Oskar Morawetz was the second of four children born to Richard Morawetz and Frida
(née Glaser) Morawetz.
Siblings Helena (who died in infancy), Elsa and Moritz
Richard was born in Úpice, Bohemia in 1881. His early life was full of
happiness living in the home of the harmonious relationship of his parents, but
also sorrow at his parents' misfortunes. Three of their six children died in
infancy, and then his beloved mother, succumbing to excruciatingly painful gall
stone attacks and unsuccessful operations, passed away
when Richard was only 17.
His father, Ludwig, was very kind but also strict. The children were rarely
punished, but at the same time there was little praise. Ludwig was very
respected in the business community, but also very conscious of social problems.
He taught his children not to squander their money, but at the same time to be
discreet about their wealth. Richard adopted
these morals, and later applied them to his own work and family.
Richard studied chemistry and upon graduation expressed a desire to look for
a job. As his father owned a large cotton factory, it seemed logical that
Richard would start in the family business, but he insisted on "learning
from the bottom". When soon after he was informed that his father had
developed diabetes, which was a death sentence in those pre-insulin days,
he returned to work in his father's factory, learning all the menial jobs of the
factory workers. When the manager of the plant in Hronov fell ill and later
died, Richard was suddenly promoted to manager and quickly laid his hands on
anything he could read about cotton spinning.
Flax factory founded in 1852, by Philip Morawetz and Moritz Oberlander.
Taken over by Philip's son Ludwig, and later by his sons, Richard and Moritz Morawetz.
Factory pictured in 1935
When Richard's father died in 1901, his brother Moritz urged him to go to England,
as it was a tradition in the family to serve an apprenticeship there. Richard
resisted, but finally went, and was impressed by the freedom, the sportsmanship
and general atmosphere of the country. In fact, he remained a strong anglophile
for the rest of his life, and his eventual decision to settle in Canada was at
least partly due to his preference for a country which, in those days, was still
considered decidedly British. On his return to Hronov, Richard met
Thomas Masaryk, who later became President of Czechoslovakia.
Thomas J. Masaryk
Photo: FerdVogel, 1934
Thomas Masaryk had a great influence on Richard. Professor Masaryk, as he was
then, was quiet, with an "uncompromising adherence to truth and thoroughness. He never spoke on
any subject which he did not understand to the last detail." He once
asked Richard to contribute to the magazine "Naše Doba" (Our Era) for which he was
the editor, and Richard wrote an article about the dramatic developments taking place
in the cotton industry in the United States. This article made Richard somewhat
famous in his industry, and he contributed articles quite regularly after that.
These articles can be found even today in the New York Public Library.
In 1905, the partnership with the Oberlander side of the family dissolved,
whereby they kept the factory in Hronov, and Richard and his brother Moritz
managed the business in Úpice. As Moritz was nine years his senior and used to
making all the decisions, Richard became restless, wanting to contribute more.
The idea of a daycare/nursery for the children of the factory workers can be
given partial credit to a lecture Richard heard a few years before given by
František Drtina, a colleague of Masaryk's who explained "how the love of one's
country should find expression in the love and care of one's family and in
attempts at social reform rather than grandiose words." And so the day-nursery
for the workers' children came into being.
Click here to read more about the day-nursery at the
factory in Úpice.
In 1904, Richard was elected to the board of the Czech Textile Manufacturers'
Association, and thus began his public business life. In 1911, he was appointed
one of the youngest members ever of the Industrial Council of Vienna.
In 1922, Richard's brother Moritz died, leaving him the complete management of the
jute factories. In 1926, Masaryk was touring the area near Úpice. Richard wrote to him
inviting him to spend the night at their house. He accepted, and the following
day, along with his son, Jan Masaryk, toured the day-nursery of the factory.
Click here for story and photos of President Masaryk's visit to the
In 1927 the family moved to Prague where Richard could more easily serve as
head of the associations of the jute industry.
President Masaryk (3rd from right) receives the executive committee of
the International Cotton Congress headed by Richard Morawetz (3rd from left).
