Mr. Michael Buchinger – Part 1

Can you tell me where you were born?

I was born in the city of Vac in Hungary. Vac had a very nice Ashkenazicommunity.

What memories can you share with us about your family?

The Buchinger family originates from Szombathely. We were a family of five children. There were four boys and one girl; I was the second to youngest.

My father made a parnassah from selling kosher milk.

What kind of education did you receive?

I attended a Jewish public school in the morning and cheder in the afternoon, until I was 12 years old.

When did you begin feeling the pressures of the war?

In 1938 they began enacting laws against the Jews. Vac
was about 15 miles from Budapest. Health inspectors were sent out to check on different businesses. They came down to the milk plant where my father had his warehouse
and they declared it unsafe. Immediately the business was locked up and my father lost his means of parnassah.

Yet there was hashgachah in this, too. In 1920, right after WWI, my father wanted to travel to the United States. However, there was a quota system and it was going to take a long time. In 1939 he received a letter from the American Consulate that his turn had come and his number was now eligible for a visa. Being that he had no means of making a living in Hungary, he decided to seize the opportunity and go. However, he had no one in America to vouch for him, so he borrowed money from family members in Europe and he left for America by himself.

When he reached the American shores he went to Williamsburg and immediately began working; the money he earned he sent to my mother. With this money, my mother and two of my brothers left for America in 1940.

Three children were left behind with extended family members; I was one of them. As soon as my mother got to America, she too began working and sent money and visas for the three of us to follow. We received the envelope and were scheduled to leave in June 1941, via Russia. During that week the Germans invaded Russia and we were unable to leave.

We still had contact with our parents at this time. We were still receiving letters from them via Switzerland. My brother and I went to yeshivah in Pupa and stayed with an uncle in a small nearby town.

Did your parents know what was happening in other parts of Europe at this time?

Everyone knew that the war was raging in Germany and Poland and that France, Belgium and Holland had been invaded, but no one believed it would come to Hungary so fast. There were Polish and Czechoslovakian Jews who had escaped to Hungary, so by this time we were all pretty much aware of what was happening. Yet, although we had heard many stories of people who were beaten or gassed in the “showers,” it was hard to believe.

What happened when the war came to your town?

In March 1944, Hungary was invaded. I was 15 years old. It was a day after Purim when signs went up in the streets informing us that a day after Pesach, ghettos would be established and all Jews must move into the specified area. Yellow stars were distributed to all, with instructions to wear them at all times. There was curfew at 7 p.m.; no Jew was to be seen on the streets until 7 a.m. Those Jews who were still operating stores were forced to shut them down.

At this time my brother was drafted into the labor camps. There were some soldiers in the Hungarian army who encouraged Jews to join the forced labor camps, for they knew what was in store for us.

Can you describe what it was like to live in the ghetto?

All the Jews of the city were jammed into two or three streets. Many looked for accommodations in the shul, in the beis medrash and in the matzah bakery. Food was very hard to come by. The Jews from neighboring villages were brought in as well and they immediately established a small soup kitchen.

Thursday morning, the 10th day of Tammuz, at 5 a.m., I heard shouting outside. The Hungarian police arrived and announced that we had 10 minutes to gather ourselves and come out of our houses. They began emptying the ghetto. I realized that Shabbos was close by and we would need food. So I quickly snuck over to the matzah bakery and prepared a very large cholent. At the time, I had no idea that there were 10 Jews hiding behind the matzah bakery.

The ghetto was emptied in shifts. The people were taken out to the railroad stations where they stood for hours, with no accommodations or bathrooms. My turn came on Shabbos. I was in the same house as the Rav of the town, Harav Benedikt. We were forced out together. Sunday morning, I heard the call for 600 men to be assigned to agricultural work. I informed my sister that I was going.


 

These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.