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 08., Thursday

XIII. Tátra Street 29/b - Mrs. János Vince

For eleven months we went from one house to the next, with ever diminishing luggage. We lived on Alpár Street, then on Nefelejcs Street, on Pozsonyi Road in a protected house, and from there they took us to an Arrow Cross house on Teleki Square, and then back to Pozsonyi Road. We were often hungry and thirsty. We were terribly thin. Weeks passed when we didn’t even have drinking water, and not even the toilet worked, and there were 40 people in one apartment: this was on Pozsonyi Road. They brought wounded people in too, one had been shot through the kidneys and bled to death there. We stepped over the congealed blood in the middle of the room. Jews were not allowed to go outside, there was a curfew in force. The houses were closed up and guarded by armed men, both yellow-star and protected houses, this was in December 1944. 

From the Centropa archive.

Read more...
VI. Bajnok Street 21. - Judith Borstein and Lilla Matos

My name is Judith Borstein and I reside in Los Angeles, California currently with my family. I was a forced resident of Bajnok Street 21, VI. district, Budapest with my mother Vera Grunfeld along with my Aunt Magda Wachsmann and her daughter Lilla Wachsmann (later Verhovay) and several other friends from June 1944.

Read more...

My Mother was forced out from her apartment from Kőbanya and herded into this “Yellow-Star House” after which she shortly went into labor with me on June 26th and gave birth to me at Weiss Aliz Hospital in Budapest. Afterwards, she was forced to return to Bajnok Street 21 and we all resided there until the Arrow Cross Hungarian SS guards liquidated the “Yellow-Star House” and force-marched all the residents in lines 10 deep to be shot into the Danube. My Mother, cousin Lilla and I escaped from this death march, miraculously, a guard actually agreed to turn around and allowed us to escape out of this line.

I very much want to register for this event and have our story and survival registered as part of this important commemoration to be preserved for posterity.

Concurrently, at this same time at the end of June 1944, my maternal grandparents, Dezső and Gizella Winternitz, who were herded into a ghetto near Budafok where they originally resided, were deported to Auschwitz on the cattle-cars, where they were murdered in the “mass gas showers” by the Nazis. Incidentally I have copies of three handwritten notes they threw out of the cattle-cars while in transit to their annihilation.

On my father’s (Jenő Grunfeld) side, half our family were murdered and those that survived were emotionally scarred and damaged for the rest of their lives. My father survived the Holocaust by performing slave labor at different camps from Hungary, Austria and Siberia where he actually walked home from after the liberation in 1945. He contracted typhoid in Russia and was an invalid and bed-ridden for a year after he returned to Budapest.

He was a broken man for the rest of his life and could not recover from the accumulated trauma he endured from 1938-1945.

Our miraculous escape was due to a good-hearted young uniformed boy (“levente”), who happened to know my aunt Vera by name. He gave her a kerchief to cover her head, and we just walked out of the forced march, and no-one noticed. Then we went to my uncle's fellow-soldier's wife, who lived in a Roma/Gypsy community called “Tomori telep,” at that time in Budapest’s 4th district. She gave us shelter (unfortunately, I don’t know her name) and we were hiding there until about April, 1945. My mother was sent to Germany – Ravensbruck and Leipzig, my father, as a forced laborer, to Bor. That’s why I [Lilla] remained with my Aunt. My parents both returned, but my paternal grandmother died in the Budapest Ghetto, his sister and her husband both were lost somewhere during the war. This is our complete “story.”

While the Hungarian Government finally publicly acknowledged its own eager and guilty role of complicity with the Hitler Regime and formally apologized for the extermination of over 500,000 Jews, it is pertinent that its CURRENT POPULATION be made aware of all details of the inhuman horrors that it inflicted on its Jewish population.

It is all the more crucial to have this Public Commemoration now of the “Yellow-Star Houses” since there are some parties and individuals who are trying to re-write and falsify Hungary’s true historical role in the second World War from 1938-1945 including re-writing textbooks that will teach its current and future generations falsified information and not the actual cold brutal historical facts that actually happened and were recorded by bona fide historians as well as the survivors during this period.

It is also important to note that THE MANDATE to force all Hungarian Jews into the HOUSES WITH THE YELLOW STARS was issued during the Horthy Regime, the leader that many Hungarians are trying to glorify currently (with some governmental support) and there have been numerous new statutes erected in his honor in public places, even in Budapest.

Incidentally, my father’s original surname was Jenő Grunfeld, which was changed officially to Gábor (and Lilla’s to Verhovay) after the war as many Hungarian Jewish survivors did in order to be able to obtain employment in order to be able to support their families. Yes, the ugly head of antisemitism rose during the Communist era as well although it was more covert. 

Unfortunately antisemitism was always prevalent throughout most of Hungary’s history.

When we emigrated to the USA (my father, mother, Vera Gabor (Winternitz) and younger brother, Peter Gabor) during the 1956 uprising, my father’s name legally became Eugene Gabor. After my marriage to my husband, Dr. Irving Borstein in 1964 my legal and current name is Judith Borstein.

2014. May 07., Wednesday

III. Kenyeres Street 32 - Gabriella Falus (Fried)

First we moved into the yellow-star house at Kenyeres Street 34 (3rd district) with my mother. My father was on forced labor service. I think the house is numbered 32 today. This detached family house is on the street corner. We were only entitled to half a room, the other half belonged to the owner of the house. We brought a complete set of bedroom furniture with us, and tried to bring as many belongings as possible. This was of “great help” to an Arrow Cross family who, when we had to leave the apartment in the fall, took everything, right down to the last pin.

A famous Hungarian sculptor lived in the house too, Márk Vedres and his wife Médi, they had a separate room. At the age of 14, I learned a lot from them, they taught me the history and theory of art. I remember often standing by the garden fence during curfew hours, envious of those who could walk down the street.

During air raids we went down into the basement, as there was no air raid shelter. There were two old ladies living in the house at the time, and they were very frightened during the air raids, and I sang to them loudly so that they wouldn’t hear the scream of falling bombs.

