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Agi Geva First Person Interview



Transcript

Bill Benson:  
Good morning and welcome to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. My name is Bill Benson. I am the host of the museum's public program, First Person. Thank you for joining us today. We are in our 16th year of our first person program, and our First Person today is Mrs. Agi Geva whom we shall meet shortly. 

This 2015 season of First Person is made possible by the generosity of the Louis Franklin Smith Foundation with additional funding from the Helena Rubinstein Foundation. We are grateful for their sponsorship.

First Person is a series of weekly conversations with survivors of the Holocaust who share with us their firsthand accounts of their experience during the Holocaust. Each of our First Person guests serves as volunteers here at this museum. Our program will continue through mid August. The museum's website, at www.ushmm.org provides information about each of our upcoming First Person guests.

Today's First Person program will be live streamed on the Museum's website. This means hundreds of people will be accessing the program via a link from the Museum's website and watching with us today from across the country and around the world. A recording of this program will be made available on the Museum's website. This is our second time doing this with the first being in March.

Anyone interested in keeping in touch with the Museum and its programs can complete the Stay Connected card that you'll find in your program today or speak with a museum representative at the back of the theater when we close today's program. In doing so, you will also receive an electronic copy of Agi Geva's biography so that you can remember and share her testimony after you leave here today.

Agi will share with us her "First Person" account of her experience during the Holocaust and as a survivor for about 45 minutes. If time allows, there will be an opportunity to ask Agi a few questions.

The life stories of Holocaust survivors transcend the decades. What you are about to hear from Agi is one individual's account of the Holocaust. We have prepared a brief slide presentation to help with her introduction. 

Agi was born Agnes Laszlo on June 2nd 1930 in Budapest, Hungary. This map highlights Hungary. The arrow on this map of Hungary points to Budapest. Agi was one of two daughters of Rosalia and Zoltan Laszlo. Here we see Agi and her sister Zsuzsi. They spent the first six years of their lives in a small farming village where their father managed a large farm. Here we see Agi's parents Rosalia and Zoltan.

Due to her father's failing health and anti Semitism legislation prohibiting Jews from working in the agricultural business, the family moved to Miskolc where Agi's mother managed a boardinghouse. This photo is of the house that was Agi's home.

On March 19, 1944, the same day the German forces occupied Hungary, Agi's father died. Agi, her sister and mother joined a group of 30 Jews sent to work in the fields outside the town. After a month they returned to Miskolc where they lived in the ghetto for a few weeks before being confined to a brick factory on the outskirts of town. 

The following month the family was deported to Auschwitz. This map depicts the deportations of Jews from Hungarian ghettos to Auschwitz.

Later, Agi, her mother and sister were interned at the Plaszow concentration camp. The arrow on this map of major Nazi camps shows the location of Plaszow. When the Soviet Army approached Plaszow in the fall, the entire camp, including the three women, were sent back to Auschwitz for a few weeks then were moved to several other labor camps. On April 28, 1945, Agi was liberated by American soldiers. This photo of Agi is from 1950 after she emigrated to Israel.

Agi resides in the Washington, D.C., area. She moved to the United States 13 years ago after living in Israel since 1949, where she worked in the insurance field for 32 years. She has two children: a daughter, Dorit, who lives here; and a son, Johnnie, who lives in Israel. I am pleased to let you know they are both here with Agi today. If you don't mind, raise your hands so people know you're down here.

Welcome.

Agi has four grandchildren and four great grandchildren. Agi speaks four languages fluently: Hebrew, Hungarian, German, and English. In addition to our First Person program Agi participates in the Museum's “Conversations with Survivors” program on Fridays in the Wexner Learning Center. She also speaks frequently about her experience during the Holocaust at schools and universities such as George Mason University in Virginia, Southern Methodist University, University of Utah and Flagler University in Florida, as well as at other such other places as the U.S. Army's Redstone Arsenal and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Agi is also a contributor to the museum's publication, Echoes of Memory, which features writings by survivors who participate in the museum's writing class for survivors. After today's program, Agi will be available to sign copies of Echoes of Memory, which is also available in the museum's bookstore. 

Each time I meet Agi, I learn something new about her. So today, she's accompanied by Everest, who is her piano teacher. With that, I'd like to ask you to join me in welcoming our First Person, Mrs. Agi Geva.

[Applause]

Agi Geva:
Where is my scarf? my scarf.

Bill Benson: 
Oh here, It's right here.

Agi Geva:
Oh

[Door Closes]

Agi Geva:
Why is this closing?

Bill Benson:
It closes so they just see us.

Agi Geva:
Will they show the pictures?

Bill Benson:
They showed them.

Agi Geva:
I want them to show the pictures.
 
Bill Benson:
They can't or there will be a light in your eye.

[Bill and Agi sit] 

Agi Geva: 
Good morning. 

Bill Benson: 
Agi thank you so much for your willingness to join us today and be our First Person. You have so much to tell us in a brief one hour period so we'll get right into it.

