Testimonies

Here is a selection of testimonies submitted to us via e-mail or Facebook, and originally published on our Hungarian-language website. These testimonies were selected and, unless stated otherwise, translated into English by Gwen Jones. To submit a story, please write to bertalan@ceu.edu.

2014. February 19., Wednesday

VI. Teréz Boulevard 7. - Zsuzsa Mezei

My family lived and was liberated in Teréz Boulevard 7. I was three years old. The Russians were already at Nyugati railway station when the Germans entered the house. They asked whether there were any Jews here, and received the answer that there were only German workers in the house. The Germans were tired, they ate and slept. Three people left the house via a drilled-out tunnel into the next house, and from there to Nyugati, and brought the Russians back to the house. For both me and the house, this was liberation.

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V. Akadémia Street 7 - Marianne Kiss

When it came time to move into the yellow-star house, a second floor apartment at Akadémia Street 7 was designated for us. My mother, her parents, my younger sister and I moved in there together into a narrow room, but at least we could be together. The apartment had originally belonged to my grandmother’s older brother, Dr. Károly Fillenz. There was a vast mount of people squeezed in there together, around 38-40 of us, most of whom were related. We only knew the other residents of the house by sight, and I remember the family name of Adler.

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Horthy’s proclamation caused much excitement, but the next day the Arrow Cross broke into the house, and ordered every man aged between 16 and 60 down into the courtyard. They took away Grandfather and Uncle Károly and all the other men in the house. They never returned. Adler was the only one in the house who escaped and returned home. It’s from him that we know they were taken to Dachau, and the old ones were killed the very same hour they arrived.

Some days later more Arrow Cross men came, young men in their teens, and herded all the women together. They took our mother too. After a terrible, nerve-wracking three days, she came home. They had been taken to the Óbuda brick factory. There were thousands of them there, desperate girls and women. Our mother was rescued by a distant relative who was working as a Zionist, who didn’t wear the yellow star, and who went about in public wherever he could. He went to the brick factory to get his wife, and because he knew our mother well, he managed to bring her and a few other women out too. The yellow-star house was almost completely empty. We didn’t dare to stay there either.

A relative pointed us to Pozsonyi Road 41, which was under Swiss protection. As the photo shows, the house on Akadémia Street, with its beautiful, grand, middle-class apartments, was one of the most elegant on the street. Because of my memories connected to the place, it isn’t this beauty that I remember, but what we experienced there of the horrors, tragedies, numerous suicides, and finally our loved ones being dragged off.

2014. February 18., Tuesday

V. Arany János Street 27 - Annamária Rojkó and Julianna Rojkó

From 1928 until nationalization, the house was owned by the Hungarian Trade Bank of Pest. Today there are no residents left who were here when it was a yellow-star house; the last was our mother, Mrs. Ervin Rojkó, née Erzsébet Jutkovics, who died in 2012. At the age of five, she was taken in November 1944 to the brick factory in Óbuda, and then to the Lichtenwörth camp in Austria, from where she came home at the end of April 1945, weakened and emaciated. She was so weak that she couldn’t make it to the family’s fifth-floor apartment. The lift had been out of order for a long time because of all the shooting. Our grandmother and our mother’s 15-year-old younger brother had spent the winter of 1944 in the ghetto, during which time the authorities moved refugees into the apartment. By the time our mother returned, our grandmother and uncle had returned to the run-down apartment, whose walls had also collapsed.

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The concierge, Sándor Malischka, seated our mother, who was skeletally thin, in an armchair and carried her up to the fifth floor. It was from the same apartment that they had taken our grandfather, Albert Jutkovics, to Buchenwald, and he never came back. (Our grandfather had been producing false identity papers and baptism certificates at the neighboring Jutkovics zincographers at Sas Street 21 with his nephew - is there anyone who knows what kind of printing process this was?). Our mother thinks someone must have denounced him because they came looking for him personally in the yellow-star house, and took him away. At that point, the extended family was still together in the apartment: two adolescent cousins (Tibi and Karcsi Grünberg, who had escaped from Slovakia hiding in a hearse), our grandmother’s older sister and her family, her husband, Béla Braun, who ran a bicycle shop at Arany János Street 10, their son Jancsi who was around ten years old, and their daughter Ági who was expecting a baby from Péter Kallós, who had arrived in Hungary from Palestine with Hanna Szenes, as a British paratrooper.

Béla Braun had a serious heart condition, and could no longer make it down to the air-raid shelter. He died there in the apartment, and was taken to the Kozma Street cemetery, although his family were not allowed to accompany his body.

Middle-class families lived in the house in Lipótváros, mostly industrialists, artists and lawyers. Among them was István Thomán, the virtuoso pianist who taught at the Music Academy, who had taught Bartók and Dohnányi, and in whose apartment great musicians from all around the world gave recitals. The maestro died in 1940 at the age of 77, but his family and daughters lived in the house during the war. One of his daughters, Kati, married a Christian bank clerk, and their son Tamás Gallia also trained as a pianist. His hands were ruined by forced labor, and he later became a sound engineer and, after emigrating, a music publisher.

