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 gwen.jones@gmail.com.

2014. May 28., Wednesday

VII. Wesselényi Street 13 - Kati Fröhlich

The house at Wesselényi Street 13 was built in 1908. Before this the plot was larger, but Wesselényi Street was a dead-end street, since it was only thanks to the [1896] Millennium urban development that the street was extended to the Boulevard. The new building was constructed at the corner of Wesselényi Street (widened from 7 to 14 meters) and Kazinczy Street, and originally had middle-class apartments with 5-6 rooms. Its residents were rich traders, lawyers and doctors.

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Over three generations, the house’s ownership rights were a typical example of 19th-20th century Jewish families’ upward trajectory: the first generation produced the conditions for acquiring wealth, which the second generation—in an already favorable legal and economic environment—developed further, and transformed into a lifestyle appropriate for wealthy families: typically, this generation would make charitable investments from acquired property, be it patronage of the arts, or establishing and financing charitable foundations and institutions. It is in this generation where we find the bulk of the intellectuals. With the help of this property and the traditional family values, the third and fourth generations often chose academic or artistic careers, with which their families acquired world fame. Although the third generation had different opportunities, by observing the same values, they were still successful: they shared the desire to study, the openness to change, and the steady diligence that accompanies a strong work ethic.

The owner of the enormous corner house at Wesselényi Street 13 was the trader Adolf Déry, and it was inherited by his son, the lawyer Károly Déry. The writer Tibor Déry also spent his childhood here. In 1919, as a young enthusiastic Communist, Tibor took part in the writers’ commissariat, while his comrades nationalized his father’s apartment block. This was when the 76-year-old lawyer committed suicide.

From 1913, the Orthodox Jewish People’s Table Association functioned here, the aim of which was to feed poor Orthodox Jews.

In 1936, the book of Eszter was published, and in 1941, the Haggadah, as gifts for the Association’s supporters. The Roundtable even functioned during the ghetto period, and over 20,000 portions of food were prepared here daily.

"One December dawn, the Arrow Cross surrounded the Swedish protected house on Pozsonyi Road and, shouting, ordered us down onto the street. They led us like sheep, and when we took the road towards the Víg Theatre, we breathed out in relief that we weren’t being taken to the Danube banks. When we entered the gates of the large ghetto, everyone could go wherever they wanted. We went to the basement of Wesselényi Street 13, where hundreds of people were crammed in waiting for the end to come. On January 18, 1945, when a Russian soldier came down the basement steps, I knew I’d survived,” wrote a survivor, adding: “Not everyone tore their yellow stars off right away. Emerging from the basement onto the street, Zoltán Klein and his wife Malvin were afraid that the Nazis and the Arrow Cross could still return…”

Source: http://myjewishquarter.blogspot.hu/2010/11/wesseleny-utca-13.html

VIII. Népszínház Street 16 - Mrs. András Fabó (Márta Galambos)

I was born in May 1943 and was a small baby during the Holocaust, and what I know is very imperfect since my Mother (Mrs. József Galambos) was not very happy to talk about those terrible times.

We lived at Népszínház Street 16. The house was a double six-story, or rather five-story house with a garden courtyard, with a population the size of a village. Lots of not very well-off Jewish families lived here.

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After the Germans entered the country, my father was taken away as early as March 21 and, as we learned later, he was killed in Mauthausen.

Towards the end of the June, the house was designated as a yellow-star house. Jews living in non yellow-star houses moved in with their relatives and friends or, if they had neither, then they moved in with strangers. It was mostly women, very elderly men and children who came, because the men had already been on forced labor service for a long while. Non-Jewish residents remained in the yellow-star house too.

The Jewish residents were systematically herded into the courtyard and women able to work were taken off to work. At such times the house’s representative, Pólya, tries as much as he could to help the persecuted Jews: police and Arrow Cross Party Service Activists would check who remained in the apartments.

Unfortunately I don’t remember the dates, but I think it was at the end of November when the ghetto was established, and once again the remaining Jewish residents of the house were gathered together in the courtyard to be taken away. At that point nobody knew where they would be taken to, and it was only after the war that we learned they had been taken into the ghetto. The house representative Pólya wanted to do good, and he picked my mother and me out of the crowd of assembled people and took us back to the apartment, thinking that this would help us. Sadly it didn’t work out like that.

