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Světlá nad Sázavou

In 1914, Morawetz' father Richard decided to make an investment in agriculture. He bought an estate of approximately ten farms in the village of Světlá nad Sázavou (which literally means Světlá on the Sázava river), a rural town of 2000 people. The ten farms comprised about 5000 acres of farmland and 5000 acres of forest. During the land reforms after the war in 1918, farms were split up and Richard was compensated for nine of the ten farms he lost, but still retained one farm which he eventually hired someone else to manage in 1930. This estate also included an old castle surrounded by forty acres of parkland. This was not Richard's primary interest, but it soon became a summer residence for the Morawetz family.
Click here to read about the history of the castle in Světlá.

The castle had over seventy rooms, of which less than half were furnished. Most of the castle was not lived in, and the part that was had no central heating. Thus in the winter, when temperatures dropped as low as -20şC, it could be quite cold as the massive stone walls would never heat up properly. Nevertheless, during the war and a few years afterwards, the Morawetz family lived there full-time. Only after 1920 was the castle used only as a summer residence.

Frida with
newborn Oskar

Oskar with father, Richard

It was on one of those bitterly cold nights, on the 17th of January, 1917, that Oskar Morawetz was born in the castle in Světlá to his parents, Richard and Frida (née Glaser) Morawetz. Oskar was the second of four children, which included his older brother Herbert, younger brother John and sister Sonja.

Copy of Birth Certificate of Oskar Morawetz
(Obtained in 1991)

The castle in Světlá was a place of many fond memories for the Morawetz family. There were many rooms to explore, expansive grounds to wander in, and a lake with a gazebo, where the children could swim. Often uncles, aunts and cousins would be invited to Světlá, which cultivated the closeness of the extended family.

Glaser cousins

back: Victor, Walter, Oskar, John, Herbert
front: Eva, Sasha, Sonja

Glaser cousins dressed as opposite sex

Sonja, John, Renate, Oskar, Anna-Marie, Eva

Oskar, the prankster

Frida with sons Herbert, John
and Oskar, 1919

Světlá was also a place where Morawetz had boundless opportunities to put his practical jokes into action. Of the four children, Oskar was the "big tease". Often he would come up with some trick to play on someone, but be too timid to execute the prank. Then he would coerce his younger brother, John, to put his plan into action.

Once Oskar read an advertisement for office furniture which asked: "Is you chair too low? Is your lamp not bright enough? Is your desk too small? Call us today." Oskar rehearsed John, who phoned and declared: "My chair is too low, my lamp is too dim, and my desk is too small". The person on the other end asked: "And so what can I do for you?", to which John was coached to reply: "Nothing. But your advertisement tells me to call you, and so I did."

Herbert, John, Oskar with doberman dog, Ivo, 1920

Oskar's mother often held bridge parties which were a serious affair. Each player studiously kept track of the trump cards and any high cards that were played, and the score was methodically noted. Oskar wanted to test how meticulously his mother and her partners really kept track of cards, and decided to put them to the test. One day before the guests arrived, Oskar went to the table where the two decks of cards were set out, and removed two 2's and two 3's from one of the two decks. He then watched with glee as the game proceeded and no-one seemed to notice that one less round was played when the sabotaged deck of cards was used. Occasionally one of the adults would comment about how they must have miscounted the trumps, but no-one thought to count to see if there were indeed thirteen tricks at the end of each round. Fearing his mother's wrath, Oskar didn't tell her about this prank until many years later.

Occasionally guests were the target of Oskar's jokes. Once when some overnight guests were invited to stay in Světlá, Oskar prepared their room by tying strings to the legs of the chairs, and running the strings under the door. When the guests retired for the night, he slowly pulled on the strings and the chairs mysteriously moved about the room by themselves. Presumably Oskar hoped the guests would think there were ghosts, and that the castle was haunted!

Richard with sons Herbert,
John and Oskar

One constant target of Oskar's pranks was his younger sister, Sonja. She used to practise on the upright piano that was in the boys' bedroom. Oskar would let Sonja start her piece, and then after a while, he would start to sing along. But then he would sing faster and faster, and Sonja just couldn't keep up. Finally she would just give up practising in frustration.

Sonja had a large doll collection, but generally preferred to play with her older brothers. Oskar used to reproach her for not playing with all her dolls, and just leaving them alone in the cupboard. He warned her that they were all going to cry if she did not play with them. One day Oskar led Sonja to the cupboard, and Sonja found the cupboard flooded. Oskar triumphantly declared: "You see, I told you they would cry if you didn't play with them!". In fact, Oskar had flooded the shelves himself with water!