World War II began, of course, with Germany's invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939. But before we turn to the war and the Holocaust, let's start with you sharing with us a little bit about your family, your community, and yourself in those years before the war began.

Agi Geva: 
There was a real shock in 1936, that was three years before the war really began, when my father was fired Jews couldn't be in key positions anymore. It was still really far away from the real anti Semitism and real problems that happened later. So he took it very, very badly. He had a heart attack. He hardly recovered from it. He couldn't work anymore. So my mother had to take over the responsibility of the family. So we had to move from our beautiful place beautiful home very big grew up and we went to Miskolc and then 80 kilometers from Budapest, and she opened a small hotel there. It was very successful it was the first time I heard about stay away or to go. We had a very good name. The hotel was important and any people came to visit. She really managed, and my father just had to help a little bit, not too much. Instead of the one year that the doctors told those days he would stay alive, he stayed another nine years after all of his problems.

Bill Benson:  
Agi you told me that in those early pre war days that you were very full of patriotism for Hungary. Will you say more about that?

Agi Geva:  
We liked the country I wouldn't say the whole country until then. They sent us away until all the tragedies happened. Really didn't feel any more Hungarians. I was really patriotic I wrote poems I was at every school celebration, actually talking about the Hungarians and the Hungarian way. I love the language. It was really, really big disappointment although the Hungarians were the last to be deported. We thought it would never get to us. We always said, no, this will never happen in Hungary but it happened.

Bill Benson:  
As we noted earlier, the war began when Germany and Russia invaded Poland in September 1939. But for your community and for Jews in Hungary, the full effect of the war didn't really happen until the spring of 1944. Tell us about that period between the start of the war in September 1939 and before the Nazis came to Hungary. What was that period, a lengthy period. What was that like for you and your family? What took place then?

Agi Geva:  
We didn't feel antisemitism, actually, very much the kids. I think its also both our parents who were very protective we didn't fully hear the radio and we had no access to the newspaper. We really didn't know it. We had a very happy childhood. It was very peaceful, actually in those days. We were sent to the Protestant school. There was no Jewish school in Miskolc. The Jewish students was very low, for instance we were 14 my classroom only two Jewish girls. We didn't feel actually all of these how shall I tell you? The others, in Slovakia they already felt and in Romania, Austria, it still didn't get to us. That's why my parents also thought that we will never that Hungary would never notice what happened.

Bill Benson:  
During that time didn't some of your family members leave Hungary and emigrate elsewhere during that time? 

Agi Geva: 
They were, we called them those days, pessimistic. They just tried to leave Hungary. They said they don't want anything out of this remorse going on. They left for Palestine those days it was still Palestine. My aunt and my uncle and family, but they were the only ones who left really all of us remained. 

Bill Benson:  
During that period, again, where the war really hadn't come to Hungary fully, you remember during that time let me rephrase that. Did you know what was happening to Jews elsewhere in Europe? Do you think your family was aware of that?

Agi Geva:  
Not exactly, not exactly and and even, let's say, wouldn't have known. My sister Zsuzi who was 13, I was 14 at the time, wouldn't have known about the meaning, the deportation meant, the word concentration meant. We heard it, we didn't it just didn't know what it meant. So we even if we heard about it. Always the slogan was the Hungarians will never let it happen.   

Bill Benson:  
It won't happen here. 

Agi Geva: 
No, it won't. 

Bill Benson:
And, of course, all of that changed in March of 1944. March 19th  is a very, very significant date for you.

Agi Geva:  
On the 19th of March in the morning my dad died. He was sick already but hadn't he died and had heard what happened later on that day they would have killed him anyhow. He died in the morning. My mother called the relatives in Budapest. Everybody was living in Budapest from the family. She called them to come to the funeral. And my aunts told my uncle Nazi and my Uncle Nazi arrived. Nazi was a Hungarian name like Moshe or like any other name. It wasn't connected with the Nazis but my mother understood. She got the second shock that day and didn't even know how to tell it to us, that something dramatic happened. We went to the funeral, only my mother and my sister. Nobody could come. And then we came back from the funeral. Every street corner on every street corner was already a German soldier with us. So it was a shock and a dramatic change from that day on in our lives.

Bill Benson:  
It happened almost instantly, didn't it?

Agi Geva:  
From one day to the. The day before we didn't even think, imagine.

Bill Benson:  
Do you think your mother and other family members had any idea at that point what would happen next? 

Agi Geva:  
I don't think anybody could even imagine what was happening next. It was very gradual. We gradually felt the impact what it means to be an occupied country. That week my mother sent us to a small village, to a friend's house, for protection. She thought so, but we didn't feel protected.

The lady of the house was desperate, hiding Jews. That's how she looked at it. She didn't let us out of the house, she didn't even to look in the windows. She was so frightened and we were so sad because our mourning actually we, we were grieving after my father. We were wearing black we couldn't sit shiva which people sit after their loved ones. Everything was so changed we just called up my mom and told her we want to come home we can't stay away we want to be with her. It was a real big problem because Jews couldn't leave the house these days already without the yellow star on the jackets, or clothes or whatever you were wearing. It was a problem to leave the house without and to leave the house with. There was a nurse who looked after my dad all the years and she stayed with us after he died. She volunteered to come to this village and bring us home by train and We were really worried how this train trip would work out. And when she came we sat down the three of us and had to decide with the yellow star on our clothes or without. We decided without.