Our direct next-door neighbors were a young man called Vilmos Tuczinger and his parents. Vilmos Tuczinger was a faithful Arrow Cross follower. He spent his evenings watching from his dark apartment what the other residents were doing. We knew this from his cigarette glowing behind the curtains.

We lived on the third floor with my mother and a Christian woman was also living with us. Beneath us was the Putovics family, the mother, father, and their 15-year-old daughter Zsuzsi. The mother was Christian and the father was of Jewish origin but had been decorated in World War I, so he was exempt from the discrimination. We only learned after the war that many Jewish families had entrusted their valuables to the Putovics family. Vilmos Tuczinger must have known about this, and kept watch.

After the Jews had been taken away, one evening, Vilmos Tuczinger rang our doorbell and chased my mother out from the apartment, and then the father and the daughter Zsuzsi from the Putovics family, and took them away.

Before the war, where the National Jewish University is today, was the rabbinical school, and Jewish teacher training college. After the Germans arrived, the Gestapo took up in the building. Vilmos Tuczinger took my mother, Zsuzsi Putovics and her father to Gutenberg Square behind what is today the Jewish University, and shot all three of them in the nape of the neck. By some miracle my mother came round, she had been wearing a fur-collared coat and this saved her life. Zsuzsi lay next to her, still alive, whimpering.

My mother survived, after many perils and with much luck. She met good people, and bad people too. There were some who wanted to take her into an Arrow Cross house, and others who helped. A stranger took her to a first aid place where the bullet was removed from her nape. I don’t know anything about the first aid place, but from there she got to the Jewish (today Radnóti Miklós) high school on Abonyi Street, where the 101/359 forced labor company that collected clothing was stationed, led by Captain László Ocskay. The commanding officer established a dressmaker’s workshop there too, and offered shelter to over 2,000 persecuted individuals. In the last few weeks, the Arrow Cross broke in and wanted to deport everyone there. The residents informed Captain Ocskay who, with the Germans’ help, saved them. From that point on, the institute also had a German guard. This is how everyone there, including my mother, was liberated.

I stayed at Népszínház Street 16, it was here that I was liberated and where my mother found me. Belongings from former residents were stored together in an apartment on each floor, and the empty apartments were turned into police barracks. They left in the days preceding the liberation.

Almost forty years later, I happened to meet András Sárai, who told me that he was also in Népszínház Street 16 together with his parents, and they were hidden under the floor by the deputy concierge.

Although I was a small child at the time, my family’s tragedy has left its mark on my whole life, and many, many people still suffer this as I do, as long as they live.

Mrs. András Fabó, born Márta Galambos.

XIII. Balzac Street 48/a - Gabriella Falus (Fried)

In 1944, Balzac Street was called Légrády Károly Street, and this house was under VATICAN protection. If I remember well, two apartments on the first floor were designated for protected Jews. Both apartments had two bedrooms, a hall and a room for domestic staff. There were 40 people living in each apartment. I was in one of them with my mother. We had a little space in the hall, where six of us slept on the floor. The bathrooms and kitchens were shared for washing, and we washed in the kitchen. We only had cold water and after the street-facing window broke due to the air pressure, ice often formed on the water in the washbasin we used.

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On Christmas eve, an Arrow Cross group appeared in the house to take some of the residents away. The concierge said that they wanted to enter the apartment where we lived, but they noticed that a small light was coming from the front door of the other apartment, which they thought was a good opportunity to enforce the blackout, and so at the very last moment, they went into that apartment instead and took everyone away. First they were taken to the district Arrow Cross house where they were beaten, and then they were shot into the Danube. One woman dodged the bullet by jumping into the icy Danube, and when everyone had gone, she climbed out and, under the cover of night, came back to the house to tell everyone what had happened. My mother and other residents often cooked beans in the laundry room, which they soaked in large basins. We used to go into the pantry which was the best place to hear the cannon fire, and that’s how we could judge how close the front was. In the middle of January, a couple of Arrow Cross men arrived and took all the suitcases they could find. This made us think, with some pleasure, that they were packing to flee. On the morning of January 16, I peeked out of the broken kitchen window and saw a soldier who caught my attention because the barrel of the rifle on his shoulder was not pointing up, but down. That’s how I knew that this soldier couldn’t be Hungarian, but had to be Soviet. And that’s how it was. I can’t describe how happy we were, everyone felt: we’ve survived, escaped. Towards noon, a Soviet officer arrived and when he saw there was a yellow star on my coat, he gestured to me to remove it. I thought, I won’t take it off just like that! He left and came back an hour later carrying black bread wrapped in a red checkered dishcloth, which we distributed amongst ourselves. The officer saw that I was still wearing the yellow star, he came over to me, furiously tore it off and stamped all over it. For me, this was the unforgettable moment of true liberation.