Read more...

2014. April 24., Thursday

VII. Nefelejcs Street 42 - Mrs. László Vereckei

March 19, 1944, was when the German occupation began. Horthy appointed the Sztójay government and allowed the gendarmerie to round up the entire rural Jewry in summer, and deport them. Budapest Jews were not institutionally deported, and many received protection of one form or another. But around the Pest environs, various camps were set up from where Jews were later deported. There was a curfew, and on October 15-16, 1944, the Governor handed over power to the Arrow Cross, who crammed the Jews into a large ghetto. Arrow Cross detachments rounded up Jews and murdered them, or shot them into the Danube.

Read more...

One day, my father was taken by the Arrow Cross on a forced march to one of the brick factories, but I don’t know which one. We had an assistant in the pub called Józsi Fazekas, who came to visit us. He was non-Jewish, and a very nice guy. When my father was taken to the brick factory, we organized a Vatican protection letter, which was called a “Schutzpass.” One of the men in the house sorted this out, and the assistant said he would go to get Mr. Goldgruber. And this is what happened, and how my father was not deported, and how we could be together. Afterwards, with the protection passport, we moved into a protected house. We moved in July into the yellow-star house, where my father’s sister Eszter lived, on Nefelejcs Street. Eszter’s husband and daughter had died of ill health a few years earlier, and she lived here with her son who had been called up for forced labor service. We moved into one room, and in the other lived my father’s cousin, Uncle Albert Kaufmann, and his daughter’s family. We could put some of our furniture and things here, the rest stayed locked in a room at the Práter Street apartment. The Catholic church wanted to help Jews in this area by converting us and putting on various courses. I don’t know if anyone of us converted. When we were in the Jewish house, there was a Vatican religious movement that active there. Whoever converted would receive certain advantages and protection. They came to see us too. Catholic priests sent these ministers. I said no, no way. And although Laci’s family were protected, the ministers still came to see them. My mother-in-law was Orthodox, and went to one of those meetings. But they didn’t succeed in converting her. The concierge of the Nefelejcs Street house helped my aunt a lot, and the other residents. From October however, the Arrow Cross took people away from the yellow-star house on a daily basis. We were there for a month, and that’s where the Arrow Cross took us away from, one fine morning. We were made to stand in a line, and they took us to the ghetto. On our way, an Arrow Cross man stopped my father. Lots of people in the house had acquired Arrow Cross uniforms for themselves, and that’s how they escaped. It was a lunatic crowd, they brought Jews from various places and at Klauzál Square, a soldier wearing an Arrow Cross armband came up to us as they were lining everyone up and telling them where to go, and he went over to my father and said that that nice blond girl is not Jewish. My father said, “but she’s my daughter.” The Arrow Cross man said, “I’ll take her with me, wherever you want.” My father wouldn’t hear any of it. We couldn’t decide whether this was a fake armband, or whether he was really Arrow Cross.

My aunt and the Kaufmann family stayed in the yellow-star house. By November however, everyone had been taken to the ghetto. We went to the house next to the Kazinczy Street baths, and which belonged to the baths’ owner. An acquaintance of ours lived there. When the siege of Budapest began, we went down into the basement. Here we found that you could cross from the house basement into that of the baths, where there were corpses piled up, as they didn’t know where to bury the dead. Forced laborers would come down into our basement too, poor things were full of lice, and then we caught lice too. We got food from the shared kitchen. My mother still had things left over from what we brought in a backpack, for example “Planta” tea, apricot jam and sugar which, of course, we shared with everyone else there. On January 18, the first two Russian soldiers arrived in the basement. They were looking for Germans and did not know this was the ghetto, or even what a ghetto was. We were overjoyed to see them and they didn’t even really know why. The forced laborers who had returned were already knocking down the walls of the ghetto, and in 5-8 days, we set off out into the streets of Pest, full of rotting animal and human corpses, and we went back first to Nefelejcs Street, then to Práter Street. The journey was very shocking. My father went in first, and the concierge and a few old residents received us. Transylvanian refugees had been moved into our apartment, and at first they were frightened when they saw us, but then they saw that we were not here for revenge. They could stay with us for as long as it took for them to find another apartment. One of the rooms was locked, that’s where we’d left our things we couldn’t take to the yellow-star house. Luckily, the new residents had not touched it. The refugees had the courtyard-side room, and we took the other two. They cooked together with my mother in the kitchen. My father found and brought food. He traveled to the countryside on the roof of a train, exchanged undergarments and brought us some food. When Budapest was liberated, he opened a business and sorted out the basement. He would go on foot to Kispest and here too, the old concierge was also good to him. Lots of people in the area knew my father, and helped one another. Józsi Fazekas also came to work, we helped others as much as we could. Then my father started to look for Bandi, my brother, and our relatives from the countryside. We received sad news all around. The years 1945-1946 were the years of sadness and many goodbyes. By 1949, lots of Budapest and returnee relatives who’d been deported had emigrated to America, South America and Israel.

2014. April 22., Tuesday

XIII. Pozsonyi Road 40 - Marianne Kiss

The fact that in October 1944, a few days after the Arrow Cross putsch, we ended up in this Swiss protected house, is thanks to my father’s older brother, Dr. Pál Schwarczmann. My uncle, having been especially lucky to escape from his forced labor company which consisted of doctors, never wore the yellow star again, went into hiding and saved whoever he could. He must have had connections with the Zionists, because he wrote the following in a letter smuggled to my mother: “Go to Pozsonyi Road 32 to see the teacher Márton Hirsch, tell him that Rafi has put you on the 7800 list, and ask him for help. He’ll get you an apartment.” (Rafi may have been Rafi Bensalom [Friedl]).

Read more...

