entirely.”

“We might not come back across the river to New York for a long time, and these jewelry boxes could all be gone by then. You promised to buy me a jewelry box if I grew up. That bag isn’t big enough for all the earrings I want.” Livia pulled the door open. “If it’s too expensive, we can ask to reserve it or arrange to pay a little at a time.”

Mirjam followed her into the store, where an even wider selection of jewelry boxes awaited.

“Madame, my sister should like to buy jewelry box,” Mirjam called to the nearest salesgirl. “Not most expensive, but not most cheap either.”

“I want big.” Livia held her hands apart both lengthwise and widthwise.

“Nothing too plain. My sister deserves more than a basic wooden box.”

The salesgirl brought Livia an increasingly fancy array of jewelry boxes. Livia looked longingly at the most upscale, with gold she assumed must be a very high carat, expensive gemstones, luxurious metals like platinum, and intricate miniature artworks. Working-class girls, let alone new immigrants living on the charity of distant cousins, could only look at such treasures and wish to own them. The jewelry her family had buried during the war and recovered afterwards might be worth a few hundred dollars, not thousands. Their lack of jewelry boxes also spoke to how these treasures were regarded. Kovács women had never had the kinds of extensive jewelry collections high-society matrons boasted, and thus could realistically expect to only need simple cloth bags to store it.

“I want this.” Livia pointed to a cherrywood jewelry box with two doors which opened up to reveal four doors on each side, like a miniature bureau. Each knob was a small pearl, in a rainbow of colors instead of the expected, standard white, ivory, or cream, ringed by tiny diamonds. The outside doors were stained glass, calling to mind the pretty windows of the Esperantist Carmelite church where Livia and her little brother Daniel had attended school during the most precarious year of their lives.

“Nothing fancier?” the salesgirl asked.

“This one. Please excuse me for not knowing good enough English to explain every reason I want this.”

“We just came to America last month,” Mirjam said. “We’re learning fast. I already know eleven other languages fluently. After I master English, I want to learn perhaps ten other languages.”

The salesgirl took the jewelry box to the counter and wrapped it in white tissue paper. While Mirjam counted out the $5 pricetag, the salesgirl noticed Livia’s teardrop-shaped azurite-malachite French hook earrings.

“Girls in Europe have real pierced ears?”

“They certainly do,” Mirjam said. “These earrings have at least two hundred years. Our grandmother gave them to Rahi before she and our baby brother miraculously escaped a terrible train.”

“My name is Livia now,” Livia reminded her. “My first and middle names changed places. I stopped being Rahi four and a half years ago.”

“I remember you as Rahi,” Mirjam told her in Hungarian. “I can’t magically adjust to your new identity overnight, though I’ll happily call you whatever you want. It’s a miracle you survived, no matter what name you prefer.”

The salesgirl put the wrapped jewelry box into a white bag stamped with the store’s blue logo, and Livia carried it out of the building. After years of waiting, Livia finally had a pretty box to store her jewelry collection, which hopefully would get larger and larger as she continued growing older.


That night, when she was back in Newark, Livia opened her top bureau drawer and took out the cloth bag embroidered with her birth initials, R.L.K. She shook out the emerald French hook earrings her ears had been pierced with, a parrot brooch, several costume rings, a charm bracelet, a necklace with a frog pendant, and the amethyst ring her grandmother had wanted Daniel to give his future bride.

All the jewelry but the amethyst ring had been buried in a metal container in the Kovács backyard the first night of Passover 1944. So many people had lost irreplaceable possessions, but these pieces of jewelry had survived intact and now had a safe place to call home, just like the girl who’d started life as Ráhel Lívia.

Posted in 1940s, Historical fiction, Shoah, Writing

Marie’s New Coat

I’ve had a bunch of posts for the long-discontinued Sweet Saturday Samples bloghop sitting around in my drafts folder since 2012 and 2013, put together and scheduled well in advance. That hop seems to be on permanent hiatus, but I wanted to move them out already.

This post was originally scheduled for 31 August 2013, and comes from an older, unedited version of this WIP.


This week’s excerpt comes from a hiatused WIP called The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees. The book follows a group of young Shoah survivors returning to the world of the living and trying to navigate their way through the early postliberation years. This particular scene takes place in Budapest in November 1945, shortly before nine of the characters are to be smuggled across the border, with another going on a train with their pet mouse and rabbit, before the Soviets completely take over.

While they were at a furrier’s on the famous Andrássy Út recently, the hopelessly smitten Artur secretly bought a fur coat for his crush Marie after he saw her admiring it. Marie’s main character trait is how sweet, innocent, and naïve she still is, even after everything she’s gone through. Just as she truly believes her entire family might still be alive, she really has no idea her secret admirer is so close to her. And Artur is afraid to tell her how he feels.


The next day, while Csilla was cutting up a blanket and starting to fashion it into a coat for herself, a knock sounded on the door.  Half-fearing it was someone from the authorities who’d discovered their plan, or someone who’d found out there were fourteen people living in an apartment meant for only four at most, she tiptoed to the door and looked through the keyhole.  A strange man was standing there with a box.