VII. Király Street 51 - László Varga

“I was the shabbas goy.”
Recollections of László Varga (1939), former Király Street resident who today lives in Los Angeles.
Around December 26-27, 1944, we moved (escaped) into Király Street 51, having been bombed out of our home. Our first-floor apartment had previously been inhabited by a physician and his family, Dr. László Dávid, who escaped to the West in the wake of the Germans’ arrival. The house owner was Jakabffy, and the concierge was Mrs. Hiller. The air raid superintendent was Alfréd Müller, or Frédi. It turned out after the war that his wife was Jewish, he had hidden her in the basement air raid shelter, and after 1956, they left for Israel.

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The house was a “papal protected house,” it was under Vatican protection and was separated from the official ghetto by a total of one house. The two-meter-high separating palisade cut across the middle of the street. The ghetto was guarded and defended by the Hungarian Royal police. Where the Rossman pharmacist is today in the house, that’s where the police station and repair workshops (shoes, furrier, tailors, bootmakers, etc.) were, where Jewish workers came to work from the ghetto. Once, a couple of Arrow Cross men came from the Arrow Cross house on the Boulevard, the Royal Hotel, and took three workers away from the workshop, who were later brought back to the ghetto by the police.

When we moved into the house, the Russians were somewhere around the City Park line, and the house was liberated around January 13-14. They came from Dob Street and entered via the large back gate of the house which faced onto Akácfa Street, the sign said Akácfa Street 62. At that point the large gate was still there, but it’s not there any more. This is where the cars and lorries came into the courtyard, and from where Jews were gathered and taken into forced labor service in the fall of 1944.

There were many small shops and workshops on the ground floor of the house, and after the war, they were merged and turned into a textile factory, called the “Béke” [Peace]. There was also a delicatessen, the Ádám deli, and a hairdresser’s (the owner was called Marsi), the Kerekes “fine confectioner’s,” and the Vogel family’s spice shop. There was also a feather business in a basement opening onto the street, which was hit by a small Russian bomb in 1945.

When the ghetto was established, a huge amount of people tried to stay here, refuges were sitting in the stairwell, at the front gate, and on the landings, but whoever had no ID papers was taken into the ghetto. Dr. Varga and his family were Christians (they had the same name as us), and their daughter was interned after the war for half a year, because when the Arrow Cross came into the house and gathered up all those without ID papers and made them stand in the courtyard the daughter, who was 16 years old at the time, went out onto the corridor and shouted at the Arrow Cross men that there were still a few left, and one in hiding.

I remember many of our Jewish neighbors. The Guttman family lived on the mezzanine floor, and the Krammer family on the first. In the corner on the first floor lived the Löffler family, their two children never came back, and Mr. Löffler lost his mind, he kept on repeating a name louder and louder, apparently it was the name of the camp commander because of whom his children died: “Rupi Teng, Rupi Teng!” He would come up the stairs, chanting this over and over, and we, the children, copied him.

On the second floor lived Magda Forbáth, a revue dancer.

On the first floor also lived the Fürst family, Dr. László Fürst, the famous pulmonologist and his wife Magda, who was his assistant. When people were collected up from Akácfa Street and taken into the ghetto, it was Magda who looked of the window and saw what was going on, and this Arrow Cross adolescent on the street shouted at her, “right, enough staring, Jewish bitch,” and shot her in the shoulder. The Fürsts worked at the Rókus hospital, we stayed on good terms with them for many years, and my mother was good friends with Magda Fürst.

On the first floor in the corner lived Dr. Lénárd, the famous professor of ophthalmology, and after the war he only had one room left, as the Magaziner family moved in, Mr. Magaziner was a successful art-dealer. Even Father Balogh went to him to buy pieces (and as my grandmother always used to say when she saw Father Balogh, “here comes the big fat shit-barrel.”) And then once a young man arrived in British uniform without lapels, looking for the Magaziners: it was their son who had returned from Mauthausen, he had been liberated by the British.

The dentist Weisz also lived on the first floor with his daughter, who was also a dentist, and then at the end of ’45 or in ’46, she committed suicide.