We were sitting in the train. The Hungarian gendarme, the German soldiers, they came and they looked at every person who was sitting in those trains. They let people show their papers. They let people get off the trains whose face they didn't like. It was a trauma until we arrived. They looked at us but somehow didn't ask for papers and didn't get suspicious. 

Had we been caught without the yellow star on it would have been Siberia definitely or with the stars on and out papers they didn't like it would have been the same that's why we decided to risk it without. So we got to our house safely and it was at least this period over.

Bill Benson:  
Is my memory correct that that happened on your birthday?  

Agi Geva:
No the other thing happened. 

Bill Benson:
OK. In the middle of June, tell us about what happened on your birthday and then, of course, what happened once you were back in Miskolc.

Agi Geva:  
Actually, after we got back to Miskolc, there were leaflets and there were notes on every walls of what we are supposed to do. One of them was we had to give our dogs to the municipality and our bicycles, which is somehow unheard of the teenagers had to the Jewish teenagers can't have a dog and can't have a bicycle. When we give them to the municipality, there was a note also that those who swore loyalty to Hungary would not have to be will not be deported and we will work in the fields. So we thought anything will do not to be deported. By that time we knew what the word meant. So my mother found some 30, 35 very good friends who were ready to go to the municipality to swear loyalty to Hungary. My patriotism was already a little bit less. They were taken to the fields to the gustav, gustav means farm village. We worked there from 5:00 in the morning until late at night. For the first time in my life my feet were hurting. I never knew before what it meant. 

Bill Benson:  
And you're 14 years old.

Agi Geva:  
And I was 14. My sister was 15. And we thought it was a hard life but better than to be taken, to be deported. But one day the rule changed, the law changed. They changed their minds, the Hungarians, and they sent the gendarmes and the German soldiers to bring us back to the town. Now when they brought up back on the way there was an air raid and that was on my birthday. 
 
Bill Benson:
The air raid was on your birthday. 

Agi Geva:
We were supposed to lie flat and cover us with whatever so they couldn't find you in the fields. The air raid didn't touch us that time, actually for Miskolc and for Budapest it actually was intended. We stopped at a small village. We were all taken to the police station. The women were left outside. The men were taken in for interrogation. We just heard their screams. They were badly, badly beaten. They wanted to find out from them where were the jewels, money, bank accounts, and so on. They were supposed to tell it all. 

Then we were taken not back to our houses in Miskolc, we were taken to, we were taken to the ghetto. What means ghetto is not well known, I suppose. Not all of you can even know the word. It was a very, very popular place during the war. Mostly for those there were years in the ghetto with the Polish people. We were there only a few weeks. That meant out of the city part of the town was fenced off and we couldn't go over the fence. We couldn't leave. We couldn't go shopping we couldn't go out walking. You were supposed to stay in the houses.

Now, the houses meant small, two room apartment, where there lived a couple, maybe one child. They brought us in five, six families into this small apartment with one bathroom, one kitchen, one bedroom. We were very uncomfortable, very stressed, very worried, very hungry, very thirsty, very everything. We thought that the worst part could have happened to us and we hoped it would be over soon. 

It wasn't the worst. We were taken out of the ghetto. They came to the brick factory. 

Bill Benson:
To the brick factory.

Agi Geva:
The brick factory was, were taken to that factory because it was on the railroad station. Now it had a roof. It had no sides. People could escape, actually. There were many guards but still. And my mother was encouraged to do so, to take my sister and me and just walk out. She was afraid. She was afraid that she would lose one of us she was afraid we would be discovered and shot. She was afraid So she stayed. She regretted it all her life. My good friend escaped and we met her after the war so it was possible to survive. We were waiting for trains. We thought, OK, trains. Trains will be like the trains we knew: sitting, looking out the window, having a sandwich. But when the trains came, it was a far cry from what we thought. They were cattle wagons. And we thought these cattle wagons just came by and would go. But they did not. 

Bill Benson:  
Agi let me ask you one question. Did you have any sense of where those trains, those cattle wagons, where they were to take you?  Did you have any sense of that at that time? 

Agi Geva:  
No idea. 

Bill Benson:
No idea, OK.

Agi Geva:
We thought, we guessed it would take us out of the country but it was scary. We didn't want to get on those cars but they pushed us on. The Germans and the gendrames, the Hungarian gendarmes, they helped us up actually it was very high stairs. And even the cattle usually had straw at least there was nothing on the floors. And they pushed in as many people as they could and closed the doors on us. 

So we would have been happy to be back in the ghetto, of course. it was worse and we thought there was nothing worse. There were very old people in that certain wagon, boxcar. There were very young people. There were babies. There were pregnant women. There were teenagers. Anybody who was in that group and everybody reacted differently.  

