In Hiding – Hungary
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.
Going up the steps [in their hiding place], going up the steps, yes that I remember, going up the stairs. But as a child you felt, you had the feeling, I can still recall the feeling of fright, continuous, I don’t know if in English there is an strong enough word than fright, moired, in Yiddish it is moired, this terrible fright that a child can feel from the adults, even if, I don’t know if they spoke in front of me or if they didn’t but you could feel it, you just could feel it, from the time that you put on the yellow star, you were already frightened, and that fright stayed on a very long time, after the war too
My mother decided she must take action. She got false papers. Because I was rather fond of chattering she said 'You've got tooth-ache, so I've got to tie up your jaw.' So I won't talk when we go on the train. She took me into the country and handed me over to this organisation who handed me over to this peasant family. They lived in a semi-underground thatched cottage with tiny windows. They had pigs, sheep, geese & chickens. I said 'My mother knows best; if she says it's good for me that’s how it will be.'
One day I was wearing short trousers & the woman looked at my leg, saw this this rash & declared it's typhoid. She went into to the local town & asked me to pack up my things. And she took me and then handed me back to this organisation who sent me back to Budapest. My mother found this children’s home & there I caught tapeworms, an awful condition. So I was sent back to my mother & I understand that 2 or 3 days afterwards, the Germans or the Hungarians came & took the children – the Jewish children - and shot them. From that home.
We were dressed up as Hungarians. I with my school cap & a pheasant’s feather. We walked out of the ghetto without Yellow Stars, walked maybe 500 yards. And were arrested by the Arrow Cross. He says “Salvador, Schmalvador. Jews.” Called in 2 youths & said to them 'Take these 4. Do whatever you like with them, but come to the usual place tonight.' Well, we knew exactly what ‘the usual place’ was. It was on the Danube. These 2 youths were sent to enrich themselves. So we took them to various apartments of various family members, all ransacked, but they still found bits & pieces so they were relatively happy. We were just walking. I hear my father - he says to this young man:
'My dear young chap, which university to do you go to?”
'Me at university? I can’t even dream about….'
'An intelligent young man like you? What a waste! I will not permit this to happen. You know, these things are going to come to an end. I promise you that I will look after you if you take us to the Swiss Consulate & avoid an international incident.”
Anyway, he went on like this for hours. We’re getting nearer the Danube and I knew there is Freedom Square, where the American Embassy is & that was under Swiss control. We’re going past it. My father as a last attempt says 'Just let us go in. Otherwise people will find out, we are under their protection. If you do that, I’ll look after you.' They rang the bell. The door didn’t open. So they shot in the air. Somebody came out & let us in. They said 'Here are 4 Jews for you.'
'Go. Get in.' Then he said 'Oh, wait. I want a receipt.'
So he says,“What’s their name?'
'Names? They don’t have names. They’re 4 Jews. Sign.' And we were in there.
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.
I went to this office in the centre of Budapest & pretended to be a fascist refugee fleeing the Russians. They gave me a huge flat & lots of money. I got money from them every week. That was very useful. I had a big flat where I could hide people that needed accommodation. My friends, 2 boys & the girl, were staying. They went out & were caught by the Gestapo - the Hungarian fascists & shot into the Danube. She managed to escape. The boys never came back. A lot of people were shot in the Danube. She jumped before they shot her. And then she came out, frozen… That was terrible. Because they were with me quite a long time in that flat. Those three.
And I went to see this French teacher when I came back [to Budapest]. And asked her whether she could hide me. And she said, no, because she’s got a lot of French prisoners of war in her house and they all- she’s hiding those. But she will send me to her brother who is a civil servant in the Horthy fascist government, and he will- he will help me. So she packed a suitcase for me and sent me to his- to her brother as a cousin that is fleeing the Russians from the east because they were fascists. So I came to this very elegant house of her brother’s, and her brother was very nice to me.
You know, it’s an interesting thing, and I’ve thought about it a lot. I was never frightened. I was never actually frightened. My mother wasn’t frightened either. She had fear. I was very nervous apparently at one point. I had a strange faith – [with emotion] in my mother. That she will look after us. Which she did.
My father had a schoolmate in secondary school, who had some kind of illness and was allowed to complete his university course during the war. And he was a mechanical engineer. And my father employed him and kept him in, you know, he stayed there. And I mean, they were schoolmates; they were friends. So in March, April, May ’44, the hiding things, my parent were hiding things, were giving things out. Clothes, valuables. And my father said to this chap, “Look here is my Leica camera. Please keep it for me. If I don’t come back, it’s yours.” We came back, my father said to him, “You still have the camera?” “Yes, I’ll bring it to you.” Brings it the next day. A week later, his wife comes to my father and [s]he says, “You know, my husband really fell in love with that camera. He really- he likes it so much. He gave it back to you because he’s an honest man. Could you not give it to him?” So my father said, “You know, he’s my friend, he’s worked for me and he’s still working for me and he’ll continue working for me. Here is the camera.” Another week passes. The friend comes to him, and he says, “Gyula you know, I have this camera. I don’t use it. I know you use it. Would you not like to buy it off me?” And my father did. [laughs] This is- is the sort of- the sort of incident. And my, my mother saw people in the street wearing her clothes. And this happened to- to a lot of people
I remember coming out of the, the cellar when the Russians came and I remember somebody must have told me what is the Russian word for ‘bread’. Because I still remember I was asking for chleba, which is - bread. And as far as the food was concerned, as far as I know, during the war, we survived on beans and hazelnuts. Where my mother got them from, I, I- I don’t know.