What is in a Name?
I was born as Rechnitzer András on July 16, 1942, in Budapest, Hungary. Although I was born during World War II, the horrors had not yet fully reached us. In accordance with Jewish tradition, I was also given a Hebrew name, Hillel ben Menashe, which means “Hillel, son of Menashe.” It is said that before naming a child after a specific person or relative, one has to be sure that that person lived a happy, fulfilling life. Hillel was a wise sage and teacher. I cannot comment on whether I am a wise man, but I have always felt comfortable teaching and sharing my knowledge with others.
The name Rechnitzer means “from the village of Rechnitz.” I hope to visit that village sometime. Although Rechnitz is located in Austria, it was once part of Hungary and was called Rohonc. When I was three years old, my surname was changed to Réti, Hungarian for “of the field.” I found out much later that many Hungarian Jews changed their names to sound more Hungarian, in order to assimilate and not be singled out as being Jewish.
When we came to Canada, András became Andrew, but I am known to all as Andy. András was the Hungarian version of Andreas, from Greek, meaning “manly.” I believe my mother simply liked the name...
I have always thought of myself as a fighter. As it turned out, I fought for many causes, and losing was never an option. I must emphasize, however, that I was never alone in any of my fights.
During my childhood, both of my grandparents had a great influence on me. I remember many of my grandmother’s folksy and wise sayings. One favourite was that she knew that a fight had started when I hit back. She was right. During my whole life, all my fights have started when I hit back. I was fortunate that I could always handle myself in a confrontation. Sometimes, I was too fearless. I am convinced that I was blessed with this ability for a reason. I was certainly not a street brawler or someone who walked around with a chip on his shoulder. I was involved in very few physical confrontations, but in many verbal and mental challenges, especially in my adult life. All of them started because I refused to back off whenever I was confronted with what I perceived to be an injustice. I hit back.
Although I can still hear my grandmother’s words, in reality it was my mother who inspired me to fight for justice all my life. I know that many times I scared her, but I always tried to fight for the common good, and not for selfish reasons.
I am a positive person. Because I survived a horrific period in history, my choice is always to look at the bright side of things. There had to be a reason my mother and I survived while others on either side of us were killed. I went through some difficult times before I could accept God, but I believe that God helped us through the horrors of the Holocaust. I think the words of Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Elie Wiesel sum up my feelings with great simplicity and eloquence: “The question is not, ‘Where was God?’ but ‘Where was Man?’”