Please tell me where you were born.
I, Shulem Ber Winter, was born in Budapest, Hungary, on February 18, 1935. My mother returned to her hometown to give birth.
What memories can you share with us about your family?
My mother, Hamida Stern, was born and grew up in Budapest. My father was born in the town of Breslava, deep in Slovakia, to a wealthy family. They were married in 1931. I had one brother, Aharon, who was born in Slovakia in 1933.
We left Slovakia in 1938. My father had a business in partnership with gentiles which was unsafe and forced us to move to the city of Brum. Brum did not have a proper Orthodox Jewish community.
My sister was born in January of 1939. The Nazis invaded at the end of 1939. I was a little boy, but I recall the gentiles living in town, Nazi sympathizers, waving flags from their windows honoring the Germans.
My parents realized that the situation was not good, and we ran to Bratislava. My father was monetarily well off, and we were able to stay in a hotel in Bratislava. We remained there for almost two years. I went to school in Bratislava in addition to Cheder Yisod Hatorah. The melamed was Rabbi Einhorn; he was taken to Auschwitz.
When did you begin feeling the pressures of the war?
My father’s partners in business were terribly anti-Semitic. They were jealous of his wealth. Therefore, he was the first person to be blacklisted, to be taken away.
The Nazis arrived at 12 o’clock midnight, knocking on our door in search of Isadore Winter. My father had been warned not to return home that night because the Nazis were looking for him. However, he was afraid that if he didn’t come home they would take my mother away instead. Although I was just a young child, not yet seven years old, I remember how he bentched each one of us. My mother gave him a blanket and some salami. And he left with the Nazis.
Pesach came and my father was still not home. Once, we received a small card from him, written under the auspices of the Germans, stating that everything was okay. Later I heard that he was taken to Maidanek, from where there were hardly any survivors. Yet we have no idea when and how he died; we don’t even have a date for a yahrtzeit. In 1947, my mother had to go back to Bratislava to a beis din, for Rabbanim to give her permission to remarry.
What happened once the Nazis actually arrived in town?
Within a short time, the Nazis invaded the town. Right after Pesach it was arranged that my brother Aharon and I would travel to Budapest. At six o’clock in the morning a gentile came with a bicycle. We climbed on and he drove us out of town.
We arrived at a small hut where this gentile lived with his wife. We remained there for a few hours until the next gentile arrived to take us on the next leg of our journey. We traveled by ship through the Danube River, where the next Hungarian gentile was waiting for us. We continued by train all the way to the Budapest station. From there we took a black taxi. The smell of the taxi remains etched in my heart. My grandparents and my uncle were impatiently waiting for our arrival.
Although we could have registered with the government and in that way gotten food rations, my grandfather was nervous. He felt it would be safer if no one knew about our arrival.
If a visitor arrived at the house, even Jewish people, we would hide so that no one knew of our existence. Once in a while, on a Shabbos or Yom Tov, we would go secretly to daven.
to be continued…
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.