Among the house residents, we also knew Dr. Sára Nagy (née Schwarz), a physician, and we know that her 13-year-old daughter Kati was placed in a convent, but someone denounced the nuns, and the head of the convent and the children she had hidden were all shot at the Danube.

We also knew Mrs. Gyula Weisz, Auntie Maca, but this was her name by her second husband. We don’t know the name of her first husband who died in forced labor; their son Robi died in one of the death camps.

There was another family called Weisz who lived in the house during the war. Their son Tibi trained as a silversmith, and was in love with our mother. On her birthday, he ordered her flowers. By the time the flowers arrived in September 1944, Tibi had been shot into a grave he had to dig himself, at Balf.

Also in the house on the fifth floor was Mrs. István Ritscher, Böske, a tennis champion and her engineer husband. As far as we know, her husband died somewhere in forced labor, and she emigrated.

We must also mention Sándor Malischka and his wife Magda (whom we called Uncle Sanyi and Auntie Magdus), who did an enormous amount for the residents of the house. They safeguarded the valuables entrusted to them by the residents, and returned every last item to those coming back from the ghetto or camps, and would not accept a penny in return. More importantly, and for which they subsequently deserved the “Righteous Among the Nations” honorific, was that they took in the daughter of a young married Jewish couple called Forrai. The girl, Marika, was only a couple of months old, and they looked after her as if she was their own daughter right up until liberation, when her parents who had hidden “peacefully” came back for their baby.

V. Károly Boulevard 26 - Katalin ÖregKis

On March 19, 1944, “the Germans arrived,” they occupied Hungary, and we had to wear the yellow star.

In the book about the history of the Goldberger factory, Dr. Ödön Geszler writes about what happened to the Goldberger management: on March 19, 1944, the Gestapo took Leó Goldberger away on the very first day, and arrested the factory’s management. For us, this was disastrous, because while they ran the factory, they supported my mother financially.

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“On September 18, 1944, the factory suffered another massive bomb attack, which caused huge explosions, and there were no attempts to reconstruct the building. The airplanes were trying to bomb the railway bridge over the Danube, but fell on the area which contained the Goldberger factory, the Bulgarian nursery garden, and the bay of the winter port.” (p. 164)

When the family had to move into a yellow-star house, my mother and aunt “hid” their valuables in a big chest in one of the Goldberger factory’s storerooms. This is how their valuables (silver goods, jewelry, fur coats and other things in the chest, but I don’t know what they were) were destroyed in the bombing and subsequent fire. (Our father, György Kis, worked in the Goldberger factory in Kelenföld as a textile engineer, as did my older brother András Kollin, as well as my aunt’s brother, and this is how the chest ended up at the mill, which burned down.) One more sad thing: Leó Goldberger was taken to Mauthausen where, after 14 months’ imprisonment, he died on May 5, 1945.

[…]

The family moved into the apartment of Kati Hoffman (Pesti grandmother’s sister and daughter) and her husband Jenő Stern. The various documents show that they (in total 12 people) probably moved into a mezzanine-floor, three-room apartment at Károly Boulevard 26. There were certainly others there too, because I remember lots and lots of people. There were huge arguments and fights between the adults who shouted at one another, my mother lost her temper and suddenly became angry and outspoken.

I wrote the following in 2006 for a community portal, and couldn’t improve it today.

“What does an eight-year-old girl know? What does she observe, and what does she feel about those events and atmosphere of Sunday October 15, 1944? Perhaps only that on this day, heaven opened up around us (“Finally! It’s over, we’re saved …” said the adults, beaming), and then, around 6 pm, we slid down into hell. It was a beautiful sunny day, we were in the yellow-star house at Károly Boulevard 26, three families crammed into one apartment. They sent us children to Erzsébet Square for a walk. I kicked the fall leaves about. It was good weather for a walk, but we were wearing the yellow star. My brother was two-and-a-half years old, with shiny, curly blond hair, and was running about with the others wearing a blue velvet suit. A soldier was watching us (it turned out later he was a German officer), and asked the adults with us (not our mother, someone else), how it was possible for this beautiful blond boy to be wearing a yellow star. I understood, because I’d already been learning German for three years. I don’t know who answered, or what. I just enjoyed the sunshine, kicking the leaves, and some unspoken feeling of liberation. Towards evening it clouded over, the wind was blowing the leaves around in a frightening fashion, the ones I’d kicked around so happily in the morning. Everyone was outside on the corridor, down in the courtyard a man was shouting, but I didn’t understand him. They entered the apartments and forced the adults, including those in our apartment, to go downstairs to the ground floor. An older lady I hardly knew took my younger brother and me by the hand and put us into a taxi, but I don’t know how this happened. It turned out later that it was my father’s brother’s Christian wife, Auntie Irma, who saved us, and look us to an apartment on Hajós Street. I was scared and crying, but Auntie Irma firmly told me to stop crying right away, to teach my brother his new name, and to say we were refugees from Transylvania. She was shaking with fear that the neighbors would find out what was going on. Although she was shaking, she was a hero, but still shaking (like many Hungarians were). I just cried, and I can’t say how terrible I felt. Only this hopeless, terrible fear and loneliness remain as memories, and some sort of anger towards our mother. As if she, poor thing, were responsible for us being taken away.

