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

V. Nyugati Square 6 - Katalin Trencsényi

A slice from the history of the yellow-star house on the corner of Berlin (today Nyugati) Square, which I found in the memoirs of my grandmother, Margit Petrolay, entitled “The Little One in Hiding”:

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“In such circumstances I decided to find my sister-in-law, about whom I only knew that she had moved out of her apartment. Not voluntarily. She had to move into a yellow-star house. The house stood on the corner of Berlin (later Marx) Square, near the Nyugati railway station, and where there was a pharmacist famous throughout the city. I knew that the owner was providing refuge for my sister-in-law and her daughter. I rang at the door of the third-floor apartment, where there was a sign hanging on the door. It was written in Hungarian, German and English, and said that the tenant was a British citizen and legally residing here. A woman opened the door. We introduced ourselves. I learned that she was working as an English governess. The family had moved to some unknown place, and entrusted the apartment to her. The Miss told me that an Arrow Cross group had been in the house the day before and ordered all the men to form lines in the courtyard, and then they took them away. She could not guarantee our safety. I found my sister-in-law, but it turned out that we had to leave this place. The concierge rang and told us that the Arrow Cross were here again, he had managed to divert them into his apartment and keep them talking there. But he warned us that we are not safe. The Miss had an idea: she would accompany us to the neighbor’s apartment. She asked the residents to take us in. They were not overly pleased to take in the visitors, but their humanity overcame that. They allowed the Miss to bring us into their apartment, while they retreated into the kitchen. This showed that they hadn’t invited us in. The room was cold and we didn’t dare turn on the light. We spend a good hour here until the concierge came to tell the Miss that the Arrow Cross were drinking in his apartment. We could hear their singing coming from his ground-floor apartment. We then thanked the residents for their hospitality, and returned to the apartment of the Miss and the pharmacist, and started packing right away.

My sister-in-law was very cautious and timid, and didn’t dare to leave her apartment and go out onto the street. Yet she still committed herself to my firm decision to move. Later, I looked over her bag, which contained things she would not need in the foreseeable future, such as a cookbook. I removed it from the bag but later, even before we left, it was back in there. I took it out again so she wouldn’t notice. Then she realized that there was no yellow star on her coat. I managed to convince her that from the point of view of what we were about it do, this was fine. We set off. We ventured out into the corridor, and then to the dark stairwell, and set off downstairs. Feeling our way from one step to the next, we made it down to the ground floor. To our horror, we found the front gate closed. A woman appeared in the gateway, I couldn’t see her but only heard her voice. She asked: are you them? What could I reply? I said yes, that’s us. Without a word, she opened the gate and we stepped out. A soldier was standing next to the gate. It never became clear, not even later, why he was standing there. Was he on duty? Did he have a date? But he didn’t stand in our way.

Holding the daughter’s hand, I quickly took her and her mother over to what was called the Banana Island. It was the terminus stop for lots of tram lines. We were in luck because there was a thick fog. You couldn’t make out any shapes. It was growing dark and it started to drizzle. I shoved my relatives onto the first tram that arrived and then got on myself. There was an empty seat right next to the door. Opposite me sat a woman, who noted quietly:

“They’re emptying out Pozsonyi Street and taking all the Jews away.”

How the woman had concluded that we were fleeing, I don’t know.

We got off the tram one stop earlier, afraid that someone was watching us and following. We arrived at the doss-house on foot. There were now two more of us again.”

Excerpt from Margit Petrolay, “The Little One in Hiding.”

VI. Eötvös Street 31 - Mrs. András Beck, born Éva Unger (Translated by Judit Gervai)

We were a family of four: my father (Ede Unger), who had long been far away on forced labor service (in Transylvania?); my mother who was, typical for middle class families at the time, a housewife; my 17-year-old brother (János); and myself, aged 14. I cannot help noting that now, as the grandmother of one grown-up and one little grandchild, I look back at my mother’s heroic behavior with ever-growing admiration, and not even understanding how she could have endured this situation; at the way she not only coped, but—to use the contemporary expression—managed at the time alone with two adolescent children, and without a word of complaint.

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The piano teacher, Renée Sachs was living with her mother—Auntie Aranka as I remember—in a ground floor apartment at Eötvös Street 31. “Auntie Renée,” my mother’s childhood friend, was my piano teacher. My mother was a great music lover, she used to sing in the famous Lichtenberg choir, and my grandfather, was no longer alive by then, had his own box at the Opera, my brother studied the violin, and I had piano lessons. This was how we ended up there.

