I have been friends with Veronika Bauer for twenty years since we met when we both lived in Los Angeles in the early 1980s. She is the only child of Auschwitz survivors, Elizabeth and Martin Bauer, who emigrated to the U.S. from Hungary in the period leading up the Hungarian nationalist uprising in 1956. They eventually settled in Queens, NY. Veronika was especially close to her mother, who died on March 28, 1996. At the time, I lived in Westchester and so spent a lot of time with Veronika preparing for the funeral. We wrote this obituary of her mother which she delivered at the funeral:
Elizabeth Bauer was born on September 8, 1920 in Nagy Kanizsa, Hungary near what is now Croatia. She was the youngest of two children. She and Tibi, her brother, were born to a loving, happy family. Her father was an insurance salesman and her mother a homemaker. From a young age, Elizabeth loved to draw and sew and had dreams of becoming a clothing designer. When she completed high school, she put her dreams aside in order to help provide for her family.
She married her first husband, Laci, in 1944. Shortly after, hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews were deported. My mother was sent to Auschwitz and her husband to a labor camp. My mother, thank God, survived her year in a death camp. Laci did not.
In Auschwitz, she was assigned the task of sorting through clothes that Jews left behind. Because of this stroke of luck, she was able to feed herself from the food left in the pockets. Other inmates sank into despair in the face of their degradation. But my mother always maintained her dignity. She knew in order to stay alive she needed to maintain a standard of personal hygiene. She braved subzero temperatures in order to bathe herself even in the midst of winter snowdrifts.
After their deportation, the townspeople had appropriated the property and possessions of the Jews of Nagy Kanizsa. It is a mark of her fearlessness the she returned in 1945 to regain her stolen possessions. My mother’s sharp focus and determination is what kept her alive during the War. She was always positive and with great inner strength, which carried her through life.
She had met my father before the War. For him it was love at first sight. They married in 1947. Nagy Kanizsa was the county seat and surrounded by farmland. Elizabeth went to work in the agricultural seed store founded by her husband’s family while Martin with his brother took back the local tool factory which they’d opened before the War. I came along in the next year, 1948 and was doted upon by both my parents.
The Communists came to power in 1950 and nationalized all major businesses including the seed store and factory. Martin and Elizabeth were forced to move to Budapest to find work. They lived there for six increasingly trying years. In 1956, a nationalist uprising was crushed by the Soviets. In the aftermath, the border briefly opened and my parents and I fled to Austria. We had nothing but a single backpack to our name.
While in an Austrian refugee camp, my aunt Margit sponsored us to come to America. We arrived here on February 28, 1957, which began a whole new chapter in our family’s history. We arrived here with nothing and not speaking a word of English. We were welcomed by my cousin, Nicky and her husband George, my father’s cousin Frank and my aunt Bobby. My mother was 37 and my father 50. They were determined to put the past behind in order to live in freedom and make a better life for me and for themselves. Martin became a factory worker, eventually rising to become superintendent.
My mother was known as Dudi to her Hungarian family and friends because she was a chubby baby. To her American friends she became Lisa. She took work as a seamstress in the garment industry. She was proud to say that from the day she arrived here to the day she retired in 1994, she was never out of work a single day. She often bragged that when she applied for U.S. citizenship in 1962, she had had 42 jobs in her five years here and the application didn’t have enough room for them all. Each time she left a job it was for a better one. She always looked to better herself, which is the stuff of the American Dream.
She went to night school at the Fashion Institute of Technology where she took classes which enabled her to become a sample maker extraordinnaire. My mother was an exemplary employee, greatly loved and respected by colleagues and bosses alike. Last Friday, I spoke with the owner of Kopy Kat, the last sportswear company in which she worked. He said of her: “She was a superb worker, the first one to volunteer to stay late to finish a garment needed for the next day.” If he had ten people like my mother, he said, his business would have been a dream. She was a teacher to novice workers and took great pride in imparting her many years of knowledge to others. Her energy never ceased. Work clearly was very important to my mother. She had a great work ethic.
The other values my mother cherished were family and friends. She was generous in giving of her time. She adopted many second daughters; a few of whom are sitting here with us: Erica and Marika. She repaid the favor done her by Margit by sponsoring many friends and their children to settle here. She had a wonderful capacity to befriend strangers and make them members of her extended family.
Lisa had a hard life, but the beauty of her was that she never saw it that way. She made the best of what life presented to her. Faced with all the suffering she experienced, we would all be lucky if we had dispositions half as positive as my mother’s. She embraced life and made the best of it and constantly encouraged others to do the same. The best lesson I learned from my mother was the gift of being open to everyone you meet and to life itself. I learned from her never to fear and to accept people for what they are. I always try to live up to my mother’s example by treating everyone equally and not caring what background they come from. My mother always saw the best in people. She was all heart and love. She used to say you are only truly happy when you bring joy to others.
Lisa had a zest for life. As hard as she worked, she loved to party too. She had a passion for dancing and received great pleasure from entertaining guests. You’ve all experienced her 100 watt smile. It reflected a tremendous joie de vivre which she also imparted to me.
When we found out about her illness 17 months ago, she tackled it like a true hero, fighting it with strength, dignity and everlasting hope. This hope allowed her to be with us as long as she was. She never complained and fought for life to the very last minute with the help and encouragement of her doctors.