So I had to teach Ádám that his name was Ádám Fehér. It wasn’t easy. I remember a kitchen opening on to the outside corridor, but nothing else, not even Auntie Irma, although we should never forget the name of Irma, Mrs. Ferenc Kis. My mother reappeared in early November, having miraculously escaped from the ship factory using a copied rescue letter in someone else’s name. (There were lots of miracles at the time, and we really needed them, because only miracles could save us, those who had finally escaped.) Then one day Auntie Irma took us to Pozsonyi Road 23, which I now know today was the international ghetto. Both there, and in the “Hungarian” ghetto, lots of miracles happened. But I never had such a feeling of being abandoned as I did then, when we reunited with my mother.

What fate would have awaited our mother, if a miracle had not occurred?

[…]

My mother spent three-four days in the camp. A few people were rescued from the camp. (According to Braham, Wallenberg, Carl Lutz, and two or three doctors struggled to bring out a few hundred people.)

My mother often told the story, especially when she wanted me to believe in miracles. This happened quite a lot. There were lots of queues when they inspected the rescue letters. Anika got hold of a copy of a woman’s rescue letter in the camp. She was at the back of the queue, which was moving slowly. The neighboring queue was moving much faster because a uniformed policewoman was inspecting the rescue letters. They then moved some people over to the end of the policewoman’s queue, and this was how my mother became 3rd or 4th in line in the policewoman’s queue. The policewoman examined the rescue letter, looked at my mother, then back at the letter, then at my mother again, who held her gaze. She knew that the description in the letter didn’t fit her at all, but forced herself to keep looking at the policewoman. And the policewoman let her go. This is how the story ended; as for how she returned from the brick factory to the city center, and how she found us, I don’t really know.

VI. Király Street 54 - László Hoffmann

The owner of Király Street 54 was my grandfather, Emil Weisz, who lived with his family on the side facing the street, in a five-room second-floor apartment. At that time, the family consisted of Emil Weisz (aged 75), his wife (born Teréz Bielitz, aged 62), and their three grown-up children (Leonore, aged 29; Edith Marie, aged 28; and Franz Karl, aged 26). 

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The majority of the house residents were Jewish, who were obliged to wear the yellow star from April 5, 1944 (directive no. 1240/1944. M. E.). Like 2,680 other houses in Budapest, the house was classified as a “yellow-star house” according to the Budapest mayoral decree 523.928/1944. XXI. Residents who were classified as non-Jewish had to move out, and their places were taken by Jewish families forced out from other houses, as well as the re-annexed territories, primarily Transylvania. Four members of our family (the ageing parents and two daughters) had to squeeze into one room of our apartment, and the four remaining rooms were designated as residences for four other Jewish families, and all five families were to jointly use the kitchen and bathroom.

My mother, Edith, secured a place in the house where a Communist group led by Zoltán Schönherz could meet, most of whose members were Jewish anti-Fascists. The group met regularly in my grandparents’ apartment. The group failed: on July 6, 1942, Schönherz was arrested and tortured by the Horthy police interrogators, confronted with my mother and other group members, but Schönherz did not break or betray his colleagues. The VKF (staff leader) special court arrested all 13 members of the group, Schönherz was sentenced to death, and on October 9, he was executed in the courtyard of the Margit Boulevard penitentiary. My mother was sentenced to 8 months’ internment which she spent in Nagykanizsa (but that’s another story...).

The youngest son, Franz Karl, went to Switzerland before the war, where he studied chemical engineering at Zurich university. He escaped the war, and only spent a few months in a Swiss prison for anti-Fascist, left-wing activities. (In 1950, however, he was executed under a show trial, and later rehabilitated, but that’s another story ...).

On October 15, governor Miklós Horthy announced his proclamation on the radio: Hungary was attempting to leave the war. At first, people believed that the war was over in Hungary, but the two girls in our family (Lili and Edith) were afraid that the German occupiers would obstruct Hungary’s attempt to leave the war, and that even greater trouble was in store for people, especially the Jews. This is why they cut the yellow stars off their coats, and went out onto the street (which then counted as a capital offense), and went to Lili’s husband, László Virág, a dentist on forced labor service, at his surgery on Szervita Square, while the two elderly parents, Emil and Terus, remained in the apartment at Király Street 54. The two sisters’ concerns very quickly proved to be true, when the Germans helped Ferenc Szálasi’s Arrow Cross military putsch to take power. The two sisters hid every night in the dentist’s surgery at Szervita Square, which today is a parking garage. In exchange for the family’s jewelry, the concierge Mihály Tóth risked his life to give them food, but again this is another story ...