The ground-floor apartment consisted of three front rooms, one backroom and a tiny maid’s room. (Kitchen, bathroom, toilet, hall.) The front rooms on the two sides were very small, previously these were the mother’s and the daughter’s bedrooms. The room in the middle used to be the living-dining-music room (the piano was there). The backroom was rented (then, as now, one could not live in luxury on a piano teacher’s pay!); a very sympathetic (non-Jewish) working couple lived there, with whom the tenants and later we got on very well. (Later on, when we were unable to listen secretly to (London) on our own radio as radio sets had long been confiscated, they listened to Moscow on their radio set, and sometimes, my brother and I sneaked in for these evening sessions.)

On June 21, 1944, the inhabitants of this apartment were: the Zámbó couple in the backroom, the original two tenants in one of the small bedrooms, two people, an elderly mother and her grown-up daughter in the small bedroom on the other side (unfortunately, I can’t remember their names, they were not staying for long as the Gestapo took them away for reasons we have never known). Mr. Mayer inhabited the entrance hall (I have never known anything about him), the three of us were in the middle room (mattresses on the floor), and in the maid’s room next to the kitchen stayed [the well-known composer] Leó Weiner, by himself! Altogether, 11 people. (I would like to note that Leó Weiner belonged to my mother’s social circle; it was an honor and great excitement when he first visited us in our old apartment, our home.)

It is well-known that all food was rationed, and even that was in shortage. There was a curfew for Jews, they were allowed out to the streets between 2 and 5 pm to buy food (I’m not quite sure of the hours), when even the few and poor quality foodstuffs were usually unavailable. Six of us (the two original hostesses, Leó Weiner and the three of us) had common meals at the dinner table standing “in our room.”

Interestingly, I can’t remember at all what the basement shelter was like, how so many of us could fit in, but there were surely air raid warnings between June 21 and November 21 (the period we were staying there, with a short break).

The building, which was a typical one with outside corridors looking over a central paved courtyard, housed very many people at this time. We became close with two families: that of Sándor Reschofsky, a professor at the Academy of Music whom Weiner had already known—their regular pastime was playing chess—and the Ferenczis, parents and a daughter of my age, the father used to be an army officer, and who still had his uniform, which of course he was banned from wearing. He was elected (or appointed?) as the air raid warden.

Because of the curfew, we practically spent the whole day in the building, with us youngsters outside in the courtyard. There was a member of almost every family who was taken away to places known or unknown; this, and the whole situation, made our mood generally depressed. I remember “small” episodes such as when a girl, who was a few years older than me, came back from “shopping” crying, because a well-dressed gentleman spat on her and pushed her down on the road—she wore the yellow-star as did all of us…

Sometimes in September, my father accompanying a forced-labor guard managed to come home for a day. It was the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur, the day of 24-hour fasting), so there was nothing [to eat] for my poor father.

This was the way we lived until October 15, 1944. Having heard the proclamation by Horthy, everybody in the house was overwhelmed by extreme joy; my brother, together with many other youngsters, took off the yellow star and went for a walk in the evening.

Returning home, he reported happily that at the nearby Hotel Britannia (one of the German Headquarters), there was a hurried packing up and driving away in cars, motorcycles etc. As is well known, this joy didn’t last long and the worst was yet to come.

The first early morning round-up came on October 20, and all the Jewish men aged 16-60 years, including my 17-year-old brother were taken away (there were not many between the ages of 18 and 50, as they had long ago been conscripted for forced labor service).

I note here that our family had Swedish and Papal State (Vatican) protection letters (then I didn’t and still don’t know where these came from), but the Arrow Cross men were not impressed.

The next early morning round-up was on October 25, when women aged 15 to 50 were taken away. After her Swedish protection letter was torn apart by an Arrow Cross man, my (41-year-old) mother presented her Vatican protection letter, which helped, so she could stay behind.

Above us on the first floor, there was a young woman with a little girl, Noémi, aged about two (whose father was, of course, taken away long ago). She was everybody’s darling and, now that her mother had been taken away, the little girl remained there alone. The Zámbó couple living with us took her into their care and tried soothing her unremitting and desperate crying.

I would like to mention here two names of selfless gentile acquaintances—not even close friends—endangering their own lives, without whom I would certainly not be able to write these memories: Gyula Havalda (later Hámori) and his family (his wife and two sons Gyula and Viktor); Katalin Móricz.

We learned later that my brother was taken by the Arrow Cross men to a concentration camp near Pest, from where he escaped after a few days. He could not stay in a yellow-star house, therefore all three of us went to my mother’s friend Katalin Móricz, who lived on Angyalföldi Road. She let us stay with her on the condition that we wouldn’t go to the shelter during air raid warnings.

