Mrs. Judith Mandel (Part III)

Did you spend time in a ghetto?

Our house became part of a small ghetto in Serench, later to be moved to a larger ghetto in the center of Ujhel. The building that my uncle lived in became part of the ghetto in Budapest. On May 1, after Pesach, we decided to take our hidden identification papers and leave the ghetto. We had to plan our escape carefully. Only one person could leave at a time. My sister, my mother and I all left the ghetto separately, without a clue as to where the others were going. In the event that any of us were caught and tortured we would not reveal the hideout of any of the others. My mother, who was not in the best of health, went to hide at the home of a gentile who was aware that my mother was Jewish. We youngsters were supposed to begin working. I got a little job folding boxes in a box factory. We survived on rationed food. Once I met my sister in a park. I began sobbing; my sister admonished me with a warning that if I was going to make a commotion it would arouse the attention of people around us and our identity was going to be exposed.

It was November when I was caught and, unbeknownst to me, my sister was caught as well. I was taken to the police station in Pest and luckily not to the German Gestapo in Buda. All my emotions at that time were fear; fear of being caught and fear of being tortured. I was lucky that I was not terribly wounded.

Buda and Pest were separated by a river. At that time they were taking people to the river to be shot. People tried to get themselves out of the line, claiming that they were not Jewish or giving other excuses. However, the Germans were smart and they didn’t fall for it. It is a sight that I can’t easily forget. A group of people — some badly beaten, some with coats, some needed assistance in order to walk — all walking toward the river. Bombs were falling around us.

Suddenly I had an inspiration. There was a big crowd of people around us. Slowly I inched my way over to the other side and mingled with the crowd, as the group kept on walking. My first thought was to go to the ghetto, but I was afraid they would not let me in.

There was a school building that was made into a hospital outside the ghetto. The Germans were very scared of sickness and epidemic. As soon as someone was sick the Germans sent him there to prevent the spread of disease. When I arrived there I found my mother. She was very weak and sick. The woman of the home where she was staying got nervous and wanted her to leave. My cousin took her to this hospital.

The Swiss embassy was in Buda; Wallenberg worked in Pest hiding Jews in basements. My cousin was very good to me and during the night he got me admitted into one of Wallenberg’s basements. A day later I discovered that my sister was already there. Unbeknownst to me, after she was caught she escaped and ended up in the Wallenberg houses too. There were families living upstairs with whom we had no connection. There were lots of people staying there. I recall how we used to go out in the yard to cook some greens. When it was nighttime someone would bring them in. The young girls helped peel them and prepared them for eating.

For how long were you in the Wallenberg houses?

We were in the Wallenberg houses for a month before the Russians liberated us on January 19, 1945. However, we did not come out of hiding yet, since the fighting was still very fierce in Budapest. Although the Russians were there the Germans were still fighting. The Germans were trying to keep the Russians from entering Berlin. So at that point we were not actually liberated yet.

After a few weeks, when my sister and I felt that it was safe to go home, we brought my mother from the hospital. A short while later my father arrived. In January 1948 my parents left for America. In August of 1948 my father was able to obtain a visa allowing me to leave. Not long after, the Russians closed the border.

What message can you impart to today’s generation?

Help each other, family, friends and even strangers. I was helped by strangers who did not look for repayment. Be strong, even when things are not easy. Appreciate what you have and believe and trust that Hashem will help.