Richard Morawetz speaking at International Cotton Congress, 1932.
Photo: Foto Trousily
In 1932, Richard was the President of the International Cotton Congress. He
arranged for an assembly of all the delegates of this congress. As a special
President Masaryk, who was then 82 years old, was invited to meet the delegates. In his
recollections to his daughter, Sonja, Richard recalls an interesting exchange
between President Masaryk and the Egyptian delegate:
"Our relations with Egypt, you will recall, were very friendly.
Masaryk had paid an official visit to Cairo during his presidency and the King
of Egypt had returned it. In an attempt to make polite conversation, Masaryk
said to the Pasha: "How is your beautiful country?"-"Egypt," came the reply, "is
fortunately quite uncontaminated by the corrupting influence of democracy; the
Egyptian labourer is happy if he gets a potato and a herring in return for a
day's work." Imagine, saying such a thing to Masaryk, who had spent his entire
life working for democracy! Without another word, the President turned to
another delegate and changed the subject."
One of Richard's favourite hobbies was amateur acting. However, acting was
strongly disapproved of by the family, as it was considered a frivolous pastime,
and the occupation of people with doubtful morals. Either way, it was quite
unsuitable for the son of a successful Jewish business man. Yet Richard had been fascinated by
acting ever since attending a
circus as a young boy. While in school, he took part in a play produced by a
local Czech club. This was done in great secrecy, as he was sure he would be
expelled from school if anyone found out. His acting career culminated in the
lead role of a production of "Charlie's Aunt".
Click here for photographs from Richard's acting career.
Morawetz' social circle included many teachers from the area who arranged
lectures for the community. When Richard was asked to give a lecture
about his trip to England, he spoke of the spirit of the country, its freedom,
things that had most impressed him. His lecture was so successful that he was
asked to give many more, and soon was giving talks in different towns, sometimes
up to three times a week. Once he lectured on chemistry for the layman, but most
of his talks were of foreign countries, which he illustrated with slides from
Click here to read more about Richard's public lectures.
Morawetz travelled extensively to different places in Europe, to
the United States and Asia. He was a keen amateur photographer. On his trip
to Asia in 1910, he took several bags of luggage containing two cameras
and seven hundred photographic plates. Richard continued his photography hobby
even in Canada where he took mostly portraits of children.
Click here to read more about Richard's photography
Shortly after his world tour, Richard met his future wife, Frida Glaser, and
so impressed her with his worldly stories that she fell in love with him. They
were married in 1915, and had four children Herbert, Oskar, John and Sonja.
Richard had always been a collector. As a boy he collected beetles and
butterflies, and later stamps. During his visit to England he became interested
in rare books, and soon had a unique, private collection of old Czech books. In
1907, he heard about an auction of Czech manuscripts dealing with music and
musicians. He bought the whole collection, which included two manuscripts of
Smetana compositions. At an auction later in Berlin, he acquired the original
score of one of Dvořák's Slavonic Dances. This sparked an interest in collecting
anything having to do with Czechoslovakia. He purchased many manuscripts in
Vienna and Berlin, and also received donations to his collection from people who
were impressed with his collection. Soon after he began his collection of
paintings. In his recollections, he relates his "Rembrandt" story:
"The story of my Rembrandt is an interesting one. It is a
picture of Judas, his face lined with
remorse, kneeling before his horrified judges, with the thirty pieces of silver
scattered on the floor. The literature of the seventeenth century leaves no
doubt as to the fact that Rembrandt did paint such a picture, and at least two
prominent books about Rembrandt reproduce this very painting as his own. But a
short time before it was to be auctioned, an expert wrote an article for the
Revue des Beaux Arts in which he claimed that a picture of which there remained
only mutilated fragments was the genuine Rembrandt, and that the other was the
work of a gifted contemporary. I loved the picture, it was very beautiful, and
so I bought it anyway."
Richard also bought two Rembrandt etchings that somehow made their
way to England during the war. Richard had them sent to Canada, and they are
still in the family even today. In general however, Richard made a rule of buying the masterpieces
of lesser known artists, rather than second-rate paintings of the more famous.