Since this was an industrial area, it was quite intensively bombed. Because of this and some other reasons (by then my mother’s nerves were shattered, as “living a lie” had worn her down, and also the situation of Kató [nickname for Katalin] was excessively endangered), after a couple days, we went back to the yellow-star house. In the meantime, my brother—I have no idea how—was smuggled in to one of the sewing workshops run by the Red Cross (Sütő Street 2), where many people were hiding.

In order to improve relations with the neighborhood Arrow Cross members, the workshop threw a party celebrating St Andrew’s day on November 30. Next day, on 1 December (my father’s birthday), the very same Arrow Cross men returned and took everyone away—employees and people hiding there. My brother never came back; the last uncertain news was from the Oranienburg concentration camp.

My mother and I were living in the house on Eötvös Street until 28 November, for us, this was end of the story in the yellow-star house.

It was the beginning of a much worse story. In the early morning (November 28), other Arrow Cross men came, who took us away to the ghetto. A large crowd was rounded up at Klauzál Square, which functioned as some kind of distribution center. If someone still had a wedding ring or a thin golden necklace, that was taken away there. Everybody was shoved towards a big bin and, under the scrutiny of Arrow Cross men closely watching, had to drop in whatever they had. A woman started crying hysterically, as she didn’t want to give away her wedding ring. She was immediately shot dead.

There were onlookers by the edge of the square and, among them, we discovered the sobbing Katalin Móricz. I wouldn’t know how she knew that we were there. She was soon sent away.

My mother and I were directed to Holló Street 1, where there was a prayer room on the first floor (or on the mezzanine?). We “lived” there. We were not allowed to leave the house, and were given daily some kind of liquid called soup, which we ate happily. For me, being cold was worse than starving. It’s known that it was a very cold winter.

On December 4, Kató Móricz turned up in the ghetto! She agreed with my mother that she would take me away and the next day, she would also bring my mother out too [of the ghetto]. She brought false papers, which were arranged by the above-mentioned Havaldas. The ghetto still had not been walled in. On the way out, we saw how the wooden panels were being put up, which would be locked and afterwards: neither in, nor out.

We went to Hajós Street 21, where I met my father; it was the last time I saw him. It turned out that my father temporarily stayed with the Havaldas, he also had false papers. From there, I was taken to Szabadság Hill by a gentleman unknown to me, Havaldas’s distant relative, whose family lived in the Havalda Villa at Normafa Street 11. I joined them as a refugee from Szeged [a town in South Hungary].

(Another story could be written about the time spent there, visiting the Catholic Church every morning, about the Communion, about living a lie, by the girl brought up to tell the truth.)

We were liberated on Boxing Day, but I had to wait until February 12, when the Germans broke out from the Castle. On February 13, 1945, I was picked up by the eldest son of a friendly family (who, by then, had come back from forced labor service).

At home I learned that my mother was unwilling to leave the ghetto, and later I heard that, during a raid, my father was caught by the Arrow Cross men and beaten to death. We waited a long time for my brother’s return.

2014. February 18., Tuesday

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.

XIV. Abonyi Street 10 - Bálint Surányi

As children, it was horrifying to see older wealthy men loafing around in the house, who were once someone (wholesalers, landlords, etc.), and who had discovered they had suddenly become stinking Jews.

In under a few weeks, the older children made up their own cheerful performance, which they performed in the stairwell as a charitable deed for the residents of the house. 

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The house was built around 1940. The house today has one extra floor compared to then. With the exception of the ground floor, the apartments were not particularly large: there were 3 apartments per floor. The house’s owner, Mór Kardos, also lived in the house, and in 1944 he was seriously ill. The tenants were mostly middle-class and intellectual, with the exception of a few wealthy individuals. Most of the tenants were forced to wear the yellow star.

When it was a yellow-star house, most of the apartments housed groups of relatives and acquaintances. Each family had one room. In many place, the apartment front door was picked out too. The number of residents who practiced the Jewish faith was smaller than the number of those who had converted to Christianity. There were more women than men, as the men were on forced labor service. The older children and younger adults spent the days together inside the apartments, the stairwell, but mostly in the large garden.

In order to keep themselves occupied, the younger residents held something like a cabaret, with musical numbers they had written themselves, which portrayed life in the house. Had it been preserved, it would be a document of the era. Tickets for the performance in the stairwell were sold at a discounted price to raise money for the Hungarian National Association to Assist Jews (OMZSA). Among the residents was the incredible pianist Ervin László, who later founded the Club of Budapest. Representing the authorities in the house was the concierge, Mrs. Henk, who “secured” and disciplined the residents with her Volksbundist son, who frequently visited.

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.

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