Can you tell us where you were born?
My name is Eva Katz, née Brown. I was born in Nitra, Hungary, where my parents were married. In 1933 our family moved to Slovakia, to a small village just a few kilometers from Nitra, where we lived for nine years, until the onset of WWII. The village held a Jewish community where my father was the shamash in the shul and the baal kriah, as well as the shochet of the village.
What memories can you share with us about your family?
My parents each came from a family of 10 children. My father was the only survivor of his family. My mother was one of four surviving children.
We were a family of three children; I had one older brother and one younger brother. We attended a secular public school where I received five years of education before the war. My parents taught me to read and write Hebrew and to daven; my Jewish education came from them.
In 1939 laws were enacted against the Jews. We were immediately banned from attending school.
Did you know what was happening in other parts of Europe, prior to the onset of war in Slovakia?
Unfortunately, we knew; we knew about everything that was happening. However, it was impossible to escape; we had nowhere to go.
When did the Germans invade Slovakia?
In 1942, after Pesach, the Germans occupied Slovakia. They invaded our town on a Thursday night and we were immediately taken to a ghetto where we remained for three days. My mother’s brother, along with his wife and four children, had been brought to the ghetto from Nitra as well. I recall my father reciting Havdalah on Motzoei Shabbos in the ghetto. We were told that on Sunday we would be allowed to go out of the ghetto.
My mother went to the office in the ghetto to request that my older brother (who was slightly chubby and looked fit for work) be given a job outside the ghetto, in the hope that he would not be taken to the crematorium; however, she did not manage to secure any work for him.
On Sunday we went out of the ghetto — out of the gehinnom — and back to our village. We were frightened. Everyone was crying. Once back home, the gentile neighbors and friends that I had no longer wanted to talk to me. My younger brother kept asking why we were the lucky ones to survive, and my answer to him was “Because Hashem wanted it that way.”
At this point we were still able to travel and my parents decided to send my two brothers and me to Budapest. They paid a gentile messenger to take the three of us to stay with my aunt — my mother’s sister in Hungary. My brothers went to work while I remained with my aunt.
My brothers heard that the situation in Slovakia was really not good and they wanted to return home and help my parents escape. In the meantime, my parents remained in Slovakia until they were able to find another messenger and pay him another sum of money to transport them as well. It was Simchas Torah when my parents arrived in Hungary, before my brothers had a chance to return to Slovakia.
What happened once your parents arrived in Budapest?
Once my parents arrived in Budapest I moved into their apartment. My father was unable to find work; however, my mother worked for three years in a factory, sewing back-straps for babies. The money my mother earned supported us the whole time.
For how much longer were you and your parents able to lead semi-normal lives?
From 1942 to 1944, the situation remained basically the same. In 1944, the Germans invaded Hungary. We witnessed whole groups of people being lined up to be hauled away in cattle wagons or shot into the Danube River. We immediately moved to the outskirts of Budapest, where we lived as gentiles.
The landlord of our apartment was from the chassidei umos haolom; not only did he not report us to the authorities but he helped us out tremendously. My name is Ettel — and there is one day on the Hungarian calendar which is called Ettel; the Hungarians celebrate that day. He informed me about that and told all the gentiles how special it was for me to have that name. He also told the other gentiles that my mother covers her hair with a turban because hair does not grow on her head. He tried to make it seem as if we were true Hungarian gentiles.
Can you tell us about liberation?
We were living on the outskirts of Budapest when Hungary was liberated. We were liberated by Russian soldiers. We overheard one Russian soldier speaking Hungarian. My father questioned him: How did a Russian soldier know the Hungarian language? He responded that his father spoke Hungarian and insisted that he learn the Hungarian language, too; one never knows when it will come in handy.
Once we were liberated we moved back into Budapest and then we returned to Slovakia. Not long after, I married, and through the help of the Joint we immigrated to Eretz Yisrael. The trip was not simple. We wandered for 20 months through France, Belgium and Cyprus before arriving in Eretz Yisrael.
All I can say is that the only reason we survived was because Hashem was watching over us. Each and every person who survived is a miracle.
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.