“I work for Szűcs Furs on Andrássy Út and was asked to deliver this package to a young woman living in this apartment.  I didn’t want to send it through the mail for fear the Soviets might confiscate it for their own.  Is there a woman named Maria in this house?”

“We have a Marie, if that’s who you’re looking for.  Her surname is Sternglass.”

Marie came up to the deliveryman. “Yes, that’s my name on the package.  Who is it from, and who would know that my middle name is Zénobie?”

“There’s a note inside the box that might explain it.  Enjoy the gift.” He tipped his hat and went back down the stairs.

Marie carefully opened the box and saw a note on top, written in Hungarian.  Her command of written Hungarian was even weaker than her command of the spoken language, so she called Eszter over to translate it.

“It says, ‘To the beautiful Marie from her secret admirer.’” Eszter gave Artur a meaningful look out of the corner of her eye. “I wonder who could have sent it, particularly since you don’t know anybody outside of our own little group.”

“This is so exciting!  Maybe it’s a handsome young fellow who saw me in the street the other day, or any time since we’ve been here!  I hope he’s tall, dark, and handsome.  It would be so romantic if he were a sophisticated man of the world as well.  Someone who’s my age would never be so romantic and thoughtful.  I bet it’s an older man.”

“Perhaps you’re right,” Eszter said, giving Artur another furtive look.

Marie pulled away the tissue paper. “What a beautiful coat!  I think I was admiring this coat yesterday more than any of the others!  It stood out in the store because it was so exotic.  None of the other furs had prints or exotic colors.  Is it leopard?”

“The furrier told me it was ocelot when I admired it myself,” Mirjam said. “Looks like whoever is secretly admiring you wants you to keep warm as the winter begins.”

“Oh, if I only knew just who this suave mystery man is, I’d kiss and embrace him right now!  I hope it really is someone tall, dark, handsome, and older, not some middle-aged ugly fat social reject.”

“That is a beautiful coat,” Aranka said. “You’ll surely stand out when we get to Italy.”

“Pierre will be so happy and surprised when he sees me again and sees I’ve become a young lady, someone old enough for furs and such a beautiful elegant coat.  If my mother and sister are still alive, they’ll be so happy too, and impressed I caught the eye of this mystery man.”

Posted in Photography, Travel

Andrássy Út


This year, my A to Z theme is things and places from my WIP The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees, and its two sequels. Locales include Budapest, Florence, Paris, Nantes, Montpellier, Newark, and Lower Galilee.

Andrássy Út is in District VI (Terézváros [Theresa Town]) of Budapest, on the Pest side. It’s the city’s most historic thoroughfare, comparable to luxury shopping streets like 5th Avenue in Manhattan, Champs-Elysées in Paris, Unter den Linden in Berlin, and Nevskiy Prospekt in St. Petersburg.

The words út (avenue), utca (street), and tér (square) typically aren’t capitalized in Hungarian, but I made a stylistic choice to do so. I felt they’d look more obvious and familiar to Anglophones as street names that way. It’s similar to why I use the titles Mr., Miss, and Mrs. in my Russian novels, in spite of those titles only rarely being used in Russian.


The Opera House is on the left.

Construction of this grand boulevard began in 1872, and it was inaugurated 20 August 1876. It runs all the way from Erzsébet Tér in District VI to Városliget (City Park) in District XIV. Prior to its modern incarnation, it went by names including Ellbogengasse, Schiffmannsplatz, and Herminenplatz.

It changed names thrice in the Fifties—Sztálin Út (1950), Magyar Ifjúság Útja (Avenue of Hungarian Youth) (1956), and Népköztársaság Út (People’s Republic Avenue). In 1990, its true name was finally restored.


Famous sites include Magyar State Opera House, Drechsler Palace (later State Ballet Institute, renamed Hungarian Dance Academy in 1983, and now vacant), Paris Department Store, Terror House Museum, Franz Liszt Academy of Music, Ferenc Hopp Museum of East Asian Art, Kodály Zoltán Memorial Museum and Archives, Museum of Fine Art, Heroes’ Square, Franz Liszt Memorial House, and Hungarian University of Fine Arts.

Along with all the cultural and historical landmarks are the fine shops, boutiques, restaurants, cafés, theatres, and foreign embassies.


Sadly, my characters are in the Budapest of 1945, when 80% of the city was little more than a heap of rubble. The beautiful Pearl of the Danube was ripped apart by British and American air raids in 1944, the Budapest Offensive (29 October 1944–13 February 1945), the Siege and Battle of Budapest (26 December 1944–13 February 1945), and the murderous reign of terror by the fascist Arrow Cross. Before the Germans surrendered to the Soviets and fled, they blew up all ten of the bridges between Buda and Pest.

My characters visit what remains of Andrássy Út in November 1945, shortly before most of them are smuggled across the border to the American Zone of Austria (and eventually on to Italy and France). Mirjam, a 24-year-old master’s student in linguistics and anthropology at Pázmány Péter University (now Eötvös Loránd University), wants to get her 15-year-old sister Eszter a proper coat as a going-away present.

