Mr. Y.Y. Kupferstein (Part I)

Can you tell me where you were born?

I was born in the city of Budapest, Hungary, in 1923.

What memories can you share with us about your family?

My father had a retail store and my mother helped him. I was their oldest child, with three younger brothers.

Did you receive an education?

I went to cheder in Budapest until the age of 12. Since there was no mesivta close to our home, my father sent me out of town to Bolajamar, where I continued my yeshivah education. My rebbi in Bolajamar was Rabbi Cohen who was a very “derhoibina Yid (a spiritually elevated Jew).” He was the rebbi and the shochet.

I slept at his house and ate all the seudos in my rebbi’s home, too. On Shabbos they served meat, which was considered very chashuv. I met his son after the war in Williamsburg.

I continued on to the higher shiur from the Rav, who was a very batampte Yid; he was a son-in-law of the Veitzner Rav. A year later I returned home and attended the Pupa yeshivah of 200 bachurim. I remained there for three zmanim. When the Pupa Rebbe was not well, I went to the Galanta yeshivah. Half a year later, when the town officials closed the Galanta yeshivah, I traveled to the Vizhnitzer yeshivah in Grosswardein, where I remained for three more zmanim. I heard shiurim on the Shelah Hakadosh from the Imrei Chaimthe Vizhnitzer Rebbe. Reb Moshe, the son of the Imrei Chaim, was the Rosh Yeshivah; he took care of my chavrusos and where I would eat “teig”— meals. Later on he became the Vizhnitzer Rebbe in Eretz Yisrael.

At the time, the Vizhnitzer Rebbe in Monsey, Reb Motele, shlita, was a bachur learning in yeshivah. He learned on his own at the side and he slept on the benches in the beis medrash.

Was there anti-Semitism in your town; and did you know what was happening in other parts of Europe prior to the onset of the war?

We heard things on the radio, in the newspapers and through word of mouth. However, our town seemed peaceful so we didn’t think that it would affect us. There was anti-Semitism in Budapest and there were many laws enforced specifically for the Jews. Jews were not allowed to own stores; it was mandatory for them to give a list of their inventory, among other decrees.

My parents’ apartment was a home for refugees. Refugees arriving from other towns were referred to as tamir v’ne’elam — the hidden ones. The super of the building in which we lived informed the S.S. that people were coming to and going from our apartment. The S.S. took my mother in for questioning about this activity. She was able to convince these Germans that the people were coming and going from her apartment because she owned a washing room. B’Chasdei Hashem, they released her.

Where were you when the Germans invaded?

When the Germans arrived in town I was in Grosswardein. It was around Purim/Pesach time and I wanted to spend Yom Tov with the Rebbe. However, the Germans had already declared that every Jew must wear a yellow star and travel was almost impossible.

In April of 1944 a letter arrived at my parents’ home with instructions for me to report to the army. My mother sent a message with one of my father’s workers that I should not return home; I should remain in Grosswardein. When the worker brought the message to me, he informed me about the army that I was to report to, in addition to instructions from my mother to return home. I was confused. I went to the Vizhnitzer Rebbe and asked him what to do. The Rebbe responded, “You should go home,” and I did.

On my way to the train station I took off the yellow star, in the hope that no one would notice that I was Jewish. Upon boarding the train the conductor immediately recognized that I was Jewish and refused to allow me to travel. However, when I showed him my draft papers he let me go.

Upon my arrival home my mother was shocked to see me. The gentile worker had delivered the wrong message to me, which in turn saved my life; I would have ended up in Auschwitz. A ghetto was formed in our area of town and many families moved in with us.

Did you report to the army?

Once I was home I went to the army. Before I left, my mother told me that she would purchase army boots for me. It took a day or two to get the boots. When I arrived at the appointed spot, I was late and I was forced to go with the second group. Here, again, Hakadosh Baruch Hu made for me obvious tovos, nissim v’niflaos; the whole first group was shot to death. We were sent to work building trenches for the soldiers.

It happened that one time I was missing a lens in my eyeglasses. It must have fallen out while I was working and gotten lost in the trenches. I was having a hard time doing my work and the soldiers were behind us watching every step. They began screaming at me, “Work! Work!” I had no choice but to continue working. Soon the second lens fell out. I was very concerned. However, b’hashgachas Hashem, the way things turned out, those who had glasses received a heavier workload.

to be continued

Note: Mr. Kupferstein was niftar last week and his family will be getting up from shivah on Monday .


These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.