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True Story Of Sisters Sheltered By Nuns
By JOSEPH SERGE, ARTS EDITOR, CANADIAN JEWISH NEWS, Thursday, 09 July 2009
Guardian Angel House by Kathy Clark is based on the true story of two young Hungarian Jewish sisters, Susan and Vera, who were sheltered by nuns during the Holocaust.
Susan and Vera are the author’s real-life mother and aunt. The book, published by Second Story Press, is part of the award-winning Holocaust Remembrance Book for Young Readers series.
Clark, who lives outside Ottawa, wrote Guardian Angel House after watching a Hungarian documentary about the nuns at the Sisters of Charity in Budapest.
She begins the book with a useful introduction that explains the setting of the book. A young reader, unfamiliar with the history of the World War II and the Holocaust, will learn about Hitler’s Aryan policies and how Hungary’s Jews were able to avoid the transports until Germany invaded Hungary in 1944.
After their father was arrested by Hungarian police, the girls’ mother was talked into sending the girls to the convent by Isi, a Catholic who is a close family friend. Isi later helped their mother survive in the ghetto by throwing her bags of food.
There were many other Jewish girls hiding in the convent. Although they attended daily church services in Latin, took catechism classes and said the rosary, the nuns made no attempt to convert them and even allowed them to pray in Hebrew on Fridays and celebrate Passover.
Things got tough for them as the Soviets advanced, since the convent was situated high on a hill beside a German-occupied citadel. Bombs fell on the convent grounds, and the girls had to hide in a dank crypt beneath the convent.
Overall the book is well told and fast paced. Young readers, especially girls, will admire the characters and find the book suspenseful and easy to understand, yet also very educational.
Through the makeshift seder with the nuns, Clark is able to explain the similarities between Catholicism and Judaism. And through Lena, the Gypsy girl who takes refuge in the convent, the reader will learn that Jews weren’t the only people persecuted by the Nazis.
Guardian Angel House is a welcome addition to this series of award-winning books that includes Kathy Kacer’s Hiding Edith, Karen Levine’s Hana’s Suitcase and several other renowned books.
Kanata author Kathy Clark featured at National Archives and Library of Canada summer book launch event
BLAIR EDWARDS, KOURIER-STANDARD, June 18, 2004, p8
A Kanata author was this week the first of four writers featured in a summer book launch at the National Archives and Library of Canada.
Kathy Clark, 51, read from her recently published children's book A Whisper in my Heart, June 10 at the archives' auditorium, answered questions from the audience and was available to sign books on sale at the event.
Ottawa Independent Writers helped organize the event to promote local writers.
A Whisper in my Heart is based on Clark's experience in 1963 as a 10-year- old girl arriving at Pearson International Airport from Budapest to reunite with her parents, who had fled to Canada from Communist-occupied Hungary in 1956. A photographer from the Toronto Daily Star photographed the reunion, and the photo and story appeared on the newspaper's front page the following day.
The story follows the struggles of Claire (the girl in the story) as she must learn a new language, customs and fit in with her new family and country - at one point in the book she is ostracized by her schoolmates because of the difficulty she has speaking English.
The book is published by Baico, an Aylmer publisher, and was released last October, with copies available at the local Chapters bookstore.
Clark is already at work on her second children's book.
She is visiting several area schools to talk about the struggles immigrants must face fitting into a new country.
A Whisper in My Heart is the first of four books to be featured at the archives. The other books are: Mary Lee Bragg's Shooting Angels; Olga Earwaker's The Adventures of Living on the Point and Terry West's Ripe for the Picking.
"There's going to be four or five book launches a year:" said Clark. "Each of the authors will read from their book a short piece."
George Laidlaw, the president of the Ottawa Independent Writers, said his 20-year-old organization promotes English and French writers from Ottawa to Gatineau.
The writers group has 140 members, ranging from beginners to established authors such as Anthony Hyde.
"We expect to double the membership in a year," said Laidlaw.
He said the goal of the organization is to create a sense of community among the region's writers. "(It's) to promote Ottawa Capital writers, to get them published," he said, "Writing can be very isolating - you sit in font of the computer and write all day." Laidlaw encourages readers to give Clark's book a try.