The concierge at Király Street 54 was Mrs. Hartmann, a German in a house mostly inhabited by Jews, and who was a committed Arrow Cross informer. She lived on the ground floor opposite the front gate and made a note of who arrived or left and when, who had visitors, and so on. My mother and her sister decided that they would help their parents escape from Király Street 54 which, given their age, the ban on Jews going out onto the street, and Mrs. Hartmann, was not straightforward. The sisters’ younger brother, Franz Karl, had a Budapest doctor friend who helped them to escape. One evening, an ambulance parked in front of the house, and nurses took my grandfather on a stretcher downstairs and into the ambulance, accompanied by my grandmother. Mrs. Hartmann rushed out onto the street and started shouting that they couldn’t take my grandfather away, since he wasn’t even ill, and in any case, Jews were under a curfew. But the ambulance doctor, who was also Jewish, was adamant. Mrs. Hartmann finally allowed them to take my grandfather “to hospital,” but would not agree to letting my grandmother accompany him. Finally the ambulance doctor said that “she’ll be back in the morning, she’s just accompanying him now.” The ambulance took my grandparents straight to Szervita Square where, by something like a miracle, they survived the Arrow Cross raids and were eventually liberated (but this is another eventful story...). When the Russian soldiers arrived in the basement and found the Jews hiding there, they took out a knife and cut the yellow stars from their coats, and gave food to my liberated relations.

Back to Király Street, during the Arrow Cross terror... After my grandparents’ departure, all the Jews in the house were driven into the courtyard and force-marched to some holding place (probably on Csepel island), where they were put onto wagons and taken to a German death camp. I’ve heard it said about the Ruttkai couple who lived in the ground-floor corner apartment, that because the ageing husband was ill, one of his legs wouldn’t support him and so he wasn’t taken into forced labor. When they drove the Jews into the courtyard and he couldn’t go with the others, the Arrow Cross beat him to death in front of the other residents with a rifle butt.

After the Liberation, a few Jews returned to the house, including my maternal grandparents who had come out of hiding. Because of the British and American carpet bombing, my grandparents had to renovate the house, and took out a loan for this from the state. After the house was renovated, but before nationalization, my grandfather managed to sell the house to an optimistic buyer at a very low price. Having paid back the state from the buying price, they had enough left over for two eiderdowns... this is how much the family property was sold for. My grandmother died in 1945, she didn’t want to live any more, and refused to take her medicine. My grandfather lived another five years, and died a few months after his son was executed, although luckily he did not know that his son was the victim of a show trial. The family only learned of this in 1956. Of the Jews who returned to the house, two were mentally disturbed, a man (Mr. Sugár on the second floor) and a woman (Piroska Garas on the third floor). The house managed to dodge the revolutionary period too, but again, that would be another story.

V. Bajcsy-Zsilinszky Way 24 - Éva Deák-Szirtes

My grandparents lived in this house on the first floor, and I spent a lot of time there since my parents' apartment was close by on Hajós Street. My grandparents had a coffee house here at Emperor Vilmos Street 24, as it was called at the time, and which is now a branch of the OTP bank. It was from here that two of my uncles were taken away—the younger of whom had just turned 20—and they never returned. The rest of the family ended up in the ghetto.

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Two families lived on the first floor, called László and Krémer. Someone in the Krémer family was a dentist and their surgery was in the house. After the war they continued to live there until the entire first floor was taken over by a company and everyone had to move out. Unfortunately I don't know how many died from these families, but someone must have survived, because I remember them living there when I was a small child.

XIII. Hegedűs Gyula Street 15 - Judit Friss

My grandparents moved in the early 1910s to Sátoraljaújhely; earlier, they had been living in Munkács [now Mukacheve in Ukraine]. My grandfather Jakab (Jenő) Weiss was a shoemaker. My grandmother Hermina had ten children, of whom only eight survived to adulthood. She ran the household, with help: my mother was the eldest daughter and looked after her younger siblings. When they started to grow up, my mother Erzsébet moved up to Pest. At that point, her brothers Ödön and Miklós already had an apartment in Pest. Both of them had followed the path of their father, the shoemaker, or rather they became successful shoe traders. My mother arrived in the capital with the older little sisters, Irénke and Ilonka. The girls supported themselves by sewing. They lived on the ground floor, apartment no. 2, at Csáky (from 1956, Hegedűs Gyula) Street 15. The five siblings rented an apartment with a maid’s room, from Aunt Molnár. The apartment was furnished according to (petty) bourgeois taste. Even I remember this too, because the original items were still there when I was born, and we didn’t really buy any new furniture for ourselves until we moved in the late sixties. Even today I can still recall the nice statuettes, the painting in dark tones of a woman pulling on stockings by lamplight, and the wispy, pale yellow tablecloth on the round table with a square base. I do not know what happened to Aunt Molnár, but she too probably fell victim to the Holocaust. As a child, I didn’t ask her about this, but after the war, there was no more Aunt Molnár, and the apartment became the rented property of my mother and her siblings…

