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Family Writings


Morawetz home from 1920-1924

Joseph Čapek,
Mrs. Čapek,
Karl Čapek,
Helena Čapek

In 1920, although the summers were still spent in Světlá, the Morawetz family moved to Úpice where their eldest son Herbert started school. Úpice was a typical "mill town" of 6000 people in the foothills of the Sudeten mountains. Morawetz' father, Richard, bought a house from the Čapek family. Dr. Čapek was the family physician, and his youngest son, Karl Čapek, eventually became a famous playwright. He wrote the play, RUR (Rossum's Universal Robots), in which he coined the term "robot", an abbreviation of the word "robota" which means "hard labour" in Czech. The term "robot" is used all over the world today to signify a machine that accomplishes human work.

At this time, Richard Morawetz owned the jute manufacturing company in Úpice jointly with his brother Moritz. Every morning Moritz would come to pick Richard up to go to the factory, and would tease Richard's young sons by threatening that he was coming to take their little sister away. This was repeated every day, and the boys never caught on that he was joking: they would hurl insults at him daily as he departed with Richard!

Morawetz home from 1924-1927
Photo: 1973

In 1924, the Morawetz family moved into a home that had been built by Moritz, and lived there until their move to Prague in 1927.

School Morawetz attended
from 1923-1927
Photo: 1973

Morawetz started school in 1923. School was never a pleasant experience for him. The classes were huge - perhaps 60 or 70 boys - and as the school did not hesitate to fail even a first grader who didn't "make the grade", there were often many older and much bigger children in the same class as youngsters. This terrified Morawetz. Furthermore, he was Jewish, and most of the students at the school were Christian. Moreover, Morawetz came from a wealthy family and was always well-dressed. He felt sometimes embarrassed that he must wear shoes to school, while most of his schoolmates were the children of poor factory workers, who came barefoot.

Furthermore, unlike today in North America, where disciplinary action is taken against unacceptable practices, teachers in Europe in the early part of the 20th century could run their classroom completely unchecked by any authority. Morawetz recalls a history teacher who would enter the class, sit down at his desk, open the textbook and begin to read. There was a long silence while he read, and then suddenly he would pick one child and say: "and what happened next?" Similar ludicrous examples endured all through Morawetz' early school years.

When not at school, Morawetz had plenty of hobbies to occupy himself. One of these hobbies was similar to the modern-day mechano toy where one constructs large, complex edifices. In his memoirs, Morawetz' brother Herbert describes his patience with these exploits, and how he could be so single-minded with projects that interested him, and yet so unaware of the world around him, which no doubt led Morawetz, in later years, being labelled "the absent-minded professor":

Oskar was always an amazingly single-minded child. Before music became his all-consuming interest, he spent countless hours and days building huge intricate structures from toy sets which he obtained as birthday and Christmas gifts for many years. In the end he owned over thirty such sets containing many thousand pieces. He went about his projects in a very methodical way, building first structures for which plans were enclosed and drawing up later plans of his own. The size of these enterprises was such that it took him in the end a whole afternoon just to take a building apart. He did this with infinite patience and was very upset when any of the stones were damaged.

Later, when music became his great passion, he developed a particular love for opera and spent quite often a whole Sunday afternoon playing a piano extract of an opera from beginning to end. Friends of our parents kept insisting that this is a poor way to develop good musicianship, but Oskar hated to have his favourite pastime interfered with. He also started to read orchestral scores when he was quite young, something which to me was just so much black magic. My attitude to him was a reflection of the strange contrasts in his nature. On the one hand, I saw him frequently as in a trance at the piano and was convinced that he had the makings of a great artist. The sound of his playing was a part of the atmosphere of Světlá summers which were very dear to me. When Oskar talked to me about the lives of his favourite composers, he seemed full of a deep understanding. But on the other hand he was unbelievably naive in subjects related to everyday living and this led sometimes to situations which I found most embarrassing. When I was about ten years old, Oskar and I went on an excursion with a gymnastic organization to which we belonged. One of the boys asked Oskar what kind of job his father had. "Oh, he just beats people in the factory to make them work" was his reply. I felt so ashamed that I could have sunk into the ground.

On Nov. 17, 1925, Morawetz' maternal grandfather attained the age of 70 years. There was a great birthday celebration for him, and many members of the family provided entertainment in the form of original songs and poems. This celebration was no doubt one of the seeds of the tradition of holding large family gatherings, filled with good food and entertainment, which the Morawetz clan adapted for many years after immigrating to Canada.

Adolph and Hedwig Glaser with their 7 children and spouses
Back row: Richard Morawetz, Alfred Glaser, Rudolf Glaser
Middle row: Paul Glaser, Jetti (Glaser) Stein, Oswald Stein, Mitzi (Glaser) Bondy, Herbert Bondy, Harry Glaser, Annie Glaser
Front row: Vilma Glaser, Frida (Glaser) Morawetz, Hedwig Glaser, Adolph Glaser, Eli Glaser