My mother, grandmother, four-year-old sister and I set off on the not exactly risk-free journey. We had fled from the yellow-star house at Akadémia Street 7 where, two days after Horthy’s proclamation [on October 15], all men aged between 16 and 60 were taken away by the Arrow Cross, including my grandfather. He was already well over 60, but the Arrow Cross concierge came upstairs for him, and forced him down into the courtyard. We never saw my grandfather again. Only women and children remained in the house. Two days later, the Arrow Cross took the women away too. Our mother ended up at the Óbuda brick factory with hundreds and thousands of other women and girls, but by a great stroke of luck, was rescued by a distant relative who had come to save his wife. Then my mother sent the letter to her brother-in-law, saying that although she’d managed to escape, the Arrow Cross could come back any time, and that we had to leave her as soon as possible. Naturally, the letter didn’t reach its addressee via the regular post office route, but finding a trustworthy Christian to deliver the letter was also a total lottery. But there was always someone about who agreed to do it, and the little slips of paper reached their destinations.

To get from Akadémia Street to Pozsonyi Road, we had to cross Kossuth Square. The square was full of cannons and German soldiers; my mother didn’t dare remove the yellow stars from herself or us, but instead just cleverly covered them up with bags, scarves, this and that. It wasn’t advisable to rush, that would have attracted attention, and so along we went like carefree, strolling pedestrians. In my dreams, I frequently relive this journey, and experience that terror again and again.

The apartment at Pozsonyi Road 32 was terribly overcrowded, full of hysterically weeping, screaming women wallowing in fits of nerves, together with their frightened children. There was no room for the four of us, and so we sat down on the floor and waited for what would happen next. Our mother had another letter smuggled to her brother-in-law, in which she wrote that we couldn’t stay here, and begged him to come up with something.

Two days later, we received a new address from our uncle: Pozsonyi Road 40, 5th floor, the apartment of Mr. Albert Szántó, engineer.

This house was one of the elegant modern buildings on Pozsonyi Road. I remember that whenever I was sacred, I looked around in the stairwell. I was very fond of the gray marble casing. I was very fond of the pretty built-in bench at the foot of the spiral staircase, and that there was some sort of railing in the middle of the stairwell.

We rang the doorbell. A middle-aged, elegant lady opened the door, but when she saw us, there was not one ounce of joy on her face. Our mother referred to our uncle, the Szántó family’s old doctor, and then the severity melted away somewhat. She let us in. The tiny anteroom opened into the hall, and from there more rooms, although to this day I still don’t know how many.

An enormous amount of people were coming and going in the apartment, but at least nobody here was being hysterical or making a racket. The lady of the house, whom everyone called Minuska, let us in to one of the rooms. The large, beautiful windows looked onto Szent István Park and the Danube. There was no furniture at all in the room, the floor was full of mattresses. Each mattress represented one family’s apartment. There was a broad iron bedstead as well, on which two elderly sisters lived, as we learned later.

Minuska moved a young couple’s mattress over a bit, and gave us the corner that had been freed up next to them, right under the window.

We had only brought our most indispensable items with us, what would we lie down on? My mother started sorting things out: how, with whom, I don’t know, but she sent a message to János, the family’s shoe factory (Arlas) delivery man, who appeared a few hours later. On a tricycle—used in more peaceful times to deliver shoe orders to the shops—he brought three rock hard, broad mattresses stuffed with horsehair from our grandmother’s bed, and the heavy gray and brick red blanket which my father had once bought in Transylvania. There were a few bed-sheets and pillows too, and János brought food as well. When he left, he kissed my Mother’s hand and proudly doffed his service cap, on which ARLAS was embroidered in gold lettering.

This corner became our home, this is where we lived, sat and slept for weeks, right up until the entire house moved downstairs into the basement during the last weeks of the siege.

In his book Gondviselésszerű [Like Providence], Géza Vermes writes about the Szántó family:
“I found my two aunts and their husbands in relatively normal circumstances. […] They lived together in a large luxury apartment, and had everything, enough food, thanks mostly to my aunt Minus’s (Hermina) reprobate son Miki. Miki was seven years older than me, and his expensive toys and expensive clothes were passed on to me when I was a child. He was thoroughly spoiled. He spoke three foreign languages perfectly […]. He studied at the most expensive Catholic boarding school, although his parents had had him converted to Protestantism (for social reasons). […] Miki hadn’t registered his Jewish origins, and didn’t wear the yellow star. Instead, he went into hiding. He said: I’ve found the best hiding place for myself, where nobody will come looking for me. I’m hiding in the lion’s mouth.

Armed with false papers, he presented himself to the Germans when they were looking for interpreters and naturally, with his exceptional linguistic abilities, he was suited to the post. After liberation, there was talk in family circles that he had cooperated with the Gestapo. After the Germans’ retreat, he had to flee. Two years later, when I left Hungary, his anxious mother asked me to look for him in Vienna, but nobody knew him at the address I was given. According to the family, he’d managed to get to South America. I never heard from him again, but neither did I look for him. His only good deed was that he looked after his family during difficult times.”
A few days later we enjoyed Minuska’s hospitality, when Auntie Rudák arrived. She was the concierge of the house on Törökvész Road where, during peacetime, our mother’s older brother Imre lived with his wife and our cousin Ági. In a letter Ági’s mother Auntie Ilonka, who was infirm, begged us to take them in because her sister-in-law Annuska couldn’t endure having them any longer in her apartment. We were crushed by the news, there was nothing to do, and our mother started asking Minuska to let two new residents in. At the beginning, she didn’t want to hear anything about it. Our mother got on her knees and, crying, begged for Ilonka and little Ági’s lives. Finally, permission was given, and Mrs. Rudák went to bring them over to us from the Phoenix house on Pannónia Street. That must have been a difficult task, since my Auntie Ilonka hauled herself along on two crutches and couldn’t carry any packages, so everything was left to Mrs. Rudák.

