Please tell me your name and where you were born.
My name is Dr. Erica Steinberger. I was born in Debrecen, Hungary.
What memories can you share with us about your family?
My parents were very protective of me, being that I was an only child. My parents came from chassidic backgrounds; my mother came from Mishkoltz. My parents owned a dry goods store. My father was a very religious person; his emunah was very strong.
When did the war begin to affect your family?
We began hearing early on, from my mother’s family, that the situation in Mishkoltz was not good. My parents decided to leave and we traveled from one town to another looking for a place to hide. I was five years old … when my mother decided that it would be safer for me to stay with a gentile family in their home on the outskirts of Budapest.
My mother got in touch with a very nice man. She paid him with a large sum of gold coins and he placed me in the home of a gentile couple. (Later on my mother found out that this gentile couple were actually Nazis.) Although this man knew that I was Jewish, the people with whom I was staying did not. He explained to me that I would stay with them and my mother would come each week to see me. However, I was told never to say that she was my mother. In addition, I should never mention my last name since that would give away my identity. I was to follow in the laws and customs of the house and act like one of them. Each week when my mother came she would pay the couple with gold coins as well.
Every Sunday we went to church. At church I was asked if I was part of their faith. When I said that I couldn’t recall any such thing, they planned a big ceremony to make me a Christian.
Many of my mother’s siblings were blond and blue eyed just like her. She had two brothers, Avraham Volf and Alexander, who were dark. My mother paid for them as well to be hidden in a basement. Each day or two she would secretly bring them food in a tureen and then take back their body wastes in the [same] tureen for there were no bathroom facilities.
Where did your parents go?
My father was taken to a concentration camp in Germany. Since he was strong they didn’t kill him. My mother had identification papers so she remained in Budapest. The only problem was she did not have working papers. So although she had very little money she would spend most of her money on fancy clothing, and things of that sort, pretending she was rich and didn’t need to work; while in truth she was eating cherries which were cheap so that she could spend her money on this new pretense.
My grandparents and all my relatives remained in Mishkoltz. Prior to deportation, all the Jews were assigned to live in specific streets of the town; a ghetto was not yet formed. My mother sent food and clothing to them and tried to make arrangements for them to come to Budapest. However, my grandfather, a pious man, didn’t want to leave. Not long after, all the Jews of the town were forced to assemble in the main courtyard and they were all deported, never to be heard from again.
For how long did you remain with this gentile family?
My mother did not have good vibes about leaving me with this gentile family for so long. She knew she must somehow get me out from their clutches for she had heard that they wanted to adopt me. One day she arrived and told this family that she planned to take me for an outing. The gentile man tried to convince my mother not to take me out — it was dangerous. My mother insisted; she said she wouldn’t take the other girls because it wasn’t safe. Later on we heard that after I left the whole block was bombed and everyone else was killed.
My mother moved with me into an attic together with her sister. The attic was at the home of other gentiles who were very kind to us. We received food from them. We remained at this location for two years until the war was over.
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.