Czeizler Rose Visontay

VisontayTitle: Boutique
Author: Czeizler Rose Visontay
Publisher: Self Published
Place of publication: Sydney
Year of Publication: 1976
Location of Book: Rare Books Collection, Sir Louis Matheson Library, Monash University Clayton Campus
Cities/town/camps: Hungary: BudapestDebrecenFrance: Paris, Austria: Florisdorf, Vienna
Note: those cities/towns/camps underlined are those which are most central to the narrative

Boutique is the life story of Czeizler Rose Visontay. Pages 1-146 portray her life pre-1944 in Debrecen, Paris and Budapest, while pages 147-172 describe the German occupation of Debrecen. Pages 173-199 tell of Rose’s time in Florisdorf and Vienna, while pages 200-230 describe her escape from a prisoner march and her concealment in small villages. Pages 231-274 tell of Rose’s return home after liberation while the remainder of the book, pages 275-348, describes her new life in Australia. Rose wrote the book for her grandchildren, dedicating it to her daughter who died three years before Rose wrote her autobiography. It was originally written in Hungarian and translated into English, before being published privately in 1976.

Born in Hungary, one of the daughters of a school headmaster, Rose grew up in the town of Debrecen. Her career in the fashion trade began at an early age and in Paris in the 1920’s she perfected her skills as a dressmaker. Rose returned to her hometown where she married and had her only child, a daughter. In Debrecen and Budapest Rose established fashion salons which serviced an eclectic, sometimes celebrity, clientele.
After the Germans’ entry in to Hungary in 1944, Rose and her family were expelled from their home and confined to a ghetto. Rose had opportunities to escape, but chose instead to keep her family together. They were eventually placed on cattle cars and sent to Florisdorf to work as forced labourers. Rose was somewhat fortunate in that because companies had paid $10 a head for the labourers, they made some effort to keep the prisoners healthy.

As it was an industrial area, Florisdorf came under heavy Allied bombing. Rose worked helping to repair houses in Vienna. She was fortunate enough to encounter many Viennese who sympathised with the Jews as well as clients who provided her with private dressmaking jobs. In around February 1945 the camp was evacuated and the prisoners were marched away from the approaching Russian front. Rose and her family managed to escape the march and hide out in nearby villages. They were discovered by a Gestapo officer, but managed to sway his sympathies enough that he did not arrest them. Rose discovered later that 200 people from the march which she had abandoned were executed in the forest.

After weeks in hiding, Rose learnt of the end of the war from an excited German soldier who asked for water to bathe in before he went home for tea with his mother. Rose marvelled at this strange juxtaposition of merciless killer and devoted ‘mummy’s boy.’ The end of the war, however, did not signal the end of Rose’s travails. An attractive woman with an attractive daughter, Rose narrowly managed to avoid unwanted encounters with Russian soldiers. After a long journey by foot, cart and train, Rose returned to Budapest only to find that her house had been destroyed. Rose managed to reclaim and successfully re-establish her fashion salons, but when her daughter moved to Australia, Rose and her husband followed accordingly in 1951.

The appreciation of beauty, which led Czeizler Rose Visontay to become a successful dressmaker and artist, is a theme that runs the length of the book. Visontay’s story is heart-warmingly told, avoids discussion of wider historical events but instead focuses on the personal experiences of a devoted wife and mother.