They’d just entered the front gate when the house supervisor appeared and started grilling them about how they’d ended up here, where they were until now, and when she learned that they’d come from another protected house, she didn’t want to let them come upstairs. The exhausted Ilonka and seven-year-old Ágika sat for many long hours on the cold marble bench in the stairwell. My mother finally bribed the house supervisor, with who knows what money, upon which they came upstairs frozen, but happy. Mrs. Rudák supplemented our mattress with blankets and pillows, and laid Auntie Ilonka down on the bed.

There were three children in the apartment. The adults were initially worried that we’d run riot and be bad, but later were reassured to see that we were “good,” we didn’t make noise or destroy their already fractured nerves. We played quietly, almost whispering, mostly in the tiny anteroom, where there wasn’t much coming and going, because of the curfew.

When I think back to those weeks and months, everything was so extraordinary, so far beyond every normal way we’d lived before, that in fact nothing surprised us. For example, it often happened that without any form of prior announcement, three or four young men would come rushing into the apartment, with Arrow Cross uniforms and armbands, their boots clattering through the place, and threateningly lift their rifles to their shoulders. At these times, a few people screamed or wept, some fainted, but the commando left, taking nobody with them. Before that they opened up everything, even the bedroom belonging to Minuska and her husband, who didn’t share anything with anyone; their room was off-limits. When the Arrow Cross came, the Szántó couple lay down on the hated bed, Mr. Szántó pulled a nightcap onto his head, and after a few sharp words, the Arrow Cross boys cleared off.

There were rumors that one of the Arrow Cross men was the Szántós’ son Miki, but since he didn’t introduce himself to us, there’s no way of knowing whether that was true.

The roomy apartment’s kitchen wasn’t very large, and every family cooked and concocted things for themselves separately. From time to time, there were massive squabbles in the kitchen, when the anxious, terrified ladies let go of all their distress.

It was still November, and we truly felt we were in the thick of a heavy winter, when new Arrow Cross men came, and ordered every resident into the house down into the park. Miki Szántó may have been among them, because his parents didn’t have to come with us. We went down with the others and marched out into the park. The park was black from the crowd, there were countless people, as everyone had to go there from the neighboring protected houses. At the front, they lined us into rows of four and then three, in the thick snow that came up to the middle of my calves, the Arrow Cross and police rushed around bellowing and shoving us. They always gave different orders, we set off then they stopped us, generating complete confusion. Some people were dragged out of the lines and taken off somewhere. I didn’t see them come back.

Beyond the terror, there was some feeling in all of this, a certainty that this wouldn’t happen to me, and the feeling was so strong that I wasn’t once surprised when, after freezing stiff there for many long hours, they let us back into the house. We went upstairs to the nice little corner, our mattresses under the window.

We had to take part in a couple more forced double line-ups scheduled to leave the park. The long, packed lines, being forced into endless standing around in crammed-in, eventually disintegrating masses, the incomprehensible yells of the police, and the stomach pain that accompanied fear, are still with me today.

The longest line-up was the third, in the freezing snow. I remember that after a few hours, I only wanted it to all be over, for them to take us away somewhere, anywhere, just away from here. I had become apathetic, and paid barely any attention to what was happening around me. And then, there was movement. Somebody went along the lines and announced that mothers with children could return to the houses. They repeated loudly so that everyone could hear, but didn’t shout, as the Arrow Cross usually did. This person was in civilian clothing.

To this day I still don’t know whether that was Wallenberg or one of his deputies, but anyway, we received respite, and could return once more to our safe apartment.

The owners of some mattresses however didn’t return, for example the young couple camping out next to us. They didn’t have children and so couldn’t go back to the house. One can suspect what happened to them.

The hunger wore all of us down. Barely any food reached the protected houses, mostly when good-natured Christian acquaintances ventured over. They brought this and that, whatever they could find, since they didn’t have much then either. My grandmother shared out every bite, everyone got something to eat, but even this was really not enough. Then we played a game to see who would like to eat what. I don’t remember what delicacies we listed, one after the other, I only remember talking about bread rolls with salami, green peppers and butter. The adults could hardly bear to listen. They told us to find some other game to play.

Our lives faced many kinds of danger, including the increasingly frequent bombings of Budapest. The air-raid sirens went off many times a day, and their screams invoked terror. Jews had had to hand in their radios to the authorities, yet someone in the apartment still had a set, and before the air-raids, they always announced where the planes were coming from. “Bácska-Baja” [a county in southern Hungary] said the familiar announcer in his deep voice, and this was almost always followed by “Krokodil Grósz” which, aside from being terrifying, greatly pleased us children. By day or by night, the residents of the house set off towards the basement air-raid shelter. Above us were still one or two floors, and the mass of crammed-in residents all want to get down into safety at once. It wasn’t a great tumult, but Mom always helped her infirm sister-in-law get up and down the spiral staircase, and never once left her alone upstairs. By that point, the lift was certainly no longer working. From time to time we heard the adults talking among themselves about how the war was progressing, and they calculated when our sole hope, the Russian troops, would arrive.

However slowly the winter passed, the end of the year approached. Sometime in November the bombings had already become a permanent fixture, only minutes passed between one air-raid and the next, and following a particularly long bombing, the house’s residents finally moved down into the basement.

Pozsonyi Road 40 had an enormous basement, and in it lots of benches. Everyone took all their own belongings down with them, and the concrete floor was soon filled with mattresses. We too carted down our bedding, blankets and everything else. We were almost relieved that we didn’t have to trudge up and down the stairs any more, and could stay in peace down here.

Of course, there wasn’t much peace. It turned out that there were countless children in the house apart from us, small boys and girls, and larger children too, of all ages. Now, as I think back, it strikes me that we never played together in the basement, although there would have been the opportunity to do so. The parents probably didn’t let the children leave their sides, not even for a minute, they were afraid for us. Yet there were still examples of us banding together. During the middle of the heaviest bombings, a young woman, Kitty, and a young man whose name I don’t remember, gathered all the children together and taught us songs, encouraging us to sing loudly, and then louder. They must have been young Zionists, and they taught us the Hatikva [the national anthem of Israel], Hungarian folk songs, and all sorts.

