Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Story of one of Judita's Czech children

The following is a story written by my friend, Judita Matyasova, a wonderful Czech author. Judita continues to write about the lives of Czech children separated from their families and taken to Denmark in order to be saved from Nazi murderers. I feel honored to have been among the people to whom Judita dedicates this story.
One Face, Many Stories
by Judita Matyášová (Notes) on Monday, April 22, 2013 at 11:23pm
Written by Judita Matyášová
Translated by Ann Steiner (Nemka)

Sometimes I spend months exploring a story and imagining the face of the person in the story. What are the eyes like, what does she look like when she smiles? Finally I see the face in the corner of a passport or a school photo and the story and picture connect for me.

This time, I found the face of Marianna, the mother of one of the children who was saved during the war. Yesterday I found out what her story was. I was aware that in the past it was not easy for women to have a career. Many women had the dream, but very few were able to achieve it and become independent. The norm was that women at that time stayed home as housewives.

Yesterday, the daughter of Marianna spoke to me for the first time about her story. “ My mother was different from the others. She married at the age of thirty-four,which at that time was considered very late. But she was extremely independent and in her twenties she became a master tailor and started her own salon. She had a large apartment near the old town square in Prague with one room serving as a workroom and another used to meet with lady customers. She had five seamstresses working for her and they would make dresses to order. Ladies would show her pictures from French fashion magazines and she and her team would create the dresses. She was very talented and creative and she loved her work.

Marianna was too busy to date but one day she saw an ad in the paper. Max Federer was over forty, a Doctor of Chemistry and looking for a bride. He was offering to meet a lady and so she decided to answer the ad. So Marianna met him at a café wearing a red rose for identification. Her friend came with her and hid nearby to make sure she was safe. The meeting was a success and they married a month later. A year later their daughter Ann was born and was called Nemka by everyone.

Marianna was extremely busy and had to hire extra help to make everything work. Still,it became too much and she and Max decided to close the salon. In the 1936 census, Marianna was listed as a housewife. A few years later, that didn’t matter. The thing that did matter was the letter “J”- Jude - beside their names.

In 1939, Marianna and Max managed to send their daughter Nemka, who was now fourteen, to Denmark for safety. Every week, they were able to send letters to Nemka, but in 1942 Nemka received one last letter. It was a hastily written message. “ We’re going to Terezin, do not worry about us.” No other letters were ever received.

Nemka looked out the window at the peaceful life in Naestved, Denmark, and it seemed so quiet and normal. The only person who understood how she felt was Carl, a friend also from Czechoslovakia. They shared a common bond and then the next seventy years together.

The first time I spoke to Ann Steiner was in January of 2012. She lives in a small town in Ontario, Canada. I wanted to contact her earlier but hesitated. Her husband Carl died half a year before and I thought it was too early to remember the times when they first met. When I did contact her, she was pleased and willing to share her memories of the past. Then she said, “You know, I don’t really know what happened to my parents; I am aware that they didn’t survive.They were in Terezin and may have been sent somewhere in Estonia.”

I ask myself, “ But is it good to know? How much and with how many details?”
I ask her, “Do you really want to know?”
“I think there might be something in the film by Lukas Pribyl, Forgotten Transports to Estonia.

I send Nemka the message that there is a film and also an historical study.

Nemka writes, “ What is on the film? Are my parents there?”

I watch the film and look at the story of the transport of thousands of people. A few days in ghetto Terezin and then on the train to Estonia. Just a common place, nothing special. They get off the train. They are told, ”Older people left, younger people right.” The older ones are by a deep pit. There is continuous shooting and piles and piles of corpses.

There is also an historical study about the transport which is very detailed and factual. It is very difficult for me to read the first page. I think of Marianna, I think of that face. I think of a beautiful mother holding her daughter. It is hard to turn the page. Photos of the piles of bodies: legs,arms. Maybe Marianna is lying there. It is not just some bones and skin; they are people who had names and dreams and destinies.

Now,what to do? Should I send the book and film to Nemka? I struggle over what to do for three days.

“DearNemka”, I start to write but don’t know how to continue. “ Dear Nemka, I read a few pages from the book and I couldn’t read anymore. The film, I couldn’t watch it.’

She writes back, “ I understand, don’t send it.”

A huge relief.

I look at the face of Marianna and I want her story to be remembered.
Marianna with Nemka

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Marcus is smart, as are Markel and Le'Bryan

Great news not only for those of us who are Oklahoma State Cowboys, but also for three guys who made the wise decision to continue to enjoy the best years of their lives. Congratulations!!

