Find­ing Home: (Hun­gary, 1945)

By – August 15, 2023

My moth­er-in-law grew up in a shtetl in Poland. She even­tu­al­ly moved to Lodz before she was sent to Auschwitz as a young woman. She grew up in a Hasidic fam­i­ly, with almost no expo­sure to clas­si­cal music. Yet, when I knew her as a mid­dle-aged woman, she would often hum the melodies of Bach and Beethoven. She explained that to keep sane inside their con­cen­tra­tion-camp bunks, musi­cians would play” their music by hum­ming tunes. From these inter­ludes in the depths of an unimag­in­able night­mare, my moth­er-in-law learned clas­si­cal music. For both real and fic­tion­al con­cen­tra­tion-camp sur­vivors, like Eva Fleiss, music could have a heal­ing, even redemp­tive, power.

Find­ing Home is a poignant tale that describes the return of Eva Fleiss and five oth­er Jews to Las­z­lo, a small town in Hun­gary. Each of the Jew­ish sur­vivors expe­ri­ences the town and their return to it slight­ly dif­fer­ent­ly. But what they share is an utter sense of being alone. They are, with a few excep­tions, the sole sur­vivors of their fam­i­lies. Their homes have been giv­en to local Hun­gar­i­ans. Their busi­ness­es have been tak­en away. Their fam­i­lies have been mur­dered. They are housed togeth­er in an aban­doned hotel — and they only have one another.

At first, the sto­ry feels famil­iar. Hasn’t it been told many times before? But what is new here is the nuanced response of cer­tain non-Jews to the Jews return­ing home. They believe that busi­ness­es and homes should be giv­en back to the Jews. They feel guilty for ignor­ing what the Jews have gone through and are ashamed of their past silence. While these char­ac­ters may seem unre­al and glibly cre­at­ed, in the end, Cycon wants the read­er to under­stand how eas­i­ly the voic­es of good peo­ple can be drowned out by the ill will of murderers.

Find­ing Home is, ulti­mate­ly, a sto­ry about redemp­tion and hope. Eva’s plan to one day attend a music con­ser­va­to­ry sus­tains her in the camps. Thanks to the sup­port of her small group of fel­low sur­vivors and, unex­pect­ed­ly, the may­or of Las­z­lo, she is able to pur­sue that dream. Music, the book seems to say, has the pow­er to sus­tain life, giv­ing sur­vivors like Eva the mirac­u­lous abil­i­ty and desire to car­ry on when all else is lost. 

Mar­i­an Stoltz-Loike, Ph.D. is author, speak­er and aca­d­e­mi­cian. She is the author of Dual Career Cou­ples: New Per­spec­tives in Coun­sel­ing and Cross-Cul­tur­al Com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Dean Cycon

1. Each of the Jew­ish char­ac­ters responds to their trau­ma dif­fer­ent­ly and cre­ates a dif­fer­ent path to try and rein­te­grate once they are home. Talk about the dif­fer­ences and how effec­tive the strate­gies were.

2. Towns­peo­ple had vary­ing reac­tions to the return of the Jews to Las­z­lo. Dis­cuss the reac­tions of the sta­tion mas­ter, the May­or and his wife and Mor, the busi­ness own­er. How did their reac­tions make you feel towards the char­ac­ters? Is it impor­tant to under­stand their points of view? Why?

3. Who were your favorite and least favorite char­ac­ters? Why?

4. How much did you know about the sub­ject mat­ter of the nov­el before read­ing it? Why do you think so few peo­ple out­side of acad­e­mia have heard of the dif­fi­cult post-war expe­ri­ence of the Jews who tried to return to their homes after the war?

5. In Las­z­lo, the names of the Jew­ish busi­ness­es and the streets were changed after the depor­ta­tion, prompt­ing Yos­sel to remark that the Jew­ish his­to­ry of Las­z­lo was being erased. Cur­rent­ly, sev­er­al East­ern Euro­pean nations are rewrit­ing their wartime his­to­ries to dimin­ish the effect of the Holo­caust, claim­ing that Jews were mere­ly one of the many nation­al minori­ties that
suf­fered dur­ing the war. How do you feel about these revi­sions? Do you see sim­i­lar actions today?

6. Eva’s high school friend Andras says that he was con­fused dur­ing the war by the con­flict between the inces­sant pro­pa­gan­da against Jews and what he knew to be true. He remarks that when all the author­i­ty fig­ures and news­pa­pers are say­ing some­thing, even though it isn’t true it makes truth and lies sort of equal”. How do you see that dynam­ic play­ing out in the world
today? How do you con­front this?

7. Sergeant Ritook’s fam­i­ly demon­strates the inter­gen­er­a­tional pass­ing down of prej­u­dice and hatred through the con­ver­sa­tions between Grand­fa­ther and grand­son Vic­tor. How can we con­front the pass­ing down of prej­u­dice in our own families?

8. Gre­ta trans­forms into a more sym­pa­thet­ic char­ac­ter as she gets to know Eva per­son­al­ly and is impact­ed by her music, ulti­mate­ly giv­ing back the house and the jew­el­ry. Do you think this is real­is­tic? Is get­ting to know peo­ple per­son­al­ly an effec­tive means of over­com­ing prejudice?

9. Eva learns that Izidor’s moth­er didn’t want him to know he was Jew­ish or be raised Jew­ish in Amer­i­ca, Eva won­ders if this means the Nazis won, while the moth­er feels that being Jew­ish is such a bur­den due to anti-Semi­tism that this is the only way to pro­tect her child. What do you think of the mother’s choice?

10. When the town deports its Ger­man descen­dant pop­u­la­tion, Oskar shouts approv­ing­ly from the side­lines. Yos­sel remarks that we are now the bystanders”. Have you ever been a bystander to an injus­tice? Can you note with­out judg­ment the rea­sons why you didn’t intervene?

11. Music is such a pow­er­ful force. Eva wants to use it to improve the world, but Pro­fes­sor Karady tells her that it can also be a force for evil. Can you think of exam­ples of either or both?

12. Eva comes to the con­clu­sion that she will nev­er find home in Las­z­lo, but she feels a sense of home, fam­i­ly and com­mu­ni­ty in the for­mer Jew­ish ghet­to in Budapest. Dis­cuss Eva’s tra­jec­to­ry here and what con­sid­er­a­tions and expe­ri­ences lead her to this conclusion.