From my parents I know that the Teszler family came from Germany, four hundred years ago. One part of the family went southeast to Transylvania. At this time, Transylvania belonged to the Hungarian Empire. The other part of the Teszlers went south of Transylvania. This part of the Teszlers were Catholic. My father's family were Jewish. That's all we know about the family's origins. Only one Teszler family exists in the world. I don't know anything about my paternal grandfather, except that he was a small farmer and raised thirteen children. I was born in 1903.
I was born with club feet, and it was a tragedy for my parents to have a crippled child. My mother told me that I was six months old when they first took me to the hospital. It was a 100 year old Roman Catholic hospital, and the nurses were nuns. On both sides of the room were beds, and there were about 40 in one room. I don't remember much of what happened to me before I was six years old. I only remember spending time in the hospital.
The first surgery I remember having was at five years old. With surgery, all of the crooked bones from my feet and ankles were removed. After each surgery, my legs were put into casts, and I could not walk. My professor [medical doctor] had bought some Italian machines and, after each surgery, put me on them to try to straighten out the crooked bones. It was so terribly painful that I was under narcotics--ether. When I went to my professor after finishing high school, he told me the story of all that he did for me. He was surprised to see me because he had never believed that I would grow up to be a normal young man.
There were only adults in the orthopaedic hospital. I was the only child among 30 or 40 grownups so naturally I was the pet of all the people. They gave me presents, and the nuns were absolutely like mothers to me. I remember very well that after surgery, the nuns would sit by me all night and pray. The nuns prepared me for the holidays. When Christmas came I got toys. I even got an army uniform. I remember that I spent many Christmases in the hospital. They had parties with cookies, cakes, and chocolates. The father of one of my doctors was the biggest chocolate manufacturer in Budapest. This doctor always brought me chocolates.
I did not even know what my religion was because I had to pray in the Roman Catholic manner every day before meals and until I was 8 years old before my surgery. I remember the years when I lived in the hospital most of the time very well. When I did visit home, my mother prepared something to eat that conformed to the Jewish customs, but I did not understand what it was all about. I came home for Easter, and my mother also prepared special dishes for it, but I did not know why. I was completely unaware that anything else existed other than what was in the hospital. I came home for a few months during this time with heavy casts on my legs, but my younger brother would take me out in a primitive wheelchair, and I would watch him play soccer with his friends. It is interesting that I did not feel sorry for myself because I could not play with them. At that age, I was only 4 or 5 years old, I was still not aware of what was wrong with me.
However, I do remember one terrible experience that I had in the hospital. Once, after a major surgery, one doctor used a knife to cut off my casts. He accidentally cut into my flesh and sent me home with my legs bleeding. My father stayed up all night by my side while I bled--there was terrible pain. The next day, he took me back to the hospital. It turned out that, if my father had not taken me back, I probably would have died from blood poisoning. I later went to a children's hospital for new surgery. The last surgery was in 1909. I was between 6 and 7 years old. I also caught scarlet fever which gave me a kidney infection. My mother could not come to see me because the hospital was quarantined. I could see her standing outside along the gate because the nurse took me to the window to see her. I remember that experience very clearly.
I know many times I could not go to school because I did not have any shoes. My father had lost everything because he had to pay for my treatment. By today's standards they were very primitive shoes, but they made it possible for me to walk for the first time ever. But I did not realize how strange the shoes looked. It was only later that I realized how people were staring at me. This disturbed me tremendously because when I walked people were always looking at my feet. Nevertheless, the shoes finally let me discover the city; before, I could never go out. At my birth in 1903 the orthopaedic knowledge was generally unknown in Hungary. In Vienna there was a professor, Dr. Lorenzo, who was the first to diagnose the club foot syndrome, and he developed the surgical technique that all of the crooked bones must be removed. A professor of the Medical University of Budapest, Dr. John Horvath, was probably the first student of professor Lorenzo and I was probably one of his first patients. He was a very gentle and fine man who, even though he knew my poor parents could not pay all of his fees, treated me very generously and never asked my parents for any more money. Six or seven years later, I found out that he even paid for my first shoes. They were very expensive, and he instructed the orthopaedic shoemaker--there were only two in Budapest--how he wanted my first orthopaedic shoes made. I thank him for the rest of my life that I was able to walk through his efforts and his surgery techniques. I went through many, many surgeries and he removed all the crooked bones and he placed silver plates in both feet to keep the feet secure; this was his genius technique.
