The Diary of Lajos Ornstein: An Extraordinary Journey
Dr. Paul (Pál) OrnsteinClose
In this series of eight clips, Dr. Paul (Pál) Ornstein describes his father’s diary and his family's experiences during the Holocaust. [Interview: 2012] US Holocaust Memorial Museum - Collections
Lajos Ornstein served as an officer in the Austro-Hungarian army during World War I. Hajdúnánás, Hungary, 1914–19. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Paul & Anna Ornstein
"Reconciliation This way, dear, this way Tears for her, [whom] you won’t be able to see again (?) [It cannot be explained] either by rage or explanation or... (??)" US Holocaust Memorial Museum - Collections
"The g[hetto] from [Hajdú]nánás was taken to the brick factory in D[ebrecen] last night" US Holocaust Memorial Museum - Collections
"According to Zoli’s [post]card they departed from Debrecen out of the country to Kassa [Košice] postal stamp from Kisvárda" US Holocaust Memorial Museum - Collections
"2 o’clock pm Vámospércs gun[fire] from the direction of N[agyvárad] [Oradea] Leaving Érmihályfalva [Valea lui Mihai] arriving 6 o’clock" US Holocaust Memorial Museum - Collections
"from Csap [Čop] 8 o’clock leaving on foot 2 o’clock arriving at Lelesz [Leles] 17 km" US Holocaust Memorial Museum - Collections
"Rauakna Digging ditches until 2 pm Leaving 4 pm from Rauakna – 6 km to Bocsárlapujtő [Karancslapujtö]" US Holocaust Memorial Museum - Collections
"Pyburg – Camp (?) Mauthausen 30 km Mauthausen km 512" US Holocaust Memorial Museum - Collections
"the English arrive" US Holocaust Memorial Museum - Collections
In the margin of the entries for May 9-12, 1945, Lajos wrote: "Csap–Wels Összese[n] 1585 km" indicating that his 6 month journey from what is today Čop, Ukraine to Wels Austria totaled 1585 kilometers. US Holocaust Memorial Museum - Collections
Lajos Ornstein shortly after his liberation from the Mauthausen concentration camp. Budapest, Hungary, 1945. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Paul & Anna Ornstein
One man’s decision to document his journey on a forced evacuation and death march has resulted today in a better understanding of what thousands of Hungarian Jewish men experienced as forced laborers in the final months of the Holocaust. The diary of Lajos Ornstein, acquired by the Museum in 2005, offers a unique glimpse into an aspect of Holocaust history that is not widely studied or known.
In October 1944, 48-year-old Lajos Ornstein was taken from Debrecen, in eastern Hungary, as part of a forced labor service company just as Soviet troops launched a major offensive into Hungarian territory. As the German army and its Hungarian allies retreated from the Soviet advance, Hungarian guards evacuated Ornstein and other Jewish forced laborers, mostly on foot, from east to west across the length of Hungary.
At the Austrian border, Hungarian guards handed the Jewish forced laborers over to the Germans, who drove numerous detachments of them into southern Austria. The evacuation degenerated into chaos, dramatically increasing the death toll of the laborers.
During the last weeks of the war, Lajos Ornstein was among 10,000–20,000 Jews whom German authorities escorted on foot, with little food, shelter, or rest, from the Austro-Hungarian border, through the Alps, to the Mauthausen concentration camp, and from there to the Gunskirchen subcamp. Along the way, thousands of the prisoners died or were killed by guards.
Ornstein used a small pocket calendar to record the names of the cities, towns, and villages through which he passed, distances walked, and occasionally the names of people he encountered.
At the time of his liberation from Gunskirchen by members of the United States 71st Infantry Division, Ornstein had marched approximately 985 miles (1,585 kilometers) over six months. Exhausted and starved, he spent the next three months in an American military field hospital before returning to Hungary to search for other survivors from his family.
The resources assembled here feature an interactive map that plots each page from Ornstein's diary to trace the route of his labor service company, as well as the testimonies of Holocaust survivors, historical film footage, and photographs to help bring this history to light.