Bratislava, Slovakia, Budapest, Hungary
Dr. Jan Rival was born in Bratislava, Slovak Republic, in 1935. He lived with his parents: father Tibor, mother Valeria Kohn, younger sister Anita and grandmother, Hedviga.
His father studied medicine and his uncle was a pharmacist. They both survived as did his mother and sister. His father’s parents died in Auschwitz.
Dr. Rival spoke German and his parents spoke German, Hungarian and Slavik. His maternal grandparents owned the largest distillery in Czechoslovakia. They were also big real estate owners and were very wealthy.His mother was very beautiful and was chosen to be the homecoming queen. She was only 5’3” and his father was 6’5”. His mother died in 1965 and his father passed away ten years later.
His grandmother was also fluent in French and was smart and very down to earth. Dr. Rival went to public school in Budapest where they moved in 1940.
The family were not observant Jews, but did observe Yom Kippur and had mostly Jewish friends. He was circumcised and knew he was a Jew. When dating his future wife, his father invited him to have a drink with him at a neighborhood bar to ask if his girlfriend was a Jew. He didn’t know.
Although the family was not political, Dr. Rival’s father thought Hungary was a safer place to be as there was no anti-Semitism in Budapest. In late 1943, Budapest became fascist and the Jews had to wear yellow stars. At that point, his father was imprisoned for eight months in Hungarian camps. Food shortages began as well as rationing.
The Ghetto was established. His family hid in a furnace in the Ghetto, but Dr. Rival doesn’t remember anything about it. His grandmother went to a Swedish Safehouse and they heard about Raoul Wallenberg. He was then about ten years old. They moved into an apartment in the Ghetto where there were just a few rooms for the four of them. His father set up the hiding place in the furnace and they went in and out of there. He remembers there being some benches to sit on.
Dr. Rival joined a band of street kids with guns. There were twenty-five of them. He didn’t look Jewish. They broke into businesses and stole. He remembers eating horsemeat. He easily got in and out of the Ghetto to find tobacco.He saw Jews being killed on the street. The Ghetto was liberated in the spring of 1945. His father became head of a hospital and Czechoslovakia came under Communist rule in 1948.
In 1950, they thought about going to Israel, but they were having a good life. His mother’s sister left but traveling was not acceptable. He played basketball and traveled with his team. He was not a member of the party and had bad credentials so he was not promoted in his profession. Dr. Rival found it difficult to get into medical school, but finally his father got him in. In Bratislava, the education was free and he graduated in 1959.
After graduation, the government sent him to work. Dr. Rival was also in the Army one day each week. He met his wife Eva in 1959 and they married in l963. Their first daughter, Anita was born in 1964.
Dr. Rival’s boss told him to leave for the United States. He learned English in Russia where he visited his uncle and because his father had connections, he went to the Embassy in Prague. Pan Am paid for his flight to the United States.
In 1967, Dr. Rival’s wife made $1.10 an hour to stand in a store and watch over the Polaroid cameras so that people wouldn’t steal them.
They moved to Detroit, but were supposed to return to Czechoslovakia in eighteen months. His homeland was invaded by the Russians on August 31, 1968 and his parents and grandmother came to Toronto.
Dr. Rival interviewed for a position at Wayne State University. He was on an exchange visa so he hired a lawyer, Paul W. White. Eisenhower’s doctor spoke on his behalf to the Senator from Rhode Island. He was told to pick up his papers at the Immigration Office in Grosse Pointe. He stayed, taught and did research at Wayne State University.
His second daughter, Nicole was born in 1969. They lived in Royal Oak, moving eventually to Bloomfield Hills. Both daughters, Anita Rosenberg and Nicole Hartje, are Harvard graduates.
His wife Eva Rival taught German in the school district.
Dr. Rival was at Ford Hospital for forty-two years.
Date: July 12, 2010
Interviewer: Donna R. Sklar
Length: 1 hour and 46 minutes
Format: Video Recording