Click here for more about Richard's collections.
Frida and Richard
After the Munich agreement when Czechoslovakia’s situation seemed increasingly desperate,
a number of people urged Richard to leave the country. He refused
because, he said, as a Czech and a friend of people like Masaryk and President
Beneš, he was not about to leave the country in its time of distress.
He was therefore trapped when the Germans marched into Prague
in March 1939.
Furthermore, as head of the jute industry in Czechoslovakia, he had issued a
directive after Hitler came to power that all imports of jute (grown in India)
were to be routed via Holland rather than German ports, thereby depriving
Germany of substantial amounts of foreign currency. A German acquaintance
informed him that, presumably as a result, he was the most hated man between
Prague and Berlin.
Richard and Frida never did find out for sure how they got the priceless
Gestapo permit without which Jews were not allowed to leave Czechoslovakia after
the German occupation. The guessing was that a young woman who worked in
Richard's office had a friend who had a boyfriend… Although he never knew for
sure, Richard was convinced that
the permit was issued by mistake by someone who wasn’t aware of his true
identity. After a harrowing escape, they finally reached Canada and settled in
Toronto. Although Richard and
Frida and their four children managed to survive the war and reach
Canada, many of their relatives perished in concentration camps.
Life in Canada
Richard and his wife Frida arrived in Canada from England on the day war
broke out in 1939. Richard originally wanted to travel across Canada before
deciding where he would like to
settle. However he soon abandoned this plan when he studied the map of Canada
more closely and realized the vastness of the country to which he had just
emigrated: travelling the coast from east to west would be like going from
Lisbon to Warsaw to decide where one wanted to live! He began in Montreal, but he was so appalled by the
dislike between the
Anglophones and the Francophones that he declared he did not want to live in a
country that repeated the same kind of hatred as the country he just left. He
went on to Toronto, and immediately fell in love with the city, and so looked no
further. He loved, in particular, the climate of his new home which was so
contrary to the continually foggy, sunless winter days of Prague.
Richard Morawetz at the office with Flo Sperring, one of the longest Carhartt employees.
Shortly after his arrival, Richard bought the Hamilton Carhartt Co. together
with his niece Hella and her husband Charles Sachs. Carhartt (which was located
at 535 Queen Street East in Toronto) was a manufacturer of pants and overalls.
did not entertain any notions that his first-born son, Herbert, should follow
him in the business. In his words: the Úpice factory had been a family tradition, Carhartt
was just a way to make a living. Herbert went on to become a successful
professor of chemistry, and his more business-minded son, John, joined the
company in 1946, followed by his son-in-law, Ric, in the 1960s. Carhartt was
finally sold in 1974.
Richard went to work everyday by bus. If someone stopped to offer him a lift,
he was genuinely flattered by the kindness: "In Prague, if someone did me a good
turn, I didn't know if they were trying to 'butter me up'. Here I am a nobody."
Whereas Richard had been a very well-known figure in the textile in industry in
his homeland, he seemed to enjoy this newfound sense of anonymity.
In 1937, while still living in Europe, Richard had attended the World Labor
Conference in Washington as the Czechoslovakian delegate. After making his home
in Toronto, he was asked to be the Czechoslovakian employer's delegate for
the World Labor Conference in New York in 1941. On Oct. 26, he gave the
following speech at this conference:
given by Richard Morawetz at WLO Conference in New York, 1941.
In 1944, Richard was elected to the permanent governing body of the International Labour Organization
Foreign minister Jan Masaryk (centre on couch), Richard Morawetz to his left, with the
Czechoslovak delegation at the I.L.O. conference in Philadelphia, 1944.
Richard's anonymity in his new homeland did not last long. He became very involved in
Toronto's Czech community and soon become a well-known and respected citizen of
his adopted home.
