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Prague


Sonja, John,
Oskar, Herbert

In 1927, Morawetz' father moved his family to Prague to ensure that his children could get a proper high school education (in Europe, children entered high school, or the "Gymnasium", at the age of 10, and graduated eight years later). As Úpice was a very small town, it did not have a high school.

The move to Prague was a huge relief for Morawetz' mother who had grown up in the big city and missed it fiercely during the early years of her marriage when they were living in Světlá and then later Úpice. She decided against a house in an outlying district, and so the family moved into an apartment in the middle of town, close to theatres, coffee houses, relatives and friends, and a short walk to her husband's office.

 

High School


Class picture from high school, 1929.

Morawetz is back row, left. Latin professor František Doucha, front centre, was one of the few professors Morawetz liked, perhaps because he was interested in music.


High school in Prague attended by Morawetz from 1927-1935.
Photo: 1976

Morawetz' high school experience was not much more successful than his school years in Úpice. By this time, he was studying piano and theory at the Prague Conservatoire, and was much more interested in music than in school. Quite often, instead of listening to what the professor had to say, he would be reading a musical score hidden under his desk. He was not a strong student, particularly in math, and a tutor was hired to coach him all through high school. The professor who really had it in for him was the one who taught history and geography. No matter how hard he studied, he always got poor marks in these two subjects (including in his graduation certificate). Though it was clearly not his fault, it dearly upset him.


Morawetz (front, left, in striped jacket)
on school trip with Prof. Doucha
(front, 3rd from left).
Photo: circa 1935

However, although the schoolwork may not have held his attention, the banalities of the teachers and the pranks of some of the students did. Morawetz was a great observer of the absurdities of fellow humanity. He would study the behaviours of individuals at school and then entertain the family by making imitations of them. He recalls one teacher who wanted to demonstrate his control over his class, and mumbling into his beard, warned one misbehaving student: "If you do that again, then I will make a mark in my book." Then raising his voice a little more he continued: "And if you do it again, then I will make a second mark in my book." As Morawetz imitated this teacher, he raised his voice, and shook his finger continuing: "And if you do that again, well, then I will, I will,...  well, I will make a THIRD mark in my book"!

 

     
Oskar's High School Certificate (with final grades)
Vysvědčení dospělosti (literally translated means Certificate of Adulthood)

 


Morawetz, far left on ski holiday
Brothers John and Herbert in front

Although Morawetz' parents did not ski, they sent their four children for a ski holiday almost every Christmas and Easter break, and occasionally the February mid-term break. They were generally accompanied by a governess or some friend of the family. They skied in the "Giant Mountains" in Bohemia (so-named, not because they were necessarily so large, but they were the largest hills in Bohemia), in Slovakia, and in Kitzbuhel in Austria. Skiing was exhausting, as there were no ski lifts, and so one spent most of the time climbing hills. Morawetz was never a very keen skier. On a ski trip in Semmering, Austria, Morawetz fell and injured his thumb. He blames this accident for never being able to have the hand-reach needed to become a concert pianist, although this is clearly not the case, as Morawetz has naturally always had rather small hands.


Bar mitzvah

Although Morawetz and his family were all Jewish, none of the family was particularly religious. In fact, Morawetz' family celebrated Christmas every year, more because it was a national rather than a religious holiday. The celebration began on Dec. 6, "St. Nicholas Day", when St. Nick was supposed to come with an angel and a devil; the former brought candy for those who were good, and the latter delivered coal to those who were bad. Morawetz' older cousin Frank used to come dressed as St. Nicholas, and got away with it for a few years until the older boys noticed that "St. Nick" was wearing Frank's shoes!

Christmas was celebrated on December 24, and the family began their traditional evening meal with fish soup, lit the candles on a large Christmas tree, and then opened presents from their parents and uncles and aunts. This tradition continued even when Morawetz' family emigrated to Canada, and for many years after Morawetz' father had died, his mother hosted a traditional Dec. 24 celebration with her children, their spouses and her grandchildren.

Morawetz' father was not at all religious, and never set foot in a synagogue until he arrived in Canada. However, because of the anti-Semitism in Canada during and after the war, he wanted to make a statement, and started attending the synagogue on the high holidays. He also used these occasions during the war to think about and pray for his sister Elsa and sister-in-law Alice who had been afraid to leave Europe, and whose fate was unknown at the time. They perished in a concentration camp along with other Morawetz relatives.


Adolph Glaser's synagogue bench

Though Morawetz' mother was not brought up to be religious, her father, Adolph Glaser, used to attend the synagogue every week as an elder of the synagogue, where he sat in a special bench reserved for him. Although he practised very little Jewish rituals in his private life, the crowning glory of his life was his election to "mayor of the Jewish City of Prague". Although this was mostly an honorary title, it was linked strongly to the ancient Prague Ghetto, a community which had existed for a thousand years. It was Adolph Glaser who encouraged Morawetz and his two brothers to study for the bar mitzvah.


Synagogue where Morawetz had Bar Mitzvah

When Morawetz was attending school, religious instruction was part of the school curriculum. However, because the dominant school religion was Roman Catholic, the Jewish children were excused from this class, and instead were taught by a rabbi. For one hour a week, they would learn such things as Jewish history and the Hebrew alphabet. Then for six weeks before the "bar", the boys were taught to read a passage from the Bible in Hebrew, although they never understood what they were reading. All three boys eventually had their bar mitzvah. However, Adolph Glaser unfortunately died before witnessing any of them.

Forestry and Faith

In 1935 after graduating from high school, Morawetz had a severe nervous breakdown. He could not stop crying, and claimed that he never wanted to play the piano again. His worried parents took him to Vienna to see a psychiatrist who worked with him for many weeks and finally got him over to overcome his depression.


Morawetz with
dog, "Pal"

On his return, Morawetz' father persuaded him to enrol in a university forestry program. Although Morawetz wanted to pursue a career in music, he did not question his father. In fact, Morawetz was extremely devoted to his father and had unbounded faith in his judgement. Unlike his siblings who may have reflected on a request of their father's before acting upon it, Morawetz always obeyed immediately. Although his father may have been harder on him than his other children, possibly because he was not such a good student, Morawetz had infinite love and respect for him. He always consulted him about any major decision, and even after his father died, Morawetz honoured his memory, and visited his gravestone every year on the anniversary of his death.

It was because of this profound devotion to his father that Morawetz set out unquestioningly to follow a career as a forester. The plan was that Herbert would manage the factory in Úpice while Morawetz would be in charge of the estate in Světlá. In the opinion of a middle class family, music was a nice past-time, but not a profession. But eventually his father had to acknowledge that music was Morawetz' true calling. His stance may have changed slightly in a discussion with a prominent banker friend just as war was looming. The banker expressed his disapproval that Richard Morawetz' son was so clearly interested in being a musician, to which Richard, defending his son, replied: "who knows? Considering the international situation, you may not end your days as a banker nor I as a manufacturer. At least Oskar will always be able to make a living even if it is only playing the piano in a restaurant or a nightclub."

As anti-Semitism was on the rise, and life was becoming more difficult for Jews, Morawetz' father thought it would be a good idea for Morawetz to get out of Czechoslovakia, and go to Vienna to study music.