Siege of Budapest

I was pretty frightened. I wasn't a happy bunny. But I was 9 & reasonably streetwise & old for my age. I was on my own for nearly two months without seeing any member of my family. Soon after Christmas, suddenly, the adults disappeared [from the Red Cross safe house]. I was curious & went down in the shelter & found a distant relative there, my father's second cousin. She just said 'My God. What are you doing here? Don't go back upstairs. Stay downstairs with me. We've still got some food. We've got a kitchen. & I have friends who sometimes bring food.' This is my children's favourite story: one day she said 'Will you go to this & this address? Somebody will give you some food to bring back.' I went to that address. The lady gave me a saucepan, but a funny saucepan. One of the tall saucepans. In Hungarian, you have the different name for a low one & a high one. This was a high one, full of bean soup. I could even see some meat inside it if I looked carefully. I carried that soup back, occasionally hiding in doorways. Because by then the Russians were strafing all the roads. What I didn't realise, Freedoms Square—Szabadság tér—was very near & the German anti-aircraft was stationed there. So there was lots of bombing. My main concern was dodging the bullets, & in dodging the bullets, not to spill the bean soup. The bean soup safely arrived & I think we lived on that for 2 or 3 days. That's how it went. By then there was tremendous bombardment. The day 18th of January when after weeks of this awful noise of bombs falling suddenly there was an eerie silence. I woke up on a straw mattress next to the lady. Some of the curious ones, which I was one of them, despite that she said to me, 'Don't go outside!' I took my nose outside & saw a few soldiers with guns in a different uniform. The Germans had a sort of bluish-grey uniform. The Hungarians had khaki uniform & the Russians had, again, khaki but a different colour, a yellowish-brown uniform. And then we realised that we were ‘free’—again, in inverted commas.

People behaved so harshly to each other, stole bread, a piece of sausage. It was really people... safeguarding their own family. My mother tried to make a campfire in the yard, make some soup. I was breaking up furniture so we could make a bonfire. There was bombing & shelling, house-to-house fighting. We were starving, really. On Christmas Eve a horse was killed just outside the house. It was carved up very quickly. I got a piece of horse... as a Christmas present.

It was in the night - bang, bang, bang, bang on the wall of the cellar. Suddenly a hole appeared. A Russian soldier came in, with bread. He was filthy. Nobody spoke Russian but I remember what he said [she mimics ‘speaking’ silently]. We understood why, because the German soldiers were marching on the street. So first 1 soldier, then 2 & then we saw guns. Then we learned the word, 'chasy, chasy' which meant 'watches'. Because the soldiers came & took the watches from people who had wristwatches because that was their most important thing in life: to own watches. Soldiers, you could see them: 4,5,6,7,8 watches on their arms. That was a thing. What I don't remember - I was too young to remember - that lots of soldiers raped young women there. But that I don't remember. I was just- Later on, I was just told that it happened.

It was a terrible time. The siege of Budapest was the longest siege of any European city during the war. I was in Buda. But the Zionist organisation that was helping people was in Pest. I went there 1 day before all the bridges were blown up. You couldn’t go, after that. We decided that we are going to go away from Budapest because it was still under siege. So we walked from Budapest to Szeged, about 200 kilometres. One of the most horrible winters. It was terrible. I had such frostbite. But I just wanted to get away from the front.

Partly walking & partly we got lifts from the Russians. Lorries. They had lorries & sometimes gave us a lift. The Russians weren’t very nice. It was quite dangerous. I was 18. Another girl was 15 & they were always trying to rape her. So it was terrible. You could talk yourself out of it. I could speak Russian quite well & tell them that I’m on their side, my boyfriend is a partisan & is fighting. You could always- you could talk yourself out of it. But it was- You had to be able to chat them up. It wasn’t always easy."