Manny Mandel discusses wearing yellow star as a young boy in Budapest. Hungary fell increasingly under the influence of Germany in the 1930s and joined the Axis alliance in 1940. During this time Jews in Hungary were increasingly subjected to discriminatory anti-Jewish laws modeled on those in Germany.
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“Here I am, just like all the adults. They had yellow stars, and I have a yellow star. That was made me kind of a big kid in a small pond. I didn’t know that this was demeaning. I did not know what this meant.”
Over sixty years after the Holocaust, hatred, antisemitism, and genocide still threaten our world. The life stories of Holocaust survivors transcend the decades and remind us of the constant need to be vigilant citizens and to stop injustice, prejudice, and hatred wherever and whenever they occur.
This podcast series presents excerpts of interviews with Holocaust survivors from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s public program, First PersonConversations with Holocaust Survivors.
In today’s episode, Manny Mandel talks with guest host Dr. Will Meinecke about wearing the yellow star as a young boy in Budapest. Hungary fell increasingly under the influence of Germany in the 1930s, and joined the Axis alliance in 1940. During this time, Jews in Hungary were increasingly subjected to discriminatory anti-Jewish laws modeled on those in Germany.
At that point in time, the certain Numerus Clausus which were the Hungarian laws that were passed insisted every Jew wear a yellow star. You see yellow stars like that in this Museum at various displays. Unfortunately, I saved the yellow star after the war, but it got lost in transit and I’m sad for it, but I wore a yellow star. To me, that was terrific. Here I am, just like all the adults. They had yellow stars, and I have a yellow star. That was made me kind of a big kid in a small pond. I didn’t know that this was demeaning. I did not know what this meant. What I also didn’t know is in certain days, maybe every day at certain times, somebody would follow me to school to make sure I made that four block walk. I didn’t know. Somebody from our side, as it were, maybe somebody from the underground areas or somebody from the family, or somebody, because it would not be uncommon for a kid with the yellow star to be hit in the head, dumped in a gutter, and left alone for no reason at all.
Secondly, one of the things I wanted as a child was a bicycle. Not such an enormous…You know I wanted it without a motor, and I didn’t want it to have air conditioning, but I just wanted a bicycle. And my father could have well afforded a bicycle, but he says, “I’m not gonna buy you one.” And he gave me some explanation which was not particularly cogent at the time. Bottom line to me, no bicycle. What he said to me really is that you can’t ride in the park, dada, dada, dada, so forth and so on. The bottom line on that issue from his side is that if you ride a bicycle, you ride it in a park. You don’t ride in an apartment. You take it on the elevator from the fifth floor, and if the elevator doesn’t work you truck it down physically. The elevator often didn’t work, because of parts that went bad, and this was a 50 year old elevator. And the machinists and the factories were not manufacturing elevator parts. They were manufacturing guns and cannons. But my father said that we have to go the park to ride the bike. And to ride the bike in the park with a yellow star was very dangerous, because the same folks who might have hit me on the way to school for no reason might hit me on the head on the way riding a bike, and take the bike, leave me there. He wasn’t gonna take that risk.
Now, the understanding of what that meant and the kind of symbolic measure that the star gave, I didn’t understand until sometime later, probably when I was eight or so. And from that time on, of course, I’ve learned more and more about it. But at the time that it happened, I had no understanding of what that really means.
So you thought it was curious. That it was something peculiar to your parents. They were really keeping a very close watch?
Well, having been a parent since, I know that we do that sometimes. And I thought it was just kind of a little overzealousness, but nothing, it had no political overtones. I mean, I wish I’d understood, but I didn’t.
Did you have friends who weren’t Jewish?
And how did they treat you once you started wearing the yellow star?
Well, first of all, they were my friends, and they had no concern about the yellow star. There were two kids right next door to our apartment, I mean if you look at the picture you saw before, the apartment building ends to the right. To the left is another apartment and those two kids were my friends, but in the house you don’t wear a star. You wear a star on the street. And it’s strangers that you’re concerned about.
I had a friend who lived around the corner, a boy who later on was with me in a concentration camp, later on, and later onhe has passed away sincewas a professor at Michigan State University, but I visited with him and some others. Outside the star was an issue, but then again I was never alone. I went ice skating, because I was an ice skater when I was about 4, with my father, and later on I went with a yellow star. But he was there, and that made it safe.
You have been listening to First PersonConversations with Holocaust Survivors, a podcast series of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Every Wednesday at 1:00 p.m. from March through August, Holocaust survivors share their stories during First Person programs held at the Museum in Washington, D.C. We would appreciate your feedback on this series. Please visit our Web site, www.ushmm.org/firstperson, and follow the prompts to the First Person podcast survey to let us know what you think.
At our website you can also learn more about the Museum’s survivors, listen to the complete recordings of their conversations, and listen to Museum podcasts Voices on Antisemitism and Voices on Genocide Prevention.