Onti, the youngest of five sons, was born to religious Jewish parents in northern Transylvania, a region of Romania that had belonged to Hungary until 1918. Onti's family usually called him Usher, which was the diminutive of his Yiddish name, Anschel. As a little boy, he liked collecting figurines. Though Onti grew up in a Hungarian-speaking home, he attended Romanian public schools.
1933-39: At age 13 I quit school to help make ends meet. I wanted to become a watchmaker, but I settled on working as a glazier and picture framer. Making a living was my greatest challenge. Romanian rule caused us no problems even though my father had once fought against Romania in the Hungarian army. We had a scare in 1937 when there was a one-day pogrom against Jews, but things quickly returned to normal.
1940-44: In 1940 our province was returned to Hungarian rule. Hungary soon became an ally of Germany. The Hungarians revoked my father's army pension and his license to sell tobacco. I was drafted into the army's labor service. In 1941 I was sent to the USSR: In the summer we repaired roads and in the winter we shoveled snow. Most of our men were killed serving as human minesweepers. During our retreat some sick men in nearby units were burned alive in the barn where they were resting; those fleeing were shot while escaping.