The windows of the shelter opened onto Pozsonyi Road, and were fastened with heavy iron covers, but we knew that the Germans’ anti-aircraft cannons were lined up just outside.

The atmosphere grew more and more tense and anxious than upstairs in the apartment. The house supervisor, who had now been promoted to basement supervisor, constantly issued more and more orders. The mattresses had to be gathered up early in the morning and during the day, we were only allowed to sit on the benches.

We never had enough to eat, foodstuff supplies were gradually diminishing, and no substitutes arrived. Everyone in the basement was in this situation, except the Szántó couple. They sat in a separate corner, and when they ate, they withdrew even further into it. But they couldn’t keep the delicious foods secret, the smell of the salami and sardines gave them away, and we sat there inhaling with distended nostrils, trying to guess what they tasted like.

It’s interested that there was no solidarity among the individuals imprisoned and humiliated because of their Jewishness. Nobody shared food with other families, and it didn’t occur to anyone to pool supplies which might then have been better distributed. In the last one or two weeks of the siege, when we really had absolutely nothing, a large sack of green peas and beans appeared from God knows where. And then a kettle appeared, and from then on, the women took turns to cook our food without fat or flour, just water and salt. Even today I can still feel the stinging smell of pea and bean stew cooking.

I saw and heard strange people in the basement, but didn’t know anyone’s name. There was one woman and her daughter who was no longer young, and who put on a hysterical fainting fit every day, to which her mother always replied in broken Hungarian: “My Mancika, do you wants a slap in the face?”, at which point Mancika would calm down a little.

There were two middle-aged sisters, whose beautiful, clear, wrinkle-free faces meant they were among the prettiest of all. Within a few weeks, they had become withered, wrinkled and gray. It turned out that their facial cosmetics from Paris had run out and so they too became the same as the rest of the young ladies in the basement; during those days, nobody could take part in a beauty competition.

And then a young boy died. He couldn’t have been much older than six or seven, and one day he snuck upstairs to the apartment to bring some toy down for himself and his brother. The poor thing went upstairs at a bad time, while heavy gunfire was aimed at apartments during the siege, the bullet hit the wall and ricocheted off into the child. He died instantly. His mother screamed and cried uncontrollably, and could not calm down. This made all of us go to pieces.

Our second dead was a very old lady who lay next to us. She may have caught pneumonia, and it was no longer curable, perhaps there wasn’t even any medicine left. Only a few centimeters separated us, and during the night, I heard her horrific mutterings in her dreams about how the wagons were coming for her to take her away to the dark place. By morning, she was dead. Some people picked her up and took her out into the courtyard where they buried her until the 1.5-meter thick snow.

We learned chess and played lots of games, while above our heads the bombs fell and the characteristic horrible sound of Katyusha rocket launchers came closer and closer.

One day, the basement supervisor selected a few families, including us, and ordered us to immediately gather up our things and go over to the basement of a house on Tátra Street. I don’t know who bestowed such power on this person, but everyone obediently began getting ready to leave. Once the shootings had died down a bit, we set off. I know now that the distance wasn’t great, but under those circumstances, with all our belongings packed up and my infirm aunt, because of whom we couldn’t rush, the journey seemed like an eternity.

The basement air-raid shelter of the Tátra Street house looked very small and narrow in comparison to the massive basement we’d left behind. Here, the cramped conditions were unbearable, there was no room for most of the new arrivals, at most a tiny space the size of your foot, where one could only just stand. This applied to us too. Someone felt pity for my aunt and squeezed her onto a small space on one of the benches, where she could lean against the wall.

We just stood and stood in the noise, shootings, and everything seemed hopeless. I looked over at my uncle Imre, whose pale face had become even whiter, and saw that he was contorted with fury. And then, all his terrible stress just exploded, he beat the walls with his fists and yelled, but I didn’t understand what. People stood and stared in silence, it was clear they were afraid, even terrified of him. My grandmother shoved her way over to him, pulled her son’s head to her and started talking to him loudly, as if he were a little child once more: “My little Imre, sweet son, calm down, I’m here with you now, there’s nothing wrong,” and my uncle slowly calmed down. So much so that a few minutes later, he announced that we’d be going back to our own basement and not stay here one minute longer.

So we fought our way back through the people, and were once again outside. It started to get dark and we could hear the gunfire coming closer, the impacts and screaming bullets.

I was very afraid. The other two children were also shaking with fear. The adults weren’t in much of a better state. “Everyone has to die anyway,” consoled my mother, which didn’t reassure us one bit.

When we finally arrived back late in the evening, the basement commander turned on us right away, it was clear that what we would have liked most was to swat us round the heads. My mother looked at him with such a glaring expression that this frightening man stepped back and got out of our way.

We were happy to see that nobody had yet taken our place, settled in once again, and everything carried on as if the Tátra Street episode had never happened. I greatly regret that I don’t know which house it was where we spent those few bitter, painful hours.

No explanation was necessary, I knew exactly who was in the next-door house. I’ll never forget the calm that took over in that moment, which lulled me to sleep.

I don’t know whether any of the child residents of the basement are still alive. If they are, it would be good to meet up and talk to them about how they remember Pozsonyi Road 40. Over the past seventy years, that beautiful building has, for me, always been the embodiment of horror and fear. I know, people told me, that Szent István Park has been done up, but I never went there with my children or grandchildren to take a walk, for me, that will always mean the winter of ’44, the forced standing in line, the Arrow Cross, and the police.

V. Nyugati Square 6 - Gabriella Falus (Fried)

This is where my grandparents lived, Lajos Rabinek (aged 64) and his wife Irén (aged 54). My great-grandmother also lived with them, Mrs. József Günsberger (aged 89). When the house was designated a yellow-star house, they were pleased that they didn’t have to move, and from around September onwards, I lived here too with my mother. We often didn’t need to use electric lighting, because the Schmoll shoe paste advertisement on the house opposite shone through our window. On October 15, 1944, when the news arrived that Hungary was leaving the war, we opened our balcony door in joy and hung out a flag, which we had to remove very quickly, as soon as the radio announced the Arrow Cross takeover of power.

