János Fóthy, Horthy Woods, the Hungarian Devil's Island

Budapest: Müller Károly Kiadó, 1946(?)
Excerpt from Chapter XIII: From the 'Devil's island' to the City of Satan, pp. 88-89.
Translated by Gwen Jones.

And the next day, the committee really did arrive. A hundred young or youngish internees, among them volunteer conscripts, were kept back for factory work, while the rest of us could pack immediately and leave. I won't describe what sort of feeling this was, it's not difficult to imagine. And yet it is difficult to imagine.

Because later that afternoon, when I boarded the train at Szigetszentmiklós [on Csepel Island south of Budapest], the closer I got to the city, the heavier my heart grew. I arrived in a foreign city. First, I saw the yellow-star houses. First, the scores of goading posters everywhere. First, I saw the streets already completely dead at nine in the evening. First, I felt that this city, which had always been so friendly and intimate, was surrounded by such a hostile atmosphere; first, that the smile had been completely wiped from the face of one of the world's most cheerful cities, in under four months, and which had turned into perhaps one of the world's most bleak, most austere cities. Dread at the almost daily bombings and the mania of hatred struck me from the walls of familiar houses, from the windows of closed shops, from the yellow-star gates, and mostly from those who had cowardly and shamelessly placed the symbol of the cross next to the yellow star, as if wanting to say: what do we care what are you doing to the Jews, just leave us alone...

I saw and felt that this city had been abandoned by God, and could only despise Christ, this city had become the City of Satan... Then I got off the tram by Margit Bridge. What I would have given to have been able to go home to my little nest abandoned four months and one week ago, to lie down in my familiar bed and wake up to find that I was finally free, I am finally at home again. But my little nest was no longer my own.

Where should I go? My older sister and relatives had been expelled from their homes and 'moved in together' into yellow-star houses. I didn't want to settle in a house like that: come what may, I thought, I'd rather go into hiding, I'd rather be a night-lodger, but I'm not moving into a yellow-star house. I only learned later how right I was, how accurate my premonition had been.

Where should I go? I stood there on the dark street, homeless, orphaned, and lonely. I couldn't install myself at Christian relatives or friends at such a late hour, I couldn't bring danger upon them.

I looked up to the stars as I had done so many times on the Devil's Island while I was on guard, but the stars were still mute, far away and indifferent.

And yet I set off to find the house where my younger sister lived, to see whether there was a place I could rest my head for the night. And from there, the next morning, I would leave, like a hunted animal, toward my unknown fate, the path of the outlaw in hiding...

Tears streamed down my face and I thought that everything happening to me now was just the start of a chapter of exile (and no easier than the first). I had escaped from the Devil's Island, but wherever I returned, that was not freedom. I had returned to the world, yes, but it was no longer my world. Would I ever reach freedom, would that world ever return in which I could feel safe and at home?

I shook my head bitterly: I don't think so, I don't think so. And then I rang on the door of the yellow-star house…


János Fóthy was a converted, unmarried journalist and writer in his thirties. He was interned in April 1944 and taken from the Rökk Szilárd Street holding camp, first to the Tsuk estate on Csepel island, and from there to Horthy Woods. The excerpt above is the closing chapter of the book in which he describes how Jews interned on Csepel island were thrown to the winds on August 30-31, 1944.