"It's a great book."
In the arms of the angels - Hungarian nuns rescue Jewish children
Kanata author to write book based on mother's experiences in 'Guardian Angel House'
BLAIR EDWARDS, KOURIER-STANDARD, October 17, 2003
Ten-year-old Veronika Sikios knelt in the convent chapel and prayed for the war to stop. Dozens of other Jewish-Hungarian children joined her in the daily mass, led by the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. The convent nestled on the side of Mount Gelleit, towered over the Danube River, peering down upon German-occupied Budapest, the capital of Hungary.
At times, it was a building that sheltered the poor and the sick. But to the more than 100 Jewish children smuggled into .the convent during the Second World War - to escape the Nazi concentration camps - it was known as Guardian Angel House.
A Kanata author, Kathy Clark, has won a $4,000 grant from the City of Ottawa to write a novel, based on her mother's (Veronika's) experiences hiding in the convent. The money will help cover the costs to research and write her book, titled, appropriately enough, Guardian Angel House.
On March 19, 1944, the German Army occupied Hungary. Shortly afterward, the Hungarian government ordered all Jews to wear yellow stars and forbade Jewish citizens from employing Christian servants.
That year, more than 437,000 Hungarian Jews were deported to Auschwitz; many were taken to the shores of the Danube and then shot and killed. Clark's grandfather, Sandor Siklos, was sent to a labour camp; he later escaped with three friends into a nearby forest. Sandor survived, but all three of his friends were killed. Other members of the Siklos family were swept up into the Nazi net. "A lot of their family was killed in concentration camps," Clark said. A family friend took Sandor's daughters: Veronika and her sister Zsuzsa, 14, to the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul.
The convent housed as many as 100 nuns and 30 to 35 -novices, an order that ministered to the sick and the poor. The building housed an infirmary that had been used at different times in the convent's history as an orphanage. Now the entire convent would be used as a hiding place.
The children were handed forged baptismal certificates and other papers identifying them as Christians. They were given false - names and fictitious histories.
Every day, the girls awoke at 4 am. and filed into the chapel for mass. "They had to participate in it because they had to be seen as Catholics," Clark said. "The nuns didn't do this as a means of converting the girls." Visiting priests provided lessons in Judaism for the girls, Clark added.
Always there was danger "Sometimes they would go out at night and they would bring back children," Clark said. One day, the nuns discovered an unexploded shell outside the dormitory doors. They asked the German soldiers, who were stationed in a building near the convent, to move the shell. But the soldiers refused. A group of nuns lifted the bomb and carried it to the garden, which was pockmarked with craters created by previous explosions.
In April, 1945, Hungary was liberated from Nazi occupation and fell under the rule of the Soviet Union; they would remain under the iron curtain until 1990.
In 1956, Veronika fled Hungary with her then-boyfriend Leslie Messerschmidt during the height of the Hungarian Revolution, a popular uprising that was quickly crushed by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics' military. - "They escaped at night. They had a guide that helped them through a land strewn with landmines," Clark said. They left Clark, then two years old, in Budapest with Veronika's parents. In 1963, the Messerschmidts, then living in Toronto, sent for their daughter. Clark still has an article about her reunion with her mother and father, cut out from the front page of the April 24, 1963 edition of the Toronto Star. In 2003, Clark, 52, used her experience as a girl emigrating to Toronto from Budapest as the subject of her children' book A Whisper in My Heart.
The book has so far sold more than 300 copies.
Today, Clark is a mother of six children: five boys and one girl. Her mother, now Vera Messerschmidt, lives in Toronto, as does her aunt Susan Karpati.
In 2002, the Siklos sisters were interviewed by Anna Merei, a Hungarian film producer, in the documentary, Guardian Angel House. Merei interviewed nuns and some of the former Jewish children who sought refuge in the convent during the Second World War. "I think the only Canadians (in the documentary) are my mom and aunt" Clark said.
The director gave Vera and Susan a copy of the documentary, which appeared on television and in movie theatres throughout Hungary.