My birth as a handicapped child was very sad for my parents. I had two brothers and a sister who were all healthy, normal children. My oldest brother was ten years old. My second brother was six years old, and my sister was eight years old. I was the youngest in the family. My parents and brothers and sister were very good to me. The name of my problem--clubfoot--was never mentioned in family discussions. When I was thirteen years old I asked my mother to buy me long pants, because I was ashamed of my feet. In this time that was very unusual. A young boy never wore long pants. When I went on the street, I was always looking back to see who was looking at me. But in school, I had no special problem with how the children treated me.
I could not go to public school so the good nuns were teaching me the beginning parts of the first class. When I started to walk they took me to public school to test for the first class; so when I could walk I left the hospital and attended the first class in the regular public school. My orthopaedic treatment was finished as fast as it could be done at that and finally I was living at home.
In 1914 I entered the commercial business high school. It was the most modern school in Budapest, built in 1911. So a new world opened in my life. In the school I did not suffer from shame regarding my feet; my classmates treated me very decently. But I had to go by streetcar to the inner city to school and I was very much concerned that everybody was watching my feet, but in the class I was more comfortable. I was by nature very modest; I never promoted myself--I never tried to show off my knowledge--although I was probably one of the best students in my class. To the contrary, I helped the less knowledgeable classmates with their homework. I went to their homes. When I look back to my high school years I can say that nobody, none of my classmates, ever mentioned that they noticed my very deformed feet. The actions of my classmates toward me gave me the belief that people are generally and ordinarily very good; they do not want to hurt other people. My classmates were very secular in their school, so their kind attitude did not come from a religious belief but from their human nature. I could not take part in sports or exercise classes, and I was very lucky to be able to gather a few classmates around me who shared my interest in the theater, opera and concerts (generally in classical music). One of my wonderful professors helped me to go to the theaters and operas; he was with us always because he made a special effort to teach us about the beautiful part of life which for us meant books and music. Theater was in my time on a very high level in Budapest; we had all the classical works--Shakespeare, Moliere, Racine, Goethe, Shiller and the Hungarian classics--all of which were presented in the theater and I took part in all events that were opened to us. We went to the theater and to the opera two or three times a week. I was thirteen years old when I heard my first opera which was Wagner's Lohengrin, of course I did not understand too much in all this deep beautiful music although I loved it and have always remained fond of Wagner. So I developed a very intellectual life; that proved to be a very important part of my life in my early youth. Even today I have a very great collection of classical music; books and music help me to get through the present days of my basically lonely life.
In Europe, high school lasts for eight years. The system was this: There was a four year elementary school and then an 8 year high school. From the beginning of the first high school year, one professor was the head of the class and was with us from the first year through to graduation. We started class at 8 o'clock, so I had to leave my house at 7:30. Everybody went home for lunch, cam back at 2, and stayed until about 4 or 5 o'clock in the afternoon. During the exercise or sport classes, I either sat in the room preparing myself for the next hour [class], or I went to the Catholic religion class because, in Hungary, two hours of religion a week was mandatory. The priest was very friendly to me, and he knew my story. I was only interested in books because I could never take part in any sports. Everyday after school I tutored 3 or 4 students from the class. Whenever, I got money from tutoring, I bought books.
When the First World War broke out in 1914, I was eleven years old. My older brother was already in the army during the first month of the war. He was 21 years old. My younger brother went a year later and my father, who was 48 years old, was also called into the army in 1916. I stayed home with my mother and sister. These were very difficult years. We were practically hungry because there was no food in Budapest during the First War. In the winter we didn't have any coal or wood. Many times we slept in a very cold room. My mother and my sister spent all night in line to buy food because the meat shop and the bakery opened in the mornings. Naturally, I could not stay there during the night because of my feet. Even though I was only eleven years old during World War I, I was forced to realize what was going on around me because we suffered--no food or even heat. Not all of the schools were heated. The winter months became so cold that the schools were eventually concentrated--one class went in the morning (from 8 o'clock to 2 o'clock) and the other class went in the afternoon (from 2 o'clock to 8 o'clock).
We were not in danger because the front was far away. There was no bombing. However, my father went in the army in 1916, and we did not have enough money. I went to a milk factory twice a week and, through a friend of my father's, got two or three jars of milk. That was enough for us for five days. During the summer, the school children went to work in the ammunition factory. We had to be in the central part of the city at 7 o'clock, and then a little local train took us to the factory. At 8 o'clock in the morning we would go to work and work the whole day. We worked from 8 until 4. Then we were taken back to the city after 4 o'clock, and it was another hour before I arrived at home. It was a long time. We worked on Saturdays too. The little money I got, I gave to my mother.
