The End of The Golden Horned Bull
It is said that history repeats itself, and in our family that has certainly been true. Although life under Hapsburg control had its serious shortcomings, one branch of my family in that period enjoyed a life largely of comfort and prestige. The formation of Czechoslovakia would change all of that.
A tall, rather serious looking young man named Michal Suster (my paternal great grandfather) left home to go to school along with his younger sister Karolina in Dolny Kubin, in what is now Slovakia. Michal and Karolina were two of the eight Slovak children of Stefan and Julia (Pintir) Suster in Pivnice, Yugoslavia. I found it curious that both went away to school at such a young age, especially for Karolina; she was one of the first Slovak women ever to graduate from school.
They attended Viššia obchodna škola (business school) and after graduating, Michal was in army school for reserve officers. During WWI he was a First Lieutenant for the Austro Hungarian Army, stationed in Timisoara, Romania.
While in school, Michal met and fell in love with Marisa Andel, the beautiful young daughter of a wealthy landowner, and they married right before the beginning of WWI in 1913. The Andel family had two other daughters as well, Illona and Gita. The Andels lived on a beautiful estate in Dolny Kubin, and their father was often seen riding his white stallion around the perimeter of the property.
When Marisa married Michal, she was given a dowry of ½ million dinars, a handsome sum at the time. Marisa and Michal settled a few hours south of Dolny Kubin back near the Suster family in Pivnice, where they bought a large farm and would eventually build a hops processing plant. Marisa and Michal soon had two children, Jaroslav (my grandfather “Jerry”), born during the war in 1915 and Igor three years later, a month after the end of WWI.
I remember how difficult it was to raise a small child when my husband, Nick was in the US Navy and gone for months at a time, and I imagine that Marisa, 22 at the time of Jaro’s birth, did not have it easy on the farm alone with the baby while Michal was away at war. My son Will was born in late summer 1992 and soon after, Nick was on the USS Saipan, deployed in the Mediterranean for 6 months at a time. Even when Nick was not out at sea, his work hours were atrocious; during Desert Storm he would be gone from 5 in the morning, returning after midnight each night, night after night, week after week. For all intents and purposes I was a single parent, setting my own routine with Will and work. My days started early too, with full time work and a small business on the side. And with Nick unavailable, I was responsible for everything related to the house and the cars, from fixing a burned out pilot light in the furnace to cleaning up after a tornado.
Life as a military wife away from my family was not only exhausting, it was lonely too; Nick missed the firsts –first step and first word, and it was somewhat bittersweet to experience these events alone. I assume Marisa’s life alone on the farm away from her parents and sisters would have been equally tiring, challenging and lonesome.
Marisa and her sisters had lived a fairytale life of leisure provided by substantial family wealth. The Andels (Slovak for Angel is Anjel, and Andel is a derivative of it) were a family of lower nobility, descendants of Jan Andel, a Vladyka in the 1600s, the equivalent of a Duke. Since at least the fourteenth century the knighted Andels had been wealthy landowners, luxuriating on expansive property – land, castles, manor houses – throughout what is now Slovakia and the Czech Republic, and what was then known as the Hapsburg Empire.
The remains of over 150 stunning castles, fortresses and manor houses still exist throughout Slovakia, a country geographically smaller in size than the state of Virginia. One of the most fascinating is Oravsky Castle near Dolny Kubin, near where the Andel family lived. The Andel family coat of arms featured a black bull with gold horns and hooves, and can be seen on some of the castles today.
In 1919, Czechoslovakia established the Land Control Act. The purpose of the Land Act was to reallocate wealth in the new country by expropriating it from the rich and the nobility such as the Andels. My great, great grandfather and his family lost nearly everything – their property in Dolny Kubin was handed over to the government, and they were left with but a small sum of money as compensation. When the communists came into power, they built hideous apartment buildings on the property, eyesores to this day. All that I know of that is left today of the Andel family’s fortune is a pair of black emerald earrings and a necklace, handed down to daughter-in-law Pauline, and then later to her daughter Lily.
And so goes the story of our extended family. Sacrifices are made, fortunes are inherited or earned, and then lost either through poor management or more often, expropriated by the government, dishonest business partners or greedy investors. The Andel family misfortune has repeated itself over and over in the past 100 years, across generations and continents.