There were people who started to scream, couldn't stop screaming. They were hysterical. Kids just didn't know what was happening. How could this be possible? This is not human even. There were babies who couldn't stop crying, of course. There were women, pregnant women, who fainted even. There was nowhere to faint to. We couldn't even sit down. And the train started to move. And there was a very small window, very small one under the roof. That gave us a little bit of indication when it is night and when it is day. We didn't know how many days we were in this horrible conditions, on this wagon. It took three days. They told us later.

When the doors opened and we had to get off these wagons, they immediately separated the men from the women. It was one of the worst things I can really imagine. When wives were clinging to husbands and brothers to mothers, sister to brothers, it was impossible to describe what it meant to be separated from one another. But there was nothing to do about it. We were at gunpoint all the time.

And then the women started to move to a certain space to a certain point. And this time my mother really got worried, worried is not even the word. She regretted of course that she didn't escape. She regretted that she got up to this point. She told us to walk slowly, to stay with the crowd. We were five in a row. And she would go through the front and see what's happening in the front to decide what to do. She got to the front and saw what was happening and slowly, slowly she came back. She wasn't (inaudible) she wasn't short. She could get back to us and tell us the following: “Don't ever call me mom or sister, sister. Families shouldn't be together.”  

That's what she saw there. the minute someone told them, “Please let me stay with my mom,” with my daughter, they were immediately separated. One went to the left side. The other was sent to the right side. My mother didn't know at that time what the other side meant. We found out much later. But she saw that we are not supposed to be young, I'm not supposed to be 13 and 14 because 13 and 14 years old were sent immediately to the left side. So she told us to put on our scarves we brought with us and bind it in a certain way that it would make us older. We should say that we are 18 and 19. And under no conditions say we are less she saw the way we were binding our scarves would make us look older. It makes me look older even now.

[Laughter] 

Agi Geva:  
Then she bound her scarf in a different way that should make her look younger. And that was that way. It might have, something helped, something helped.

Bill Benson:  
One of the things that we'll learn from you today but you can't even begin to tell us adequately is how extraordinarily just how extraordinary your mother was. And to be able to size that up and adjust like that was remarkable. And there are other incidents like that. You told me about a friend of yours, your best friend, Edith. Will you say a little bit about that?

Agi Geva:  
Yes. We were two Jewish girls in the classroom. Edith was my best friend and other Jewish girl. And her mother was sent to the left immediately at this point when my mother found out what to do in order to stay together. And this time she didn't even think that it should be, what side it should be but we should stay together. And this wish of hers accompanied us all the way.

The next day, Auschwitz, I will come back to the selection. But the next day that came, trucks with loud speakers telling every girl under 16 should come to the trucks to be in better treatment, better sleeping quarters, better food. And a lot of girls started to run to these trucks, also Shosha, and me, my sister. My mother caught us and told no way. It doesn't matter that you will have better treatment, better food, better whatever, you stay with me. You stay with me. And Edith, you don't go anywhere. You stay with the family and I will look after you as I look after my own daughters. But Edith didn't want to listen to her. She said, "If I go, I might meet my mom. Maybe this car goes somewhere where my mom is staying.”  She didn't listen to us. I don't have to tell you that we never saw her anymore. We found out later what happened to her. 

I just want to go back for a minute to our arrival in Auschwitz when I always told you there was nothing worse, so the worst was just to come. We were led to a big hole, and we were supposed to put down our bags. Now, what were the bags?  We had a small bag that we were told when we went to the farm for the work that we can put in it only whatever we can carry ourselves. So it shouldn't be too heavy, it shouldn't be too big. So I put in an old watch  [feedback]  a book I was recently reading, a dress, kid stuff, teenager stuff. I don't know what my sister had.  

So when we had to give our bags, it was not so tragic. However, it meant a lot to us because it was our only connection with home yet, still. So we put it down in the corner. But the grownups, they had in these bags jewels, family pictures, documents, very important stuff and they got really hysterical scared. They were begging the guards. They were crying. They were doing whatever they could. They had to leave it.  

Gunpoint. You have to put it down. So it was very hard that act.

But the next one was worse. We had to undress. We had to undress and leave everything you had on to put in another corner, shoes, everything. And this time it turned out that all the grownups thought of the bags that were taken away from them but they remembered that there is another way. So they sewed in their clothes, I am afraid to touch and to show how and where, in the pockets, in the lining, in the dresses, the money, pictures, documents, things that she thought to buy freedom with, food with. We had to take off these dresses. Everything we had to take off. So my mother and her friends had really nothing left. Their last hope was done, to be able to buy some better life work, freedom. And we were standing there without clothes. As if this wasn't enough, they came to shave us from all hair on our bodies. It was the most humiliating thing I have ever had. Later came other ones but that was this time. 

