January 3, 1999
Cecilie Horner, grandmother of my first wife Stella Horner
Today Daniel Terna is a pupil in the sixth grade of the Middle School. I, Frederick Terna, am a survivor, and the father of Daniel. I’m recording here some of my memories and thoughts about the Shoah.
Cecilie Horner was the grandmother of my former wife, Stella Horner, who was the daughter of Kurt Horner. Stella died early in the 1980’s. Some of the events dating back to the early part of this century were told to me by the sons, and also by other relatives of Cecilie Horner. Family reminiscences tend to be colored by strong feelings, by complicated interpretations, and a wide range of self-deceptions. The sources of such influences may go back generations. It is difficult for me to give an impartial account of Cecilie Horner’s family. I’m aware of this dilemma, and I hope to show them in the best possible light. None of the Horners I want to mention here are alive today, and, alas, cannot correct or amplify this narrative. They belonged to one of the of the Jewish communities of Moravia that had been allowed out of the ghettos late in the 18th century, granted, at least on paper, equal citizenship in the latter part of the 19th century, and achieved a small measure of economic and political security in the early years of the 20th century. Most of them eventually perished during the Shoah.
Cecilie Horner was born around 1860. Her family came from a town named Prerov, also known as Prerau in Moravia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. Today Prerov is in the eastern part of the Czech Republic. I don’t know where her husband came from, and I don’t remember his first name. They had six sons, Kurt, Erwin, Felix, Victor, and two other sons whose names I cannot recall. All of them were born in the last decades of the 19th century. The Horners owned a store that sold, and distributed coal by the bucket, and sold bottled kerosene for lamps. Cecilie’s husband died while their sons were small children. With much skill, and incredible energy she decided to fend for herself and her children, to have the coal business support her family.
By the time World War I started Cecilie Horner had moved to Vienna, and continued her coal and kerosene business there, though on a larger scale. The business was now called “Cecilie Horner und Soehne, Kohlengrosshandel”, i.e. Cecilie Horner and Sons, Wholesale Coal Dealers.
One of her sons, Felix Horner, had studied to become an electrical engineer, another one; Erwin Horner became a physician, surgeon. Kurt Horner, father of Stella Horner, and my late father-in-law, became the manager of the family business, Victor Horner became a business developer, one Horner became a lawyer, and I don’t recall the field of the sixth son. The level of education achieved by the sons illustrates the energy, and also the power of their mother. She imbued her sons with a will to succeed. The price they had to pay for this was the emotional submission to their mother well into adulthood. She ruled her sons with an iron will. It made her the rival of her daughters-in-law. The sons would heed their mother’s wishes before considering the needs of their own families or spouses. I recall Kurt’s wife Adele, my late mother-in-law, being afraid of her mother-in-law, though Cecilie Horner by then was a frail, and very old lady. I may want to expand further down a little about four of the six sons.
In Vienna, from 1918 to 1938, during years of political and economic turmoil, and also the years of the depression, Cecilie Horner & Sons expanded the business, owned parts of coal mines, had oil drilling rights and mining leases for several tracts in Lower Austria. The smallest quantity of a coal sale was a truckload.
The Horners lived the style of comfortable middle-class business people, spent their vacations in spas or on the shore of the Adriatic Sea, they had servants and nannies, they had cars that were chauffeured by men in leather uniforms. Their homes in a fashionable district in Vienna were large, and lavishly furnished.
Cecilie Horner, as well as Kurt and Victor, and two of her other sons, all born in Moravia, had retained her citizenship of the, then, Czechoslovakia.
On March 12th 1938 Nazi Germany marched into Austria, the so-called “Anschluss”. Cecilie Horner, her sons Kurt and Victor, two other sons, and their families fled to Czechoslovakia, and went to live in Prague. They left most of their possessions in Austria.
I shall write a separate set of notes about Kurt Horner and his wife Adele, their son Fritz, and their daughters Eva and Stella.
Let me digress first about two other sons, Felix and Erwin who survived the war here in the USA.