Aladár Blau lived on the third floor, and after the war, around 1950, he married a lady who had a son, Tomi Hirschler, who he still lives here today. He lost his father, who was diabetic, during the war. Tomi’s mother put him in a Red Cross orphanage, but the orphanage was moved to the ghetto, and Tomi ended up with around 500 other children in the Klauzál Square market hall, they slept on straw mattresses on the floor in the terrible cold.

I remember Pál Kis’s photo displays in large glass cases on either side of the front gate, they were full of advertisement photos, and then after the siege, they removed the glass and used them in the windows and the window displays facing the street. But I never knew whether Pál Kis was Jewish, I didn’t know him, only his brother Sándor.

Miklós Hartmann, the cantor at the Jewish orphanage, also lived here, with his wife Eszter Polák. They had three sons, Robi, Gabi, and Jóska, who was born after the war. I always got American chocolate from them, because their father worked in the orphanage. I had to help them on many occasions, bringing back holy day wigs from the hairdresser’s for which I was given two forints (religious Jewish ladies had different wigs for weekdays and holy days). And I was the shabbas goy too: every Thursday I collected up sholet pots from the corridor and put them in a stroller, which had the top removed and was lined with a wooden board. The sholet pots were covered and tied up in newspaper, with the family’s name on it, and I had to pull the stroller to the baker’s on Dob Street, Dob Street 50, where my classmate Gyuri Klein lived, and who later became [the singer] György Korda. On Friday at midday after school (we went to the Kertész Street elementary school) I brought them back from the baker’s and distributed the pots. I also learned to daven, baruch atah Adonai … and then they’d say, now you can go son, here’s your two forints. I blew out the candles on Friday evenings as well, because the gas had to be turned off. And this is how things were until 1950 or 1951, and then gradually came to an end. You couldn’t talk about these things any more.

2014. May 26., Monday

I. Ág Street 4 - Dr. István Körmendi

In April 1944—I don’t remember the precise date as I was already on forced labor service at the time—my parents were moved out of our 1st district apartment at Mészáros Street 2, into a “yellow-star house” at Ág Street 4. Since the same fate awaited family members living in different parts of the city, they all decided to move into Ág Street 4 voluntarily. Finally, a total of 14 people were crammed into one apartment. Everyone could bring only one suitcase of belongings with them. It is important to mention that the forced relocation and all similar restrictive measures were ordered and carried out exclusively by the Hungarian authorities, with great zeal, and without a trace of compassion. German military bodies did not take part in direct actions against the Jewish population; there was no need, since the task was carried out by employees of the essentially sovereign Hungarian authorities, and with such speed that even the Germans were amazed.

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An interesting story, characteristic of the situation at the time: for 24 years, my father had been the district’s local physician and a very popular one too. He was a family doctor in the true classic sense of the term, who looked after all family members, from infants to great-grandparents. Yet Jewish doctors could no longer treat Christian patients. It happened on occasion that under cover of night, one of his patients would sneak in, asking for help from their beloved doctor, risking the draconian sanctions that threatened not only the doctor, but the patient too. This was a terrible conflict situation, since the patient could receive nothing beyond a listening ear and a physical examination from the doctor, who was banned from prescribing medicine, and who was a “noxious Jew to be exterminated.”

V. Károly Boulevard 24 - Mrs. Tibor Barcza

I was born on January 14, 1932, at Rigó Street 3 in Budapest’s eighth district. When I was five, we moved to Síp Street 23 in the seventh district, into a building that belonged to the Hungarian Royal Tobacco Revenue who employed my father and provided him with an apartment here. There were two apartments next to one another on the first floor: we lived in one of them with my older sister and parents, and in the other, was my widower grandmother and her unmarried son, my uncle Károly Mathia, who was a teacher. I went to the Sacré Coeur Sophianum school on Mikszáth Kálmán Square.

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From 1942 and then from early November 1944 I was a student at the Orsolya boarding school convent in Sopron. This is where I lived during the German occupation (March 19) and also the Arrow Cross takeover of power (October 15). We asked: what will happen to us now? The answer: war is coming. Teaching stopped, the school was closed and everyone could go home.

Back home I went through the trauma of being evicted from our apartment, because it fell within the territory of the ghetto. (We lived on Síp Street together with the observant Orthodox Jews who wore payot, we accepted them in and this was not a subject for discussion either in my family or at the schools I attended.) We were officially evicted to Károly Király Road (today Károly Boulevard), number 24, into an apartment evacuated by its Jewish owner. We were crammed in together into one room and moved in with my grandmother and her belongings.

