Signs of Antisemitism: 1938–1944
Our first awareness that something was wrong: when they threw down our friend's father, and broke his back. Our father was beaten. It was a case of mistaken identity—there was another man named Grossman, who was very rich and had fired someone. Our father almost died from this attack but he survived. It was scary to go out alone at night—they could beat you up. In Esther's voice: Even when I went to school, we were always referred to as “dirty Jews.” We always felt antisemitism when we were growing up. I had some friends who weren't Jewish. The non-Jewish boys used to love me, but I wasn't allowed to go out with them. I had a boyfriend who moved to Israel after the war. I was about 17 or 18, and we went to movies and dances together.
We had an aunt and cousins who lived in Vienna. In 1938, when the Germans incorporated Austria, one of these cousins escaped from Vienna and came to our house in Hungary and hid with us. We used to send food to his family. Our parents were very disturbed, and talked about the situation, but I didn't want to listen—I just wanted to live. After the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia and the German conquest of Poland (1939) and Yugoslavia (1941), people from Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia escaped to Hungary.
But where could we run? The only place would be Budapest but we really couldn't go anywhere because of our 92-year-old grandmother. Many parents encouraged their children to run away, but they didn't want to leave their parents. One man we knew passed as a non-Jew in Budapest.
In 1941, the Jewish families of Mad who were not Hungarian citizens were deported to Ukraine. They were all murdered in a ditch. After that, in 1942, when our mother tried to collect money that was owed to her by non-Jewish clients, they refused and said “get lost”.
Why didn't we run away somewhere? It was obvious what was happening. One incident: when we didn't have a dress ready for a Christian woman, she said to us “You deserve your destiny.”
In 1942, after someone left a radio at our house, the police found it and arrested our sister.
Even though our father was so patriotic, and was even in a POW camp in Italy during World War I, that didn't matter to the Hungarian government. He was still persecuted for being a Jew. In 1942, the army called him up again to a labor camp, to supervise a team of Jewish men who were building a road.
Our oldest sister Barbara was married and living somewhere else, for a long time we didn't know what happened to her, and she didn't know what had happened to us.
Starting in 1944, we were forced to wear the yellow star. The day after Pesach, we all had to give our jewelry to a Lutheran pastor—we each put the jewelry into a big bag, as we were lined up in the schoolyard. Our non-Jewish friend, who had been holding our jewelry, brought it back to us because her husband wouldn't let her keep it anymore.
One day soon after that, with no warning, a few officials came to look through our closets.
Things happened very fast—Pesach was April 15, and the next day we couldn't walk very far from our house. That last Pesach, we heard airplanes, and we heard that there was bombing everywhere. A policeman told us to go down to the river because bombs were falling.
Ghetto: April to May 1944
The next thing we knew, we were told to each pack 25 pounds in a knapsack and leave. We wore many layers of clothing. There was no time to pack away the Pesach dishes—everything was just left on the tables. We were taken to city hall, then to the shul, where we stayed for about two days. Our next door neighbor brought food to us while we were in the shul. We passed our belongings to him through the window of his house. Later when we were in the ghetto, he even came to visit us. All of the Jews in Mad were taken at once. The night that we were going to the railroad station from the shul, some punks put down big stones for us to trip over. It was one and a half hours by train from Mad to Sátoraljaújhely (45 kilometers northeast), where we had to live in a ghetto.
Conditions in the ghetto were very unsanitary. Daily life in the ghetto? There was no life. It was just a little street, Kishvalady Utza, surrounded by police. There was nothing to do. We were just looking at our parents' sad faces, who were wondering how they could help our grandmother. Our father built a bed for her so that she would not have to sleep on the floor.
We lived in Mr. Weiss's house. We knew that this was for real—there was no return. We were there for four weeks. Our father was an officer in the ghetto, so he was selected to be one of the spokesmen for the Jews. Some people did escape from the ghetto by bribing the officers—they went to Budapest.
Train to Auschwitz: Late May 1944
We were told that we were being transported to Kenya, Bolivia, or Madagascar. But when we saw the big cattle cars, we realized that wasn't true. In Esther's voice: Our mother and four sisters got into the car first, they went to the corner. Our father, grandmother, and I were in the middle of the car. We couldn't get to our mother who was in the corner—we were packed in like herrings. There were about 15 cars in the train.
We were in the last transport to Auschwitz, and we arrived on the first day of Shavuos. We were in the train for about two days and two nights. There was no food or water on the train.
When they took us to the ghetto, our grandmother was already senile—she wanted to go back home. She carried her tachrichim (burial shroud), made of lace and ruffles, with her to Auschwitz. We, her granddaughters, had helped her sew the tachrichim.
In 1944, our oldest sister Borishka and her family lived in Debrecen. She later said that they were put on a train to Auschwitz, but the train was rejected because there wasn't enough room. She and her husband and in-laws were sent to Austria, and they survived.
Related Map links
German conquests in Europe, 1939-1942
Ghettos in occupied Hungary, 1944
Deportations from Hungarian ghettos to Auschwitz
Europe 1943-1944, Auschwitz indicated
Major deportations to Auschwitz, 1941-1944