Mr. Gavriel Blau – Part I

My name is Gavriel Blau. Prior to the war, my name was Yaakov Klein; for various reasons I changed it after the war. I was born in Satmar. At the time Satmar was part of Romania but when the Nazis invaded, it became part of Hungary.

I was the fourth of seven children. I had three younger brothers. For seven years I attended a Romanian school. When the Hungarians came, I went for one year to their school. In addition, we had a cheder in our house. A rebbi would come to teach us and, once a month, the Satmar Rebbe would come to farher us.

My father had been a ben bayis by the Satmar Rebbe. My parents were very religious. My father was a friendly person and well-liked in Jewish circles. He owned a flour mill. Before Pesach he and his partner would kasher the mill to grind wheat for matzos. The Satmar Rebbe would come out and say, “If Klein and Hurwitz oversaw the kashering, it is kosher,” and then the Rebbe would go home. Everyone in Satmar ate the matzos for which my father had ground the wheat. My job was to pour the flour and water; today I still uphold that tradition and pour the water when making matzos. I did not give up this mitzvah of baking matzos.

My family was considered middle class; we were not rich but, baruch Hashem, we always had parnassah. At one time, my father had a retail store and was a real-estate broker. However, in 1936, his business went bankrupt. The famous Jungreis family, whose daughter was getting married, asked my father to partner with their new son-in-law in the flour mill. In addition, my father was the buyer for several large businesses, purchasing grain, fruit and all types of different products.

Did you feel any anti-Semitism prior to the onset of the war?

Yes. When Hitler occupied Hungary, the gentiles started looking around, planning which stores they were going to take over. By 1938, it was dangerous to walk in the streets for if they caught a man with a beard, they would beat him and pull out his beard.

Did you know what was happening in other parts of Europe at the time?

Yes. In October 1942, when I was 12 years old, I did not want to go to high school, but I also did not want to work for the Germans or the Hungarians in their forced labor camps. Instead, I chose to study a trade in Satmar, to become an electrician. I did not get paid but I figured that a trade would come in handy. At that time, as long as you were occupied, the Germans and the Hungarians did not bother you. People would come into the store where I was working as an apprentice and speak with my boss. They would discuss what was happening on the front and how Jews were being tortured and shot.

In addition, six percent of the Jews in Hungary were mechanics. The Germans used them to maintain their tanks and military trucks. These men would bring back news of what was happening to the German and Polish people. There were also many people fleeing from Poland who sought shelter in Hungary, so we heard the horror stories from them too. But the Jews of Hungary were proud and the reaction to this information was that these things were only happening in Poland; they were sure nothing like that would happen in Hungary.

I brought the news home to my parents. I wanted them to go into hiding because the Nazis had already begun to build the ghetto in Satmar. However, by then it was too late. The deportations to the labor camps had already begun. Many people avoided deportation for one reason or another, but when my father’s turn before the judge came, the judge refused to give any more exemptions.

My father was taken from us right after Pesach of 1944.  He was sent to a prison for spies and communists — someone had denounced him as communist. About three or four days after my father was taken away, we received a postcard signed by 10 people, including him. All the card stated was that they were crossing the border from Hungary to Germany. After the war, I found someone who had been with my father in a camp in Germany. He told me that my father had survived for some time but that he did not make it to the liberation.

The day after we received the postcard, we were transferred to the ghetto.  

To Be Continued.

These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.