When Richard was asked to speak, he would describe his country, its
history and its many old buildings and monuments dating from before the
discovery of America. "The backbone of the nation", Richard Morawetz declared
once at a luncheon where he and Frida were guests of honour, "is the peasant,
and before the war it was impossible to find a square foot of land that was not
in use. Nobody who had a farm wanted to sell it, and anybody wishing to buy one
would have a very long search. Hitler will never succeed in finding any
Quislings(1) in Czechoslovakia."
Paul Martin, Sr. and Richard Morawetz
On October 27, 1957, almost 40 years to the day after the creation of the
Czech Republic in 1918, a celebration by the Toronto Czech community took place
in Masaryktown, a large Czech community complex in Scarborough, Ontario that
comprises offices, restaurant, a retirement home, a library, and other community
space. The celebration was attended by prominent Canadian citizens, including
Honorable Paul Martin, Mayor Nathan Philips and Toronto MP J. Haydash. Richard
Morawetz was asked to speak as the leading Canadian citizen from Czechoslovakia.
Oskar Morawetz' honorary diploma
Several articles were written about the occasion in the local Toronto Czech
newspaper, Nový Domov. Following the celebrations, new members were
inducted into the Masaryk Memorial Institute to "show appreciation for his/her
contribution to the well-being of Canadians of Czechoslovak origin", including Richard and his wife
Frida, and their son, Oskar Morawetz.
- Nov. 2, 1957. Nový
Domov (about the Oct. 27, 1957 event)
- Nov. 16, 1957. Nový
Domov (speech by Richard Morawetz at Oct. 27, 1957 event)
- Nov. 23, 1957. Nový
Domov (honorary diplomas awarded by Masaryk Memorial Institute)
Richard Morawetz was not only a respected citizen of Toronto's Czech
community, but of the Toronto community in general. In 1958, he was invited to
address a group of newly naturalized citizens at Toronto's city hall, bidding
them to become true Canadians first and foremost by learning the English
language to the best of their ability.
In the late 1950s, a new CBC-TV program, Front Page Challenge was
introduced whereby a well-known personality was selected as the "mystery guest".
This mystery celebrity was hidden from a set of panellists who asked a series of
questions, and tried to determine who the secret guest was. In one episode, the
mystery guest was Foreign Minister to Czechoslovakia, Jan Masaryk. As Richard
Morawetz was undoubtedly the most knowledgeable person about Mr. Masaryk, he was
asked to represent Mr. Masaryk as the mystery guest. Below are pictures from the
April 5, 1960 episode:
Although he lived until he was 84, he was always aware of his mortality, and
as early as 1946 wrote this letter (originally in Czech) which was found among
his papers after his death:
I am writing this letter in order to say a few words of farewell to you. Let me begin by telling you that you have contributed in no small measure to the fact that my life has been a happy one. It is thanks to you and
to your mother that I was able to withstand some of my most difficult
Death announcement of
Oct. 18, 1965
By your singular affection for us you have created a mighty pillar of family solidarity. While great credit for this is due to all of you, I feel bound to point out that it was Herbert who encouraged his younger brothers and sister from early childhood to love their parents.
I beg you with all my heart to remain united as a family after I am gone. My departure must not make the slightest difference in this regard. Surround your dear mother with redoubled affection, and cultivate mutual love and loyalty among yourselves. Be sure to resolve every misunderstanding quickly and completely. By so doing you will be honouring the memory of your father, who was so very devoted to all
I am confident that you will lead honourable lives, worthy of the excellent example set by your ancestors. Always be truthful, in your professional
as well as your private lives, and remember kindly your ever loving
Frida and her family lived on the second floor of this Prague apartment.
The first floor was a store where chocolates from the factory in Velim were sold.
Frida Morawetz was born in Velim, Bohemia in 1894, the last child in a family
of seven. Her father had moved the family there from Lenešice three years before
after purchasing the chocolate factory from his father. Frida remembers an
idyllic childhood, fulfilling her innate love of nature by spending much time in
the gardens, parks and forests during her summers in Velim.
Click here to see more pictures of the Glaser
During the rest of the year, the family lived in Prague and Frida attended school there.