Read more...

Very soon, Arrow Cross men appeared in the house and rounded up the Jews, including my grandparents and great-grandmother. They left us in the apartment because we had a Swiss protection letter, which was false, but they didn’t notice. Earlier, my grandparents had rejected our offer to obtain a protection letter for them, saying they were Hungarian citizens, and what were we thinking, why would we ask for protection from a foreign state.

We learned later that they had been taken first to the Óbuda brick factory, and from there herded on foot towards Germany. An eye-witness told me that when my diabetic grandmother could not walk any further and sat down, an Arrow Cross man shot both my grandparents in the head. My great-grandmother, Mrs. József Günsberger, was taken to the ghetto, where she starved to death.

During the siege of Budapest the house was burned out. I could still see the flames and charred walls when, on January 18, 1945, after our liberation which happened in a protected house, we set off on foot to find our relatives.

XIII. Róbert Károly Boulevard 55 - Zsuzsanna Vass

I was not alive during the wars, fascism, and the Holocaust. I only know those inhuman barbaric times from the stories my parents and grandparents told. In any case, my sixty years have not been enough to digest what happened to my loved ones. It’s probably right to think that many generations will need to pass until our distant descendants can digest these sorts of horrors. I don’t believe that those directly affected can ever get over it. The closer their descendants are, the harder it is for them.

Read more...

At that time, my mother was in her teens and living with her parents in the 13th district at Róbert Károly Boulevard 55. They were themselves persecuted, hounded not because of their origins, but their political beliefs. Together with their comrades, they were forced into the illegal underground, and fought against the inhuman regime under constant threat of losing their lives. They didn’t save their own skins but those of people in even greater trouble than them. They rescued Jewish and Gypsy families from the Budapest yellow-star houses, which they called the “ghetto.”

They took escapees into their own apartment, and housed them with relatives in the countryside, and acquaintances.

“And weren’t you a little afraid, even?,” I once asked my grandfather.
“How on earth wouldn’t we have been afraid? Do you know how many of our comrades fell?”
“And what happened to them?”
“Some were executed on the spot, others were transported in wagons to death camps. And we never saw them again…”
“But then…”
“No, there’s no ‘but then’! Understand? We simply had no other choice under such circumstances. One should live life standing proud, not ashamed. And if we do not stand up for those in trouble, then we won’t be able to count on anyone else when it’s our turn…”

I don’t exactly know which yellow-star house residents my grandparents helped, and which their fellow activists helped. But I have a piece of writing left by my mother about one of the houses, where my grandparents used to take her. This is where her best friend lived. The house was opposite my grandparents’ place, a long street which started at the other side of the Boulevard. I think it must have been Róbert Károly Boulevard 55, as listed here as a yellow-star house. I don’t remember the house number, I was a small child in the 1950s when I lived there with my grandparents, but in the 1960s we moved with my parents to Thalmann Street, where I started elementary school. But I often walked past the house, hand in hand with my grandmother. When we reached the house, she would squeeze my hand a little, and ask:
“This is the house. You know, don’t you?”
“Of course I know! Why do you always ask,” I muttered once, as I didn’t yet understand.
“I’d like for you never to forget what we told you,” she said, pulling me close. “You must always remember so then you can tell your children. And then they can tell theirs. This is very important! Generations coming after ours should know the full truth about what happened, about how people lived in earlier times, and everything that was done to them. Those who come after us must learn from this, so that they do not do the same. They shouldn’t just give in to all the evil lies, or all the bad people.”

My grandmother also explained that after Liberation, the house became a Soviet barracks.
We have a family story about that, too.

I am sending my mother’s writing, also in the name of my grandparents, as well as the other branch of my family, since my father’s family were also involved in the resistance. None of them received any sort of decoration or other prize.

Mrs. János Vass, born Gizella Gresó
Our last evening in the yellow-star house
(published post-mortem)

Walking along the Danube banks, my heart always misses a beat. I try not to let this happen, but never manage it. Half a century has passed since then.
It would be so nice to be able to marvel at the glittering froth on the water without seeing the faces of those innocent adults and children. Not to hear their cries for help. The cruel, inhuman commands, then the sharp sound of shooting and the soft thump of bodies. As I had been there among them and lived through that terrible humiliation myself. As if I had died together with them. But I only know what I have heard, about which the adults only dare whisper to one another. They make a particular effort in front of me to hide the fact that my best friend was probably among them, and her whole family, to whom Mama and Papa had smuggled food, medicine, washing products, and books and newspapers, in secret every night, into the ghetto: the yellow-star house, which were not allowed to enter. Papa said that we had to be very careful: if they were spotted, they would hack us to pieces on the spot. They didn’t want to take me with them. But I cried and stamped my feet so I could go after them, and if they dared to lock me in I would wake the whole house up! Anyway, they had no right to leave me here alone right in the middle of such a hideous world! So I made a huge fuss until they finally saw if I was one of them, the time had come for me to join the workers’ movement. The resistance. Our only desire at the time was to be free and liberate ourselves from that inhuman hell. We begged God to turn night into day, even those who had never prayed either before, or after.

On the last evening, we found my little friend ill with fever, but she gathered her remaining strength, sitting up in bed when she saw us.

