The Holocaust Survivor Memoirs Program

Eva Meisels

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Born
July 03, 1939 Budapest, Hungary

Map of Mukacevo, Czechoslovakia

Immigrated
1957 Toronto, Ontario

At five years of age, Eva Meisels (née Silber) was crammed into one of 293 houses in the crowded Budapest ghetto, where 63,000 people struggled to survive. The sound of falling bombs and the sight of corpses piled in Klauzál Square marked her young life. Despite the horrors of losing family members and spending weeks in a basement bomb shelter, where she didn't see daylight for days, Eva's memoir reminds us how the human spirit can be lifted by the unexpected kindness of strangers, and how the courageous endeavours of individuals were critical to her survival.

About Eva

Eva Meisels was born in Budapest, Hungary, on July 3, 1939. When the Nazis occupied Hungary, she and her mother ended up in the Budapest ghetto. They were able to move into a safe house after acquiring false papers from Raoul Wallenberg and were liberated by the Soviet army in January 1945. After the Hungarian Revolution, the family escaped to Austria, briefly settling in Vienna before immigrating to Canada. They lived in Montreal, where Eva met her husband, Leslie. The couple settled in Toronto, and their family includes two daughters and four grandchildren.

Photos and Artifacts

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    Eva's maternal grandparents, Juliska and Adolf. Date unknown.

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    Wedding photo of Eva’s parents, Erno and Irene Silber. Budapest, August 14, 1938.

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    Eva’s paternal grandparents. Date unknown.

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    Eva and her parents outside their apartment building, circa 1940.

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    Eva, age one. Budapest, 1940.

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    Eva at approximately three years old.

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    Eva visiting her mother’s family in Ibrány before the occupation. Back row (left to right): Eva’s aunt Elisabeth; her uncle Ben (Bela); her mother, Irene; her aunt Jolan; Uncle Leonard (Lajos); and Aunt Olga. Eva is in the middle row with her grandparents, and in the front row are her mother’s three youngest siblings. 1942.

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    Eva's father, Erno, circa 1942.

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    Eva, age four, 1943.

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    A Chanukah party in Eva’s nursery school. Eva, in the front row with a bow in her hair, is sitting beside the friends who were in the bomb shelter with her during the siege of Budapest. 1943.

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    Eva’s father, Erno (back row, far right), in a forced labour group.

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    Eva and her family at Aunt Olga’s wedding after the war. Back row, left to right: Eva’s parents, Irene and Erno; Aunt Olga; Uncle Josef; and Eva’s paternal grandmother, Margaret. Seated in front are Uncle Alex (Sanyi) and his wife, Eta; their first-born son, Zoli; and Eva. Budapest, 1948.

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    Eva and her parents after the war. Budapest, 1950.

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    Eva’s grandmother, Margaret, who survived Auschwitz. Montreal, circa 1957.

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    Eva, age sixteen.

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    Eva and her parents soon after immigrating to Canada. Montreal, 1957.

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    Eva and Leslie on their wedding day, with Eva’s mother’s family. Montreal, 1961.

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    Eva’s mother, Irene (seated), with the four siblings who survived the war. Left to right: Bözsi, Leonard, Ben and Olga.

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    Eva with her father, Erno Sugar, on his eightieth birthday. Toronto, 1993.

The Book

Cover of Suddenly the Shadow Fell

Suddenly the Shadow Fell

One day, we didn’t manage to get away and were marched all along the banks of the Danube. We had no idea where they were taking us... I saw bodies falling into the river...

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Suddenly the Shadow Fell

Salvation and Liberation

…a distant relative managed to get hold of some false papers for us from Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat. My mom, aunt and I had everything we owned in a wheelbarrow – from where we got it I haven’t the faintest idea – and we managed to get to a safe house. The safe house was close by, right outside of the ghetto on Akácfa utca 26.

By the time we ended up there it was a bitterly cold winter and I remember a lot of people being in the home. I also remember trying to get hold of some water, not so much to bathe – for which we used snow – but at least to drink, and the faucets were down in the courtyard; we had to stand in line with everybody else to get our water, which was barely dripping because it was frozen. I collected the water in a pot as it dripped down. I don’t know how we managed to get food in those days but we didn’t starve. My mother later told me that sometimes she soaked dry bread crusts in the snow.

When we moved down to a bomb shelter in the basement, my mother took turns with the other women going upstairs to cook food for the children and everybody downstairs. They used a Jewish man’s apartment because his kitchen still had a few supplies. Once, a bomb fell on our building while my mother was up there. She ran downstairs and when she saw that I was all right, she covered me with her body, just yelling and screaming. Her hair was white and I thought it had suddenly turned white but it was the dust from the building.

Many times, people ask me what we did, as little children, in a basement all day long. My mother made a doll for me from a sock, which she drew a little face on, and my friends and I played with it.

We were liberated by the Soviet army in January 1945. They were going from house to house looking for Nazis hiding in civilian clothes. When we saw men coming down the basement stairs with guns bigger than a soldier, pointing it ahead of them because they didn’t know what they were going to face, I didn’t know who they were or what was going on. They spoke a different language – I probably couldn’t distinguish between German and Russian. One young soldier came over to the corner where I was huddled together with other children; in one hand he had a huge rifle or gun and with the other he reached back into his knapsack and took out some dark brown bread and handed it to us. I will remember that dark bread as long as I live. It was something we hadn’t seen in a long time and the fact that it was coming from a person who was also holding a gun had an effect on me.

When we finally came out of the basement, I couldn’t see. My mother told me that for three or four days I simply could not see at all. My eyes weren’t accustomed to the light and she would tell me to keep my eyes closed and just open them for a few minutes each time, a little bit longer each day, until I got used to the daylight again.

When the basement was again used for storing coal and wood after liberation, I was always afraid to go back down there because I knew in what corner a neighbour had died or where somebody else had passed away from starvation. If I had to go down there, I went singing and whistling and my parents may have thought I was crazy for being afraid of the shadows from the memories.