Tuesday, December 15, 2020

In search of the Past

At my age, the future is a pretty shaky and a relatively short affair. The past however has left a long trail behind and it is only natural for me to turn in that direction to find some security. The past will always be there, unchanging and safe. Which is why I have these hiccups. Every ten years or so, I get obsessed with my lineage.

My maternal grandparents were upper class Hungarians from Jewish descent. There was pressure in the old Austro-Hungarian days, to ‘assimilate’ and become ‘a proper Hungarian’ (meaning gentile), which is the reason why much of my mother’s Jewish lineage descended in obscurity. My grandfather even changed his Jewish name (Guzman) to ‘Görög’, which means ‘Greek’ in Hungarian.

My father was of Hungarian nobility. His family left a trace a mile long and finding my way around the Kando family tree wasn’t easy. After many frustrating dead ends, climbing up side branches only to find myself stuck amongst in-laws with names I didn’t recognize, I finally found a Jakab Kando, way up in the canopy. He didn’t have a date or a face, but his son Janos was marked as being born in 1659.

But why stop there, I thought. With the help of numerous documents that a generous family member sent me, I went all the way up to the 9th century, where I met a chieftain by the name of Kund or Kundu.

Kundu was one of the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars. The Magyars (Hungarians) left the Ural Mountains in Central Russia, and after a long migration, invaded the Carpathian Basin in the 9th century, under the military leadership of Arpad (845-907). The Seven Chieftains are considered the founders of my native Hungary.

Contrary to popular belief, the Magyars do not descend from Attila the Hun. Sorry to burst your bubble, Orban. Hungarians are descendants from a peace-loving, fish eating tribe, somewhere in the Ural mountains. Attila lived in the 5th century and was long dead and gone by the time the ‘Magyars’ came on the scene. Orban’s fabricated mythology (called Turanism), plays on Hungarians’ desire to feel special by telling them that they are descendants of Attila the Hun – a martial, autocratic, and patriarchal society. But it is a dangerous nationalistic vision, easy to get lost in. Like the fantasies of Tolkien or Game of Thrones.


That said, the Magyars raided Frankish Europe for almost a century and a half, and were notorious for attacking without warning, quickly plundering the countryside and leaving before any defensive force could be organized. They reached as far as Spain, southern Italy and even Holland in their campaigns, covering a vast territory before they became ‘civilized’ and converted to Christianity.

As I was reading about the numerous Janoses, Istvans, Gezas and Josefs, I realized that some of them had been dead for more than a 1000 years!

I would love to host an old-fashioned candle lit dinner party for my ancestors. Me at the head of a long table, with my father Gyula Kando (Occi for short) on my right.
Next to him would be my grandfather Gyula, a notorious bon-vivant who spent his last penny entertaining ladies of the night, but who made up for it by having a world-famous brother, Kando Kalman, who invented the first electric locomotive. 

My great grandfather Geza (1840-1906) would be there, three seats down, tugging at his cravat and checking his pocket watch, his tailcoat draped over his chair. Next to him, my great great grandfather Jozsef (1797), sweating under his wig. He had 7 siblings, the poor fellow. Maybe, some of their descendants are sitting at their desk right now, googling their own branch of this enormous Kando family tree.

Sitting at the opposite end of the table, the honorable Egerfarmos Stregovaj Kando Jakab (1600), would be staring at me, his stockinged legs dangling off the chair, (people were short in the 1600’s). He would be drumming his fingers on the table top as if saying: ‘It took you 400 years to invite me for dinner?’

I am glad I made the journey into my past. After all, aren’t we all here because of our ancestors? Once I am dead, one of my great-great-great grand-children might embark on their own journey up the Kando tree and stumble upon my faded face, wondering which one of the many Magda’s they are looking at.