I never expected to see a picture of Iszo.
He was the 1 sibling out of 10 to not have a family of his own, and my cousin Franzi wrote to me once that he “somehow did not fit in,” “that he was mentally sick and treatable” by today’s standards. He was the survivor of a set of twins — his sister Rosa** died as a baby or young child — which could have caused some kind of birth trauma, but the actual reasons for Iszo’s different-ness are unknown to me. He was an itinerant shoe repairman, quite odd in a family of upwardly mobile merchants and businessmen. He would rotate having meals at different siblings’ homes each week, and in that way they could take care of him at least a little bit. He was part of an early deportation of Jews from Vienna to the Opole ghetto in Poland, on February 26, 1941, perhaps because of his age and mental infirmity. Though Opole was not an extermination camp, the poor conditions meant that elderly and ill deportees did not live for long, and it is possible Iszo had already died before 1942, when transports to actual death camps began from places such as Opole.
So, I never expected to see a picture of Iszo. Though many of his generation of the family were killed during the Holocaust, many of their children survived, bringing family photographs with them to their new homes in North America, Brazil, and Israel. As an outsider, he seemed to me to be outside of the family circle of picture taking, a notion that was confirmed by his absence from the pictures my grandfather was able to bring with him to the United States. And I just assumed, therefore, that there were no pictures of this lost brother in anyone’s collections.
However, last month, I saw Iszo’s face. Camped out at a table in the cafe at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum with my cousin Susie, poring and talking over the family archive of my dreams, which her mother, Franzi, brought with her from Europe, I found a picture of Iszo. Young, dressed in some kind of military outfit with a knife by his side, the uncle Iszo who I thought was retarded and weird and scarred looks like his brothers, no hint of any demons in his head. Compared with the other military portraits of my family in this era (that of his little brother Deszö, for one), Iszo’s dress seems informal and void of insignia, so it is of course possible that this is not a military portrait at all, but something else entirely. Whatever it is, though, it gives me another clue to work with in trying to piece together Iszo and his life.
**Given names in the Bass family are sometimes confusing because it appears that many of the children actually had two completely different names. Leopold was Iszo’s legal name, while the family called his Isidor or Iszo; a younger sister went by the name Rosa while her birthname was Sali; my great-grandmother went by both Helene and Leonora, etc. In Jewish tradition, one is not supposed to name children after children or babies who have died, which makes the existence of Rosa-the-twin and Rosa/Sali a conundrum, but there you have it.