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My maternal grandparents stayed at home with their youngest children (Tibi, Editke and Évike), and in the late spring of 1944, they were taken from Sátoraljaújhely to Germany, to “work in horticulture.” We learned this from a yellow postcard in my grandfather’s handwriting, which has since been lost. The rest: silence…

Of the siblings in Pest, the boys were snatched away into forced labor service, from where they returned, after the war, more or less in one piece. On December 26, 1944, the three girls were transported in cattle wagons to Bergen-Belsen. Their fate was not substantially different from that of the others: lice, cold, cattle-turnip soup. They were able to stay together in the camp until the end, although my mother did not like to talk about what they lived through. I only remember that she mentioned Russian Jewish ladies, who were very aggressive and resourceful.

After the liberation of the camp my mother, who weighed 28 kilos, attempted to come home with her younger sisters. On the way, Soviet soldiers tried to rape them, but without success. In his fury, one of the soldiers shot three bullets at the girls. Irénke was hit in the heart by the cartridge, and she died instantly. Ilonka was shot in the stomach, and my mother in the ankle, and that foot remained thinner for the rest of her life. But the two of them survived, received medial attention, and in the summer, reached Csáky/Hegedűs Gyula Street. The two boys soon returned home from forced labor service. And so the four siblings, plus Bandi, a cousin who was also a survivor, and whom everyone called Tapsi because of his protruding ears, could be together again.

Ilonka did not want to live in Hungary any more. She married a boy she’d known for six weeks, Laci Braun, and under hazardous circumstances, via Belgium and Cyprus, they reached the promised land by boat. Having been an atheist earlier, Ilona now became a deeply religious person, and lived a happy life in her new homeland with her family and son. Tapsi also left for Palestine. He became a sailor and had a family. He died relatively young in a maritime accident.

Of the two sons who remained here, Miklós lived in Budapest. The other brother, Ödön, set up a shoe business, also in Pest. He was a militant Communist, a member of the “Vándor” choir. When his company was nationalized and he was excluded from the Party, he’d had enough. Disillusioned and horrified, he left the country with his family in 1956. He settled in London and opened a shoe shop. His daughter married a German man, which appalled him so much, he cut off all relations with her.
And so the Csáky [Hegedűs Gyula] Street apartment became ours. My parents married in the Csáky Street synagogue in 1947. My mother was not religious but felt that, in memory of her parents, a religious wedding was appropriate. My father was also a convinced atheist, but was obliged to agree to the religious ceremony. We lived in the house until 1968 when, after my parents’ divorce, I moved into a smaller apartment with my mother.

I didn’t like the Hegedűs Gyula Street apartment because it was cold, and didn’t get any light whatsoever, only reflected light on occasion. But the community in the house was very cohesive, I remember lots of the old residents. To mention a few: the Szántó family, who always gave us must during grape harvest time; the Rácz family, whose children were always hungry, and when they came over to our apartment, they went straight to the bread bin. I tried to teach one of the older Rácz children how to read and count. The Tróber family also lived there, who sometimes gave me beautiful, textile-covered postcards as presents. And then the Lévai family, whose children only washed—a slight exaggeration—when my father projected filmstrips onto a stretched-out bed-sheet, because the entrance fee was clean neck and ears. The Rappaport family took me with them to the Margit Island company beach, or the Lauder family, where the adults went to wage ferocious card battles. The latter were the first in the house to have a refrigerator. Once I pilfered a melon from their fridge on the way home, and it turned out later that it wasn’t our melon. Then there was the Nádas family, whose daughter Jutka got married and for a while after, parcels from their London relatives arrived in their name; in the 1960s, parcels arrived from the West without customs duties.

A few more names from the old residents, in a list: Ibi Réti and Dezső, Uncle Falvi, Zsuzsi Kertész, Juliska Wolf, Ági Vajda, Ági Wiener, the Néderman family. János Szabó (a gentleman’s tailor), the Eszes family (the Schwarz girls), the Szőke family, the Szépe family, the Bugyi family (later Beleznai), the Oláh, Újvári, Tancsa, Bana, and Romhányi families too.