When Oskar was young, there were frequent fights with his elder brother Herbert. On an almost daily basis, he would bait Herbert, calling him idiot, brute,... until Herbert got so angry he would try to hit Oskar. At this point, Oskar would lie on the floor kicking in all directions so that Herbert could not get at him. One day when Herbert came home from school, Oskar was whispering a secret, and Herbert demanded to know what the secret was. When Oskar gave nothing away, Herbert beat him up. Oskar cried and said how unfair Herbert was, as his secret had been a birthday present for Herbert. Then to punish him, Oskar wrapped the gift in 10 boxes which Herbert had to unwrap layer by layer only to find a pair of toy spectacles with coloured celluloid "glasses".

Oskar, Herbert, Sonja, John

One summer, the children's uncle Leo came to visit from the United States and gave them a puppet theatre. Oskar and John loved putting on puppet shows, and Sonja was an accommodating audience. The two boys, who had a great imagination, would just make up stories to act out with their puppets. Whenever they ran out of ideas, the character they were manipulating would declare "I have to go to the washroom", and would leave the stage while the boys invented what would happen next. Their mother, Frida, observing these regular theatrical presentations, thought they would have more fun staging a real play. So one day she brought the boys the script for a play. The boys dutifully read the lines and put on the show for their little sister Sonja. Unfortunately, some pages were missing from the middle of the book, but the boys continued to the end, not having the slightest idea what the play was about. However, not wanting to appear unintelligent, they asked little Sonja after the show: "Did you understand the play?" Sonja admitted she did not, to which Oskar replied: "That's because you are stupid!" Nevertheless, Oskar and John henceforth put on plays from their own imagination.


Herbert, Richard, Sonja, Frida, John and Oskar

Like most wealthy families, the Morawetz family employed a staff of servants, as well as two governesses to look after the children. Frida Morawetz never learned to cook herself until after she emigrated to Canada. However she had managed to save her own mother's cookbook, and soon became an outstanding cook. Her walnut cake and apricot dumplings are still famous among her grandchildren, and are often made today for Morawetz family gatherings. There was one governess for the three boys, and one for Sonja.

John, Herbert, Oskar, Mrs. Kober

In 1921, Mrs. Kober was hired as the first nanny for the boys. At first everyone raved about her and said she was like an "angel". But one day Frida came home and found her passed out on the stairs. She started to investigate and soon found that Mrs. Kober had been stealing things and sending them home to her family. Once it was noticed that some money had disappeared, and the nanny brought some torn up bills, blaming the loss and destruction on John. However Frida did not believe her. Within a year of her arrival, she was dismissed.

In the summer of 1922, the children's older cousin Frank came dressed as the new governess. He endeared himself to the boys by telling them that he had attended a school to study butterflies! The children shared their father's love of nature, and collected caterpillars which they fed and nurtured, hoping to eventually watch them turn into butterflies. The boys couldn't figure out why everyone was laughing and taking so many photographs of this new nanny, but soon the truth was revealed, and the search began for another governess.

Herbert, Miss Laimer, Oskar, John

Miss Rosalie Laimer (Leulinka to the children) was by far the most successful in a long string of governesses, and stayed with the family until 1929. She had had an illegitimate son who came to visit occasionally, and who she claimed was the son of a dead sister. Miss Laimer was very intelligent and well-read. She was a devout Catholic and went to confession every day, probably to expiate the sin of having had an illegitimate child. It was her idea to make Judaism meaningful to the three boys, perhaps in the hope that they would become religious and eventually turn Catholic. Partial credit can perhaps be given to her for Morawetz' spirituality which is so evident in his compositions later in life. However, as his mother Frida was not religious, this caused friction with Miss Laimer. She eventually left the Morawetz household and joined a religious order.

Miss Znidarsic, a governess from Austria, sneered at her father because, she said contemptuously, he considered himself a Slovenian patriot. She made no secret of her admiration for Germany and was clearly impressed by the Nazi regime. The four children all disliked her and did their best to make their parents disapprove of her. One of her duties was to instruct the boys in English. Once, when two women visited from Northern Ireland, Miss Znidarsic thought this was her opportunity to show off her success as a teacher. At the dinner table Morawetz was asked to say something in English and, in a deliberate attempt to embarrass the governess, he took a glass in each hand and said, with a beatific smile: "One glass. Two glasses."