“Oh you shouldn’t have come!,” she whispered, “it’s already too dangerous! They could kill you too!”
“Don’t worry, we can look after ourselves,” whispered Mama, changing the compress on my friend’s forehead. Then she turned to the adults. “Here, paper and a pencil. Quickly write down everything you need. We will try to get everything we can for you. I’ve brought a little flour, salt and potatoes. And soap. But tomorrow there’ll be tea and sugar too. Ask the others what medicines they need. Unfortunately we don’t have much food. We have to share that out among ourselves.”
“Stay strong, as long as you can,” mumbled Papa. “Don’t give up hope. We are arranging your escape with our comrades. These families will provide you with their own conversion documents, and homes, where you can hide. And then the Russians might finally arrive.”
“What a crazed world this is, my God!,” Mama made the sign of the cross, “where people’s only hope against enemy forces is not their own homeland’s military defense, but exactly the opposite! What kind of homeland is this where we must be defended by the enemy?”
“And,” added Papa, “what kind of enemy is it that is willing to spill its own blood not only for itself, but for this crazed world too, on which unprecedented inhuman brutality has been inflicted, for no reason at all…”

This was the last time I met my best friend. I never saw her, her family, or the rest of the yellow-star house residents ever again. In vain had we prayed together with them, some praying in Hungarian, others in Hebrew. Even Papa, who had never prayed before, even in Hungarian, muttered Slovak prayers he had learned from his parents. He said that the Russians and Ukrainians would understand that language better, even if God would not.

Unfortunately, however, any supplications were in vain, since the Soviets did not arrive here in time. On their side were fighting Hungarian soldiers whose consciousness and real concern for their country dictated that instead of the insane storm of a crazed world, they would align and ally themselves with the more rational party. In all our interests, in defense of the future of humanity, thus saving masses of human souls, and a little of our country’s honor too.

Just like those young gendarmes too, who “covered” us so that we could go in and out of the yellow-star house without any trouble. One of them promised Papa he would also help arranging escape.

There were also some who, deep down, were not real gendarmes, but joined up so they could help the persecuted.

Even during the reprisals that raged after the [1919 Hungarian Communist] Republic of Councils, when one of their relatives was mauled with starved dogs, and who had never harmed anyone in his life. He had had enough of poverty, hunger and humiliation. He wanted a more humane life for his children.

Sadly, the news arrived too late that the order had been given to immediately empty out the yellow-star houses. By the time we got there, not a soul was left behind. They had snatched and driven away everyone: old people, sick people, women, young children, without discrimination. Everyone. Among them my best friend.
The teenage girl who had never harmed anyone. She was an exceptional student at school, warm-hearted, generous, who always helped people around her as much as she could. She wanted to become a doctor. Her whole life, she had wanted to heal people and save lives, help them with all her strength. She was two years younger than me, and was cruelly crushed in cold blood by the world she so much wanted to help. And against which she never used an unkind word, no harm, or ill intent.

And since then, I too have been constantly praying, like the old people. I pray that similar atrocities will never occur to our children, about this dear river, here in our city, the heart of our country. You should never be startled or have stomach cramps or heartbeat irregularities at the sound and colors of holiday fireworks. You should never have to be reminded of cruelty, shootings and destruction. Fury, malice and hatred. I would give my life for you never to know what war is, what humiliation and persecution are. What it is to fear, and tremble. To be starving and cold. To hide in a basement and only have one thing left to do for one another: to pray. To pray even if there is nobody to pray to. I would give my life for you never to know what evil and inhumanity are. The most terrible evil, the most shameful inhumanity that can be.

There could be no “enemy” force on this insane planet, either here or anywhere in the world, which I would not welcome from the bottom of heart if it were willing to protect our children and our lives from all this Godless horror.

Only those who have not lived through those incomprehensible times will not understand. When a people’s most terrifying, most bloodthirsty enemy is their homeland.

VIII. Karácsony Sándor Street 21 - Judit Ujvári

I’ve thought a lot about whether to write this story down, our family’s story, which relates to the yellow-star houses and Karácsony Sándor (formerly Karpfeinstein) Street 21. The Holocaust is the history of tragedies, but this history is rather heroic instead, the story of escape. Hearing the story in my childhood, the emphasis was always on something succeeding, that although we were and are Jews, ours is not the typical Jewish fate. When I was child, my mother explained this success story by saying that the family had stuck together. “As long as we are together, there won’t be any problems.” Later, I heard this sentence from others too, but for lots of Jewish families, it didn’t help at all. As an adult, I also explained it to myself by thinking that members of my family had already recognized what was happening, they were intrepid in not obeying the laws of the time, they had the opportunity to organize a chance of survival, and the non-Jewish members of the family were willing to risk their lives. Contrary to this, there is my Aunt Irén, who hid 12 people right up until the end, and who simply says: “We were lucky.”

Read more...

I never heard the story in full, it only came in smaller episodes, mosaic fragments, and even today there are things that are unclear to me, which I don’t know. Sadly there are only two people left alive today of those who survived, and they were 6 years old at the time.

My paternal grandfather, Zsigmond Fischer, opened a bakery during World War I in the 8th district, at Dankó Street 27. There was an apartment belonging to the bakery too, where he lived with his six children: Zoli, Lüszi, Irén, Bözsi, Klári, Micu. During World War II, the children were already in their thirties or forties, and it’s their story that relates to the yellow-star house.

The story begins when the oldest son, Zoli, escaped from forced labor service in Poland and came home saying that terrible things were going to happen in Hungary too, and that they had to get ready by making a hiding place in the attic of the Dankó Street house. This hiding place was built by Mr. Tóth, their friend they could trust one thousand per cent. My Aunt Irén’s husband, Géza Gyürey, was not Jewish, and the bakery operated under his name right throughout the war. Irén and Géza and their daughter Veronka lived in the Karácsony Sándor Street house, until after April 1944, when Jews were forcibly relocated. From that point on, they moved into the Dankó Street house. My Aunt Irén didn’t wear the yellow star, and ran the bakery until the end.

On October 15, 1944, Horthy made his radio proclamation [that Hungary was leaving the war], and lots of people in the house removed their yellow stars in joy. But this joy lasted no longer than 24 hours, because this house was then occupied by the Arrow Cross who wanted to take its residents to the brick factory, or into the ghetto. My Aunt Lüszi, together with her friend Mati, Mati’s children Jancsi and Marica, and her sisters Sári and Ilonka (who had probably been living there), hid in the house, and when the Arrow Cross left, they went over to the Dankó Street bakery. They were joined by the rest of the siblings: Bözsi and her husband Aladár, Klári (my mother), and Zoli and his wife, Ibi.

