The Fischer Family of Kisvarda

Fischer was a common name among both Jews and non-Jews in the German influenced western parts of Hungary. However, it was relatively rare in the eastern part of the Hungary where the small city of Kisvarda in Szabolcs County is located. In scanning the 1848 census of Szabolcs, I found very few Fischers outside Kisvarda.

The earliest known ancestor is Joseph Fischer, born 1785, who was still alive at the time of the 1848 census. He was identified as a horse merchant, married to Rachel Tanenbaum. According to the census, Joseph was born in Kisvarda, while his wife was from the town of Nagy Dobos in the neighbouring county of Szatmar.

At the time of the census, Joseph and Rachel had three sons: Farkas, Abraham, and Joseph, and a daughter Fannie.

Farkas (translated as Wolf in Yiddish, and Yakov Zev in Hebrew) stayed in Kisvarda, also working as a horse merchant. He married a local girl, Fannie (Freide) Spitz, who came from quite a well-to-do family, her father being a lessor of land from the Eszterhazy estate. (Jews could not own land outright until 1867, but some of them leased large tracts of land from the nobility, operating major farms with hired workers). Farkas died at the young age of 49 in 1869, of a stomach inflammation, but not before fathering about a dozen children. One of his older sons, Elias, born in 1850, was my mother's paternal grandfather. As a result, there was a huge Fischer clan in Kisvarda at the time my mother was growing up. My grandfather Ervin had well over 50 Fischer first cousins, most of whom were still living in Kisvarda at least up until the 1920s.   However, many of the younger generation gradually moved away from Kisvarda to Budapest.

The only one of the brothers of Elias who actually emigrated was David Ephraim, who moved to the United States (following some of his sons who had preceded him.)   His descendants in Worcester, Mass., are among the relatively few family members who still carry the surname Fischer, as most of the other known descendants are through the female line.

To cite one example, my great-grandfather Elias Fischer had three sons, born in the 1890s.  Ordinarily, the law of averages would predict that he would have many descendants with the surname Fischer in the 21st century.  In fact, there are none.  Of his four grandsons, three were killed during the war, and the fourth one who survived had only a daughter.

At the time of the second world war, the majority of the descendants of Wolf Fischer were still living in Kisvarda, and many of them perished in the Holocaust. The Kisvarda Memorial Book preserves the names of 28 Fischers who perished. After the war a few returned, and there were three or four Fischer households in Kisvarda as recently as 1973, when I first visited the town. These were all second cousins of my mother. Others scattered around the world, to North and South America and Israel.

The second time I visited Kisvarda, in 1998, the only remaining Fischer connection was the elderly widow of one of these second cousins. Thus ends the Fischer family in Kisvarda, after about a quarter of a millennium.

In the course of my genealogical questioning of relatives, I questioned my mother, her sister, and their first and second cousins. I did get a little information that indicated the existence of slightly more distant Fischer cousins, but none of the people I spoke to could tell me exactly how these more distant cousins were related to them. Nobody had any information about the siblings of Farkas Fischer until I found them on the microfilm of the 1848 census.

In 1998, I registered my name and research interests with the Jewishgen Internet Jewish genealogy web site. Not too long after this, I received an e-mail message from a Don Harrison in San Diego. Don's wife Nancy was the granddaughter of Nathan Fischer, born in Mandok, Hungary in 1872. I had never heard of Nathan Fischer, but Mandok is only about 20 km from Kisvarda, so I thought it was worth investigating further. This Nathan Fischer was one of several children of Abraham Fischer. Don sent me a large genealogical database with about 300 names of descendants of Abraham Fischer living all over the United States, as well as a few in Hungary and Israel. Looking through this list, I recognized almost none of the names. However, two of the names were of Berger and Kohn, who were living in Hungary after the war. My mother recognized these as the names of distant cousins she had known in Mandok.

I concluded that Nancy's ancestor Abraham was one of the sons of Joseph Fischer, and thus the brother of my great-great-grandfather Wolf Fischer. It was only because of the Mormons' microfilm record that we could make this link, since nobody in my family had any knowledge of Wolf's brothers. Through genealogical research and the magic of the Internet, we had discovered some genuine long-lost relatives. In the summer of 1999, Nancy and Don Harrison came to Toronto on business, and we had the pleasure of meeting them in person.

Subsequently, through the Internet, I was discovered by a fourth cousin, Peter Garas of Australia, and his second cousin Tanya Katona of South Africa. Tanya's father, Andras Zalka, fought in the Spanish Civil War and in the 1950s and 1960s was Hungarian ambassador to Japan and Argentina. He is one of the most interesting members of this family.

Unfortunately, both Tanya and Peter have since passed away due to illness at relatively young ages.   Both had a keen interest in family history, and I was privileged to have known them at least for a few years.

Peter Garas had been more than “long lost,” as we had lost touch with his family before he was born.   However, a subsequent perusal of the group photo of guests at my parents’ wedding (Budapest, 1949) revealed that his grandmother was there.   She was my grandfather’s second cousin.  As generations pass, relationships get diluted, and in the past people usually lost track of each other.  Perhaps, in the future, thanks to Google and internet databases, everybody will have a permalink to their family tree database and be able to trace their linkages back through umpteen generations.

 

More information about the Jewish community of Kisvarda can be found by clicking here.

By Peter Spiro, Toronto, Canada. Last updated in December 2009.