Another time, Miss Znidarsic was assigned to accompany the children on a skiing trip to Austria. The boys knew that their mother would expect regular reports from the governess, but they deliberately withheld this knowledge from their governess and she, to their delight, did not write a single letter during their absence. On their return, Frida met them at the train station and told Znidarsic off in no uncertain way. For that reason, as well as many others, Miss Znidarsic lasted less than a year.


John, Oskar, Herbert

In 1924, Frida's mother, Hedwig Glaser, celebrated her 60th birthday. For this occasion, Richard decided to write and produce a short movie, starring the members of his family. The basic plot-line is:

Everyone tries to figure out what to give granny for her birthday. Finally Frida decides to make a chocolate cake. When the cake is complete, she sets it on the table where a short while later, her son John discovers it. He takes a little bite, then eats more, and soon coerces Oskar to join him in the feast. When Sonja arrives on the scene, she gets chocolate smeared all over her. In the end, after the boys confess to their father what they have done, Frida is comforted by Richard, and the family dog consumes what is left.

Though movie-making was still in its infancy, Richard proceeded to make the almost 20-minute silent movie on 35mm film. He became exasperated when the film was ruined half the time because of some mechanical malfunction in the camera. Nonetheless, the film was finally completed.

Amazingly this film is still in the possession of the family today. In 1957, during a visit to Czechoslovakia, Herbert expressed to Jan Kábrt, a very devoted secretary of Richard Morawetz, how it was a pity that the movies made by his father were lost. Mr. Kábrt told him that the 1924 movie about the chocolate cake did still exist, but he was afraid to tell Herbert where it was being kept. After much reassurance that Herbert would use the information cautiously, Mr. Kábrt told him that it was in the safe of the factory in Úpice. Later Herbert attended a party in attendance by some important Czech dignitaries, where he casually mentioned that there may be some family mementos that could not possibly be of any interest to anyone but the family, and wondered if these souvenirs could be released to him. A couple years passed, and one day a member of the Czechoslovak Mission to the United Nations showed up at Herbert's home in America and handed him the movie.

In Canada, there was no way to play a 35mm film. In the 1990s, John Morawetz' son-in-law Ted, who was in the film and video business, attempted to have the film copied to video. However, upon seeing the film, no video company would touch it, and advised Ted that the film shouldn't even be stored in one's house as it was made of a highly flammable material and would probably void one's house insurance! Finally the film was donated to the archives in the National Library in Ottawa, who agreed to make one copy for the family. From this copy, Ted edited an introduction where John explains about the making of the movie, and also translates the sub-titles that appear in the movie. A copy of this video was distributed to members of the family, and is now a family treasure recalling those early years in Světlá.

From 35mm film to VHS to digital, the movie can now be viewed here:



In the early 1930s, Richard decided to write and produce another movie in Světlá. The story was about a woman who had visited Světlá and had upset all the women by flirting will all male members of the family. Morawetz' cousin Frank, the perpetual comedian, plays the woman who is wooed by several suitors, all played by Morawetz' uncle Paul Glaser.

Although this movie has been lost, pictures taken during the filming of the movie still survive:

Frank Morawetz as the love struck woman, arriving in Světlá

The woman (Frank) arriving in the carriage

The woman (Frank) greeted by Richard and Frida

The woman (Frank) arrived in Světlá

Love struck woman at the window

A suitor (Paul) wooing the woman (Frank)

A suitor (Paul Glaser) serenading the woman (Frank)

A troubadour (Paul) wooing the woman (Frank)

Paul, the troubadour

Aerial view of estate in Světlá.

Front of castle

Morawetz and his brother John were born in the room behind the windows with the arches.

Walkway to rear of castle

Lake and gazebo adjoining castle.

Devil's Bridge

This bridge was so named because it had very steep steps leading up on one side.

Courtyard in centre of castle

The centre windows belong to the Great Hall in which Morawetz practised the piano when he was young.

The room here was known as the "second" Great Hall.

Rooms in castle:

Morawetz rarely played on this piano, which was a valuable piano from the time of Mozart.

Great Hall

Morawetz did most of his early piano playing on the piano in this room.

Ceiling in the "second" Great Hall


Intricate doors:

The 2nd door led to the bedroom shared by Morawetz and his brother John.

The doors contained wood and inlaid ivory depicting scenes from the Bible.

Sculpture made by Morawetz' mother, Frida