After finding a ferry across the Danube, they go to the fictional Szűcs Furs. I honestly don’t think I knew at the time that the surname Szűcs actually does mean “furrier”! Mirjam buys Eszter a blue silver fox fur, and their friend Artur secretly buys an ocelot fur for his crush Marie. It’s delivered the next day, with a note saying it’s from a secret admirer.


Modern view, 2011, Copyright Dezidor

This beautiful avenue has long since been rebuilt to its former glory, and in 2002, it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Posted in Fourth Russian novel, Historical fiction, Shoah

Jumeau dolls

(FYI for non-Francophones: Jumeaux is the plural of Jumeau.)

I’ve honestly never been much of a doll person. I never had nor wanted a Barbie, and always had more stuffed animals than dolls. I’m told I carried my few dolls under my arm like a football, instead of holding them close and cuddling them. I always gravitated towards gender-neutral toys, like marbles, or stereotypically “boy toys,” like miniature cars. None of the girly toys really appealed to me.

However, I always made an exception for collectible dolls, the kinds not meant for playing with. I love their clothes, hairstyles, faces, bodies, and accessories. The dolls I feature in my books tend to be homemade or generic toy store dolls, but I’ve created two Jumeaux recently. I think I found out about them when I got a Jumeau coffeetable book from a bargain table at Barnes and Noble.


The Jumeau company was founded by Pierre-François Jumeau and Louis-Desire Belton in the early 1840s, in Montreuil-sous-Bois (an eastern suburb of Paris). They quickly gained a name for themselves, and their beautiful porcelain dolls became very popular. In 1844, they presented their dolls at the Paris Exposition. When the Paris Exposition returned in 1849, the company earned a bronze medal. In the 1851 Great Exhibition in London, they earned a First Place Medal.

More accolades and awards followed. At the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1867, the company earned a Silver Medal, and at the 1873 Vienna Exposition, they earned a gold medal. In 1878, they earned a Gold Medal at the Exposition Universelle, and proudly advertised this fact on the shoes, boxes, bodies, and clothes of their dolls.

At the Sydney International Exhibition of 1879 and the Melbourne International Exhibition of 1888, they won prizes as best dollmaker. In spite of all these awards, though, only a few pre-1870s Jumeaux can be definitively identified.


Jumeaux had become luxury, status symbols, and enjoyed their golden age from the late 1870s to the late 1890s. By 1877, Emile-Louis Jumeau (son of founder Pierre-François) had added Bébés to the company’s products. Bébé Jumeaux were made in the image of real little girls, with realistic glass eyes and beautiful, fashionable clothes.

The Jumeau star began fading when German dolls rose in popularity. German dolls were cheaper than French dolls, but equally well-made and belovèd by their owners. In 1899, the Jumeau company became part of the conglomerate Le Société Française de Fabrication de Bébés et Jouets. This consortium went under in the late 1950s.

Though Jumeaux are no longer made, they continue to be cherished collectors’ items.

Jumeau face

One of my fictional Jumeaux is named Ambrózia, and belongs to little Ráhel Lívia Kovács. She was bought in a fancy Budapest toy store by Ráhel’s much-older sister Mirjam, a brilliant intellectual, academic, and hyperpolyglot. Ráhel receives her as a present in 1939, when she starts lighting candles upon her third birthday. Ráhel loves Ambrózia more than any of her other dolls, and takes her along to the Abony and Kecskemét ghettoes.

Ráhel is very worried when she remembers Ambrózia has a necklace that wasn’t turned over to the authorities or buried with the other valuables. She hid it under Ambrózia’s blouse since it’s Judaic jewelry. No one thinks a doll necklace could be worth much, but it’s a golden Magen David with diamonds and sapphires, inside a golden circle with more sapphires and diamonds, on a golden chain. Ráhel found the necklace at her maternal grandmother’s house after her death in 1942.

Jumeau doll with doll

Ambrózia is tucked under Ráhel’s left arm as she and her 4-year-old baby brother Dániel run to safety while a few teenage boys on the death train raise a huge uproar at one of their many long stops. The outburst draws attention away from the escapees on the other side of the train. I got the idea for their escape from the 2006 German film Der Letzte Zug.

Ráhel and Dániel (who’s become very ill with diphtheria) find shelter at a nearby cloister of Esperantist Carmelite nuns. Originally they were murdered with most of the rest of their family, but I no longer had the heart to kill them after I started getting to know them.

Plaid Jumeau

In my fourth Russian historical, little Kaja Saara Lebedeva (radical Katrin’s firstborn grandchild) has a vintage Negro Jumeau from longtime family maid Mrs. Samson. Katrin’s family have always treated Mrs. Samson like an equal and friend, which often earns strange looks from people not used to the races mixing so closely. Likewise, Kaja doesn’t care her doll isn’t a mirror image of herself. To a child, a doll is a doll, whether white, brown, tan, or purple.

Jumeau first advertised mulatto and Black dolls in 1892.

Black Jumeau