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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
Morawetz did most of his early piano playing on the piano in this room.
Ceiling in the "second" Great Hall
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.