I was born in the town of Siget. It was a very Chassidic town. My father was close with the Siget Rav, Reb Zalman Leib, who is also known as the Atzei Chaim. The Atzei Chaim passed away at a very young age, leaving behind a family of 11 children. My father took care of those children.
In our family, we were also 11 children. I was the sixth. One of my sisters was married and had two children of her own. I went to public school and to a Jewish school as well. For a while, until a few years preceding World War II, Jewish schools were subsidized by the Romanian government. Boys went to public school and in the afternoons attended cheder.
Did you experience any anti-Semitism in Siget before the war?
The other children in school considered us to be low class; they had no respect for us at all. One day, my brother returned from school with one of his peyos ripped out. He refused to return to school the following day. And although I was a wonderful student, the teacher once explained to me that I would receive a grade of only 70 percent on my report card because she was not permitted to give me a good mark. I felt terrible — after all my hard work, I was being penalized for being Jewish.
Did you know what was happening in Germany and Poland?
We knew, but we didn’t want to believe that it would ever happen in Siget. In 1943, two people who had fled Poland sought refuge with the Rebbe. What we heard sounded so inhumane as to be impossible, so people were not provoked to try to escape.
When were you first affected by the war?
Until 1940, we were under Romanian rule. In 1940, the Hungarians took over and everything changed. They forbade buying merchandise from Jews. We were put under curfew. We already felt like prisoners.
Before Pesach 1944, the Germans invaded Hungary, but they had no place to stay. So they assigned three Germans to stay with each family in Siget. They told us it was just temporary. On Seder night, while my brother was making chrein, a German soldier staying at our house asked what we were doing. Since my brother didn’t speak German, he motioned to the soldier to follow him, so he could see for himself. The soldier sat down next to my sister and she began to cry. She said it was because the soldier was at our Seder table and questioned each thing we did.
My father put on his coat and went out to find one of the officers in charge. He politely explained to him that it was disturbing the children to have the soldier sitting with us at the Seder. The officer came to our home and pulled the soldier by his collar, demanding that he leave. After this incident, we naturally had no suspicion that something terrible was going to happen.
A day after Pesach, there was an announcement that all Jews were to leave their homes and meet at a certain spot in town, and that no one should try to escape. The Germans promised us that they were taking us to a place where we would be comfortable and happy. They took us to the ghetto.
What was life like in the Siget ghetto?
Our whole family was assigned to share one room and bathroom with another family just as large as ours. We already could feel what the future had in store. After four weeks in the ghetto, we were told that we were being taken to a camp where men and women would be separated. The children would go together with their mothers, so that they could be taken care of, and the men would work.
They gathered us all in a shul and from there we were made to start walking. We walked right past our house. The younger children were so excited — they thought we were returning to our homes.
We were taken to the train station. It was very hot. The children were crying and we had nothing to give them. When we arrived at the station, there were cattle cars waiting for us. The wagons had no windows. They stuffed 80 people into each car, with no food and nothing to drink.
We traveled like that for two and a half days through Hungary. When we saw that the train did not stop and that we were headed in the direction of Germany, we knew what was in store.
To be continued.
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.