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Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
Anna Garia was born in Budapest in September 1937 to a non-observant family. Her father, Richard Balajti (originally Braun), had a dairy shop and delicatessen, and her mother, Maria (née Berger) was a beautician, but their lives suddenly changed in spring 1944. Anna’s memories include the tense Nazi occupation of Hungary, having to wear the yellow star and moving to so called ‘yellow-star’ houses. In September Richard was forced to work in a labour camp but arranged for Anna to be hidden by Lutheran nuns in their orphanage, while Maria hid with a non-Jewish friend.
During the Allied bombing, also the Siege of Budapest from December into January 1945, mother and daughter hid in the bunker of a block of flats while German troops retreated, and Russian soldiers approached. The joy of being liberated in early February 1945, however, was overshadowed by news of family members who had perished in Auschwitz and Mauthausen, though two uncles returned later in 1945.
Maria died of cancer when Anna was sixteen, and her father’s shop was confiscated by the Communists, but the regime became more liberal enabling travel to neighbouring Communist-led countries so in September 1956 Anna went to (former) Czechoslovakia. Significantly, she visited Jewish sites for the first time, slowly becoming aware of being Jewish.
While returning to Budapest, however the October Hungarian Uprising occurred, crushed within days by Soviet tanks and soldiers. Noting the anti-Semitism in schools and universities, Anna stated ‘Hungary was not a place for Jews’. In November 1956 she escaped in an open truck to the Austrian border, walked across it, and went to Vienna; there, she was helped by the HIAS, a Jewish organization.* Her father burnt all her things.
‘Then life began – the world opened up!’ In 1957 Anna went with a group to Sydney, Australia, and met her future husband journalist George Garai, who had survived the Death March from Mauthausen. They moved to England in 1966, where he worked for the Jewish Chronicle and Radio Free Europe. Anna felt ‘at home’ living in Hampstead, and later had two daughters. Although she could not complete her medical studies in Sydney, she became a social worker to help people, working for Brent Council.
Importantly, whereas in the 1960s Anna found it too difficult to talk about her experiences, and had earlier felt lonely all her life, she was ‘overjoyed’ to (exceptionally) be joined at the end of her interview by grand-daughter Ella Garai-Ebner, as expressly requested by them.
Ella was keenly interested in Anna’s experiences; actively involved in youth work at her synagogue, Ella was researching the third generation of Holocaust descendants, their attitudes and role in survivors’ testimony as time moves on, of which Anna was very proud.
Keywords: Anna, Australia, Balajti, Berger, Braun, Budapest, Ella, Garai, George, German, HIAS, hidden, Hungary, Jewish Chronicle, Lutheran, occupation, orphanage, Russian, siege, Sydney, 3rdGeneration, Vienna ‘yellow-star’ houses.
*HIAS is an American Jewish not-for profit, non-partisan organization assisting and protecting refugees.
And, you know, we [my husband and I ] lived together for forty-odd years and he would never ever talk about it. And when I tried to become an educator, I just found it too difficult to talk about the situation as it was then and what we all went through, loose and not having – not having a cousin or a – nobody. None of my uncles had children- my mother’s brothers, or her sister. Nobody had after the war.