Can you tell me your name and where you were born?
My name is Chana Markovitz née Fettman. I was born in Debrecen, Hungary. I can say that I would love to block my hometown out of my memory because of all the tzaros we endured there.
What memories can you share with us about your family?
My father was a big Rabbi but this did not bring in any parnassah; my mother was the one who made the parnassah. My father was a tremendous talmid chacham who was always learning; his eyes were always in the Gemara. My mother was a teacher; she taught young children.
We were 10 siblings — six boys and four girls — and I was the ninth child. My oldest brother, Aryeh, was 20 years old when he was taken away to a labor camp in Russia. My mother cried for him her whole life — he never returned. I recall how he sat at the open Gemara day in and day out, just like my father.
I remember how my older brother and sister would go out to the farm to bring home milk from the cows which they would put into a well to keep cold. In the morning they would bring the milk up from the well and separate it. The milk served different purposes other than for drinking; we used it for cheese and cream. My brother and sister would then take it to the market to sell. One day, on the way to the market, a gentile boy around my brother’s age attacked him and spilled out all the milk.
My paternal grandparents lived in the same town as we did; my grandmother was the 10th generation from the Shela Hakadosh. They were taken to Auschwitz.
What kind of education did you receive?
I went to school until the fourth grade. However, I do not have good memories of school, since I was a Jewish girl with just a few other Jews in the class. I clearly remember the day when our class went to the park. The teacher announced that we were going to have races; the winner would receive 10 pennies — an astronomical sum in those years. I was a very good runner and my competitor was a non-Jewish girl. She stuck out her foot and I tripped and fell. Nevertheless, I was determined to win; I picked myself up and made it to first place.
Did you feel anti-Semitism in your town prior to the onset of the war?
Anti-Semitism was abundant throughout Europe. I was just a 10-year-old child, but each time I left the house I was greeted by Hungarian children who beat me up. But there was no choice; my mother couldn’t take care of the family and do all the errands, so we children had to help out. Each time I left the house I would arrive home with a swollen face.
Did you know what was happening in other parts of Europe at this time?
We really didn’t know much.
When did the Hungarians begin taking over?
In 1939, the Hungarians arrived and stationed themselves in our town. One day my sister Chaya, who was 12 years old at the time, arrived home and went straight to our gentile neighbor’s house and reported that my father had come from shul all bloody because one of the Hungarian soldiers had beaten him up. This neighbor went with Chaya as she pointed out which soldier had committed this vicious act. He was sent to the Russian front on the spot.
From 1939 until we were taken away in 1943, there were many restrictions and hardships. Jewish businesses were closed and confiscated. We had to wear a yellow star. The streets were unsafe for Jewish people. Fear of being beaten was everywhere, but it did not deter my father from davening with a minyan.
The boys in town were taken away. My brother Aryeh was taken to Russia, never to return. Two more brothers, Yehoshua and Shlomo, were taken to munkataber [slave labor gangs] and then to the camps. My older sister was married and lived in Budapest. She had false Christian papers.
Around Pesach time of 1943, the Hungarian army annexed our town.
To be continued…
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.