Bokor: the House of the Bush

by Jenne M. (Guest Blogger)
Pictures show Mary/Maria Bazsika as a sturdy and unsmiling woman. But pictures aside, she was also a bit of a firebrand and cared about her daughter-in-law. After she found out that her son was beating his wife, this obese woman grabbed a frying pan and ran after him to beat him in turn. Frank Bazsika ran into the woods to hide from his rather fierce mother. Mary Bokor knew grief, outliving her young daughter Elizabeth and then, when she was in her 40s, her husband, whose candy business she would have helped in. She died before her son’s murder.

Maria Bokor was born in Nagygeresd, a small town in Sopron county (now Vas county) in western Hungary. Current Vas county is next to Zala county, where her husband is from, and is home to a Slovene minority. The village was once known as Gueruzd, a version of the name George; the first records of its existence date back to 1260. “Nagy” means big or great, and hence the town’s name means “Big George” or “Great George”; there was apparently a “Small George” nearby that merged with it in the 1920s. The town is home to quite a nice castle.

Bokor means “bush,” and her line likely derived its name from a feature in the landscape. There is a Hungarian village of that name in northern Hungary, on the border of Slovakia – a long way from Sopron, so it’s no guarantee that the family comes from there.

She was the daughter of Alexander (Sandor) Bokor and Susan Hazlia, about whom little is known. Interestingly, the Hazlia surname is found in Greece, Italy, Romania and Muslim countries. “Haz” means house in Hungarian. The name could also be a corruption of hazel, derive from a Turkish name at the time of the Ottoman Empire, or derive from the word for “hare” in Vilamovian, a small Germanic tongue found in Poland near the Slovak border.

She had four siblings: brother Joseph and sisters Susan Bokor Laboda, Rose Bokor Vilman, and Esther Bokor.

Interestingly, my grandmother Marie Kocun Baszika had helped either her mother or mother-in-law win election as a Perth Amboy city committeewoman – likely for the Democratic party – four times. My suspicion is that this committeewoman was Mary Bokor Bazsika, whose position as a shopkeeper’s wife would have afforded her more resources to run for political office than Victoria Swenko Kocun, who was an iron-worker’s wife.

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The house of Kocun: the Stagecoach Makers

by Jenne M. (guest blogger)

During her later years, my grandmother did compile a family history of sorts, but I no longer have access to it and no idea where it has gone. I remember some details, though: some of her ancestors – a grandmother, I believe – were Russian or Polish, with a long name beginning with a Z. This likely accounts for my dabbling of Russian genes, although I don’t know whether this line stems from the house of Kocun or Swentko.

In truth, I could chase down little in terms of documentation for any of my mother’s maternal line. Luckily, I did ask my grandmother while she was alive.

Her father Nicholas – the first of his line in the records I have been able to find – was born in 1895 in the town of Stara Lubovna – Old Lubovna – in what is now Slovakia, nine miles south from the current Polish border in the Tatras Mountains. Like many such towns, it was juggled back and forth between empires and languages: Hungarian, Polish, Czech. The very name Kocun – pronounced “kotsun” – bears witness to the polyglot nature of the community, as well as the family’s original trade: it was the Slovak version of a Hungarian word for “stagecoach-maker.”

Nicholas came to the United States in 1911 at the age of 16 and married Victoria Swentko when he was 33. He worked for American Smelting and Refining in Perth Amboy, according to his World War II draft card; I can find no evidence that he fought in World War I. He was an iron worker at American Smelting and Refining. Family pictures show him to be a fair-haired man of thin build, Slavic in appearance – and likely with some Polish or Russian ancestry. He died at the age of 77 from colon cancer. No records remain as to his own parents or siblings, but he must have had the latter, since the name still exists in central New Jersey. There are references to a Steven Kocun that could have been his brother – and explained his son’s name – and a Charles, from whom the New Jersey Kocuns seem to be descended. There are John and Joseph Kocuns as well, who could have been cousins or brothers.

SS Patricia
Photo: Courtesy Norway-Heritage 

His parents may have been Jozef Kocun (1865 – 1922) and Mary Kocun (1869 – 1943); their age would be correct. All of the Kocuns are buried in the same cemetery: Holy Trinity in Perth Amboy. They were likely relatives at the least. Josef emigrated from Tzeniskowica – listed as Russia, but likely in Poland judging from the name, and the fact that Jozef was described as Polish in origin – in 1909 on the ship Patricia. No Russian or Polish town with that name exists today, and the passengers were all from Russia/Poland and Hungary/Austria.

