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Clara Halmos

Clara Halmos Obituary
My mother, Clara Halmos, died recently. She was 101 years old. But her remarkable story of perseverance and fulfillment of the American Dream lives on.

She was born in Budapest, Hungary on August 20, 1918, the daughter of my grandparents, Ignatz and Sara Sacher. Her name was originally Klara, but she changed it to Clara when she became a U.S. citizen. Mom was a caring mother (and grandmother and great grandmother) and, among many other things, a gifted pianist, an excellent bridge player, and a lifelong lover of opera. She told me often how much she regretted that her father, being a man shaped by his times, felt it was inappropriate for her as a young woman to attend college, despite the fact that she was a good student. The best she could convince him to allow was for her to attend what I suppose was a finishing school in Paris.

She returned to Hungary where she eventually married my father, George Halmos, who by then was a young lawyer in Budapest working for one of the leading industrialists in Hungary. I am one of their two children.

Their life together was interrupted by World War II - a huge understatement, of course, particularly considering the fact that our family was of Jewish heritage. They endured the repression and brutality of the Germans and then the Russians. My father's father was taken away from his home one day and never seen again. My mother's brother died in a German work camp. My mother even found it necessary to seek the relative safety of the countryside where she lived under an assumed name with a family, pretending to be their nanny.

Ultimately, Mom and Dad made what must have been an incredibly difficult decision to leave their life of privilege in Budapest to escape to America. They left behind virtually everything but the clothes on their backs and arranged for our family of four to be smuggled out of Hungary to Austria hidden in the back of a truck. Since I have no recollection of it, I can only imagine the courage that must've taken on their part. And beyond courage, what adversity they must have faced and overcome. But they did what they had to do in order to get us to the U.S. so as to ensure our safety and to secure a better life for their children. I owe everything - everything - to my mother and my father.

They even left their religion behind. Here in America, they didn't tell people we were Jewish. After all, they were fearful that what happened to Jews in Hungary, which they never imagined could happen, might happen in the U.S. as well. So as a child, when I was asked our religious affiliation, I did as my mother instructed and said we were Presbyterian even though we never set foot in a Presbyterian church. In fact, the recognition that I am Jewish never really occurred to me until much later in life.

My mother and father started over here in America when they were in their mid-30's. They learned English, worked hard, and over time prospered. In the process, they were able to give me an Ivy League education and to instill in me the work ethic that they had. They lived the American Dream and gave me the opportunity to live it, too. I'll say again here what I said before: I owe everything to my parents. I stand today on their shoulders.

As they prospered, my mother and father were able to travel the world, especially after they moved to London where my dad became the CEO of a group of European companies. They both spoke several languages: English, Hungarian, French, and German. When Dad retired, they moved back to the U.S., splitting their time between Ft. Lauderdale and New York, where Mom loved the theater and the Metropolitan Opera.

Though my mother in her heart meant well and cared deeply for and about her children, the truth of the matter is that she could at times be a very difficult woman. And as a result, she had difficulty making and keeping close friendships here in America. I'd be rewriting history if I didn't say that I too at times felt the sting of Mom's anger and sharp tongue. Though she mellowed somewhat over the years, she remained feisty well into her final days.

However, she was always my mother, a special person I called Murd (for reasons I cannot recall) and an important constant in my life for far longer than most sons are fortunate enough to have that presence. She wasn't one to say, "I love you", but that was okay because I knew she did. She wasn't one to say she was proud of me, but that too was okay because I knew she was.....though late in her life when she told me so, it nonetheless meant the world to me.

In her 60's, Mom lost her sight to both macular degeneration and glaucoma. Her blindness, in addition to her general personality as briefly described above, contributed to the fact that while she lived a very long and full life, I don't think she lived an altogether happy life. That saddens me, but if I am going to make this an honest overview of her life, I'd be remiss if I omitted it.

Remarkably, Mom had rarely been hospitalized during her life, even during the last 20 years. She was generally healthy to the end. She passed away by simply not awakening from her sleep, the type of passing she had hoped for when her time came. No suffering. No pain. She was ready. I will miss her, but I feel blessed to have had her for as long as I did, even though at times it was difficult.

As I told both Mom and Dad in the days prior to their respective deaths, I know that I truly hit the lottery when I got them as my parents.

- Steve Halmos
Published in Sun-Sentinel on Nov. 24, 2019
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