And we were led to the showers. We never, not at that time we couldn't find out what it meant to be in the showers. We were so lucky that water came from the showers. Because on the other side as we called it, on the left side where people were sent, gas came from the showers. And this we didn't know. Luckily. Then my mother found out. She was very careful that my sister and I shouldn't know about it, we should never find out about it. She didn't want to spoil our security in a way and to make us panicky and to, she, she, we never foundout actually until the liberation we really didn't know. She knew everything. And by knowing it, she could shield us from all of this, tragedy.

So that was actually the first day. And then we were sent to the barracks where we got two blankets and a plate and I remember a spoon. My sister says, no, we had no spoon. Everybody remembers other stuff. But everything was gray, that's what I remember so very well, everything was grey the blankets, the barracks, the plates, the bowels, the air, the smoke that we didn't know where it came from and we didn't know why it was gray and what it meant. 

In the barracks we had these bunks of wood. My mother told us, OK, that's what we have. I sleep on the middle. My sister on top and I was on the lower one. We thought that it will be, that's how it will be. But, no. They put another six, seven people on the same bunk. And if somebody turned, all the six people had to turn and so on. I'm not going to get into more details of this time.
 
Bill Benson:  
And there's so much more you could say but I know you want to tell us what happened after that. You were sent to Plaszow from there, to very hard labor. Tell us about that.

Agi Geva:  
There were a few days in Auschwitz, might be few weeks, two weeks, I think. We thought that we were in the worst of the worst of the worst part. Then we were sent back to the railway stations, back into the wagons. And the wagons took us for a one day trip.  

We were sent to Plaszow. Now, Plaszow is the place where Schindler's list was taken. And Plaszow was the place where there were where the inmates were criminals; not like us who came from the cities and from the other countries. 

Bill Benson:  
These were murderers and—

Agi Geva:  
Murderers. We were so scared. From the morning to the evening we were just looking behind us, who is behind us. We were very, very scared. And the work was not only hard, it was senseless it was absolutely humiliating. Big rocks, a quarry, Plaszow. We had to take the big rocks up the hill. And the next day we had to bring it back down. Now, if somebody didn't choose rocks big enough like my sister was 13. Really how big a rock could she carry?  So she chose a smaller one. She was very, very badly beaten. And, of course, we couldn't help her because we were not allowed to say mother, sister. 

We never spoke about the relationship. Nobody knew that we are family not the guards and the kapos. So this took also quite a while. We were very weakened. Very desperate. When we heard shelling, we were a little happier we thought maybe the Russians are nearing and liberating us. But the Germans heard this, too, of course. And they knew what's happening. They liquidated the camp.

So they took us back to the wagons to the station. So we were again in the wagons, traveling somewhere. We had no idea where to. My sister and I were crying the whole time. We couldn't stop anymore. So my mother kept telling if you were in the worst place, you were in Auschwitz, and the worst place, we were in Plaszow, there is no worse place than these two places so don't worry. We tried not to worry. When the doors opened and we saw where we were taken, it was the end. It was Auschwitz.

Bill Benson:  
So they took you back to Auschwitz. 

Agi Geva:  
Took us back to Auschwitz. And then my mother really there was nothing more she could say. Except now there would be selections and there was one officer selecting. And the one officer who was selecting was Mengele. I can't even say the doctor it doesn't come to him. He was the worst, the cruelest person ever. He was called the death of angel, angel of death. 

Bill Benson:
Angel of death, angel of death. 

Agi Geva:
My mother really got scared. She told look, two things, either you follow me wherever he sends me or you say you want to work, you want to be in the working camp. Germans need workers. So this might save you. 

So she said she's going first and my sister after her and I should be the last because I really looked very weak and bad. So she was sent to the right side immediately. My sister behind her. Also to the right side. And I came in front of him. He told me left side. I told him, “No, no. I would like to go there.”

Bill Benson:  
This is to Mengele?

Agi Geva:  
Mengele. And he was alone deciding but there were lots of soldiers with guns around him, surrounding him. So the guns were pointed at me when I told No. It was there I told him the working camp. He says, “You don't look to me that you can still work.” And then he realized that we were talking German. And this is the point I want to tell you that my father knew that something was going to happen. He knew something very bad will come. He told my sister and I one day and told us that you have to know something that can't be taken away from you and this will be languages. And this will give you power. And the knowledge will give you power. And he thought if we knew fluent German and English by the age of 14. So hadn't I known German that day, I really wouldn't be sitting here today. 

So he was, Mengele asked me, "how do you know German that well?" It didn't matter anymore. He told me, “OK, go where you want to go.” It was unbelievable. My mother fainted when she saw the conversation. She was sure she would never, ever see me again. She didn't even know that I was sent to her, to that side, because she was fainting when I got there. 

Bill Benson:  
Agi, you told me that when you shared this with audiences in the past, people will often ask you well weren't you, weren't you scared of Mangele, to talk, to talk that way to him. Tell the audience what you told me.

Agi Geva:  
I don't know. I was afraid of my mother.

[Laughter] 

Agi Geva:  
She told me to do this and we had such strict discipline my sister and I. We realized that we are in her hands and, we do whatever she says so.