Bazsika & Kocun – Tragedy on Iron Ore Road

[Previously I posted a poem by Jenne M. that related her mother’s line through poetry. Here is the same story in prose.  I think it is one of the best examples I’ve ever seen that tells the same family history using two very different mechanism. After you read this version, go back and read (or reread) the poem.  You will gain new insight into her family’s story. Hopefully, you will also consider a new way to tell your own stories.  Poetry can be an incredibly  powerful tool.  – Don Taylor]

Bazsika and Kocun

by Jenne M. (guest blogger)

I first knew I had to embark upon ancestry work years ago – back in 2001, after my maternal grandmother died of colon cancer. “The house of your ancestors is falling into ruin,” the dreams whispered, showing me visions of a ramshackle Cape Cod, with the stars and space lurking behind the rotted floorboards.

Frank Bazsika and Marie Kocun on
their wedding day,
with Victoria Kocun at left.

With a broad face and a ready laugh, Marie Kocun Bazsika seemed to defy the circumstances life brought her. Born Mary but baptized as Marie, she had a twin brother, Stephen, who was a talented musician that died relatively early. A car accident, my grandmother told me once; illness due to a weakened constitution from drinking, my mother countered. He died at the age of 46, four years before my birth.

Marie, called Mae by her friends, was a small, merry woman, the daughter of Slovak immigrants. Swept up by the times, at the age of 16, she married a handsome Hungarian soldier: Frank Bazsika, one of many to bear that name in his family. Once, she told me that she and her husband were advised not to have children – ostensibly because Usher’s Syndrome, a form of deaf-blindness, ran in their lines. I haven’t been able to ascertain whether that was the truth, but half of her children ended up having the disorder.

But that was the least of Mae’s trials. Behind that long, handsome face of her tall, burly husband lurked the Fomhoire.

The beloved first son of his daughter-heavy family, Frank was heavily spoiled by his shopkeeper parents, who pampered him in every way, and looked aside when he beat his sisters with the fire poker. Violent and charming by turns, he dressed impeccably as a young man and, like so many of his generation, ended up drafted during World War II.

He served in Edinburgh in Scotland for at least some of the war, as a mechanic. At some point during his service, he fell in love with a Frenchwoman – named Marie, like my grandmother – whom he had to leave behind. Perhaps this ideal paramour made his own Marie seem so small and provincial, unwanted and vulgar. Perhaps this other Marie existed only in his mind, which danced on a narrow floor of sanity, dipping into periodic chasms of violence and despair.

When he returned, the darkness – the one that had always been with him, according to his sisters’ testimony – rose up and swallowed him, coloring his fantasies with rage. Gone were the smart suits and the smile, eradicated by a love of vulgarity and sadism. Continuing his work as a mechanic, he also dabbled in get-rich-quick schemes, running the gamut from gas stations to chicken farms, none of which he ever put his hands to; rather, his wife and children were the laborers. Parasites who didn’t earn their keep, he thought and had his wife shovel chicken shit the morning after giving birth. His family lived in squalor and fear, while he spent their meager earnings on himself and his pleasures: cars, sweets he wouldn’t share and, finally, the rifle that would prove his undoing.

He confessed to the priest and nuns that he had long smelled his flesh burning in the fires of hell, and gleefully shared fantasies of beating his wife and torturing his children – which he enacted daily, with creative flair.

Frank was, in short, a born psychopath.

Marie fled often, but to her husband’s family and not her beloved twin and parents, fearing that he would exact his vengeance on them. She left her children behind to fend for themselves. Following the advice of the nuns and priests, she always returned, until the cycle became unbearable once more. Frank and Marie existed in a strange dance of hatred and need, circling one another, lunging in for blows and pain.

Frank Andrew Bazsika
served in World War II

The blast of a shotgun ended the dance.

Frank’s eldest son and namesake took his father’s gun and waited with a sniper’s patience for his father to return home from work. A flash of light, a blast, and the red blossomed from his chest, mingling with the mud. Marie ran to him, frantic. My mother – then 16, a year younger than the namesake – watched. Her elder brother fled, but was caught later by police, tried and sentenced for homicide and spent many years in prison. In those days, no one cared about child abuse and its impact on the generations beyond.

Marie never remarried, and sold off the chicken farm piece by piece. Eventually, she left the house on Iron Ore Road, living on the hillside behind it – and then, Iron Ore Road entirely.

While abuse shaped her life, Marie was more than the blow she received. During World War II, she worked at General Cable, testing field wiring for Army telephone lines, and later worked at her husband’s tire store. After selling the business, she then worked as a waitress, the first on the New Jersey Turnpike. She converted to the Jehovah’s Witness faith, enjoying mission trips and camaraderie. She greeted death – and the union with her God – as a friend.

[Jenne M. is a Guest Blogger.  If you wish to contact her, please use the comments form below and I will forward your request to her. – Don Taylor]