I must also mention one person separately: Laura Diamant, or Auntie Laura, who practically became my grandmother. My maternal grandparents had been killed in Auschwitz, my paternal grandmother was shot into the Danube, and although my grandfather later had a partner, I didn’t accept her as my grandmother. And so Auntie Laura became my grandmother; she was a skinny, lonely typist. By the time I met her, she was retired, and looked after children now and again. She was a spinster, and she kept a photo of a Red Army soldier, which she once showed me, blushing… She held great domino games at hers, and the first prize was always a liquor glass of raspberry syrup. You could also get “Füles,” “Ludas Matyi,” and “Film, Theatre, Music” magazines from her too. On Saturdays, we made real kosher sholet bean stew. She received the food from the Joint kitchen, but was sick to death of sholet, while I just adored it. In 1969, she went into hospital. With a bunch of flowers in hand, I was just setting off to visit here when the telephone rang: it was too late. Her parrot always sang: “I am Gyurika Diamant, I live Hegedűs Gyula…” But what happened to him, I don’t know.

After we moved, I didn’t visit the house again, but now I’m happy and excited to return. My childhood friend, Tibi, has just moved back there, into the apartment of his late parents. Together we’ll remember the old times, his grandmother standing on the corridor in her blue printed cloth, his asthmatic coughing grandfather, his mother who became a painter in her old age, and last but not least, the tremors of 1956, which were great adventures for us. When I recall my childhood memories, I always say: “when we still lived at home.” Often, people snort: “Why, don’t you live at home now?”

VII. Dembinszky Street 48 - Panni Győri and siblings

When I was a child and “star-houses” were discussed in the family, at first I thought of something really distinguished, because if something has a star on it, it must be lovely.

With my siblings’ approval, I’m sharing here what was described by our mother, Piroska Fischer, to her grandchildren, about life in the summer and early fall of 1944 in Dembinszky Street 48.

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Earlier, my mother had lived in Damjanich Street in a three-room apartment, which they were forced to leave in June 1944. The four of them were moved into a room facing the courtyard in the yellow-star house at Dembinszky 48: my mother, who was 22 at the time, her parents, and maternal grandmother. Of their belongings, they only managed to take with them the parents’ bed and wardrobe, another bed and a mattress for the grandmother, which was placed on the floor for want of anything better. There was also a middle-aged married couple of teachers in one room of the apartment, and in another room, a German family who had Hungarian citizenship: three women (grandmother, the mother and an aunt), and two sons, aged 11 and 15. This forced cohabitation turned out to be a great stroke of luck, as everyone got on very well. They conjured up lunch together out of everyone’s meager rations. The middle-aged couple survived, together with Aunt Józsa and her descendants, and our families have remained friends until this day.

What was life like in a yellow-star house? Residents could leave the house between a fixed time in the morning, maybe 9, until five in the afternoon. Our mother recalled that there were some things Jews were not allowed to buy. At 5 p.m., the front gate was shut and nobody could go in or out. Four years had passed since my mother graduated from high school with top marks, but because of the numerus clausus [restriction on the number of Jews at university], she couldn’t continue her studies. She learned how to sew undergarments and tried to earn some money this way, taking on repairs to support the family, but because they weren’t allowed to move about freely, this became harder and harder. The family shopped from their paltry reserves and sometimes sold items, for instance, they got a relatively good price for the typewriter. They led a humble existence.

There was an enormous number of people living in the yellow-star house. Lots of children and older people. The residents only saw just how many people were living there when there was an air raid, and everyone had to go down into the basement. In situations like these, people don’t behave like they normally would, but my mother remembers that there were also lots of people there who preserved their dignity.

One day it was announced that they had to take in pupils from the Jewish orphans’ home on the neighboring avenue, because for some reason it had no working kitchen. The very next day, every family received an orphan and gave them a warm welcome, doing their best to give them a good lunch. They were very nice to them and the children were also very friendly. In the boiling hot summer, all the orphan boys and girls were wearing thick baize clothes. Seeing this, the girls and young women in the house made up garments and summer clothing out of their own clothes, for the children. They took great care of the children they took in.

Everyone was pleased when forced laborers came to visit. The laborers were already in great danger, and everyone was afraid that they’d be taken to Ukraine, Serbia or a warzone. The front was moving closer and closer, and everyone in the house knew of the Normandy landings. Of course, they hadn’t had radios for a long time, because every Jewish family had had to hand these in much earlier. And then there were the terrible bombings that had already reached Pest. But they hoped that things would somehow turn out okay.

After Horthy’s proclamation in October and the Arrow Cross took over, that was when the destruction of Budapest Jews began. Everyone had to move into the central ghetto, but there were also other places outside the ghetto, different schools and offices where people were moved into, including the offices of the Bureau for the Protection of the Rights of the Jews of Hungary. In the end, everyone they found was taken to the ghetto. Our father, Dezső Gold, who was already engaged to our mother, arrived back in Pest from forced labor service in Transylvania on October 16, and never went back. Everyone else from his group was deported. He acquired what was called a Schutzpass protective passport, which could be issued by name, and was filled out for the family.

