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Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
1 September 1946
Judith Steinberg (nee Berkovic) was born in 1929 in Paks, Hungary. Her parents were from Slovakia. Her father was one of 9 children and he ran a dairy in Paks. His father was a shochet. Her mother was one of 19 and her father ran a grocery business. Judith was the second of 7 children. She had an older brother and a younger sister and 4 younger brothers. Judith had a happy childhood and was friendly with Jews and non-Jews alike. She attended a non-Jewish school and all were friendly. There were 3 shuls in Paks and they belonged to the Orthodox Shul. There were about 600 Jewish families in Paks and although these ranged from Reform to Orthodox they all got on together. In 1943 Judith’s father was taken away to forced labour and was not seen again. In March 1944 the Germans marched in and immediately their house was searched and valuables taken away. The Jews were herded into a few streets of which their street, Vilamy Utca was one. They were taken to work on a rotational basis. In June they were herded into a school hall and after 3 days were put onto cattle trucks and taken to Auschwitz. She was separated from her mother and younger brothers and never saw them again. She stayed in Auschwitz until October and worked on different jobs including laying a path up to the building where Mengele performed his medical experiments and clothes were sorted from transports. She remembered the transports coming from Theresienstadt.
In October 500 girls were selected to be sent to Libau where they worked in a factory. She made boxes for holding ammunition. She worked with French POWs who were kind to her and told her about the progress of the war. Conditions were better in this work camp with slightly better food and sanitary facilities. However they were expected to work whatever their condition. They were eventually liberated by the Russians in May. After recuperation she returned to Hungary to Budapest where she was reunited with her sister. Life was difficult under the Russians. They stayed in an Agudah Home but after a while they made arrangements to be smuggled over to Prague. From there through the efforts of Rabbi Schonfield they were brought to England in 1947. They went to an aunt in Stamford Hill. Soon after her sister married Shimon Halpern and she went to live with them. When they moved to Manchester she rented a flat in Golders Green and worked in factories sewing clothes or as a school dinner lady. She belonged to Torah Ve’Avodah and the Anglo-Israel Club.
In 1953 she met and married Isaak Aron Steinberg, who had come on the Kindertransport. They married and lived in Manchester and lived in Parkside Road. Her husband was active in Ohel Torah Synagogue. They started their own wholesale handbag business called IAS Leathergoods Ltd. They had 3 children.
In Paks…all children learned some kind of instrument and playing sports. This was very broad-minded, sort of orthodox in a proper sense. You had to be. You lived in a small town with all our Christian neighbours. We were like sister, brothers, we just accepted each other. It was very peaceful. I can only remember nice things for upbringing and non-Jewish neighbours.
If you found kindness after many terrible things happened to you there, you can make your life better if you want to. And you accept your fellow men on an equal level and respect everyone. And I think life is precious, and we should respect one another, and we can, if we want to live in peace.
They take you to a part outside [in Auschwitz], they called it ‘Canada’ for some reason, where the valuables were all sorted. Somebody told me: ‘You got the easy job!' She said ‘I had to take out the gold teeth from the dead!' There was lots of gold teeth from the people who died. ‘We had to look in their mouths & take out the gold.’ Oh my God!’ I said. You just don’t complain, do your job. Sort out the shoes. Sort out this. The glasses go in there, sort them. So we did that. We just carried on.
I got back to my home town to see what was going on. My cousin had gone to the gas chambers, her husband survived in one of the camps. I asked him to take me back to my home. I wouldn’t go there alone because they were soldiers & I would not face them alone. I want to find some photographs, some memories or something. He said to the Russian army: let us come in to to have a look at home. She wants to take some souvenirs, some pictures or something. So I went in. Oh the sight of it, they were cooking there & used my father’s Hebrew books for fire & there was some left. My cousin said ‘Be nice to this girl, she is Jewish, the camps, you know', he tried to explain it to the Russians. But they were ruthless with young girls. I couldn’t find anything… my school report half of it in the back yard. They used your valuable things for their fire & lot of things the German took. What shocked me: there were 2 Russian women soldiers, it was summer & they had nothing on, on top. Washing themselves, you know. So embarrassing. I told my cousin, ‘Just get that few books!’ even though they didn’t want us to take my father’s seforim because they need it for fire, to make cooking, they cooked in our house. I said this is a holy book. Holy book? They don’t believe in this sort of thing.