The story started with a photo of the Jewish cemetery in Mád, Tokaj. The photo can be found on Gabor and Carolyn Banfalvi’s food and wine tour website Taste Hungary, where they offer a Tokaj Jewish Heritage & Wine Tour. The photo shows headstones with names of local Jewish families including the Zimmermanns who owned a property in Mád, today the location of the Royal Tokaji winery. Beverly Fox and her mother Zsuzsanna Zimmermann — a Hungarian-American Holocaust survivor who is now called Susy Oster — recognized the cemetery and also one of the nearby buildings in front of a war monument as Zsuzsanna’s childhood house before she was deported in 1944 with her mother Blanka.
In fact, Oster still has a postcard of the monument and the house. But on Royal Tokaji’s website, in the section on the winery’s history, there was a mysterious gap between the 1700s and the Communist and post-Communist eras. After this surprising historic find, the family approached the company.
After a year of hard negotiations, Royal Tokaji has finally revised its historical section and on June 24 2016, unveiled two plaques on one of the exterior walls of the winery:
“This was the home of Miklos and Blanka Zimmermann and their two children,” one of them reads, in engraved Hungarian and English. Miklos “was engaged in the cultivation, production, and marketing of Tokaj wines, like generations of his family before him, dating from the early 1800s. In May 1944, the family was deported to Auschwitz along with other Jewish families of Mád. Blanka died in Auschwitz on October 16, 1944.”
According to Gabor Banfalvi, who was with the Zimmermans at the ceremony, “The Jewish and cosmopolitan connection of Tokaj is a key factor in understanding how the wine trade before WWII used to work and why Tokaj was so successful. It was a very export oriented trade with dozens of ethnicities involved. These days Hungarians are looking for their old and lost traditions and actually one of the most important tradition that we used to have was the colorful ethnic and religious social structure of the country. This is important for everybody to know in order to step forward and the Zimmermans deserve some credit for taking part in this.”
This is a fascinating story. Read all the details here.