Can you tell me where you were born?
I was born to Israel and Regina (Friedman) Kupferstein, on July 23, 1928 in Budapest, Hungary.
What memories can you share with us about your family?
I was the third son of four boys. My father was a very religious, Orthodox, respected individual. He was the proprietor of seven businesses. His main business was called Wertheim Kosov, where he manufactured and reconstructed safes of all kinds, in addition to many other products. We had two maids; one who cleaned the house and one who took care of the children. We were upper middle-class people; we owned a car in 1939 — when no one else did; we had a telephone — when no one else did; we had nannies — when no one else did; few people had cleaning women — but my parents had one.
People ask me, why are you so proud of your father? Of all my brothers I was the closest to my father. I realized that my father was a frum, G-d-fearing man.
My father came from Nyiregyhaza, where most of his extended family lived. At the time my parents married, my father was in medical school. My maternal grandfather offered him a business in his town as a dowry, which my father readily accepted and he moved to Budapest. Two of my aunts and my maternal grandfather lived with us in one house. Our family was very close-knit. The whole family met almost every weekend in Budapest.
Was there anti-Semitism in your town prior to the onset of war?
I was too young to understand what was going on. However, the first anti-Semitic laws, known as numerus claussus, began in Budapest; only 4 percent of every school, college or university could accept Jewish students. This was before the Germans, who were of the Jodec Party, began making anti-Semitic laws. Today Hungary is still one of the [most] anti-Semitic countries.
What kind of education did you receive?
I attended elementary school in Budapest. I attended an Orthodox high school and then continued on to college.
Did you know what was happening in other parts of Europe at the time?
The Hungarians never wanted to believe that this had anything to do with them. They never wanted to realize that Hungary would be affected as well; even my grandfather, who was one of the most respected people in town. In Hungary as a whole — and especially in Pest — most businesses and stores were owned by Jews. As you can imagine, the Jews were very powerful and instrumental in the city. The Orthodox kehillah took care of collecting taxes from the Jewish population and giving it over to the Hungarian government.
Hungary was the last country to be affected. By then my father saw what happened to the people living in other countries. But by that time it was too late to escape; it was impossible. Besides, no one was willing to leave their families, their houses, or their business.
When did the Germans invade your town?
I was learning in a yeshivah in Paks. Paks bordered Germany. By 1943 anti-Semitism had begun in Paks. Anti-Semitic [films] were being shown, stirring up trouble. At that point my father notified me that he wanted me to switch yeshivos to the Pupa yeshivah. After learning in the Pupa yeshivah just three months, the situation worsened tremendously and I was lucky to catch the last train heading to Budapest. Since no Jew had the right to travel using public transportation, had I been caught I would have been arrested.
When I arrived in Budapest the situation was dreadful. New laws were being enforced daily. Jews were no longer allowed to walk on the street during certain hours. We were not allowed to use public facilities and public parks. Those people who owned a store were instructed to take a gentile partner, teach him the business and give him 50-percent ownership.
Before the ghettos were formed, we were forced to leave our homes and move into a yellow house known as a Jew house.
Can you describe a “Yellow Star House,” also referred to as a “Jew House”?
The “Jew House” was a building made up of many rooms, many stories high. Four or five families moved into each room, with one bathroom and barely enough space to even walk. (Christians took over the now-empty Jewish houses.) Every night at 9:00 the Americans came to bomb the city of Budapest. Each night we had to go down to the shelter. Each person was assigned to a specific bench and that is where we had to sit.
to be continued…
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.