Years later and continents away, words help make a family whole

Recently, my editor received an email from Matthew Angelus, an attorney in Montreal, asking her to put him in touch with me.

Angelus, wrote: “I recently read The Virginia Gazette opinion piece dated April 10, 2018 by Frank Shatz, entitled, ‘School assignment brings back Holocaust memories.’ The focus of the piece is the return of my parental grandparents, Maria Frankl and George Angelus to Parkan, toward the end of the Holocaust.

“The author, Mr. Shatz, mentions he was friends with my grandparents before they passed away. I am wondering whether The Virginia Gazette is in touch with the author. I would very much appreciate if you would be kind enough, (of course, with his permission,) to pass on his contact information.”

Angelus sent also a email to Susanna Hickman, a Williamsburg attorney.

He wrote: “Please allow me to introduce myself: My name is Matthew Angelus and I am an attorney in Montreal, Canada. More importantly, I am the grandson of Maria Frankl and George Angelus.

“Last night, my sister came across a piece by Mr. Shatz published in The Virginia Gazette, in which it is mentioned that your daughter, Campbell, interviewed Mr. Shatz. The story of my grandparents return to Parkan, (today called Sturovo, Slovakia,) to search for family members and their meeting in Mr. Shatz’s house is detailed in that piece.

“Like many Holocaust survivors, my grandfather did not talk about the war. My grandmother passed away when I was several month old. Consequently, my sister and I would like to contact Mr. Shatz to learn more about our family story.”

The genesis of the story was Campbell Hickman’s school assignment to write an essay on the Holocaust, but with a twist. Namely, how the survivors of the Holocaust attempted to reunite with their families after the war ended.

Campbell, a sophomore at Hampton Roads Academy, did her research, but her mother, Susanna Hickman, a prominent attorney in Williamsburg, suggested she interview me, a Holocaust survivor.

“While the war was still in progress,” Campbell wrote, “Mr. Shatz returned to his hometown of Parkan. His father, Edmund Shatz, was the first Jew to return to the town. He survived by being hidden in the wine cellar of one of his employees.”

Campbell quoted me: “ My father’s house became the gathering place of returning local Jews and others in transit to other places. When Maria Frankl returned to her hometown, she didn’t find anybody alive from her family. Their palatial home was looted. She found shelter at the Shatz’s home. So did another returnee, whose family was gone, George Angelus. While staying at the Shatz’s house, Maria and George fell in love and a few months later, married.”

After the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia, the Frankl’s factories were taken over by the state. In 1949, George and Maria immigrated to Canada.

When my wife and I settled in Lake Placid, N.Y., in the 1960s, George and Maria often visited us. We remained friends until both passed away.

Back to today: Once we established communications, Angelus emailed me: “I must admit I was very touched to read your description of my grandparents’ return to Parkan, and their meeting in your family home. Indeed, it was the first time that I had heard the story of how they met. Even my father learned more about his parents by reading your piece.”

He continued: “My grandfather did not talk about his life prior to moving to Canada, other than to say that he was ‘a simple country boy,’ a favorite expression of his.”

In my response, I told him, “Your grandpa may have called himself ‘a simple country boy,’ but he was a published poet at age 14-15. During the Holocaust, he played the role of an impeccably dressed representative of the International Red Cross, with diplomatic immunity. In one of the chapters of my book, “Reports from a Distant Place,” I described our anti-Nazi underground group having meetings at the famous Gundel restaurant in Budapest, plotting against the Nazis, while SS and Gestapo officers dined at the next table. Your grandfather often presided at our table.”

It didn’t take long to get a response from Matthew Angelus. “My father, sister and I spoke this week about your piece,” he wrote. “If you would be pleased to meet with us, we would love to make a trip to Williamsburg, to speak with you in person.”

I expect to meet them in February.

Shatz is a Williamsburg resident. He is the author of “Reports from a Distant Place,” the compilation of his selected columns. The book is available at Bruton Parish Shop and Amazon.com

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