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.
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.
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
(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"!
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.
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.
On his return, Morawetz' father persuaded him to enrol in a university forestry
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.