When did you begin feeling the pressures of the war?
In 1940, Hitler ordered the Hungarians to leave the provinces of Marmarush and Transylvania. When the Hungarians sided with the Germans they were allowed back in and the boys waiting for exit visas realized that they, too, had better return home for they were being threatened now by the Hungarians.
When the Hungarians came in, the Romanians left; along with them a few thousand Jewish young men (in their early 20s) crossed the border into Russia. There was no choice, for their lives were threatened. They remained in Russia until after the war. When the war was over, some of them returned while others chose to remain there.
How did life change under Hungarian rule?
On their first day in town the Hungarians attacked the laws of shechitah. The police ordered that the animals be slaughtered according to their specifications; which was to hit the animal between the horns with a sharp hammer and then slaughter it with a knife. Being that it would render the animal treif, the Jewish butchers wouldn’t do it. We stopped eating meat and we ate chicken instead. There were about 30 policemen stationed around town. When the gendarmes themselves wanted to purchase meat, there was nothing to buy in the butcher shops; for the shochtim had stopped slaughtering.
There was an old Jew who spoke the Hungarian language well. He informed the gendarmes that in this town, if you want to eat meat, it has to be slaughtered according to Jewish law. After this episode the officers agreed to look away and we were able to shecht the animals according to halachah. In exchange, we gave the gendarmes the good meat they were used to. Within a few days there was plenty of meat and even enough to export to other towns.
Toward the end of 1940–41, the Hungarians mobilized all the young men. The Russians had occupied Poland, but they had to run away, deep into Russia, leaving behind thousands of mines. Now the Hungarians were left to get rid of the mines. They took these young men whom they had mobilized and instructed them to get rid of the mines — without teaching them how to do it. Naturally, these boys knew nothing about mines, and within a very short time the mines blew up and they were all killed.
Next, the Hungarians mobilized the older men, 40 years and above. They, too, were sent out to the fields without any instruction just like the first group, and they suffered the same fate as the group of younger men; 99 percent of them died. Those who were assigned to do other work for the army remained alive.
How did this affect your family?
My family was not affected at all; my father was a blacksmith and the work he did for the town was considered to be very, very important. My younger brother and I helped out in the shop, which meant that our services were needed. In addition, my father was the only veterinarian in town.
The Romanian gentiles were not pleased with the Hungarians. The government was afraid the Hungarians would start up and the Jews would come to their aid, so any Jew who seemed like a capable person was arrested, never to be seen again. The mayor of the town protected my father all the time. He would hide him if a new official arrived in town.
At the time, I was 16 and my brother was 15. On many occasions we were forced to run to other towns and hide, sometimes for one week and sometimes for two; for the Romanians felt that we were capable of making trouble as well.
For how many years were you under Hungarian control?
The years between 1941 and 1944 were difficult years for the Jews of our town. The Hungarians enforced many laws. Travel was forbidden between towns. Every night the gentiles would attend church and the priest would give lectures. I was very curious to know what the priest was saying, so I bribed a gentile with some cigarettes. In return he told me that the priest was telling his congregants not to buy from or sell anything to a Jew. The gentile admitted that this was practically impossible, for all the stores and businesses were owned by Jews.
In the spring of 1944 the Germans occupied Hungary. Men, women and children were mandated to wear a yellow star attached to their clothing. Slowly it began affecting our businesses. Through bribery, we secretly baked matzos for Pesach.
to be continued…
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.