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John Chillag

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
in 1963
Interview number:


Dr Rosalyn Livshin

Date of Interview:

Interview Summary:

John Chillag was born in Vienna on 20 April 1927 to a Hungarian father and an Austro-Hungarian mother. He was an only child. He had a Liberal Jewish upbringing, although his mother came from a more orthodox family. His father was an accountant and his mother a dressmaker. The family lived in the 18th district near the Turkenschantz Park and then in the 2nd district in the Ausstellung Strasse. At the age of 7 the family returned to Gyor, Hungary, where his father was born and his father went into the family’s building material company as the accountant. John attended a Jewish primary school and a State Secondary School and joined in after school activities. His father was politically active on the left. In 1938 his father was taken to join a labour battalion but was not conscripted in subsequent years because he was beyond the age. There were certain anti-Jewish restrictions but these did not affect his family at this time. 

The Germans overran the country in 1944 and within two weeks had implemented many anti-Jewish restrictions. Work and school ceased and the Jews were forced into a ghetto in the Jewish section of town. They were there for about 2 weeks in the house of a non-Jewish worker who swapped homes with them. They were then moved to a regional ghetto by the railway and were transported in June in cattle trucks to Auschwitz. They did not know of this place and had no idea what it meant. John, his father and uncle were selected for work, the women were not. He soon discovered what had happened to them. They were placed in a barrack near the gypsy camp and spent about 2 months there in quarantine due to an outbreak of illness. They spent their days in roll calls and in idling away their time. He heard the commotion as the gypsy camp was broken up. In August they were finally sent to the slave labour camp of Bochum, a satellite of Buchenwald. John worked in the steel works, pressing ship’s cannons under great heat without any protective clothing. His father was with him but died in the winter of exhaustion. 

In March 1945 they were taken to Buchenwald where John went to the hospital wing, being too weak to do anything. He was liberated there by the Americans in April 1945 and nursed back to health in an army hospital. He returned to Gyor and re-opened the family building material company with a cousin. He managed to purchase goods with money he found in Buchenwald. They bribed the Russians to leave the family home with 44 gallons of methalated spirits. The business was successful but in 1949 he was conscripted into the army. He took leave and fled the country for Vienna. There he became registered as a refugee with the IRO and after stays in various DP camps he sailed for Australia on the General MB Steward US Navy Ship in Feb. 1950. He was given a job in the ship’s office because he could speak English slightly and shared a two berth room and better food. He worked in Sydney then took a job in the Snowy Mountains on the Hydro Electric Scheme. There he met his future wife a London born girl called Audrey Banham. 


Full Interview


When I was seventeen, one year to go to matriculation, the Germans occupied Hungary, so I never went to the last class before graduating from school. …All the anti-Jewish legislation they put into practise in Germany over years, and in less and less time as they occupied various countries, and by the time they got to Hungary, it worked like clockwork.

Hungary had two types of police. Police in the more sort of urban areas, and Gendarmerie in the countryside, open areas and so on. And whilst the Police was no better, no worse than the rest of the population, the Gendarmerie were sort of hand-picked yobbos and thugs with sympathies as far right as Hitler, possibly further. And if anything we suffered more from even the limited contact we had with them, than from the Germans, at that stage.

The food wasn't all that much, was it, but one thing one has to remember about those times, that in Hungary we were living very well. There were no food shortages, or no real food shortages. So we had quite a bit of what I refer to as ‘tactical reserve’ on us, but in Auschwitz it was very rapidly disappearing.

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