Of all the places in the world to live, what draws people to the City of Trail?
For our Canada Day feature, the Trail Times sat down with newcomers (by Trail standards) Eugen and Ellen Solomon. The devoted couple moved to their West Trail home from Vancouver after they married 11 years ago. The question is, why did they pick Trail to retire?
Turns out the city’s rich culture and warm reception has a far reach – in Eugen’s case, as far as Europe during a national revolt between the Hungarian people and the government’s Soviet-imposed policies.
First we have to back track to his journey from Oradea, Romania (part of Hungary until 1920) until he met Ellen at a London Drugs in Coquitlam back in 2004. Ellen originally hails from the Philippines and also has quite a tale, but that comes later.
Their stories exemplify the ardent personalities who make up this country – a good reminder in Canada’s 149th year and time of trepidation about immigration. And it’s a good reminder on Canada Day in Trail, immigrants from all over the world are the people who built this city and keep our community united, today.
“I am Hungarian Jewish,” began Eugen, who is fluent in three languages and still speaks with a thick Hungarian accent. “I am half Jewish by birth, my father was Jewish and my mother, Hungarian Christian.”
He was born into a family that worked the land together, growing grapes, making wine, and running a neighbourhood mercantile – Oradea is nestled in the mountainous region of western Romania, known historically as a vibrant centre of economy and culture.
That all changed shortly after 1939, the year Eugen was born.
Germany declared war on Europe. Though it was another four years before German forces occupied Hungary, Romania allied itself with Nazi Germany in 1940, only to be invaded by its “ally” as part of Hitler’s strategy to create one large eastern front against the Soviet Union.
“(During) this time, my mom helped my father,” explained Eugen. “In this one location they had many wine (vats), 100 and 200 litres. They took soil to cover the rooms (that contained the wine vats) and they had one big wine room in the back,” he shared. “Behind that door they (hid) 12 Jewish people including my father.”
Then came the family’s darkest moment. The refuge was discovered by a German family in 1944, the land seized and Eugen’s father was turned over to the Nazis.
“They transport (him) from Oradea on train to Auschwitz.”
But his father’s story doesn’t end there.
Russian soldiers went after the train and were able to stop the last eight cars – Eugen’s father was in one of them.
“The rest, everyone else gone,” he said, quietly. “Including my grandmother, grandfather, my father’s family – everybody died in Auschwitz.”
Following the war, the Solomon family worked hard to put their lives back together, once again operating a neighbourhood grocery business.
“Every time poor people would come and speak to Mr. Solomon,” Eugen reminisced. “They would say ‘I have no money, two weeks I will come back to pay.’ And every time my father would help and have them sign their name, then give them bread and sugar for example.”
He recalled a day his father gathered the family around their kitchen table.
“My father and mother had many years of education,” Eugen said. “And this one day, he said we have a good life and it’s very important to help (other people).”
But the Solomon lives were brutally interrupted again by the rising of the Romanian Communist Party.
“This was a terrible situation, Ceaușescu (Nicolae Ceaușescu, a Romanian Communist politician) killed everything,” he said. “Every Jewish businesses was closed and given to the wives of Romanian working officers. Terrible.”
That is when Eugen packed his belongings and immigrated to southern Italy. He worked as a baker and chef and sent money home to his family – his father, mother and sister never left Romania.
In Naples his culinary talents flourished as his passion for the Italian people grew.
“Working in Italia was very good, very good Italian people,” he said. “And Italia<span class="Apple-conver