"After I saw the documentary, I was really impressed by two things: one was how heroic the nuns were - they helped those girls at great danger to themselves," Clark said. "The other was the good impression all the women had of their stay at the convent."
After watching the documentary, Clark came away with a new appreciation for her mother. "I always had the attitude that the past is the past - my parents tried to tell me why they escaped; I used to think this had nothing to do with me," she said. "I would like (the children who will read Guardian House) to understand that the past does still matter and its import to us today"
Coming To Canada
Escape from Communist Hungary subject of Kanata woman's book
BLAIR EDWARDS, KOURIER-STANDARD, OCTOBER 17, 2003
When Kathy Messerschmidt came to Canada in 1963, she met her parents for the first time in seven years at the airport. The 10-year-old Hungarian girl hadn't seen her parents since she was a baby.
Seven years earlier, her parents had fled Budapest at the height of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, a popular uprising that was soon crushed by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics military. "They left me behind with my grandparents. I was two and a half at the time," said Kathy Clark (her married name), who now lives in Kanata.
In 1963, the Messerschmidts sent for Kathy. She met her mother and father at the Toronto International Airport.
Clark still has an article about the Messerschmidt reunion cut out from the front page of the April 24, 1963 edition of the Toronto Star.
Clark has used her experience as a girl emigrating to Toronto as the subject of her first children's book, A Whisper In My Heart.
The little girl in Clark's story is resentful about being left behind in Hungary, and has many questions for her parents.
"It's basically how she learned to respond to everything, to a new country and new parents," said Clark "It's how it changes her, her understanding of dealing with other peple. Clark, now 50, decided to write the book about her experience as a Hungarian immigrant child to share with her teenage daughter Kristin.
"I just intended it for my daughter," said Clark
She started writing the tale as a piece of family history to pass down to her 12-year-old daughter Kristin. The idea soon blossomed into a book. Clark sent a rough draft of A Whisper In My Heart to a Toronto publisher, who encouraged her to make revisions and eventually try to publish the manuscript. In 2003, after five years of revisions, Baico, an Aylemer company agreed to print 150 copies of Clark's book. The book is on sale at Books on Beechwood in New Edinburgh, Ottawa and at Discover Toys in Bells Corners. "I've already gotten rid of a quarter of those."
The Messerschmidt family history is at least as interesting as the fictional re-telling in Clark's book. In 1956, Clark's mother and father, Veronica and Frigyes Porscht had split up. That year, Veronica and her new boyfriend Leslie Messerschmidt decided to flee Communist Hungary. They left Kathy behind because their journey would have been too dangerous for a three-year-old girl.
"The escaped at night, they had a guide that helped them through a land strewn with mines." They eventually reached Italy, where the young couple boarded a boat for Canada. They arrived in Moncton, where they stayed for one week in army barracks, and then moved to Toronto. There, Leslie worked folding cardboard boxes at a factory.
He saved his money over the next seven years, and shortly before the Messerschmidts sent for Kathy, he opened a mechanic's shop.
Meanwhile, in Hungary, a family friend in the communist government obtained a travel visa for Kathy to come to Canada.
Today, Kathy is a mother of six children, five boys and one girl. She met her birth-father in 2000, after running his name through a computer search engine. She found his name and number in a Budapest phone directory. She phoned him and the pair agreed to meet in the Fall of 2000.
"He met me at the airport. It was exciting." The similarities between the two were startling, said Clark. "He was an artist and we had read all the same books." Clark is in the middle of writing her second children's book, which is also based on her family history. That book tells the story of Clark's mother and aunt, two young Jewish girls who hid in a nunnery during the years of the Second World War. They were hidden in the convent to protect them from Nazi troops rounding up Jews for the concentration camps.
Clark said many of her family were killed in concentration camps during the Second World War. "She and my aunt were hidden in a convent outside Budapest for a couple of years."
At one point German soldiers occupied a house next to the convent. Veronica and her sister played outside in the yard, tossing a ball to one another.
"(The soldiers) would play with them and throw it back and forth."