In the first decade of the 20th century Felix Horner married Gisella, (I don’t know her maiden name), and they had two children, Harry and Edith. Harry was born 1910 in Holic in Moravia. He was a sunny and vivacious young man with many gifts. He had studied architecture, but he became first a student, and later an actor in the theater of Max Reinhardt, a well known, innovative, and distinguished stage director and producer. In 1933, when Max Reinhardt was expelled from Germany by the Nazi regime Harry Horner accompanied him to the USA, and moved with Reinhardt to Los Angeles. Harry remained there, becoming among his other achievements a stage designer. At one time he designed the sets and costumes for Mozart’s The Magic Flute for the Metropolitan Opera here in New York. He received two Oscars for designing movies whose names I cannot recall right now. Oscars seem to run in the family: One of Harry’s sons, James Horner, is a composer. He has written the music for many currently successful movies, e.g. The Titanic. He received an Oscar recently.
In the years following our arrival in this country, meeting Harry here in New York or in Los Angeles was invariably a happy occasion. There was charm and wit, old-fashioned courtesy and empathy. Though spending the major part of his life in the Hollywood film business Harry remained a “Mensch”.
After the occupation of Austria in 1938, and before the beginning of World War II in September 1939, Harry, by then a citizen of the USA, succeeded in obtaining US immigration visas for his parents, Felix and Gisella, his sister Edith, and also for his uncle Erwin and family. The remaining family, particularly Kurt Horner and family were in Czechoslovakia, and did not feel that they could emigrate and leave their mother Cecilie behind, or impose a long voyage on her frail body. There were also other, older relatives who needed support. None of them lived in areas then under direct Nazi rule. There were few precedents by which to judge potential developments. Those who remained in Europe acted within the experience of preceding centuries. The last time a large number of Jews had become a victim was in 1648, when the Cossack Hejtman Bohdan Chmielnicky and his troops went on murderous rampage. But that was three hundred years earlier, and in the Ukraine, far to the east of Central Europe.
Felix Horner had the usual difficulties of immigrants to this country, and to adjusting to a new life here. He worked as design engineer, but probably using only a small part of his talents and skills. He died a number of years ago, so did his wife Gisella, and his daughter Edith. Harry too died a few years ago. There are children and grandchildren of the families of Harry and Edith, and I don’t know how many, I lost touch with that part of my former wife’s family. Erwin Horner, the other son of Cecilie Horner, was a renowned surgeon in Vienna before 1938. He managed to obtain the necessary licenses to practice medicine here in New York. He was rather bitter about the procedure. He had to pass license boards run by examiners who had been his students in Vienna. The medical establishment here did not like competition. He too died good many years ago, as did his wife who was a gynecologist.
One of the reasons Stella and I decided to come to this country were the uncles Felix and Erwin, the only surviving relatives of her family. Because of the quota system of the old McCurran/Walter immigration law we had to wait until 1952 to arrive here legally. Soon after our arrival here the relationship with the family became strained. We were told quite directly not to talk about the past, but to concentrate on our new life here. Stella and I had, even then, an insight into the set of symptoms of denial, repression, and other responses to survivors. It hurt, but we understood. We too had gone through similar phases of not wanting to talk about our experiences. One item, however, rankled, and was offensive. The daughter of Uncle Felix was married to a businessman who had become quite wealthy during the war as a supplier of fabrics. He and his family lived in a big house in Scarsdale, owning many acres of land surrounding the house, and left undeveloped so as to provide a protective buffer. The other uncle, Erwin, was a medical doctor, living in a huge apartment on West End Avenue. He did not look like a pauper. The one question we were not asked after our arrival here was whether we needed any help. We would have refused it, but we expected to hear that question. It put a crimp into our relationship with Stella’s family. We had to listen, however, to the tales of struggle and deprivation they had to endure upon arriving here, and about the hardships suffered during the war. We understood, and kept our thoughts to ourselves.
What they did not want to hear were the details of the fate of the rest of the family. I don’t know how and where Cecilie Horner died. I had met Stella briefly in 1941 in Prague, before I was shipped to my first camp. Stella was my girl friend. I was seventeen years old then. On perhaps two occasions when I came to her home I saw three old ladies there, and I certainly don’t remember which one of them was Cecilie Horner, which one was Stella’s maternal grand-mother, which one her grand-aunt. I don’t know in detail what happened to the two other brothers. Starting in October 1941 transports to the east began. In 1943, when I arrived in Terezin, Victor Horner and his wife were still there. Sometime in 1944 they were shipped to Auschwitz.
By 1944 most Jews of Bohemia and Moravia, men, women, children, the old and the young had been gassed, starved, kicked to death, shot, burned, – murdered with ruthless brutality.
One of the victims was Cecilie Horner.