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Tom Keve

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
7 December 1956
Interview number:


Dr Bea Lewkowicz

Date of Interview:

Interview Summary:

Tom Keve was born Ödön Tamás Krausz in May 1944 in Budapest. As he was born in 1944, he has no memory of the war and pre-war period but recalls his family history in great detail. His mother was Rózsa Rosenberger and his father István Krausz and they had married in the early thirties in Budapest. His father and his family had settled in Bulgaria after WWI, and his mother joined his father to live in Plovdiv, where Tom’s older sister was born. In 1937 the family decided to move back to Budapest. They lived happily in Budapest until the start of WWII. Father was called up for Forced Labour, prior to 1944, but returned unharmed. After the Germans occupied the country in April 1944, new anti-Jewish measures came into force. In June the family had to move to a ‘Jewish house’.  Father was again inducted in a forced labour battalion. When they were still in the Jewish house, his mother and her sister were carried away by the Hungarian gendarmerie. They had given cyanide capsules to the grandmother to administer to the children if the mothers did not return. At the collection point, a brick factory, Tom’s mother went up to a German SS man and pleaded with him in fluent German, said that they had left babies behind who would die without them. The German released them and the Hungarians did want not countermand a German soldier’s decision. They were released, luckily before the grandmother could administer the poison. Later Tom’s family managed to get a Schutzbrief, a collective passport issued by Carl Lutz of the Swiss Legation in Budapest, which provided a degree of protection for a while. 

In the autumn, Tom and his sister were accepted in a Swiss Red Cross home and the mother found work there, as this meant they were not forced to move into the ghetto. In November, his father escaped from the forced labour camp and managed to get false Aryan papers, under the name of István Keve. He managed to get a job and rent a room, where he was joined by the children and his wife. They all had false papers claiming they were Serbian orthodox refugees. During the siege of Budapest, the family sheltered in the cellar, together with the other residents of the block they had moved to. With extended fighting in the streets, and lack of food supplies, people were starving, Tom’s mother made soup from potato peels donated by others. They starved, but survived until the Red Army liberated their part of the city. Tom’s father spoke fluent Bulgarian and he started to work as a translator for the Russians. Tom, 9 months old by this time, became very ill. He suffered from malnutrition, TB, whopping cough and pneumonia simultaneously. His father pretended to be a high communist official and got him accepted in hospital. His chances of survival were very slim but he did survive.


Post war, Tom had a ‘normal’ childhood’ in Hungary until the Communists came to power, when their business was confiscated. In 1956, the parents decide to leave Hungary and escaped, walking across the border to Austria. After two weeks in Vienna, they came to the UK to join the aunt who had come to England before the war. They settled in London. His mother suffered from depression but his father was very happy to be in the UK and appreciated being in the West. Tom went to school and went to study physics at University, followed by a PhD in crystallography at Imperial College. Tom got married and got a job in the USA. Returning to the UK after two years, he joined the electronics company, Philips and worked for them in Holland France and the UK. Tom describes that he suffered a nervous breakdown towards the end of his career and that’s when he started writing his books. He has written three books, his most successful is called ‘Triad: the Physicists, the Analysts, the Kabbalists’, translated into French and Italian to great acclaim. Tom lives in London and describes himself as a ‘secular Jew’. He has two sons and five grandchildren. He is a member of South Hampstead Synagogue, the Child Survivors Association and the AJR.



Key words:   
Budapest. Bulgaria. Swiss Schutzpass.  Forced Labour. Red Cross House. Siege of Budapest. Escape 1956. London. Writer.   


Full Interview


They knew what happens to people like that. My aunt somehow got hold of some cyanide & gave the capsules to her grandmother to give to the babies. They were taken to- I don't know why, but it's always a brick factory. After some time, my mother went up to one of the Germans & said to him that we both have babies at home & the babies will die if we’re kept here. This obviously was a decent person. They swore at them & said, “Get out of my sight”, etc. And they actually left. The Hungarians didn't do anything, because it was a German who said it, so... Everybody who survived has a series of episodes like that, you know, by definition. They came back. Fortunately before the administration of the cyanide. My mother was very angry with [my aunt] for it. Thought it was foolish. I don't know what happened at the time, whether she knew. You're in total panic. You think it's the end. I only know 2nd-hand anyway.

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