Did you experience ghetto life?
After Pesach, a spokesman in the town announced that on the following Monday, everyone would be put into the ghettos. We were told to pack up a small amount of belongings and gather in the center of the town.
At that point they were not allowing anyone in or out of the town and so my small cousins, who had come for Pesach, had to remain with us. My father went to the mayor of the town, explained the situation and asked him for help. He suggested that if we had someone to take the children back to their parents, he would give them false birth certificates. My brother knew the youth director and tried to bribe him. He asked him to take these children, ages 7, 9, and 10, home to their parents. They dressed them in Catholic school uniforms; they gave them the uniform caps and hid their peyos underneath the caps. They received false papers and they left the ghetto together with this gentile. Miraculously, he brought them safely to the ghetto where their parents were.
Another cousin who was staying with this family asked the youth director to take her home to her family. It was only through chasdei Hashem that he was able to bring her back to her family in Budapest.
When the gentile arrived back in our town, we tried to get as many false identification papers as possible. We were able to send out quite a few families with these false documents.
My family owned a lot of land, so in return we gave him part of it. My brother gave him his watch, his radio, the bicycles and many other valuables, too.
We had one room for the ladies and one room for the men. We were four men and six ladies. The little boys slept with the men and the little girls slept with the ladies. My sister-in-law was a kimpeturin of just three weeks. We all tried to help her.
We brought along heavy covers and that was our mattress. It was a very hard life. My older brother went out to work and when he came back at night he would bring milk and cheese along with him. There was one kitchen for the whole ghetto. Everyone brought whatever they had and combined it to make potatoes and vegetable soup. We weren’t given anything by the gentiles. Each family was given food for the number of people living with them. This was all organized by the Jewish Council in the ghetto.
For how long were you in ghetto?
We were in the ghetto for six weeks, when one day the men came back from work with false identification papers. We were dressed like peasants and ready to go, when my nephew, my brother’s little boy, said, “Uncle Shea, are you going to leave us here? Who will bring me milk and cheese?” And so we stayed behind in the ghetto and we did not go. My brother said, “What will I tell my brother when he returns, that I didn’t take care of his children?” Even had we gone out with the identification papers that we had, who knows if we would have survived?
We had an aunt from my mother’s side in the ghetto, too. She was there with seven children and her husband was in America. He sent them false identification papers to leave the ghetto. One of the girls dressed like a peasant and left to the railroad. There was a gentile there who went over to a policeman and reported her to the guards, saying, “She is a Jewish girl. I went to public school with her.” The girl was brought back to the ghetto and they beat her while her mother and siblings were forced to watch. Then she was put into jail. We met up with her in Birkenau. She was not recognizable any more. She made it through the war, but didn’t survive long enough to meet up with her family.
That night my aunt and her six other children escaped with the papers that they had and they were successful. They went back to Budapest. At the time, Budapest was being bombed by the Allies. They were able to get permission to leave the town. They went down to the Yugoslavian border. There were 45 relatives from my extended family who were saved.
to be continued…
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.