Meanwhile, in early October, our grandfather had a punctured stomach from all the stress, and had to be taken into hospital. The oldest boy from the family living with them accompanied him to the hospital. There was a Jewish hospital on Wesselényi Street; today, the building houses a Jewish foundation’s school. They sewed his stomach up there and quickly sent him home. This was when the decree came on October 20 that called up all men under the age of 60 who were not soldiers or forced laborers. This was when they took away our fellow resident, the teacher. A policeman came for our grandfather, but because of his recent stomach operation, he couldn’t get out of bed. Three days later all women under the age of 50 were also called up, including our mother. Our grandmother, who had just turned 50, accompanied her to the front gate and, without crying, watched as her only daughter was taken away. They were assembled together at the KISOK sports field where the terminus of the underground line is today at Mexikói Road. From there, they were force marched under armed Arrow Cross guard towards Pécel, east of Budapest. They slept in all sorts of barns, in the forest, and sometimes rested after digging anti-tank traps and trenches. They could take food with them from home, and were later given bread; our mother told us the bread was thrown at them. She was lucky to be able to stay with the women she knew from the yellow-star house. Later, as the front moved closer, they were marched back once again to Pest, and from Pest over to Budafok. Meanwhile there was an air raid, and one of the policemen reassured them by saying, “don’t worry girls, Uncle Joe (Stalin) won’t shoot you from the plane.”

VII. Dohány Street 47 - Mrs. György Uhrman

My name is Mrs. György Urhman, born Katalin Zinger. In 1944, I was 12 when the Germans entered Hungary and the order was issued to establish the yellow-star houses. My parents and older brother had been living in a small apartment in the house overlooking Teleki Square. The story begins while my father was on forced labor service, and we heard nothing from him for months. So the three of us had to move. Via the husband of my maternal aunt, Mrs. Árpád Wellisch, we ended up with other relatives at a four-room apartment owned by an American citizen, Mr. Dreisen, at Dohány Street 47, where he lived with his wife and their daughter Éva.

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The compulsory yellow star was placed on the front of the house, the front gate had to be kept closed, and we could only go out for a short period of time, as far as I recall between 11 a.m. and 2-3 p.m. In order to make sure the regulations were being observed, a register of all residents had to be compiled and posted next to the entrance. Officials (one police, one civilian) would arrive unannounced at various times. They held a roll-call of the register, and if anyone was not present, then they (and the others?) were in trouble. Once, when they reached Éva Dreisen’s name, there was no answer. We were terrified: what will happen now? It was either the officials or the other residents who finally found her in the air shaft next to the bathroom. She had been asked on the street to show her ID on the day the Germans entered Hungary, March 19, and taken away. I don’t remember when how long they kept her for. From then on, she was petrified of all official inspections, and that’s why she’d crawled through the bathroom window into the air shaft.

Apart from these unexpected checks, life was initially bearable. We children soon made friends and played together. Among the adults, there were very old men and women of various ages. When we were allowed to go outside, the women went shopping, as long as they had money. They mostly bought food for cooking, baking or keeping in reserve. They spent the rest of their time conjuring up spirits. They wrote the alphabet on a piece of drawing paper which they divided in two with a perpendicular line with “yes” on one side and “no” on the other. They drew a circle in the middle of the line. At the beginning of the séance, they placed a glass upside-down which the medium moved with her second and middle finger. The participants suggested a spirit to contact, usually someone’s deceased relation. The medium asked, “Dear spirit, are you there?” and the glass would wander towards yes or no. When the séance went well, participants could ask about deceased relatives, and the glass spelled out the answer. Children were not allowed in, so I only know about this from what I was told, and also because one of my aunts was so receptive to the séances that if she was alone, she conjured up spirits by herself. She made herself a smaller sheet and substituted the glass with a coin, but got rid of that later because as she said, “the spirits are speaking from within me.” After the ghetto was liberated, she said she’d dreamed of the numbers 10 and 18 a few days earlier, that the Russians were coming. But that’s a later story.

As I said before, this relatively bearable existence did not last long. Everything took a turn for the worse after the Arrow Cross takeover of power. I will never forget October 15, 1944. After Horthy’s radio proclamation, everyone dashed out onto the corridors and rejoiced. One of my maternal uncles who had escaped from forced labor service said: “Mad Jews, stop celebrating! Now comes the hardest part.” Then he left, saying he was going to find his wife and three young children. We never saw him again, nor any of the 11 of my mother’s relatives who were deported from the countryside.

On December 2, 1944, an Arrow Cross man and a policeman appeared. All the residents had to go downstairs into the courtyard, and we were given instructions on what we could take with us, etc. We took with us a small suitcase containing papers, a small basket of food, and some bedding. We had to go up one by one to the apartment and then back down to the courtyard. There was no exemption for the old people. This is one of my tragicomic memories. The residents realized that they would be taking us away, although we didn’t know where to. Then someone shouted that they had a protection letter, a Swiss one. The Arrow Cross man took it, read it, then tore it up and said “according to Interior Minister Gábor Vajna’s instructions, this protection letter is invalid.” The bearer of the letter was not upset, but just produced another one, which met the same fate. Once all the rejections had been heard, and all the protection letters torn up, they left us standing in the courtyard, and the Arrow Cross man and the policeman went from apartment to apartment checking whether anyone had been left behind, while at the same time collecting all the valuables and getting completely drunk. We finally set off towards evening. We ended up at the nearby Klauzál Square where we waited around for hours. We didn’t know at the time that we were on the territory of the designated ghetto.