We lived through the siege in the basement with the people who’d been “moved in,” and whom we didn’t know at all. We lived for in the cellar air-raid shelter for two weeks from the end of December. Complete strangers lay on beds lined up next to one another. I was on a deckchair lined with an eiderdown. We had no water or electricity. For water, we went to the tap by the houses on Madách. The basement was lit with candles. In order to keep busy, my mother taught me how to knit. I knitted a sweater from cheap cotton. By candlelight. For my birthday in January 1945, we ate a stew made from horse heart. My mother brought the heart, still beating with blood, home from the street where the horse had been shot.

The siege of Budapest lasted until January 19, 1945 (the ghetto was opened up on January 18). There was a dysentery epidemic in the basement, because there were hardly any opportunities to wash.

Residents got ready to return to their apartments. In the basement, one of the men said: “The comrades are here!” (“He’s a Communist,” the others whispered). And then the tovarishch (comrades) did arrive in the basement, and took the men they found there away for “malenkij robot” [forced labor in the USSR]. (My father was not among them, by some miracle he escaped, because he didn’t go up to the apartment to shave.)

Once he was liberated from the ghetto, Mr. Kriegler, the apartment (house) owner requested the return of his apartment. He had absolutely no means of transport and so we gradually moved back into the Síp Street apartment. It took us a few weeks to return to our home. Síp Street 23 and our apartment were sealed during the existence of the ghetto. The windows had been broken by the blasts, we put wooden boards up next to the windows, and it was still cold. (My frozen feet were treated for months).

I had to bring firewood back to the apartment in a large children’s pram. I was asked on the street whether there was any more wood left where I’d got it from (they thought I’d stolen it). I brought the wood back to our apartment in the completely empty block, and put it up in the bathroom. With a great shout, soldiers came into the apartment, kicked the door down and since it was dark because of the wooden boards in the windows, they didn’t find me, and they left. I was very frightened, dropped everything and ran back to the apartment on Károly Boulevard.

As a 13-year-old girl, I came face to face with the horrors of war. Corpses were piled up on the snowy streets, civilian victims, fallen soldiers, and dead horses. The bodies were temporarily interred in public squares. The most dreadful thing I saw was the stiff and frozen bodies of Jews who died in the ghetto being taken from Klauzál Square by horse and open cart. They were naked and bald. In times of peace, this sight would have resembled a collection of shop window dummies. The corpses were buried in the garden of the Dohány Street synagogue.

These experiences turned me into an adult. My life until then was split into two, before-the-siege and after-the-siege.

I’m an odd man out in the “yellow-star houses” story, since I wasn’t directly affected. I lived in the Jewish quarter as a Catholic. But the horrors of war overcame everyone. They must never be allowed to happen again.

XIII. Kresz Géza Street 24 - Dr. Mária Forgács

I lived in this house from the age of ten for twenty years (1934-1955), until I got married. I don’t know when the house was built, but when we moved in, it was still pretty modern, and I know that it’s still in a decent condition today.

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We moved in here because my grandmother had died and her apartment at Lipót (today Szent István) Boulevard 15 was too large. In 1934, most houses were privately owned people put little slips of paper in the entrance hall advertising which flats were available for rent, and with conditions.

The Kresz Géza Street house is one of a pair between which is a rather wide English-style courtyard. Our apartment had 3 rooms, and the windows opened onto the English courtyard, while the third room (a small, separate room on the courtyard side) was used by family members for some peace and quiet, or rented out to tenants.

It was good that we ended up in the house well before it was designated as a “yellow-star house.” We knew some of the residents very well, and they were usually very nice people, middle-class, intellectual families.

When houses were designated as “yellow-star houses” it was better to be able to stay in the place where you already lived than to move into a new, unfamiliar place, which was what happened at ours. Families we didn’t know moved into our apartment.

Knowing the other residents proved to be a great help in times of serious trouble. Many of them were helpful, but the person I’d like to talk about in particular today was one of the nicest.

Her name was Anna T, nicknamed Duli (the nickname was given to her by Andula Lengyel). Duli was the concierge’s daughter, and a first-year school student at the Mária Terézia Grammar School. She was beautiful, very clever young girl, and still is today. We were inseparable from the time we moved in, we swam together, went skating regularly and took part in all the fun things all people our age did.

