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George Badacsonyi

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
1956 to Vienna, `1957 to the UK
Interview number:


Dr Bea Lewkowicz

Date of Interview:

Interview Summary:

George Badacsonyi was born in Budapest in June 1934, the only son of Alice Rosenfeld and Alexander Badacsonyi. The family changed their name from Bachrach before WWI. His parents settled down in a very Jewish area in Budapest in the eighth district in Népszínház utca. Alice and her mother ran a stationery and book shop. His father was a businessman and later a driver in the Hungarian Army. George remembers helping out in the shop where he served the German officer customers as he spoke German. He remembers a happy childhood: primary school, ice-skating in winter and tennis in summer. 

In 1944 one of his aunts and her husband – a GP- were apprehended on their way back from funeral and taken to Auschwitz. Their baby daughter was hidden with a non-Jewish patient until George’s family took her in and they adopted her after the war. His father had been taken to a labour camp after being demobilised from the Army. George, his mother and grandmother moved into a “Judenhaus” and escaped deportation closely. His mother managed to obtain a “Schutzbrief” [protective letter] from the Swiss Embassy and they moved into a protected flat. As a further protection she obtained false papers and they moved again and lived through the siege of Budapest. 

His father joined them in September 1945. On arriving in Budapest he went to the stationery shop that George’s mother had reopened. As he had ended up as a slave labourer in Mauthausen he was physically in an appalling state and his wife didn’t recognise him at first. She soon became ill with cancer which finally caused her death in 1951 which came as a shock to George. In the years leading up to her death she was already weak and so George’s grandmother raised him and his little sister. In this situation his academic and musical education were sadly no priority. His father had difficulties to fit into the communist climate. He was considered a petit bourgeois and tried to train as a mechanic in order to find work. He was discriminated against and at some point even had to defend himself against embezzlement. However with George’s help he was able to obtain his acquittal. George wanted to train as a musician but problems with his left hand led to giving up playing the piano and he worked as a musical journalist. The Revolution of 1956 frightened him and especially on one occasion when he and his father were rounded up by the Russians. They escaped but this traumatic experience led to his decision to leave the country. He, friends and his little sister crossed into Austria. His grandmother had organised her own emigration to her sister in Brazil and the plan was for George’s sister to join her there eventually. 

In Austria they found help with the Joint (Jewish Relief Agency) and he started a course for conduction at the Academy of Music. He won a scholarship with the Ford Foundation and decided to go to England. The Jewish Refugee Committee in London organised a family for his sister to stay with and he enrolled first at Trinity college and later at Guildhall School of Music. He didn’t find it easy to get used to the English way of life, but met his wife, Marie, who was also a Jewish Hungarian refugee. They got married in 1961 and have two children. George’s first job was Opera director at UCL and later Music Director, he also had several jobs with the BBC proms. He has a passion to look into little know work of famous composers, has worked with the ENO and has started his own company “Thameside Opera”. He identifies as European and although he wouldn’t want to live there he visits Budapest regularly to see the graves of family members and friends. They are still alive in his memory. Especially now that he is getting older, he realizes how strongly childhood memories shape a person.


Budapest. Bachrach. Rosenfeld. Mauthausen. Judenhaus. Swiss Schutzpass. Revolution of 1956. Vienna. Trinity College. Guildhall School of Music. UCL. ENO. BBC Proms. Thameside Opera. Bacharach, Germany. Nagyfuvaros utcai temple, Szarbo Laszlo. Madách Gymnasium. Arrow Cross. Tattersall. Balfi Mártirok nak. Sao Paulo. The Joint.


Full Interview


We were sat down in the middle, on the grass. All around in the tribunes, there were machine guns. The optimists thought Tattersall was very close to the Keleti railway station, what they are going to do is shove us into wagons & taking us wherever. Deportation. The pessimists thought that no, they won't do that. They will just shoot us with their machine guns. We stayed for 2 or 3 days - nights as well. It was not cold. I remember something very vividly. It's a small thing but to me it means a lot. I was very fond of eating sardines. And for my 10th birthday, the present I received from my mother & grandmother was a tin of sardines. which I didn't eat, because it was too precious. We took it with us when we were taken to Tattersall. & my mother said that we might as well have it now before they take it away from us or kill us. So I remember opening this tin of sardines & eating it - in that grassy area.

When we were taken away, one of the young people who accompanied us turned out to have been an apprentice in my grandmother's shop. He repaid her kindness by coming specially up to her & kicking her.

A lot of my family history is obscure, because of our actual situation at the time. It didn't encourage enquiring. By the time I am really missing the information there's no way of obtaining it again. Which I'm sure is the classic story of many other people.

My sister is really my first cousin, not a born sister to us. Because her parents were taken away in 1944. Very tragic circumstances. After the war she was adopted by my parents. This is how it came about. She was born in 1943. Her parents went to the funeral of her grandfather in the big cemetery in Budapest. On their way back the tram was stopped & all Jews were ordered off the tram & taken away. We never saw her mother, my aunt [mother's sister Duci], again. We think she died in Ravensbrück. Her father, the doctor, was brought home by a soldier to collect medical instruments. He was allowed to take those & work as a doctor in Auschwitz. We understand he survived & was liberated by the Russians but subsequently died of typhoid. So we do have a bit of tragedy to tell.

I still remember sitting on the windowsill & looking for the tram stop, waiting for them to come home. They just didn't come & they just didn't come & one tram went after the other one & they still didn't come. So one immediately thought of bad news, eventually confirmed. [The baby] was safeguarded during the worst part of our war experience. Was given when she was less than a year old, to an old patient of her father, who was a Christian person & looked after her throughout the war period. And returned her once we were liberated. We wouldn't have been able to cope—in our way of surviving—with a baby. Her father, Doctor Weisz Andor was a much-loved GP in the area. People were really upset & horrified when news got around he was taken away. I'm not sure how it came about, but this was a former patient who obviously had some… a gesture of thanksgiving as well as appreciation of the help she received from a medical point of view, that came to the rescue. There were some people who were very decent. Not too many.

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