Hedy and Bruno Moskat, partners in life, died March 9 in Carson City within hours of each other, and with them went a part of history.
Theirs is a story of young lives forever marked by the tragedies of war -- a story of triumph, the indomitable human spirit, and love that binds.
Born in Banja Luka, Yugoslavia, in 1919, Hedy Moskat was once the 19-year-old bride of Miro Balvanovic and, as such, a member of a wealthy family.
Their daughters, Katrina and Mira, were born amid the political chaos that marked Hitler's rise. On the heels of the war, Yugoslavian Communist leader Marshall Tito took control, and Balvanovic joined the resistance.
"They had four or five homes, but lost everything," said Vesna Vigo, Hedy's daughter. "Miro left to fight the Communists, but he never came home."
The family never received word of his death, but many of those who opposed the Communist leader were slaughtered, then buried in mass graves, according to Vigo.
With the family fortunes gone, Hedy was left to support two children. In Communist Yugoslavia, only members of the party could get jobs. Hedy joined forces with a relative, known to Vigo only as "Aunt Josipa," who had one daughter. Together, the two fought to keep their families together.
"My mom said, when you're in a situation like that you do what you must to feed your children," Vigo said. "I never asked her exactly what she meant."
The young widow met and fell in love with Mehmed Slipcevic in 1948, but they could not marry. Because the body of her husband had never been found, his disappearance was considered a desertion and by law Hedy would have to be widowed for 10 years before she could remarry. Despite the politics, the pair had their first child in Zagreb, the capitol of Croatia.
"I was illegitimate," Vigo said with a quick smile.
The pair did marry following her birth, moving to Munich, Germany, with their daughter and Mirsad, Mehmed's son by a previous marriage, in 1954.
There, they waited for the release of Hedy's older daughters from Communist Yugoslavia, but the Communist government would not release the girls. Teenagers at the time, they remained in Yugoslavia with family and live there to this day.
The couple moved to Chicago in 1958.
An accomplished tailor who had studied in Italy, Mehmed became head designer for a men's clothing firm.
Convinced Chicago was no place to raise children, they moved first to San Francisco and then to Santa Rosa, Calif., where their second daughter, Jasna, was born.
"They arrived in America with $500 in their pocket. Mom always worried about where the money was going to come from, but Dad never did," Vigo said. "He set us up in a great apartment in San Francisco's Mission District. Then he went out, saying he was going to find a job. By 5 p.m. he was back, and he had a job."
The couple first met Bruno Moskat and his wife, Margaret, in Santa Rosa through the German Club, a group of immigrants who got together about every month for European-style music, food, and fun, but the Slipcevics did not stay in Santa Rosa. They moved first to Yuba City and then to Carson City in 1970.
Mehmed died of a massive heart attack while the couple was visiting in Yugoslavia with Jasna in 1971. Afterward, Hedy supported herself doing a number of jobs including housekeeping and babysitting. It wasn't until 1975 when Bruno called to tell her that his wife of 28 years was leaving him.
Born in March 1920 in Pammeln, Germany, Bruno Moskat enlisted in the German Air Force during World War II. A paratrooper, he was captured in Crete by Allied forces just weeks after the war started and spent the balance of the war as a prisoner, part of that time as a coal miner in both Europe and Africa. There, he contracted tuberculosis and black lung disease and was eventually transferred to a prisoner-of-war camp near Dallas, Texas.
"He couldn't believe how well he was treated there," said his stepdaughter, Jasna Richmond. " He had butter, milk, and cheese and a shower every other day. He thought, if this is what a POW camp in this country is like, what could it be like to live here? People today simply don't understand what that generation has endured."
After the war he returned to Germany where he became an apprentice for four years, learning to build fine cabinets and clocks. He married Margaret, and moved back to the United States in 1955. Here, he established his business and had two sons.
His life with Hedy began with the phone call, according to Richmond and Vigo.
"He was devastated when his wife left him. They had been inseparable," Jasna said. "But he was head over heels in love with Mom."
As their relationship grew, Bruno sold his business and house in Santa Rosa, and the two were married in December 1975. According to their daughters, together the couple enjoyed music, good food and travel.
"There were huge bouquets of red roses for her birthdays and anniversaries," Richmond said. "They were always very romantic with each other."
Hedy developed congestive heart failure and, for more than five years, Bruno was the primary caregiver for his wife.
He developed pneumonia in January and his problems, according to Vigo and Richmond, led to a decline in Hedy's health. As his condition deteriorated, she quit eating.
A dizzying round of doctors and hospitals followed, culminating in the death of the pair within hours of each other on March 9. She was 82, and he was 81.
"He always said that when our mother died, he would be right behind her," Richmond said with tears in her eyes. "But we weren't expecting anything like this."
She said they will miss the long talks with their mother over Turkish coffee, the friendship that developed over time, the tremendous love and support of their stepfather.
"Bruno was the best stepfather anyone could imagine," Jasna said. "He always worried about all of his children. The day before he died, he told us to take some money out of his account.
"'Take everyone to dinner on Momma and me,'" he said. "'I'm not going to be able to make it.'"
Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.
Sign in to comment