But then another humiliation, of course. Why not?  We were tattooed like cattle, just like that. They put the number on our arms. It was hurting I would say. It was more hurting the knowledge that they kept on telling us, "You have no names from today. You are just numbers." It was humiliating. It was very hurtful. 

Bill Benson:  
And you would continue at Auschwitz for a while longer until late 1944. And then you were sent for the last time from Auschwitz to do more slave labor. Tell us where you were taken. And you were still together at this time. Where did you go from Auschwitz? Tell us about that. 

Agi Geva:  
There were selections every day. Germany needed workers in factories. So sometimesthey looked at strong feet, at strong hands. But sometimes they looked at eyes. And I wore glasses from the age of 5. So my mom put my glasses folded them and put them sideways in her shoe, that I shouldn't look different. And somehow during these selections we stayed together again. And we were sent to the railway station and sent out of Auschwitz. This time we hoped we would never come back to Germany. 

Bill Benson:  
And that's where you went to Rochlitz.

Agi Geva:  
And then we went to Rochlitz. Rochlitz is a small town near Lipte (?). We were studying there how to make airplane spare parts, small screws. And then they gave me a pencil and a paper and a table and a chair. I couldn't believe. It was the first time I saw a table and the first time I sat on a chair since we were deported. They give me the pencil. I was happy when they handed me a piece of bread. It made me feel in spite of my number that I'm just a number, it made me feel human and responsible again. It wasn't over.

Bill Benson:  
But that didn't last long either.

Agi Geva:  
No.

Bill Benson:  
Where were you then taken?

Agi Geva:  
We were taken to Calw near Studguard (?), to a big factory where the real work is done we weren’t studying anymore. if I told you it was the worst, the worst, the worst, I can't imagine somehow could be something worse. To stay 12 hours on your feet, at night, listening to the monotone noise of the machines and stay awake. How could we stay awake 12 hours at night making these small screws?  We couldn't. Until one girl fell asleep really and fell into the machine. She was badly hurt. She stayed alive. It was a wake up call for all of us. So we stayed awake. But it was a struggle that I can't describe. 

Bill Benson:  
And while you were at Calw, your remarkable mother, if I understand correctly, began engaging in little acts of sabotage.

Agi Geva:  
Yes. It happened by chance the first part of it. I was making the screws from a plan they drew for me, from a small piece of aluminum column. My sister was in at the controls. They were controlling the screws saying if they are too big, too small, or just right. And my mother was at the big filing stone, filing down the screws in case they were a little bit bigger than acceptable. And one somehow the stone exploded. She got so scared that she fainted. And they called her to the headquarters, the Commandant, who explained to her that these stones are very, very delicate and you can't press the screws harder because then they explode and that is a big problem. You can't find a new one. You have to order one and orders were not so easily coming by. Until the stone comes, all the screws were in the crates near the doors waiting to be sent out. Oh, she thought that might be a good idea. She can maybe help a little bit to end the war. So she kept doing this every now and then. She would push the screw harder to the stone, stone exploded, mother fainted.

[Laughter] 

Agi Geva:  
They never found out.

Bill Benson:  
I was going to say. Did you know she was doing this?

Agi Geva:  
No. We never found out. She was afraid. She didn't trust anybody. She did it but didn't trust anybody. We found out only much later, after the liberation. 

Bill Benson:  
And Agi, in February, finally in February 1945, you're taken out of Calw but this time you're sent on a forced march which really was a Death March. Tell us about that and what you thought was going to happen and where you went. 

Agi Geva:  
Can you imagine something worse than traveling in these wagons? They couldn't find anything worse. It was the worst of the worst to travel in this, these wagons with no place, no space. I can't even tell you with no what. But this was worse. 

They told us to get ready, we are going. We understood the allies might be nearing but we couldn't have imagined where we would be going and how we were going. So we were standing at the door in lines all the time with the Germans (GERMAN WORD) they called it. They kept on counting us. In Auschwitz it was the most occupational therapy, let's say, for them.

Bill Benson:  
Line up for hours and hours. 

Agi Geva:  
And here they lined us up. We were waiting for a carriage, for a car, for a coach, for something. They said go. Go where? There was nothing. What do you mean nothing?   
You walk. You go. 

We wanted back the wagons. Imagine we wished back for the wagon. We just had to leave in this cold night in Germany, windy, cold. We had nothing I didn't mention that the first day when we had to undress and shower and we were shaved, I didn't mention two things. One, that we were sprayed also. More humility you can't be done to be sprayed. And after the spraying we had to walk to another corner and choose clothes. What is clothes? One dress and one shoe, no stockings, no underwear. So that's what we had on. So I ran back and took my blanket. 

Bill Benson:  
This is the dead of winter.

Agi Geva:  
In the middle of winter.

Bill Benson:  
An especially brutal winter as it turned out.
 
Agi Geva: 
And we walked. We walked step by step in those very bad shoes that didn't fit and were worn out already. We were so cold and the wind was so strong. And we told "you mean really to walk?" We wish the wagons back. 