Being one of only two Jewish girls in a class of 60, she felt isolated and
disliked school. At the age of 10 she entered a private German lyceum for girls,
where at least half the girls were Jewish, and she had much better teachers.
Frida's strengths were in writing essays and the study of literature, and even
at the age of 90 she could still recite poems from her childhood. She recalled
with great pride many years later that her teacher told her that an essay she
had written for her final examination, "The idea of freedom in Schiller's work"
was fit to be published. The intense interest in literature of Frida and her
sisters led to "literary tea parties", which included three young men who later
made great careers: author Franz Werfel, actor Ernst Deutsch and the film
producer Willy Haas.
Growing up in Prague, one of the European centers of music, Frida also
developed a love of music and especially of the opera. She saw her first opera
at the age of seven. After emigrating to Canada, she became a
patron and committee member of several musical organizations, including the
opera at the Royal Conservatory.
Click here to read a 1954 article about
Frida's involvement with the opera.
In 1913, Frida
and her sister Mitzi went to Lausanne to take some university courses and study
French. She was then accepted to the school of applied arts where she spent a
year drawing "heads and nudes", and studying other applied arts and the history of art.
Frida continued to sketch during the summers the family spent in Světlá.
The following year, when war broke out, Frida registered for a
nursing course with the Red Cross and then helped out in a children's clinic.
However, her real desire to work in a military hospital was strictly forbidden by
her mother, as nursing had a bad reputation at that time in Central Europe,
and it would not have been proper for a young lady of a good family to work in such an
environment. Instead she resigned herself to knitting an everlasting number of
scarves, caps and socks for the soldiers!
As Bohemia was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire until the first World War,
Frida grew up speaking German at home. However Bohemia was a Czech area, and
Frida learned Czech at her elementary school. After her marriage to Richard, she
spoke exclusively Czech with her new husband and children, as Richard was a
devoted Czech and resented most of the Jewish community speaking and
living in German.
Richard and Frida's engagement
Frida and Mitzi
One afternoon, Frida and her sister Mitzi were with their parents in a local
coffee house when their father, Adolph said: "there is a man at the next table
whom I know; why don't I ask him to join us". The man was Richard Morawetz. Adolph knew
Richard Morawetz casually and had once written to him soliciting money for the Jewish
community. Richard, being a strong Czech patriot, wrote back that he would be
delighted to make a donation if the requesting letter were written in Czech, and
not in German!
Richard had just returned from a trip around the world and started talking
about what he had seen. At one point he was talking about his visit to Japan,
and told about how women there still bind their feet. In response to Frida's
appalled reaction to such a custom, Richard replied that "it is their culture, and
it is not all that different from women in Europe wearing corsets." Frida's mother was
shocked that a man would talk about women's under-garments in the
presence of young ladies. But Frida was fascinated with everything Richard had to say. In a diary
entry of Aug. 7, 1914, Frida writes:
"He is an enormously intelligent man, who has seen a great deal and can talk
about it, and he is also thoroughly good and noble, so that he really
personifies all my idealistic imaginations. I would not have
believed that a mature man of 33 years can have such a movingly soft heart.
He told me a lot about the day care he built for workers in his factory, which
belongs to the most humane and advanced institutions in existence. I was
really proud to be able to converse so much with this outstanding man.
Whatever he spoke of, everything was unusually interesting, his travels
through India, Japan, China (I should like so much to hear the lectures which
he gave about it, accompanied by slides prepared from his photographs), the
description of his castle in Světlá, which must be marvellous, the park which
belongs to it, his clubs and his activities in the factory and in public life.
All this and much else he talked about on our walks and I felt so small next
to this person and so happy that he did not make me feel what a silly
inexperienced girl I still am. In the beginning I really did not know whether
he joined us because of [Mitzi] or myself, but later I saw to my great joy that
it must be for my sake although he walked next to me very calmly and I should
almost say stiffly and never, not once, said to me anything that could be
considered a compliment. This particularly appealed to me."