The two oldest members of the family—my grandmother, Mrs. Zsigmond Fischer, whom everyone called Aunt Pepi, and Mama Oehler, my aunt Lüszi’s mother-in-law—ended up in the ghetto. Later, Aladár, my grandmother’s son-in-law, entered the ghetto in a bread delivery van and rescued them, but I don’t know the circumstances. All I know is that he brought them out in a cart.

After October 15, everyone I’ve already mentioned went into hiding in the attic of Dankó Street 27.

During the day, the bakery was run by my Aunt Irén and Uncle Géza, while their daughter Veronka played with a friend of hers called Jancsi. They didn’t dare to hide Jancsi in the attic, but instead taught him to repeat the story that he was a refugee from Transylvania. At night, people came down from the attic hiding place to wash and take food back up with them. During the bombings, family members who remained in plain sight went to hide in neighboring houses’ basements, but sometimes, in worry, they couldn’t take their eyes off the bakery’s attic. Luckily, nobody noticed this. And how relative everything is! My mother told me that up there in the attic they weren’t scared of the bombing, or rather, they were much more scared of the Germans.

But the months in the attic were not all spent in tranquil monotony, either a doctor had to be called out to see one of the children, or the Arrow Cross occupied the bakery for a week and baked bread. Every single movement contained the danger of being discovered. The doctor who came out on house visits was German, and in December, the number of shootings increased, we had to come down from the attic and took to the hiding place built in the coal cellar. In January the Arrow Cross occupied the house, threatening that if they found one Jew, they would shoot everyone in the head. My Aunt Lüszi wanted to leave, because Irén and her family had risked too much in trying to save them. And once again, the solidarity returned: “Nobody is leaving here, if we have to die, we die together” was Géza’s response.
My family spent the final days hiding in the cellar, when Soviet soldiers liberated Dankó Street on January 13, 1945. The house is still standing today, and there’s still a bakery there, but what it’s like inside, I don’t know.

2014. April 16., Wednesday

VIII. Dugonics Street 10 - Róbert Gémesi

The former house at Dugonics Street, 8th district, was bought by Sándor Miklós (b. Weisz) on May 8, 1926. A little earlier, because of the numerus clausus, he had lost his job as accountant at the Ganz factory, but because of the discriminative laws in force, he could not find a position appropriate to his profession.

Read more...

His relatives earned a living trading preserves and producing foodstuffs (mostly preparing pickled cabbage, paprika, and bottled tomato purée for sale to shops), and so Sándor also turned to this line of work. The position of the house and the spaces in the internal courtyard provided the perfect conditions for continuing this business. In the courtyard there were three smaller outhouses, and a stables where they kept horses, as well as two cellars.

Sándor bought the property with a dollar mortgage, and paid his monthly installments in pengő for years. The actual value of the property multiplied, and although they couldn’t have come by any other property of similar capacities or location, they had a stand at the nearby Teleki Square market and from the point of transporting the goods, this property had lots of advantages.

Until the outbreak of the war, Sándor lived in the house with his wife Antónia and their daughter Gabriella, who was born in 1928. In 1941, his trading license and horses were withdrawn under decree, and in 1942, he was called up for forced labor service, from where he returned after some months. Following the German occupation, at the beginning of summer 1944, the yellow-star houses were marked out. Nobody knows why precisely this house was designated as a yellow-star house, although it’s possible that the Jewish origin of the owner served as a reason. Because the Jews were forced to move into yellow-star houses, many people moved in, including one of Sándor’s brothers and his family from Fót (more precisely, his sister-in-law and her two children, since the brother József was on forced labor service). Jews from the same street were also moved into the house: 3 people from Szabolcs County who were already living in Pest, Mrs. Helén Grósz, her 4-year-old daughter Marika and Helén’s sister, Gizella. Another of Sándor’s brothers, Tibor, together with his wife, also moved into the house.

Most of the men were on forced labor service, which is why it was mostly women and children who moved into the house. In October 1944, the Arrow Cross collected up Jewish men from the neighborhood. They took Sándor away, and led him to a forest near Vecsés [south-east of Budapest]. Many people were executed there, but Sándor managed to escape. He returned to Pest very ill, and hid for a while with an acquaintance on Bethlen Street. He returned to the house on Dugonics Street on December 24, 1944, and hid here, usually in the cellars, until this part of the city was liberated on January 13, 1945.

At the time, one of Sándor’s sisters was still living there too, Mariska, who fell seriously ill a few weeks before the end of the war, and died in the house. She couldn’t count on any sort of health provision, and thus there was no chance for her to be cured.

The supervision of the house was undertaken by a single Christian woman, who was called Anna Lauchs. Although superintendents were often strict in the yellow-star houses, a good relationship formed here between the residents and the superintendent. Before the war, Sándor’s wife Antónia had known Anna Lauchs well, and they had a good friendship.

After the war, and the death of the original owners, families were moved into each of the empty outhouses in the courtyard in 1946, and although the outhouses were in poor condition, and only one family remained until the 1970s, because the buildings had become uninhabitable.

2014. April 13., Sunday

XIII. Budai Nagy Antal Street 3 - Gábor Szebenyi

This was a Spanish protected house, where five members of our family lived on a double bed, in a one-bedroom apartment with a hall. Together with us in the bedroom lived two couples, plus there were two couples living in the hall, and a single man. A young couple lived in the bathtub. Every hour of the 1,601 days we spent there were filled with fear. The residents of the Swedish protected house opposite were taken away, and we never saw any of them ever again. A Christian friend of ours sometimes smuggled in some food for us, after bribing the Arrow Cross guard. Hunger already seemed to us to be the natural state of affairs. Pasta cooked in salted water was heavenly food. We were lucky.

Read more...

Pages