So we walked for 400 kilometers every night. And then morning came, they were afraid the villagers would see us so they found us barns. We were supposed to sit in the barns. Who could sleep would sleep. We had no food of course. So we were looking for something. I remember we found raw cabbage raw potatoes the potato peels. Hardly any water. We were weak, even. Not only cold, we were very weak. And, of course, we couldn't sleep so we were sleepy. And you were walking when the evening came and we were sent out of these barns. We were sleeping walking. This is a period that really I can say was the worst. 

Then they kept us telling walk quicker. If you want to go by train you want the wagons, OK, walk quicker. We are going to a railway stations you will get the wagons. There were another two girls who understood German. The news came back to everybody girl by girl that we are not going to go by wagons. The wagons, the trains are bringing the guns to execute us and ordered to do so.

I couldn't walk anymore quicker than I was walking. I couldn't walk even anymore. It came a point when I just sat down and thought, No, no, no, I can't, I just can't. And then I remembered hearing that there were death marches. Why were they called death marches? Because many people, many prisoners, who couldn't walk anymore, really couldn't walk anymore, sat down at the side or fell down to the side of the road and they were shot. 

We were 199 women. One woman died from Typhus in Calw. Nobody else got it, at least. So we were still 199. We just kept on walking. And when we heard what was going to happen, part of us believed it, some didn't believe it. I didn't care. I really didn't care whether I will be shot or whether I will just die just like that. I just couldn't walk anymore I couldn't stop crying.

Bill Benson:  
At that point was your mother still able to encourage you to keep going? 

Agi Geva:  
Yes. She kept us telling also when we were leaving the factory, she kept us not being happy, being normal by telling us stories all the time. Stories about what was and stories what she thinks will be. She always told us what we ate when we were still at home, what means home. And then she told us when we come back we are going to have all this back. 

I never believed that I would ever be liberated. I personally really didn't believe it. Then she kept us going. She told us so many encouraging ideas she had while we were walking until she heard where we were walking, that we might be executed. So she just couldn't encourage us to go anymore but we had to. We were again at gunpoint. Remember, all the time we had guards around us with guns. And then we arrived to the railway station, it turned out that the tanks were gone with the guns or they were there to execute us but they had no guns. We found out much later. 

An officers we saw got some white envelopes from the station master. We found out later that they were false papers to, to go over to Switzerland. And the soldiers who were just guarding us, they sent us back to the forest. They told they didn't tell us that there are no guns to execute you, of course. But they told us you missed the train, you have to keep on walking. I think that was the most desperate day during the whole year of my life. That was the worst of the worst to go back into the forest, in the cold. There were creeks we had to cross. The shoes were not shoes anymore. My foot was bleeding. This was the worst day. I just sat down and told no more, never more. But, of course, we had to. And my mother kept on I don't know what else she could tell me to keep me going but I did. 

When we got back to the forest, after a while, somehow after some walking, one of the elders—she was the kapo, in German that means the kapo, the leader. There were 20 Polish people, 180-179 Hungarians, and the Polish people were the ones between the Germans and us. They got, they were translating and they got the clothes first and then they divided us. They got the food and they divided us. And one of them, the older one, she told, “Listen to me. Stop walking.” And then she told me these words: “From now on, 28 of April, 1945, you are”—and she had no heart to tell the words—“free.” Until we realized what she told, we looked around, there were no guards around us. There was no one guarding us. 

Bill Benson:  
They had just evaporated. 

Agi Geva:  
Just disappeared. 

Bill Benson:
Just disappeared. 

Agi Geva:
And she told us we are free. So the desperate, worst day of my life became the best. I was so happy. I didn't actually know what to do. My sister didn't care. She just sat down, opened her bag, took out all the food there was in it because we had for a few days always reserves but we were not allowed to touch it. She sat down and started to eat. She didn't care. Until somebody warned my mother. She remembered that after hunger and starving, it's the worst thing you can do, to start eating. People really died from this act. So they stopped her. 

And then what? We are free. So what? What to do? We are in Germany. It's winter. It's cold. We have nothing. So then.
 
Bill Benson:  
And the war is not over.
 
Agi Geva:  
And the war is not over. Exactly. And we were 179 Hungarians with 179 opinions. 

[Laughter] 

Agi Geva:  
Everybody has a different idea. One told stay put, the other left, one east, one told wait for the daylight. Everybody had some other idea. 

My mother gathered some 30 people around her. They discussed what to do. And these 30 people, 30-something people, agreed what to do. And we started out in a certain direction. We didn't wait a minute in the forest.

Bill Benson:  
Agi, we're close to the end of our time. I know you're getting there. Tell us about encountering the U.S. soldiers.

Agi Geva:  
Yes. So we were walking. And then we were scared by hearing voices. We thought, oh my God, we are getting back into German hands. This might be Russians, might be anyone else, might be any soldiers. And then we were supposed to be a little bit brave and started to walk. But everybody heard the voices. And then we heard English speaking voices. So the group said you know English, you should talk to them. OK. I was 14. No, I was 15 already. So we found a stick, and we found on it some underwear—I don't know where but we found it. It was supposed to be white but it wasn't. 