Oklahoma State basketball players Smart, Brown and Nash staying another year
STILLWATER, Okla. — Decked in bright orange Oklahoma State University polos, Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and Le’Bryan Nash announced in front of a large crowd of OSU students in the atrium of the Student Union that the trio would return to Stillwater next season.

The biggest shocker of the three was easily Smart, who was projected to be a top 5 pick in the NBA Draft by most experts. The freshman point guard from Flower Mound, Texas, who won the Big 12 Conference Player and Freshman of the Year Award, received a resounding response for the OSU faithful on hand — and made sure to address those criticizing his decision to return.

“I am aware of how much money I am giving up (by not going to the NBA). It’s a lot of money, but I feel like I made the right decision,” Smart said. “I feel like making that decision and giving up that much money showed me the true colors of some people in my life and the people close to me. It showed the true colors of how they really think and how they really feel of me. I think I made the right decision and go Pokes.”

News of the trio’s expected return broke late Tuesday night, leaving little suspense for Wednesday’s announcement. Because of that, Brown decided to be a little playful when making his official announcement.

“Man, it’s been a long year. It’s been a great year playing with these guys, been a long journey. I don’t know what to say,” Brown said. “I’ve had the time to talk to my family, talk to my grandma, my uncles and we all came up with the decision that it was time for me to ... keep building on this legacy here at Oklahoma State.”

Oklahoma State’s top three scorers were surrounded by their teammates, who joined them on the stage set up in the middle of the Student Union. It was the idea of the returning players to hold the press conference at the Student Union to share the good news with the OSU fans.

However, the idea for all three players to stay was not a joint decision. According to the players, each made their own minds up — though admitting the knowledge of Smart’s decision to return weighed into the process somewhat.

“I guess you could say it played a little role. We all made decisions on our own and with our families and coaching staff,” Brown said. “We just sat down and really talked about what was best for us. I feel like we all came up with staying one more year would be the best thing to do. Even though we all could have done what we’ve dreamed of, it’ll still be there after next year. We just had to make the decision on our own.”

Smart said he had made up his mind following Monday’s Devon Energy College Basketball Awards banquet in Oklahoma City, where he received his national Wayman Tisdale Freshman of the Year trophy. At the banquet, he was given some sound advice from Michigan State coach Tom Izzo and had the opportunity to talk with National Player of the Year Trey Burke, who had also decided to stay for a second year at Michigan and led them to a spot in the NCAA championship game.

“I’m not saying it works for everybody, but it definitely worked for him. He increased his potential and his stock, but he also increased his self as a player, as a person and maturity-wise,” Smart said. “He told me when he first got to college that he was gone, but then reality kicks in. He enjoyed the college life, enjoyed being a kid and decided to stay.”

Izzo addressed Smart while accepting his Wayman Tidsdale Humanitarian Award, referencing how Burke said how smart his decision to stay at Michigan has prepared him. For OSU coach Travis Ford, he was happy to hear the Spartans coach give his star point guard some food for thought.

“I pulled some money out of my pocket and asked how much I owed,” Ford joked. “But I think Marcus had his mind made up before then, I really believe that, but I think that helped. It helped having someone of his (Izzo’s) reputation, somebody who has been through it before and somebody who Marcus respects, it probably helped solidify how he was feeling.”

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Holocaust Days of Remembrance

This week marks the annual commemoration of the Days of Remembrance of the six million souls who perished in the Holocaust. Having lost twenty-five members of my own family in the Holocaust, it was my privilege to participate in two events honoring those who were lost.

On Sunday, I had the opportunity to speak to students and faculty at Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA, as part of its "Holocaust Remembrance Day." It was a wonderful event sponsored by the Asbell Center for Jewish Life. The following day, students read the names of Holocaust victims, taking ten-minute turns, for twelve hours. This beautiful liberal arts college, led by its President, Dr. William Durden, is keeping alive the memory of those lost and teaching young people to reject hate and discrimination in all forms. I am indebted to them for including me in their commemoration.

Today, I had the privilege of attending the National Commemoration of the Days of Remembrance in the U. S. Capitol Rotunda in Washington. The ceremonies began with the presentation of the flags of units of the 3rd U.S. Infantry which liberated concentration camps at the end of WWII. After speeches by various dignitaries, the most moving moments came when Holocaust survivors, in pairs and accompanied by Senators and Congressmen, lit memorial candles honoring those who perished. President Obama sent a message which ended with "...let us foster a culture of empathy as we remain vigilant against genocide in our time."