In those years, antisemitism, the anti-Jewish laws and other problems were already present. My father had decided I would attend the civic school, and then trade school. Even though he knew that my desires and plans concerned further study, he thought that in the given situation, even if I had to give up further study for trade school—or whatever I managed to complete there—that would be more practically useful. I graduated from the Alkotmány Street Trade Academy with outstanding results in 1942.

There was someone from Kresz Géza Street 24 who went to the same school, and who wasn’t among the best students, but who later became very famous. This boy’s name was Ferike Hoffmann, and we know him today as the world-famous Israeli author Eliyahu Kishon.

There was another famous person in the house—the writer Jenő Heltai—who lived there with his daughter and wife.

After finishing school, I learned women’s tailoring at a Váci Street salon (next to Mrs. Tamás Emőd’s tailor shop), and following my trade exam, I worked as an assistant women’s tailor at a Petőfi Sándor Street salon, right up until May 16, 1944, when the Gestapo took my father away after a jealous female colleague had denounced him as a “suspected Communist.” He went from Svábhegy [where the Gestapo and top SS lived], to the Gyorskocsi Street prison, to [the internment camp in] Kistarcsa, and then to Józsefváros railway station, from where he escaped and came back to Kresz Géza Street, and had had no idea for months where my mother and I were.

A few months passed from the time my father was taken away until he reappeared, during which time so many things happened, one of which I’ll describe here. On November 7, I was taken away together with other relatively young residents of the house by an Arrow Cross group to the brick factory, and from there on foot towards the west. In the wet November cold, while walking and then sleeping on the sodden football pitch and the barge at Ács, I felt that I couldn’t take it for much longer, especially with the hip deformation I was born with. (I went with Duli, who was in hiking books, and my mother, who was in a leather coat.) At Győrzámoly I stepped out of the line and ran into a house and, luckily, found myself among very decent people, who took me back to the railway station in Győr. And this is when my long, complicated, illegal life began right up until liberation, which I won’t detail here, but only what concerns the “yellow-star houses.” During this period, the older people were removed from the house, and so my mother ended up in a “protected” house on Pozsonyi Street, and then to the ghetto, on Wesselényi Street until the days of liberation.

As I wrote earlier, my father wanted to return to the Józsefváros Railway Station, but luckily, with Duli’s help, he found me. I didn’t let him return, but from the very first moment, I had know idea how to resolve our situation. Luckily, there were acquaintances in hiding in Kresz Géza Street, among them a well-known Social Democrat who, with his wife, managed to get my father into a house in Zugló where there were lots of people (military deserters, Social Democrats, Jews etc.) in hiding.

I was lucky because I was brave enough to act, and I met decent, helpful people, and that’s how all three of us could be together until the day of liberation (January 16, 1945), in our relatively in tact apartment.
I am thankful and grateful to all these people. Even though we ended up in different places, I still keep in close contact with Duli and to this day, I am what she calls her dearest friend. There wasn’t any decent hiding place at Kresz Géza 24, just a place that opened onto the street, partly underground, where there was a paper factory with windows that opened onto the street. Every time I hear now about buildings bombed in World War II, I am always amazed that during that time, between 1.30 and 2 pm every day, British aircraft arrived, with their terrible bombings. For example, they bombed the house (a factory) on the corner of Váci Road and Radnóti Street to the ground, and we felt that our hiding place was just part of a big wave.

(Today it seems like a joke, but it was deadly serious at the time, that with the rice flour used in the paper factory for adhesive purposes, plus some doubtful egg conserve, my mother would bake savory doughnuts, and nobody could get enough of them.)

I could write about many things, but they don’t have anything to do with Kresz Géza Street. So many interesting things happened, before and after. Until the age of 31, I lived in that house, and when I moved out, it was as a doctor.

2014. May 22., Thursday

VII. Király Street 51 - Sosanna Sopronyi

Excerpts from the diary of Pál Kis, photographer, written during forced labor service and while in hiding, 1944.
Source: MILEV.

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In February 1945, shortly after Liberation, I found the diary belonging to my father Pál Kis, a well-known photographer in Budapest, in which he described what happened to him, his thoughts and feelings from mid-October 1944, for approximately one-and-a-half months.

[…] Sensing the end coming closer, which it soon did. They took them and my Mother during a raid: their Christian documents were no use. The Arrow Cross henchmen examined not only the men’s papers. They were deported in December on the last train, which could leave Budapest for Germany before the Russians encircled the city, and from where neither he nor my Mother ever returned. The day and circumstances of their deaths are unknown, and I received no other reliable news of them.
Since he had started writing the diary in the work camp, the first pages and drawings were written and drawn on toilet paper because there was nothing else. The letters are tiny and cramped together, the paper has yellowed. For ease of reading, I enlarged the text and typed it in.

