When did you begin feeling the pressures of the war?
Around the year 1941 the Hungarians joined forces with the Germans. They invaded our lives and took away many of our rights and sources of parnassah. Men had to shave their beards, by order of the Hungarians. My brother Lipi and my sister Surie, who were both teenagers, went into town to do the work for my father since he refused to shave his beard. Many activities that we were accustomed to doing openly, we were now forced to do secretly.
We lived in constant fear that our lives would in turn be affected by the occupation of the Germans. The governor of Beclean [whom my father had befriended] assured us that these atrocities were merely rumors and could not happen in his state.
At this time, Polish families were entrusting their children to Jewish organizations. These children were transported through Romania and then over the Black Sea in order to reach Palestine. Trainloads of hundreds of these Polish children stopped in our town and we provided them with food. The children related to us stories of the violence taking place in their hometown. We just couldn’t understand all this. They warned us to run for our lives, but we were naïve and not prepared to believe that this was truly happening or that it could happen to us. After all, Germany was such a cultured country. We trusted our government and we believed that Hashem would watch over us.
When did the Germans invade your town?
The Hungarians made a pact with the Germans in the spring of 1944. The Germans invaded Hungary and entered our town a few weeks before Pesach. Our entire world was turned upside down. We were forced to sew yellow stars onto the left side of our garments. All our rights were taken away from us. We had no control over our businesses. Beards were shaven; going to shul was forbidden; we were not allowed to shecht kosher meat — we became hidden Jews.
Two hundred boys had been taken to slave labor in our town. Their living quarters were in our lumber warehouse. Pesach arrived. My parents invited all the frum boys to join us for our Seder; we even managed to get chickens. The frum among the 200 boys wanted to daven in the big shul for Pesach. We needed permission from the mayor to do this. My parents were well known in the mayor’s office. I accompanied the lawyer and two boys to go speak with the mayor.
I was self-conscious of the star and so, instead of sewing the star on, I simply pinned it on. On the way to the mayor’s office we had no trouble. We received permission for 100 people at a time to attend the shul for the holiday. On the way home, once our mission had been accomplished, our problems began. German soldiers were observing us. They saw my star blowing in the breeze and realized that it was not sewn on. They wanted to arrest me for not having sewn on my star. Hashem put the words into my mouth and I explained to them that I was under 18 years of age and would not go with them unless my father or mother was with me. I gave them my home address.
When I arrived home my mother insisted that I immediately sew the star onto my clothing. Before long the Germans arrived to take me to the headquarters. They allowed my mother to accompany me. People in the neighborhood watched from their windows behind their curtains as we were led by the German soldiers at gunpoint. My sister informed the governor that my mother and I had been arrested while I argued with the lieutenant for a while. Just then I noticed through the window that the governor and his daughter had arrived. My heart filled with hope of salvation. The lieutenant was called out of the room and, when he returned, I was released on probation. I was strongly reminded not to try to flee.
It was Erev Pesach. The Germans continuously checked on us to make sure that the star was always sewn onto our clothes and that I hadn’t escaped. The Pesach Seder that year was a very sad Seder. On the Sunday following Pesach the Germans walked into our home as well as everyone else’s homes and ordered us to pack whatever we could carry in our hands and to leave the keys on the table.
We had anticipated this and had prepared bundles containing cookies and articles of clothing; we dressed in layers which enabled us to take more clothes. My parents wrapped up our valuables and family photos and hid them in secret places.
to be continued…
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.