Another humorous memory: a Jewish lady from our group went up to an Arrow Cross man and asked him: “Brother! What will happen to us?” He was so drunk he wasn’t even offended by the “brother,” and replied: “What else? The Russians will come and you will go home.” Sadly, not everyone went home. Lots died there from hunger, or shot in groups by armed groups who broke into the houses. 25 people from my extended family lived in a two-room, third-floor apartment at Akácfa Street 54, which contained empty wardrobes, a table and chairs and, in one room, two beds covered only with wires.

All non-Jewish residents and traders had to move out of the territory of the ghetto, and I watched this mass migration from the window. That’s when I had the idea of removing the yellow star from my coat and just standing behind one of the moving carts: nobody would notice a child. And this is how it happened. I have to recall the concierge’s family from Dohány Street 47, the Halász family. They were good people, and helped us as much as they could. Auntie Halász was particularly fond of me, and when they rounded up the first group destined for the ghetto, she said I could stay with them. Of course I didn’t want to leave my family. Although someone denounced them for hiding Jews, luckily, nobody was found in their apartment. So as someone “moving house,” I went to see Auntie Halász, who had been given the keys to all the apartments by the Arrow Cross. I let myself into the flat with the keys and started packing. I took mostly bedding and food, but underwear too. Then I went down to the street and “took” an empty moving cart, which I loaded with my things and went to the ghetto. Since this went so well, I repeated the whole thing every day until every entrance to the ghetto was sealed up with 5-meter-tall boards.

I also remember another good person, a Christian man named Rudolf Szekér, who worked as a waiter with one of my paternal uncles. Mr. Szekér often visited our family in the ghetto. When he learned we had ended up there, he did not rest until he had walked the entire length of the ghetto and finally he found us. From that point on, he came every day with a few loaves of bread. Stacked up two or three loaves across, we had a good meter-and-a-half pile of bread. Of course, it ran out by January 18 and was as hard as stone, but this is how we managed not to die of hunger. Otherwise, conditions were terrible, with 360 people together in a shelter built for 120. The smell was so bad there that while we were in there we didn’t notice it, but if someone went out and came back in again, they almost fainted from the stench. Even babies were born there, and how their mothers managed to keep them clean is a mystery. But on January 18, the ghetto was liberated. My brother told me in the morning that he was going to go out onto the street, because he was waiting for our Father, about whom we knew nothing. In response, our mother slapped him hard, twice. Of course, he still went onto the street, and wonder of wonders, our Father returned home. Of all the miracles which helped us survive, that was maybe the greatest.

And at that point, we still believed that the Horthy period was over for us forever—the same Horthy period that is being glorified in full force today. But that’s another tale. 

VI. Hajós Street 26/b - Éva Deák-Szirtes

I grew up in this house, and lived here during the Holocaust too. My father was taken away from here on forced labor service and he never returned.
Most of the house’s residents were Jewish, and even before that time too. I’ll try to mention them by name, so that a trace of them remains in the wider world. We lived on the first floor in no. 1, and although I don’t remember the name of the tenants in no. 2 next door, after the war, the actress Margit Dajka moved in there and stayed for many years. At no. 3 on the first floor lived the Somlai family, whose earlier family name was Sreier. The husband (Uncle Rudi) worked in some office, while his wife, Auntie Zsóka, was a seamstress, and the apartment also contained her salon and workshop.

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At no. 1 on the second floor lived the Fekete family, who somehow survived the Holocaust. Auntie Fekete had three sons: György went off to somewhere in South America, from where his letters arrived, and there was always some big celebration. The middle son János went to Austria, and the third, István, stayed at home with his mother. The mother and youngest son both died at home some years after the war. On the second floor also lived the Paszternák family, who left in 1956. They had two sons, Róbert and Detre. The Meizl family also lived on the second floor, the mother survived the Holocaust, and Rózsika, in her twenties, died during deportation.

The Bánáti family lived on the third floor, the husband worked in the textile industry, and they also survived the war. On the same floor lived the Dános family, and they too survived somehow. I don't know how many there were in the family, or who survived, but I do know that their son Tamás defected to America. The owner lived on the fourth floor, we called him Uncle Bíró, I don't know his first name. After he died, Egon Lázár moved into the apartment, I think he was the finance director of the Opera or the Comedy Theater, so he was a relative. Otherwise the Sinkovics-Gombos couple also lived in the house for a while, with their children. I don't remember anyone else, but perhaps that's enough about the house.

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