Monday, April 1, 2013

The ex-quarterback and the reluctant owner -- "Name-Droppings," Part 5

In my forthcoming memoirs (second and third in a series), I describe encounters with various famous people. I hope you enjoyed the first four, and I hope you will like this one, too:
            We bought ourselves out from our parent company in 1970 with money raised from family, friends, and a few fools. Now CADCOM was independent, but – as a typical startup – we were far from profitable and thus short on operating capital. While my partners were busy generating business and developing software, I was spending most of my time looking for much-needed money. Banks would not lend to us, and we were too early-stage for venture capital funds. Our best – actually only – bet was to attract “angels” – high-net-worth individuals with an interest in getting in early, and cheaply, on entrepreneurial companies with promise of high returns in the future.

            I tapped not only my own network, but also the networks of my friends and colleagues. I targeted some of the most successful businesspersons in the Baltimore-Washington region and looked for connections which would help me get through their doors. I ran into many dead ends, but often contacts came from surprising sources. One of my major targets was a man named Carroll Rosenbloom, a Baltimore icon who had made a fortune in the clothing business, but who was better known as the owner of the Baltimore Colts of the National Football League.

            “I have a friend who can introduce Charlie to Carroll Rosenbloom,” our friend Jeanne told my wife Sue one day. Jeanne, a tall, beautiful redhead, was in the process of getting out of an unhappy marriage at the time. She told Sue that Don Klosterman, the General Manager of the Colts, whom she had met at the previous year’s Super Bowl, had asked her for a date. Jeanne said that she would accept, provided that Sue and I would be invited along. Of course, we agreed.

            A few days later, Jeanne called and informed us that Klosterman had purchased four tickets to the performance of “Applause!” starring Lauren Bacall, at the Morris Mechanic Theater in Baltimore. We would meet on Friday evening for drinks before the play and then have dinner following the show.

            I did some research on Don before meeting him. Six years older than I, he had been the top passer in the country as a college quarterback. After backing up future Hall of Famer Otto Graham with the Cleveland Browns, Klosterman moved north, where he quarterbacked the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League. In 1957, he nearly lost his life in a skiing accident, hitting a tree while trying to avoid an out-of-control skier on a slope at Banff. A damaged spinal cord necessitated eight surgeries. Told that he would never walk again, Don walked with the aid of a cane within a year. In 1970, he came to Baltimore, where he guided the Colts to a Super Bowl win in his first year. In a city which worshipped its football team, he was a superhero when I met him in 1971.

            We had drinks at the theater bar and spent a half hour getting acquainted. When Jeanne reminded Don that the show would begin in ten minutes, he suggested:

            “Let’s order another round and take the drinks with us to our seats.”

            “I don’t think they allow that,” countered Jeanne.

            “Rules are made to be broken,” said Don with a smile, as he instructed the bartender to pour four glasses of wine, “to go.” Each of us was given a plastic glass filled with wine, and we made our way to the theater balcony. Along the way, we were informed by two ushers that we would not be allowed to take the drinks into the theater. Undeterred, Don led the way until we took our seats. Sue, Jeanne, and I set our glasses on the floor, hoping to sip our wine undetected once the lights went out. Don, on the other hand, made a show of breaking the rules and held his glass where it could be seen. Not unexpectedly, an usher came over and informed Don that drinks were not permitted inside the theater and that we needed to hand our glasses over to her and her colleague.

            “Listen,” said Don. “I paid for these seats, and I paid for the drinks. We’re not bothering anybody. Just go away.”

            As soon as the usher departed, the lights went out and the curtain opened. For the next few minutes, we watched and listened as Lauren Bacall, in her husky voice, sang the opening number. Toward the end of her song, the beam of a flashlight strafed our four laps and we heard a loud whisper.

            “Ladies and gentlemen, I am the theater manager. I must ask you to leave here at once.”

            Don began to argue, and the spectators around us complained and requested silence. I stared straight ahead, wishing I could be someplace else. Finally, having concluded that Don would not give up his drink, I leaned across Sue and Jeanne and whispered:

            “Don, let’s get the hell out of here.”

            After a moment of silence, Don stood up and, with drink in hand, made his way up the aisle and out of the theater. The three of us followed, sheepishly carrying our glasses. Out in the lobby, as we sipped our wine, Don acted as though nothing had happened.