Sosanna Sopronyi
Born Marianne Kis

Ramat-Gan, January 1992

“On the morning of October 20, we awoke to the racket of shouting: ‘Every man down into the courtyard! Line up with three day’s food and a blanket. Those with fever stay where they are.” […] Within minutes, I had to be downstairs. In the meantime, my poor wife packed my backpack—there were only minutes to comply—and it was rather incomplete. I could not even say goodbye to my children. My eldest daughter accompanied me down to the courtyard, I waved at her, smiling, while she waved back, her mouth distorted by crying.

My friend Gyula Steiner from the house was with me as far as the Tattersaal race track, and was then commandeered for clearing away rubble, and I haven’t seen him since.

Around midday, the sad forced march left the Tattersaal for Ferihegy airport. […] The next day, Saturday morning, they led us to Pestszentimre, a journey of around 10-15 kilometers, if I think about it, in Pest I would have got on the tram between Király Street and Rákóczi road. […] We spent 4 days here. […] The next day we were force marched out to the border with Vecsés to dig ditches. […] On the march to or from work I was always constantly whispering with all my fellow brothers-in-arms about being released, at any costs, any way of escaping form hell, from deportation. […]

On November 1, my birthday, I am today 54 years old and I stand here all day next to this earth work […].

One evening, as the sad troops arrived, they stood us in line and the whole company set off with will equipment, shovels, and spades from Pestszentimre, via Pestszentlőrinc and Kispest, then along Üllői Road to the Ludovika… […]. We reached the Ludovika garden at dawn […]. It was a huge courtyard, I went into one or two places […] I was only interested in the exit. There was only one exist, where we came in, I slunk back there and looked out towards the street. The armed sentry was deep in conversation […] I stepped out carefully, taking my path in a better direction. […] I bravely took 10-15 steps, when I stopped for a moment and looked back […] I calmed down completely, I was out!
[…]

The shops were still closed, I went right along a few side streets next to Üllői Road, naturally, in the direction of home […] I got on the tram to Orczy Road then changed towards Keleti station, and from there got on the 46 tram, then the no. 10. From the tram, I looked at our front gate. The gates of the yellow-star houses were still all closed. I could not go home, it wouldn’t have been advisable.

And yet something still drew me home, instinctively, almost subconsciously. The no. 10 tram passes by our front gate. And standing on the tram, I saw my company’s sign, the text with its slim letters, elegant, without a trace of extravagance: “Pál Kis photographer,” and I saw a few of my pictures in the window display… And then the tram passed and took me past the site of my activity, where I had worked from early morning until late at night for 27 years […].

November 23, 1944.

[…] I’ve been living in my younger brother Sanyi’s workshop for close to two weeks now, his photography shop on the Grand Boulevard, the workshop part is on the mezzanine, and the dwellings for me and my three siblings, who cleverly found ways not to let themselves be led away and deported, like sheep. The house at Király Street 51 received papal protection. My wife was very busy, since around 30 residents were referred to our apartment.

A protected house and the residents feel far from protected… I was worried for my wife because of the Arrow Cross hordes. […] When Szálasi and colleagues took over power […] a woman living in the same house was me was shot in the shoulder through the window. My wife and I saved her using the money we had and our engagement rings to hide in the attic with some of the other residents. Luckily, they never found us, although they could have come looking for us there. One woman only avoided having her finger cut off after much begging, because her ring would not come off.

November 28.

[…] Yesterday the Jews couldn’t go out onto the street, the front gate was closed to them all day. Now they’ve been moved in together, the Klauzál Square market hall was evacuated, and people were crammed in their with their bundles on their backs… […]. Ghetto houses were marked out for them, where they could retreat.
[…] We have a Swiss protection letter, but we didn’t go to the designated house. I just heard that their residents will be exported to Germany, where they’ll be hostages in the exchange. Our apartment is a ghetto house but we’re not going back their either—our workshop, apartment, the results of 27 years’ sweat and work: everybody’s prey. My wife and I are hiding in a flat belonging to my cousin’s business. With Christian papers, we are trying to find an apartment, like refugees.
December 2.

Everything bad must come to an end. […]
Unfinished.”

