Please tell me where you were born.
My name is Rochel (Rechy) Aronowitz, née Perlmutter. I was born in Mako, Hungary, about a half hour from the town of Seget. Mako had three batei knesiot.
What memories can you share with us about your family?
I am originally from a family of 13 children. Most of my siblings passed away before I was born. There were five of us who remained alive at the start of the war, but only three survived the war. I had two older brothers, Abish and Dovid Leib; and two older sisters Rivchu (Rivka) and Peri (Perel). I am the youngest child.
My parents, Yitzchok and Bluma Sara Perlmutter, were always very frum. My mother dressed with a tichel on top of her sheitel; my father had a long white beard and peyos. My father left the house at 2 a.m. each morning for the beis medrash, where he sat and learned until daybreak. I was only four years old at the time, but I clearly remember my mother gently calling my father, “Yitzchok, Yitzchok, it’s time to go learn…,” waking my father and urging him to use his time to learn Torah.
My father was a businessman. Surrounding the city of Mako were farms, which were run by gentiles. My father was a wholesaler of onions and garlic. He would purchase these vegetables from the gentile farmers and ship the produce via train to England, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Austria and other parts of Europe.
Did your parents know what was happening in other parts of Europe prior to the onset of war in your town?
I was too young at the time to have known; however, I always wondered why my parents didn’t try to escape. I assume the reason may have been, just like with many others, that they were settled, with two houses and a good business; and they probably never imagined that Hitler would come to their town.
And then it happened. My brothers Dovid Leib and Abish were drafted into the army. My parents were heartbroken.
Did you spend time in a ghetto?
Yes. A ghetto was formed around a part of the city. One of the houses that my parents owned was situated inside the ghetto boundaries. At first we moved into that house; however, it wasn’t long before the ghetto walls were pushed in and we were forced to move out of our house and settle in with many other families. We had a gentile neighbor whose window faced our courtyard. My mother arranged for this woman to bring us food.
Rules were enacted in the ghetto. There was a curfew and we were not allowed to leave our house after 5:00 in the evening. Those who were caught breaking the law were taken away by the police, never to return.
One day, to everyone’s surprise, my brother Dovid Leib returned from the army. My mother was overjoyed; she couldn’t stop crying. It seems he acted as if he was sick and they sent him home.
Once the ghetto was closed, where were you taken?
One day we were rounded up onto trains and taken to a concentration camp in Austria. We were first taken to Vien-Neustadt and then transferred to Vienna. We were sent to an empty boys’ school building. There were rows and rows of bunk beds; we had no privacy at all. The food we were given was like animal feed. My mother was crying as she begged me to eat it, trying to convince me that it tasted very good, but I wouldn’t touch it. I would climb to the top level of the bunk beds and try to hide so that I would not have to eat the so-called “food” that my mother was trying to feed me.
My parents and older siblings were taken each day to work in a bread factory. It was back-breaking labor and they worked like slaves. The SS were terribly mean to them, constantly whipping and threatening them. There were many children my age. We stayed behind in the school building, all day, while our parents went to work at the factory. We were treated as if we were prisoners in a jail. The guards watched over us closely and we were kept under strict control. We were told that Hitler planned to build ovens just as he did in Auschwitz and we would all be burned alive.
When there was a lot of bombing taking place, we were taken down to the cellar of the building for protection. I recall how the mothers organized the children into a circle and we would go around and around in a circular fashion, literally screaming out the words of the passuk, “Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad,” as the mothers stood around, watching and crying.
Can you tell us about liberation?
It was 1945. One day, while my parents were at work and we were outside in the yard of the school, we saw American and Russian tanks approaching. The soldiers began screaming, “Jews, you are going home! Hitler is finished!” The Jews were dancing in the streets. It was still a month or two before we were actually liberated but at least we saw that an end to this horror was coming.
It was during this last month in the concentration camp, before we were actually liberated, that my brother Dovid Leib was accidentally pushed into a metal pole; he fell down and died. My mother was devastated. Dovid Leib was a beautiful, smart and accomplished person; he was 20 years old and already a Rabbi.
My second brother, Abish, never returned from the army. A friend of his told my parents that at the last minute Abish had been shot by an SS officer.
When did your family leave Europe?
When Hungary turned communist it was impossible to leave the country. In 1948, my father paid the farmers in the area a large sum of money and they helped us escape over the Austrian border in the middle of the night. We were helped by the Joint, who gave us money and arranged for us to get to Eretz Yisrael. We traveled by train to Venice and from there we took a ship to Haifa.
to be continued…
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.