Yet, we got through these terrible years and, in 1918, the October Revolution started. The war ended in October of 1918 and the Revolution began. The troops came back home, and there was absolutely no discipline. There was stealing everywhere. Soldiers would form small groups and plunder the towns. They were very destructive. Count Mihaly Karolyi took over the government. He was a liberal thinking noble man who believed that Hungary should be a democratic republic. He even gave the peasants 50,000 acres of his own land. From October of 1918 through March of 1919, Karolyi tried to run the government. He wanted a good relationship with the French and English, but the French army chief, who was in Belgrade, was not cooperative. Because he was not able to establish good relations with the Allies, he introduced more liberal policies, indeed with his liberal policies he broke up the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, and created a republic. Hungary was now proclaimed as separated from Austria.
His administration was interrupted in 1919, because on March 21, the communists took over the government. I will never forget that on this day I was in the National theater; it was presenting Faust. Between the second and third acts, the lights went on in the theater and the revolutionaries came in wearing red arm bands and carrying a red flag. They told us to go home. They said that the Hungarian Communist Dictatorship was established today. We were now Hungarian Soviets. The communists were strongly organized, most coming back as former prisoners in Russia. The Social Democrats, who were very popular in the country, partly joined them. The man who assumed leadership was named Bela Kun. He had been a Russian prisoner during the First War, and had been trained in the communist doctrine. The members of this communist party were terrorists and killed many people. It was pure terrorism. Whoever was against them was killed, especially the rich peasants and the intelligentsia.
We didn't dare go out into the street in the evenings because we lived in an area of Budapest surrounded by communist elements. There was even fighting on the streets. When the communists took over, the principals and professors of the schools were dismissed because they did not agree with the communists and new principals and professors were brought in. Even in the classes, there were committees of student activists, but I did not take part in any of them. They eventually closed the schools in early May. We did not go back to school until September.
After the communist takeover, none of the professors dared to speak out against the regime. There were many professors who were communist sympathizers. During these months we were introduced to communist ideas but we continued the regular curriculum too. Yet, there was anarchy in the school because the professors did not dare to give the students who were communist sympathizers bad grades. There were even schools where fighting was going on in the backyards. We lost a whole year of schooling. Then on August 4, 1919, the communist government was defeated.
Between 1920-22, we got new professors who were mostly anti-Semitic. Also, most of the professors were anti-communist, even the pro-communist professors tried to appear as anti-communists. For me, it was not especially difficult because I was an A student. There were not any drastic restrictions while the professors were reactionaries. As long as we did not disagree with their political opinions, nothing happened to us.
I never suffered any insults. Many of my school friends did, but nobody from my class was ever killed. The reactionaries only killed grown up people whom they suspected were communists. As young students, we never took part in politics. That was trouble, and we stayed away from it. I cannot tell you that, as a young student, I had a political view, because I did not really have one. I hated the situation during the communist regime because people were killing people.
We started school again in September of 1919, and I graduated from high school in 1922. I could get a job almost anywhere because, in this time, a high school diploma was enough to get most jobs. When I graduated from high school I was an A student but could not go to college because the quota of five percent had already been filled (a law called the "Numerous Clauses" stated that only 5 percent of the Jews could go to college). My brother, Joseph, told me that I should go to school in Germany where I enrolled in a textile college in Chemnitz. This college was the most famous in the whole world especially for its knitting department. My life during these three years was not so easy for me, because in Germany there was a great inflation and it was very difficult to have a proper home and proper food. I was very interested to learn textiles and to eat well was not a very important part of my life. Also at this time in Germany there started the NAZI movement--the ideology. In 1925 I graduated and went back to Budapest and went to work in a knitting factory. At the end of 1925 I went to Zagreb, Croatia where my brother was in the textile hosiery business. But I wanted to be a manufacturer and my brother agreed and I went back to Germany and purchased what were at that time very modern machines for men's and women's hosiery. So we started a very modest, small factory. In the beginning I was the only technician in the little plant and worked very hard--many, many hours--to be successful. But my dream was fulfilled and in the early stages we were already successful and our product was very popular. It is important to know that at that time in Yugoslavia there was a very small textile industry because in the whole of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy the textile products came from the Czechs. Yugoslavia was created by the 1918 peace and it had a very small textile industry. We were so successful that the owners of another small knitting factory asked us to merge with them so in 1929 we moved into a small town in Croatia named Cakovec, and as we will learn later, this plant grew into one of the most modern factories that existed when the communist regime in Yugoslavia took over our plant. There were 1800 workers and about 120 clerical employees in 1944. Even when the communist leadership issued a fifty year book about our factory; they mentioned in this book that when they did take over (the communist regime nationalized the factory), they took over the most modern, technically advanced factory which gave me a certain satisfaction. As a matter of fact, in 1969 I got an invitation to come to Cakovec to see what had been built from our basic plant, but I was not willing to go there. I am sure that they would have been nice to me because the new communist manager appreciated the excellent condition and advanced methods of our plant which he had taken over.