[Laughter]

Agi Geva:
And the soldiers stopped. I told them who we are, where we come from. They told us never in our life, ever seen a bunch of women so dirty, so desperate, so, so everything. Where were you?  What to do with you? 

So they told, OK, we are taking you to our headquarter. The headquarters was in Plansey in a hotel. They were very nice to us very, very nice to us. They found doctors and nurses. They looked after us and they treated us. They were just looking after us. It was actually the liberation. 

And I never, ever could find these soldiers.

Bill Benson:  
And you tried.

Agi Geva:  
I tried here in the museum. I told them the date, the day, the hour, everything I knew about it. We couldn't find them until today. He must be 95 by now. If I was 15 then. We couldn't find them.

Bill Benson:  
Agi in the very little time we have left there's so many more things that I would love to hear you talk about and I wish we had time for our audience to ask some questions. One of the comments that you said to me is that you just can't bring yourself to describe it as bad as it really was; that, in a way, you're not telling how horrible it really was by what you've told us. Can you say a little bit about that? 

Agi Geva:  
As you surly noticed it's hard for me to talk about all that was. I made it my mission to tell it to anybody interested and everybody should know what happened and how it happened. But it wouldn't be possible for me to continue this mission if I would tell exactly how it was. It was much, much worse. When I told you it was the worst, it was the worst for that minute. But it was much, much worse. The many, many things that I couldn't even mention, the electric fences... 

Bill Benson:
Electric fences. 

Agi Geva:
And a lot of things I couldn't mention. I can sleep and I can be calm as long as I don't have to talk about the worst stuff, the worst stuff, what really, really happened. As much as my mother, what she did, taking care of us, that we shouldn't know exactly everything. I can talk about what I spoke today that way. At least that way everybody will know and imagine what there was. But it was much worse. 

Bill Benson:  
We're going to close the program in just a moment. I will turn back to Agi to close our program. Among the many things, of course, that Agi doesn't have time to share with us, not only details and much more from what happened to this point but then what happened going forward. Agi would live for a while under the Communists in Hungary. And many, many traumas associated with that. And then you and your sister would make it to Israel but your mother was not able to. And that way you told me that was your first real separation from your mother. 

I wish we could keep you all afternoon. We can't. But we want to thank you for being with us. We remind you we'll have a First Person program every Wednesday and Thursday until the middle of August. So I hope you will be able... 

Agi Geva:  
Not just me, not just me.

[Laughter] 

Bill Benson:  
I also... it's our tradition at First Person that our first person gets the last word. So I'm going to turn back to Agi to close the program. When she's done, Agi is going to get up immediately and go up the stairs here. So if you'll make sure she can do that. Go to the back door. She's going to sign copies of "Echoes of Memory" for anybody who would like one.

Before Agi does that, she would like to share with you, when she's back there, if you want to, as you go by, her tattoo. You can't really see it from the stage here. Agi will be at the door when she finishes. Again, thank you for being with us. On that note, let me turn back to Agi to close our program. 

Agi Geva:  
Thank you for listening. Really. Lipstick.

Bill Benson:  
I was so wanting. But you brought it up.

Agi Geva:  
The American soldiers liberated us. We are going shopping and everybody can ask for something among the 30 women who were there. Some people asked for schnitzel, some asked for feathers, some people asked for something they dreamt of the whole year. OK. Chocolate. I asked for lipstick. 

[Laughter]
 
Agi Geva:  
Because when I looked in the mirror, I was so ugly. I was bald. I had no hair. I was pale, I was dirty. I thought, lipstick might help.

[Laughter]

Bill Benson:  
Thank you. 
    
[Applause]

Agi Geva:  
I wanted to tell you, really, if you have teenagers here, mostly, how very, very important it is the discipline. It's hard for me to tell it. You hear daily from teachers, parents. But hadn't my sister and I listened when my mother told some things, not go here, no don't talk. If we had not listened, we would not be here today. She knew, she saw what's happening. Respect. Very important. 

And something else is very, very important, languages, knowledge. It's power, unbelievable power, to know languages and to be able to get around with it. And the last thing is how this museum really was almost could say my second home. There's so much help, there's so much consideration, so much understanding here. It really means a lot to me. You have all the information here from ancestors, war crimes, everything you want to know. You have all of this information in this museum to whom I am very grateful. Thank you. That's it.
    
[Applause]
    
Thank you very, very much. Thank you. 

Through the First Person program, Holocaust survivors have the opportunity to share their remarkable personal stories with thousands of visitors during live interviews held at the Museum between mid-March and mid-August. This recorded First Person program features Agi (Laszlo) Geva who was born on June 2, 1930, in Budapest, Hungary. She survived internment in Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Plaszow concentration camp, and then forced labor in a factory in Calw, Germany. On April 28, 1945, US troops liberated her from a death march. This program was live streamed on April 15, 2015.