Mátyás Hanzlicek

Father to Janie and Natasha, and husband to Justine, Mátyás is a migrant from what was formerly Czechoslovakia, and holds a past shrouded in mystery. While some external signs give away his survival against the Nazis of Europe, he came to the USA to seek the American Dream, and has now reversed his once impoverished fortunes to create a home for himself and his family in rural Connecticut.

From the very start, when considering the conflict of Ryan’s Christian faith against Janie’s Judaism, I had envisaged a character like Mátyás. Aside from him being the very opposite of Ryan’s dad, Simon, an attentive, caring soul who gives his children all the interest and love he can muster, he was also to represent what Ryan could become, turning his circumstances around from misery and impoverishment to a life of wealth and satisfaction – perfectly supporting the message of the American Dream.

It was early on that I knew I wanted Mátyás to be a survivor of the holocaust, as not only did it put him immediately in a situation from which he would have to rebuild his life from the ground up, eventually putting him on a boat to America where he would find his fortune, but also it allowed me to explore the holocaust through the eyes of a generation too young to have witnessed it. I myself was born in 1993, and while I knew a few Jewish people in my youth who had survived the holocaust, most were either too old or had passed on by this point, so it wasn’t something really handed to me through first-hand experiences of this nightmarish episode of human history.

For the 1970s, though, the holocaust was still something fresh in the minds of people both young and old, mainly because of the fact that such an act of barbarism was allowed to unfold in the 20th Century, a time when humanity was supposed to have gone beyond the indiscriminate slaughter of the past.

However, rather than explaining Mátyás’ experiences suffering within the holocaust, I felt it better to glimpse them and hint them. It would be easy to spell it out in words of one syllable, but in truth most holocaust survivors wouldn’t talk in detail about what went on – it either being too traumatic or too shameful to divulge. Regardless, I felt that implication would be much better than visualisation in this case, illustrated through Mátyás’ prison camp tattoo, and the few subtle hints here and there to his past, leaving the whole ordeal surrounded in an air of mystery. In fact, I consider that perhaps even Janie may not know the full details of her father’s story, but it adds to the uncertainty of his origins and this dark chapter of his life.

For his design, Mátyás was very simple to do. I wanted to have enough similarities between himself and Janie, with the dark hair and pale, east European skin, but at the same time show that he was, overall, just an average man. One might expect a holocaust survivor to be well-built in order to endure such torture, but in truth he’s something of a physically unremarkable person, sporting a stigmatism and not being terribly muscular.

The end result of Mátyás was to illustrate the transformation of a man. Who he was in Europe before and during the war is no longer the man he is today, with a wife and two daughters, a lakeside mansion, and a thriving business to call his own, he is truly the end-product of the American Dream – the rags to riches story told so very often to help encourage the spirit that drove millions of migrants across the Atlantic to the new world, and help build America into the nation it is today.