Grandmother, businesswoman, world traveller, survivor. Born on Dec. 1, 1918, in Kaposvar, Hungary; died on Jan. 9, 2014, in Vancouver, of pneumonia following complications from a fall, aged 95.
Frances was born Franceska Anna Schon in Kaposvar, Hungary, just three weeks after the armistice that ended the First World War. Her parents ran a general store and she had a comfortable middle-class Jewish upbringing, attending school and studying ballet and piano. She was very close to her brother Istvan, who was five years her senior and an accomplished musician.
In her late teens, the family moved to Budapest where she trained as an aesthetician. She had an active social life and met George Hajduska, whom she married in 1942. In Hungary the removal of Jews came later than in some countries, but eventually the Nazis came. George was sent to Russia with a forced labour battalion. Frances was captured with her mother at a railway station in 1944 and sent first to Auschwitz and later to the Parschnitz camp in Czechoslovakia.
Frances was one of the “lucky” few to survive Auschwitz. She spoke German and, because of her skills as an aesthetician, was protected by one of the female camp officers. After liberation she reunited in Budapest with George, who had walked home from Russia. Others were not so fortunate: Frances’s mother and brother, and most members of both Frances and George’s extended families, died in the Holocaust.
In 1949, the couple left Hungary with their infant daughter and after stops in Israel, Spain and France, immigrated to Canada in 1951. George was an engineer specializing in shoe manufacturing, and they established a new life in Quebec’s Eastern Townships and later in Montreal. Their family name was anglicized to Hoyd.
The 1956 Hungarian Revolution brought a new wave of refugees from their homeland to Canada, and Frances was active with the Red Cross to help newcomers settle. She worked at a manufacturing company, eventually becoming office manager, and used her connections to help other immigrants find jobs.
George never completely recovered his health after the war and he died suddenly in 1961. Frances raised their daughter Marianne as a single working mother from the age of 42. Although she had some close gentlemen friends in later years, she always considered herself a widow.
In 1973, Frances visited Sydney, Australia, at the invitation of old friends from Hungary; taken by the warm climate, in contrast to a Montreal winter, she decided to move there. She enjoyed taking cruises and even lived in Tahiti for several months. In 1985, Marianne and husband John, who had also been living in Australia, moved back to Canada. A year later, Frances returned, too, settling in Vancouver. She was delighted to become Nana with the birth of grandson Joshua in 1988, and to be able to participate in his bar mitzvah in 2001.
In her later years Frances was active in the Vancouver Jewish Community Centre, serving on the board and taking part in education programs for the Vancouver Holocaust Centre. There she became involved in the Gesher Project, which brought together Holocaust survivors and their children to talk, write and paint about their experiences. Many participants considered her the “Mama,” as she often helped them make sense of their experiences through conversations they found difficult to have with their own families. Those conversations helped her, too, and she became close friends with several members. The group’s artwork was exhibited in Vancouver and then went on a 10-city tour of Canada and to the United States.
While her experience of the Holocaust and the loss of so many family members clearly shaped the arc of her life, she did not allow those events to define it. As one friend put it, “She was able to see flowers, even in the darkness.”
Marianne Hoyd is Frances’s daughter; John Wood is her son-in-law.