The assistant chaplain of the American army was Victor Geller. He spoke the Hungarian language fluently. He was assigned to this hotel of 200 Hungarian-speaking girls. He organized a minyan on the first Friday night; 10 Jewish soldiers came to daven for us and say Kaddish. We had never had the opportunity to sit shivah for our departed family members. That Friday night 200 young orphans finally bid farewell to their loved ones who had perished at the hands of the Nazis.
Victor Geller compiled lists of our names, where we had come from and whom we were looking for. Compiling these lists had given us an opportunity and incredible hope of finding relatives stationed in other areas who had survived the war. The lists circulated among the other camps and many of us were able to find relatives.
We remained in the hotel for three months, continuing to look for surviving relatives. Our territory fell into the hands of the Russians, so the Americans transferred us to an American zone — Frankfurt-am-Main. During this time I couldn’t help but think about my family and how alone I was.
Did you believe that you had any surviving relatives?
I had seen my parents and my sisters taken away but I didn’t know where my brother Lipi was. The night before we were about to leave I had a dream that my brother Lipi was alive in our hometown! When I awoke the next morning, I told my friends about the dream. I felt I had been given a sign from Hashem to go back to my hometown to look for my brother and other possible surviving relatives.
I found six people from the neighboring cities who were eager to return to their hometowns as well. The seven of us were ready to go to Beclean. The American soldiers agreed to help us make this trip. They provided us with food, cigarettes, chocolate and anything else that could be traded for money. Then they drove us to the nearby city of Auerbach. They set us up in three rooms, on the second floor of an abandoned hotel. We hoped the Russians would repair the train tracks enabling us to travel to Romania.
We went to the City Hall to obtain food tickets to be eligible to receive food. It was frightening. Some Jewish Russian soldiers warned us not to go out after dark because the streets were not safe.
The next day a Red Cross truck parked in front of the hotel. To my great excitement, I found my mother’s cousin aboard the vehicle. Although they were headed to Prague, the truck was full; there was no room for us. The soldiers promised to return in two days and pick us up, which they did. After many hours of travel we arrived in Prague. We registered our names on a survivors’ list.
We were disappointed to find that after having survived a year in Auschwitz we were not being given beds, rather straw to lay out on the floor. People came looking for surviving family members. When we complained to them about our living conditions they made an effort on our behalf and we were all placed in the homes of different neighbors.
A day later the trains were up and running. The train station was swarming with Russian soldiers and civilians. We were afraid of the Russian soldiers so we joined a group of Jewish people who did indeed protect us.
When we arrived in Budapest, the walls were covered with lists of names of survivors. I found my brother’s name immediately. Lipi had been liberated in February by the Russians and had returned to our hometown exactly as I had dreamed. Our reunion was bittersweet. He asked about my sister with whom he had been very close. I felt awful having to report that she was gone.
Did you remain in your hometown?
Lipi had already settled in town and had a lumber shop and seltzer business in the same place where my father had had his lumber shop. He was doing well and did not want to leave. I did not want to stay.
One day I received a telegram from New York, from the mother of the chaplain that I had met in camp. Mrs. Geller advised us to go to Germany to a displaced persons camp where we could get papers to travel to America.
We really yearned to go to Israel, as my father’s last words were “Whoever survives should go to Eretz Yisrael.”
To be continued…
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.