            “So, is everybody hungry?” he asked and, without waiting for an answer, he announced: “We’re going to dinner.”

            He limped out the front door and headed toward a taxi parked in the street. When we caught up, the driver stood outside, holding the door and showering Don with praise for having built a great football team for Baltimore. The ladies and I piled into the back seat, and Klosterman sat down in the front passenger seat. When the driver came around and took his seat behind the wheel, Don announced:

            “Cy Bloom’s Place in the Alley.”

            Jeanne, with an incredulous look on her face, whispered: “That’s across the street!”

            The cabbie started the engine, made a U-turn and coasted a few feet down an alley. It marked my first-ever taxi ride of less than a minute. We were in front of the restaurant. Don handed the driver a fifty-dollar bill, thanked him, and told him to be sure to keep rooting for the Colts.

            During dinner, Don promised to introduce me not only to Carroll Rosenbloom, but to a number of “heavy hitters,” including the most famous citizen of the city, the great quarterback, Johnny Unitas. Moreover, Don committed to an investment of his own.

            He was true to his word, almost. He wrote a check in exchange for a small equity interest in our company. He introduced me to several of his friends and acquaintances, some of whom invested in us. But, Don did not manage to get me together with Carroll Rosenbloom. Then, in 1972, the city of Baltimore was hit with a bombshell. In one of the more bizarre sports transactions of the period, Rosenbloom swapped teams with the owner of the Los Angeles Rams. Carroll headed for the west coast, and Don Klosterman went with him – now as general manager of the Rams.

            Don and I stayed in touch, but I stopped pestering him about introducing me to Rosenbloom. Thus, it came as a surprise one day in 1973, when Klosterman called me.

            “I’ve talked to Carroll about CADCOM, and he’s interested. Why don’t you come out and meet with him?” Enthusiastically, I agreed. Don called back a few days later with a date and time for the three of us to meet at the Rams’ practice facility, at the Long Beach State University football stadium.

            I arrived around 2:30, an hour ahead of our scheduled meeting. Wearing a suit and tie, I felt out of place at a football practice, watching sweaty, oversized men smash into tackling sleds, a few normal-sized players running through passing drills, and one little guy kicking field goals. I watched and I waited. And waited. An hour went by, and then another hour – no Don Klosterman, no Carroll Rosenbloom. Finally, just as practice was ending and players were beginning to file toward the dressing room, Don showed up.

            “Charlie, I’m really sorry,” he said. “Carroll was held up in his office, and he won’t be able to come over. But, you can close the deal on the phone, so let’s go call him right now.”

            Naturally, I was disappointed. I could have made the phone call from Annapolis without having to spend the money and taken time from the office. But, I was there and the opportunity existed, so it was time to go into my sales mode. I assumed that the Rams had an office at the stadium and that Don and I would be doing a conference call with Rosenbloom from there. Klosterman led me out on the field and we followed the players into a short tunnel. Then, instead of turning off toward an office which I assumed existed, we walked with the players into the locker room.

            “Strange,” I thought. But, I had been in many dressing rooms as an athlete, and some of them had adjoining coaches’ offices. “That must be where we’re going.”

            Wrong. There was no office. The only adjoining room was a tiled area with several showers, some urinals, and a few enclosed toilets. The dressing room, too small to be comfortable for 50 or 60 huge men, contained only metal lockers, wooden benches, and – on the wall between the showers and dressing area – a single black pay phone. To my horror, Don headed for the phone. He inserted a coin and then I saw him speak into the instrument. Although I was standing next to him, I could not hear a word he said because of the din created by the banter of players undressing and showering and by competing rock and roll music coming out of several radios. Then Don handed me the phone.

            “Carroll’s on the line. Go ahead and tell him what you’re looking for.”

            I picked up the instrument and blurted out a greeting. I could barely hear Rosenbloom, and I wondered how he could possibly make out my voice from the ambient noise. From what I could understand, it was obvious that either Don had not told him anything about CADCOM and our stock offering, or Carroll had forgotten.

            I spent a large percentage of my time as CEO of two software companies raising money. In the process, I had many weird experiences and met a variety of crazy people. But, no fundraising experience could match that of standing outside a shower room in my dark suit, giving my standard investor spiel into a pay phone, while naked black and white giants walked by, often rubbing their enormous butts against me in the narrow aisle between the lockers and the wall.

            The fact that Carroll Rosenbloom never did invest is an anticlimax to this bizarre story of my friendship with an ex-quarterback and the pursuit of an elusive NFL owner.