2014. May 20., Tuesday

VI. Eötvös Street 24 - Dániel Darvas

On the occasion of previous anniversaries, and the forthcoming 70th anniversary of World War II, the German occupation, Arrow Cross rule, and certain events linked to the end of the war, among the unforgettable events, one recalls the moments of escape.

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Following the carnage in Vojvodina of January 1932, and after losing our parents—for us, this already represented one escape—my younger brother ended up in with our Aunt Szarvasi, while I was taken in by relatives in Budapest. Our paternal uncle (whose family took me in and who became our guardian) lived with his three sons in a two-room ground-floor apartment in a Pest apartment building. The oldest son was already a forced laborer with the Second Hungarian Army on the Russian front and later, together with countless of his fellows, he lost his life there. The other two sons were fulfilling their “patriotic” duties either on forced labor service or with the Levente [youth movement], while the parents ran a small shop from the apartment to ensure the livelihood of the continually expanding family, which now included me too.

After the German occupation of March 19, 1944, the business still functioned for a while, until the house was designated as a yellow-star house and they had to close the shop. Lots of people who did not want to be stigmatized moved out of the house, and many others moved in—Jews who were not living in a yellow-star house and had to leave their original homes—either finding a space to live, or moving in with people they knew. This is how my uncle’s sister-in-law came to move in with us. My two male cousins were by this time always away on forced labor service and this meant that there were four of us living in the apartment.

One fall day after the Arrow Cross takeover of power—I had already turned six—armed Arrow Cross men rang the doors of Jewish apartments and informed everyone to pack their most essential things and present themselves in the courtyard within a given time. Once the deadline had passed, there were 50-60 of us gathered together with our hand luggage in the courtyard: old people, younger people and children. The Arrow Cross set their guns on us from the first-floor and we stood there, with our arms raised, waiting…

While we were waiting, one of the residents returned home, Nándor Szíbenliszt, a retired lieutenant-colonel who always went about in civilian clothing. He had been living in the house for decades and stayed on after it was designated as a yellow-star (Jewish) house. He looked uncomprehendingly at the armed Arrow Cross men, and the group about to leave, lined up in the courtyard with their arms raised. One of the Arrow Cross checked his ID and once he saw who he was dealing with, treated him with great respect, and let him continue on his way.

The lieutenant-colonel left without a word for his third-floor apartment, while we waited and waited…

Not long after, Mr Szíbenliszt reappeared. He was now in full military dress with all his medals on his chest, and he asked the Arrow Cross to justify the action and show a written order or comment. The Arrow Cross didn’t have anything like this and tried to explain, which of course he didn’t accept, and ordered them out of the building, while sending us back to our apartments.

We could only suspect at the time what we had escaped, but only learned the truth later…

The childless Szíbenliszt couple—whom we always called Uncle Lieutenant-Colonel and Aunt Ilus—tried throughout the entire period, and not just on this occasion, to extend protection to the persecuted. After Jews’ radios were confiscated, they provided updates and thus reassurance on the latest news and events, they let us into their apartment to use their telephone, they saved valuables entrusted to them by burying them in the basement, and right until the end, behaved bravely, and humanely.

After liberation, in the 1950s, they automatically ended up on the list of people to be forcibly moved out of the capital. One of the house’s Jewish residents submitted a written petition to the relevant political bodies, asking for the Szíbenliszt couple to be excluded from the list on the basis of what they had done earlier. The petition was granted and for years after, perhaps until their deaths, the Szíbenliszt couple could stay in their apartment.

The deeds deserved recognition, and for their memory to be preserved.

This story was since repeated numerous times in my family; with input from acquaintances and mainly those who were there, this story has now been written down and published, sadly very late.

Other former residents of the Eötvös Street 24 yellow-star house are surely still alive, but I only found one resident who was there with me when it happened, and who for years lived next door to the Szíbenliszt couple on the third floor. Mrs. József Fogas (born Kató Molnár, Budapest, Raoul Wallenberg Street 11) will be able to confirm my written account of events.

Budapest, April 2005.

2014. May 19., Monday

VIII. Népszínház Street 22 - A.K.

In the days following October 15, 1944, we fled with my mother from Népszínház Street 22, where I was born. The next day, the Arrow Cross took all the women away from the house, and none of them came back. We found out that they ended up in Bergen Belsen.
Those terrible days, the fear and terror have stayed with me until today. On October 15, Arrow Cross soldiers entered the house looking for Jews, and one of our neighbors (whose name I still have not forgotten) directed them to the apartments where Jews were living.

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