The Holocaust Survivor Memoirs Program

George Stern

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Born
April 21, 1931 Újpest, Hungary

Map of Mukacevo, Czechoslovakia

Immigrated
1970 Toronto, Ontario

A month before George Stern’s thirteenth birthday, Germany invaded his native Hungary, anti-Jewish edicts were passed and a ghetto was established. A rebel even then, George refused to wear the Jewish star. “Passing” as a Christian boy, he survived the siege of Budapest as the Soviet Red Army pressed closer, strafing the city while the fascist Arrow Cross continued to hunt for Jews.

About George

George Stern was born on April 21, 1931, in the Budapest suburb of Újpest. After the war, he immigrated to Israel and fought in the War of Independence. In 1960, George and his wife, Judit, left Israel for São Paulo, Brazil; they immigrated to Canada in 1970. George Stern is very active in Holocaust education in Toronto, where he and Judit still live, and in Florida.

Photos and Artifacts

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    George's paternal grandparents, Bertha (née Fleischman) and Fülöp Stern.

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    George's mother, Leona (right), with her sisters Rózsi (centre) and Jolán (left).

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    George (second from the left) with his father, Ernő (left), his sister, Ágnes (second from the right) and his mother, Leona (right).

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    George's paternal uncle Jenő, cousin Iván and aunt Lili.

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    A page from the Swedish passport that allowed George and his father, Ernő, to seek refuge in one of the “safe” houses under the protection of the Swedish legation in Budapest in the fall of 1944.

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    The family of George's wife, Judit Katz, in the “yellow-star house” in the Budapest ghetto in 1944. From left to right: Judit’s sister Klara; her mother, Blanka; her sister Éva; her father, Izidor (Israel); and Judit.

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    George, age nineteen, in the Israeli army.

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    George (third from the right) with friends in the Israeli army, 1949.

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    George and Judit’s wedding photo. Ramat Gan, Israel, August 16, 1951.

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    George's sister, Ágnes, with her husband, Endre Szàntó, and their two children, Tomàs and Annetta.

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    George aboard the ship to Brazil, September 1960.

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    George and his wife, Judit, at the reception for Zalman Shazar, president of Israel, with the wife of the ambassador to Togo. São Paulo, Brazil, 1966.

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    George, Judit and their children, Iris and Paul, in their new apartment in São Paulo, 1960s.

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    Judit, George's wife, with their children, Iris and Paul, in Los Angeles, 1970.

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    George's family in Toronto, 1975. From left to right (behind): his son, Paul; George and his daughter, Iris; in front (seated): his wife, Judit.

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    Iris Stern and Darrel Yashinsky’s wedding, Toronto, 1983. From left to right: George; his wife, Judit; his daughter, Iris; and Darrel.

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    George’s paternal uncle Àrmin Stern and his wife, Sosanna, at the wedding of George's daughter, Iris. Toronto, 1983.

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    The memorial stone for George’s mother, Leona, (middle row, second from the top) in the Lipa Green Centre in Toronto.

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    George holding a memorial banner honouring his parents, Leona and Arnold Stern, and Judit Stern’s parents, Israel and Blanka Katz. Beth Tikvah, Toronto, circa 2004.

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    George with Israeli ambassador Alan Baker at Mizrachi Canada’s 1948 War Veterans’ Tribute during celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel. Toronto, 2008.

The Book

Cover of Vanished Boyhood

Vanished Boyhood

As soon as I heard the airplane engines I ran upstairs to watch the bombers approaching. It was dangerous, but I wasn’t scared. I prayed to God that those American planes would destroy the Nazis and the factories so we all could be free again.

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Vanished Boyhood

Life Changes Overnight

Some time near the end of May 1944, my father found a gentile man who was willing to sell us three documents – his son’s Christian birth certificate, school report card and Boy Scout membership card. The documents were appropriate for me because the boy was around my age. His name was József, or Józsi, a common name in Hungary, and his family name was Kovács, a typical Christian Hungarian name. So my new name was Józsi Kovács; I had to learn the name well and forget my real name. It took me days to learn my new name, where I was born and my new birthday. My father bought documents for my mother too, but she still didn’t want to escape without my sister.

Although my mother wouldn’t leave my sister, she was in favour of me escaping the ghetto. I think she could foresee the future and the danger of staying. I prepared a small suitcase of clothing and the next morning I said goodbye to my mother and kissed her. She was crying as I left the house to get the streetcar to Budapest. That was the last time I saw her.

That morning, my destination was not my school, as it had always been in the past, but an apartment in a small complex in Madách Square where Aunt Aranka, Uncle Frici and my cousins Vera and Tomàs were temporarily living with Frici’s brother. Their family had left Újpest right after the Germans arrived, which had been easier for my uncle because he was blond with blue eyes and didn’t look Jewish to the Germans. He could go outside without the yellow star and not worry too much about being caught.

I stayed with them for two or three weeks, talking about where to go and hide. By now, Polish Jews in Budapest who had escaped from other ghettos or camps were spreading the word of what was happening in the death camps in Poland and Austria. We all knew it was only a matter of time until the Nazis started to kill the Jews in Budapest, too. We discussed the possibility of escaping to the countryside to hide, but we knew that we could not all stay together. My aunt and uncle and Tomàs, who was only ten, had a place they could stay on a farm close to Budapest, but my cousin Vera, who was twelve, and I, now thirteen, had no place to go.