The towns of Nové Zámky & Šurany are located in the southern part of Slovakia, not far from the Hungarian border. A rural area dotted with farms,rivers and wooded areas. A portion of my childood was spent at the home of my grandmother near Nové Zámky. This was after my father had been whisked away from his teaching position at Comenius Universisty in Bratislava , by the occupying Nazis. And as we later discovered he was sent to the infamous Treblinca concentration camp - from which he never returned. In his case it was not because he was Jewish, but rather because he had spoken out against Hitler and his fanatical regime of oppression. My mother wisely decided it was best for us to move from the city to the relative annonimity of the country.
During the time of WWII Nové Zámky had a population of about 20,000, and I read that currently it has grown to over 45,000. It also contains a bit of important local history in that in 1573, a large fortress castle was built as protection against the invading Ottoman Turks. Although unfortunately it was nearly destroyed during bombing in 1944. Currently approximately 75% its inhabitants speak Slovak and 25% speak Hungarian as a native language.
Šurany was always considerably smaller in size and importance. For many years its main industry was a large sugar beet factory, which is no longer operational. Prior to the Nazi Holocaust Šurany contained a large number of Jewish households, perhaps ten percent, primarily from Hungary. They disappeared in the 1940's and nearly all were sent to their deaths in Auschwitz.
At this point you may be wondering where this ramble is headed. Well, a few nights ago I watched the popular BBC program 'Who Do You Think You Are?' [YouTube version] which traces the geneological ties of various, usually well known, people. The episode which I watched was about the family ties of my hero, the incredibly talented Stephen Fry. My admiration for Stephen Fry is unbounded - since he is witty, amazingly literate, has a storehouse of knowledge that seems know no limits, errudite without being snobbish, a fine actor, film director,and the list goes on.
During the first five minutes of ''Who Do You Think You Are?' I was amazed to discover that a portion of Stephen Fry's family was from Šurany, no more that 10 km. from where I lived as a child.. His grandfather left there in the early 1930's and immigrated to England. Unfortunately several members of his geneological lineage living in Šurany were victims of the Holocaust.
During my 15 year association with the internet I am forever reminded of how interconnected we all are. The earth is a large, large place, and yet in some surpising aspects, we are also intimately connected. Or as Stephen Fry commented, "How intimately interwoven with history we all are." A phrase that my father, who taught history, would have certainly appreciated.
Is it not entirely possible that at some point I, with my grandmother or mother, encountered one of the Neumann or Lam family members in Šurany, oh so long ago? A chance passing on the street, a gentle nod of the head and politely murmered, "Dobré rano" [good morning].
The six degrees, or so, of separation is forever peeking around the corner. . .