Richard invited Frida to the castle at Světlá which he had just purchased that year.
However, being a proper young lady, Frida would
not go without her mother. But, as the day approached, Hedwig became
so nervous that she said she couldn't go, and so Frida's sister Jetti, who was
already married and therefore considered to be a suitable chaperone, accompanied her instead.
Richard and Frida's engagement photos
Finally on Oct. 1, Richard and Frida are engaged. Frida describes the proposal
in her diary:
"Richard and I sat alone facing each other. Now the conversation began to be
somewhat more personal. Ricco asked me when I would come to Úpice to see 'his'
children in the day care. I said, somewhat embarrassed, that I would very,
very much like to come, but that I did not know how I could undertake such a
trip by myself - or something of that sort, I really do not know exactly what
I said. Here Ricco suddenly made a move and said standing up: 'And, how would
it be, Fraulein, if you came as my bride' and held out his hand to me. I
grasped his hand but could not bring myself to say a single word."
On January 10, 1915 they were married in the apartment in which Frida was
living on Havlicek square in Prague, above the sales office for the Velim
factory. Because travel was limited during the war to the Austrian lands and
Germany, they honeymooned in Dresden, Munich, Nurenberg and Berlin. It was the
first time Frida had had to obtain a passport. Her new husband related that on
his trip to Asia, he had only been asked for a passport once at the end
of his trip in
Petersburg, and had replied that he was not going to stay in a country where
visitors were required to have a passport and
returned home the next day!
Richard and Frida Morawetz
Trip to Italy
statue of Rabbi Loew
Richard Morawetz' ancestry can be traced back to the year 1400 to Esdre
"Esriel" of Prag. The reason for this well-documented lineage is due to the fact
that the brother of Sinai ben Bezalel (Sinai, son of Bezalel), who married a
distant ancestor of Richard's, was the famous Prag Rabbi Loew. Rabbi Loew's
lineage is well-documented, and thus the connection was able to be made to
Richard Morawetz' family. A statue of Rabbi Loew stands today on the new Prague Town Hall, "a symbol
of the equality of all the citizens of the Czechoslovak capital, regardless of
religious conviction". This quote comes from the book, The Prague Ghetto,
which is "the story of that Jewish community on the River Vltava which had its
beginnings over a thousand years ago, and which grew until its achievements were
known throughout Central Europe."
One of the descendants from this line was Richard's paternal grandmother,
Babette Oberländer. Babette owned a locket which contains some of the earliest
photographs of the Morawetz ancestors.
Click here to see Babette Oberländer's locket.
On the Glaser side, a family bible was used for many generations to document
each new descendant of the Glaser family. The "Glaser bible" is a beautiful,
huge book illustrated by the famous French artist Gustav Dore. It was published
originally in French and Frida's grandfather Joseph Dub wrote a German
dedication to his "dear grandchildren" on Dec, 24 1897. It is curious that this
Jewish bible seems to have been a Christmas present!
Frida's brother Harry had his great-uncle Joseph Glaser, who lived until the
age of 102, dictate to him the family genealogy. It was an amazing feat, since
there are six generations documented in the Bible, and a large number of names,
although no dates. Pinchas Glaser, the earliest noted Glaser ancestor, came from
Bavaria (Bayern) towards the end of the 17th century.
Frida's son, Herbert, used to admire the more than 100 beautiful pictures when he
visited his Glaser grandparents and after the war, he wondered what had become
of the bible. Since his cousin Peter is the eldest son of his eldest uncle, and
it seemed natural that he might have inherited the bible, he asked Peter about
it. Peter knew nothing of its whereabouts, but finally he discovered that the
bible was in a locked suitcase in his father Paul Glaser's office. Herbert
purchased the bible from Peter, had the binding repaired and continues to
enter into it the names of his grandparents' descendents.
(1) Quisling: derives from Vidkun
Quisling (1887-1945), a Norwegian politician who collaborated with the Nazis
during World War II. He established his name as a synonym for "traitor", someone
who collaborates with the invaders of his country, especially by serving in a