Ladislaus (Lou) Bolchazy was born in Michalovce in eastern Slovakia in 1937. His father Eugene was born in the United States and returned to Slovakia with his parents when he was ten years old. Eugene was a carpenter, and he also farmed the Bölcsházy family’s plot of land. Lou’s mother Maria stayed at home raising him and his four brothers and sisters. In the fall of 1944, Lou and his family were evacuated to Liptovský Hrádok in north central Slovakia because of bombing raids on Michalovce. He says that the fighting seemed to follow them, as they were forced to evacuate from Liptovský Hrádok back to Michalovce the following spring. Lou remembers that his neighbors and relatives helped his family get back on their feet after returning home. In 1948, after the Communist coup, Lou’s father decided to move back to the United States. One year later, he had saved enough to send for his family; because he was an American citizen, the family had no trouble obtaining passports. Lou remembers being very excited about the journey to America, which took the family through Prague and Paris before embarking on a ship in Cherbourg, France. They arrived at Ellis Island in May 1949, where they were met by Lou’s father.
The Bolchazys settled in Yonkers, NY where their neighborhood was largely Slavic. Eugene took care of a church, meeting hall, and bowling alley while Maria found a job at a dress shop doing piecework. Lou went to Holy Trinity School until eighth grade, and he then attended Divine Word Seminary in Girard, Pennsylvania, with the intention of becoming a priest. He earned degrees in classics and philosophy before leaving the seminary in 1963. Lou found a job teaching high school at Sacred Heart in Yonkers and, in 1965, met his wife Marie; they were married in June the following year. He earned his master’s degree in classics in 1967 and completed his doctorate in the same subject in 1973. After a series of teaching jobs, Lou was offered a one year appointment at Loyola University in Chicago, and he and Marie moved to Oak Park, Illinois. Shortly after, he began Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, which specialized in textbooks and scholarly literature in classical studies.
Lou and Marie founded the Slovak American International Cultural Foundation, a non-profit that promotes and publishes Slovak literature in translation. A dual citizen of the United States and Slovakia until his death in July 2012, Lou referred to Slovakia as his ‘mother’ and America as his ‘wife.’ He is survived by his wife, Marie.
“Ever since I can remember – I was born in 1937 – but ever since I can remember, we were occupied by the Germans, especially the SS troops and also regular soldiers. The regular soldiers were mainly very friendly Germans, because I think they were Ukrainian Germans. And the SS were very, very respectful. They would go for a walk up and down the main street with two girls on their arms. Everything was fine. But then one day we saw Vinné all in flames. Well, Vinné was under a mountain, and Vinné harbored guerrillas and so the families were feeding them of course, and so that whole town was [punished].”
Home City Bombed
“One morning I walked out, as a little kid – I should have been in second grade, but the second grade was suspended because of the War – and I looked down the Laborec, which is our river, down towards the east, and I saw a formation of nine something. At first I thought they were geese, but no, as they came nearer and nearer the earth started shaking, and then somebody across the river in the Count’s grove, shot a couple cannons, so that was the beginning of a long day of being bombed. Nine planes would drop bombs on us and nine planes would come back, until around 4:00.
I saw my mom holding my sister – I think she was a couple months old – and she was standing against the barn. So I attached myself to her and after the planes left, we decided to go not to our bunker, but about five houses down the street eastward, where there was a school built out of stones with a cellar. So that’s where we wanted to go. But halfway there, a new set of airplanes were just about over our heads and I didn’t know what to do; whether to just fall down and cover up or keep on running, as we were told to cover ourselves. I just kept on running and my mother followed me and we got to our destination, but at the door to the cellar, there was a neighbor of ours, a young fellow, he was a barber, lying down with a big hole in his thigh and the blood just coming out, flooding out. What happened was that one of the bombs fell in the schoolyard and he caught the shrapnel.”
“I was so excited, so anxious, oh boy! Everything was a revelation to me, everything was new. So you get on the train, hey let’s go to Prague, and spend four days in Prague. You live in a hotel, jump from one trolley car to another. My biggest frustration in Prague was, I was hoping to buy a gun. Because going to America, you needed a pistol. I mean, you’ve seen those movies right? Or at least you heard about them. So I came prepared with a lot of money. I made my own money in Slovakia. And the frustration was, I could not get a gun and I had all this money and I could not spend it. How many ice creams can I eat? How many horse salami sandwiches can I consume? I was frustrated, because I knew that once I put a step on that train going to France, my money was no good.”
“We were all Slavs, either Ukrainians or Slovaks in that area. A little bit further, there was the Polish group, Polish church. In my area, we had three churches – the Holy Trinity Catholic church, the Holy Trinity Lutheran church, and the Holy Trinity Orthodox church. And also on each corner of the five blocks, there was a krčma, a saloon, gin mill. On Sundays the gin mills were closed, but next to us there was a grocery store, Mr. Ferenc ran it, and people would just go in the back room and he would be pouring stuff for them. And I would go there and shine their shoes. Ten cents a pair.”
“I am very, very proud of this book because he’s very, very gentle and forgiving, but when he is talking and describing the situations, you see that communism simply is a failure, an absolute failure economically. But you see something more. You see the dehumanizing force of that particular ism. How it could turn your friends against you. And that’s one of my missions. To make sure that we try to avoid isms and that we try to avoid any kind of orthodoxies. They’re the greatest enemies of peace.”
Books and Culture
“Without books in English, the world will not know us [Slovaks]. The world will not be aware of us. The world will not be able to benefit from the contributions that we can give the world. One of the contributions is the fact that we have a culture that is a synchronistic culture. The best of the two worlds – the West and the East. Yes, we also have our philosophers who wrote in Latin as well as in Slovak. So we need books to let the world know who we are, and we need to use books because they are a wonderful media for presenting the world with our gifts.”