In my youth our family life was very quiet. My family did not have any activities. Basically, we had no friends. We knew the local merchants from whom we used to buy groceries, but we had no social life at all. I only had one good friend, and I tutored him every day. His father was head of a brewery. That was the only family with whom I was really connected. My mother began to get sick in 1920. My older brother was not at home. He was in Zagreb. My other brother went to Montevideo. My father and my sister were at home. In 1922 mother died about two weeks before I graduated from school. She died on June 10, and I graduated on June 25. It was a hard time for me. The cemetery was an hour away, but after graduation I went to my mother's grave everyday. I loved her so dearly, and I recognized that she really suffered so much from my sickness. It made her whole system very weak. She was a very wonderful mother, and had no other life besides the family.
From March 21 to August 4 of 1919, there were two rightist governments. One was in Vienna, under the rule of a few aristocrats. The second was under Admiral Horthy in the Hungarian territory called the government city of Szeged. This government started the movement against the communist party. On August 4, Bela Kun was overthrown. Bela Kun, along with many other members in his government, first escaped to Vienna and then to Russia. While in Russia, Stalin had him executed as a bourgeois communist. The communist regime was only in existence for 136 days.
In 1919, I was in a small town on vacation and I saw Horthy with his white army heading towards Budapest. They had help from the Rumanian army and, after much plundering and brutality, especially against the Jews, the Rumanian army must leave, and the new regime under Horthy began. Horthy took over the government as regent, and all the might, all the power, was in his hands. With every action, came a reaction, and he eventually established his first Fascist government. Hungary was probably the first Fascist country in the world. Horthy lived in the King's castle. Hungary was still called a kingdom, even though there was not a king. King Charles IV wanted to come back 1921 but Horthy was against him. Finally in 1922, he was moved to Portugal and died there in April of that year. Under Horthy, a rigid anti-communist element existed. It was under him that "white terror" came into being.
White terror, part of which was anti-Semitic, began in August of 1919. At first, many Jews were killed because, in the communist government, there were many Jewish members. During the summer, we saw many terrorist acts aimed at everybody who was against the white army. Although, when Horthy came to Budapest on a white horse, I didn't suffer from the terror at all, some of my classmates were beaten up. Anyone who looked like a Jew was beaten up. People on the streets were taken in the middle of the night to headquarters and beaten up or killed. Nobody from my class was killed. They only killed grown up people whom they suspected were communists.
These acts were part of a deliberate terrorism, and the terrorists never explained to anyone why they did what they did- terrorists never give reasons. They just kill or beat. Horthy could not do anything against these white terrorists; in 1921 the discriminatory law called "Numerous Clauses" was introduced. As I have already explained, it stated that only 5 percent of Jewish students could go to college. However, Count Bethlen became Premier of the new government and started to normalize the situation. He was a very able man. During the first year Horthy's group killed many, many thousands of Jewish people. It is also true that, during the Bela Kun regime, many people were killed. In essence, anti-Semitism has always existed in Hungary.
In 1920, Hungary signed a peace treaty--the Trianon Peace Treaty. Ethnic Yugoslavia got Croatia-Slavonia and Bacska Banat and the Adriatic coast including the harbor of Fiume, which had been under Hungarian rule for 800 years. The Czechs got Slovakia from Hungary and Moravia and Bohemia from Austria. Hungary also lost Fiume and Rumania got Transylvania from Hungary as well. According to Wilson's Fourteen Points, these ethnic groups could create their own political entities. Once the Trianon Peace was signed, Hungary had lost about 60 percent of its population because the twenty million people were so divided among all these countries that the Hungarians were a minority. This left 8 million Hungarians living in Hungary and about 2 or 3 million living in the new countries. There was a big but non-violent movement to reinstate the new smaller country. Every morning students had to say "Never, Never, No." You had to say the slogan every morning; little Hungary was not a country, but the big Hungary was like "Heaven!"
My father and brother came home from service in World War I in October of 1918, when I was 15. My bother's regiment in the army was a Croation regiment. He had met the daughter of an army medical doctor and had fallen in love. He went back to Zagreb in 1919 and married her. By 1922, he already had a small textile wholesale business there. During this time, I was in Chemnitz, Saxony. There was tremendous inflation, unemployment, and everybody was hungry.