The Holocaust Survivor Memoirs Program

Judy Abrams

Survivor Video

More Information

Map

Born
April 28, 1937 Budapest, Hungary

Map of Mukacevo, Czechoslovakia

Immigrated
1948 Montreal, Quebec

Two Jewish girls born six months apart – Judit Grünfeld (Judy Abrams) in Hungary and Eva Felsenburg (Marx) in Czechoslovakia – are separated from their parents and forced to "pass" as Christian children. Theirs are the amazingly parallel but unique stories of two children who were able to survive when so many others perished.

About Judy

Judy Abrams was born in Budapest, Hungary, on April 28, 1937. She immigrated to Montreal in 1949 and later taught French at the UN International School in New York City. She and her husband divide their time between Montreal and New York.

Photos and Artifacts

  • Judy Abrams larger image and caption

    The family of Judy's mother, Renée Kaba Grünfeld, in Savanyukut, Hungary, 1921. From left to right: Judy's grandfather, Imre Kaba; her grandmother, Anni Deutsch Kaba; her mother; her aunts Márta and Marika; her uncle Józsi; and her aunt Éva.

  • Judy Abrams larger image and caption

    Renée Grünfeld, Judy's mother. Budapest, 1940.

  • Judy Abrams larger image and caption

    Judy at three years old. Budapest, 1940.

  • Judy Abrams larger image and caption

    Judy at five years old. Budapest, 1942.

  • Judy Abrams larger image and caption

    Judy (centre) sitting beside Mária Babar (second from the right), who helped her hide at the Ursuline convent in Pincehely, Hungary, in 1944.

  • Judy Abrams larger image and caption

    Judy, standing second from the right, with Mária Babar and other girls at the convent in Pincehely, 1944. Mária helped Judy hide at the convent in 1944.

  • Judy Abrams larger image and caption

    Judy and the Mother Superior of the convent. Pincehely, Hungary, 1944.

  • Judy Abrams larger image and caption

    Renée Grünfeld, Judy's mother, after the war. Budapest, 1947.

  • Judy Abrams larger image and caption

    Judy at eleven years old. Budapest, 1948.

  • Judy Abrams larger image and caption

    Judy at twelve years old on the SS Scythia on her way to Canada, 1949.

  • Judy Abrams larger image and caption

    The SS Scythia, the ship that took Judy and her parents from Bremen, Germany, to Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1949.

  • Judy Abrams larger image and caption

    Judy, centre, with her parents, Renée and László Grünfeld, at their first apartment on Ridgevale Avenue (now called St. Kevin Avenue). Montreal, 1949.

  • Judy Abrams larger image and caption

    Judy in her school uniform. Montreal, 1950.

  • Judy Abrams larger image and caption

    Judy wearing her first pair of slacks. Montreal, circa 1951.

  • Judy Abrams larger image and caption

    Judy at the Jewish General Hospital Annual Gala fundraiser. Montreal, 1959.

  • Judy Abrams larger image and caption

    Judy (right) with Mária Babar-Kennedy on the day that Mária was honoured as a Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority. California, 1994. Mária helped Judy hide at the Ursuline convent in Pincehely, Hungary, in 1944.

  • Judy Abrams larger image and caption

    Mária Babar-Kennedy (left) with Judy's aunt Marika (centre), Judy's father, László Grünfeld (right) and Judy's younger son, Eugene. Montreal, circa 1966. Mária helped Judy hide at the Ursuline convent in Pincehely, Hungary, in 1944.

  • Judy Abrams larger image and caption

    Judy and her husband, Tevia, at Iguassu Falls on the border between Brazil and Argentina in 2009.

  • Judy Abrams larger image and caption

    Judy with her husband, older son and daughter-in-law in New York City, 2010. From left to right: Judy's husband, Tevia Abrams; Judy; their son Ira Abrams and his wife, Rachel Krucoff.

  • Judy Abrams larger image and caption

    Judy's younger son, Eugene Abrams (right), his son, Émile, (centre) and his wife, Julie LaVergne, in their house in Longueuil, Quebec, 2010.

The Book

Cover of Tenuous Threads / One of the Lucky Ones

Tenuous Threads / One of the Lucky Ones

I had always liked to play make-believe, but somehow they made me understand that this game was real. I never gave away my secret.

Explore more of Judy’s story in Re:Collection

More Survivors

Close

Tenuous Threads / One of the Lucky Ones

Chestnut Boulevard

My father was actively involved with the Hungarian Zionist Organization and, unlike other Hungarian Jews, he did not lull himself into a false sense of security, trusting that the “civilized” Germans and Hungarians would never harm the Jews. He believed the unbelievable stories of persecution told by the refugees from Nazi-occupied countries; he believed even the inconceivable accounts of concentration camps that the few escaped inmates had brought with them. That spring my father had managed to procure false documents for me. Were those documents copied or forged? In any case, they were my entry into the Christian Hungarian community. With the help of Mária Babar, a devout Catholic who had previously worked for our family, it was arranged for me to hide with the Ursuline nuns.

My mother had made a courageous and painful decision by taking this walk with me under the festive wild chestnuts toward the convent of the Ursuline nuns on Stefánia Street near the Városliget, the city park where I had played with my nanny only a few months before. My mother rang the outer bell on the gate of the tall, black iron railing that surrounded the convent. Behind it was a garden, where I seem to remember yellow dandelions dotting the shaggy grass that looked as though it badly needed a trim. When I recently managed to contact the Hungarian Ursuline nuns, they sent me the photograph of the convent building as it was in Budapest in 1944. My memory of the iron grill railing was accurate.

On the day my mother and I arrived at the Ursuline Mother House a strange woman in a black floor-length gown opened the gate. Only a patch of her face was visible under the stiff white band across her forehead to which a starched white bib-like collar was attached. There was no glimpse of hair under the black silk veil flowing from the band to below her shoulders and secured by a pin at the top of her head. 10 tenuous threads

It was the first time I had ever seen a nun this close up. My stomach seemed to constrict around a pebble I hadn’t swallowed. This is a feeling I remember distinctly, a sensation that returns whenever I confront an unavoidable crisis. She must have smiled as her hands escaped from the full sleeves of her ample dress to reach for mine because when I followed her along the path toward the yellow stucco two-storey villa, that pebble in my middle began to dissolve.

Surely my mother waved as she turned from the gate that closed behind me. We would not see each other again for more than a year. How did she say goodbye? She may have said something that ended in pipikém (my little chicken), her favourite endearment for me in Hungarian. I only remember feeling strangely relieved as she released me to follow on my own behind my new companion. From this black-clad woman’s waist swung a string of large beads ending in a cross that bounced at every lively step. When she opened the front door she had addressed me for the first time by my new name, “Ilona,” or its diminutive, “Ili.” Nobody would call me “Judit” or “Jutka” or “Juditka” for almost a year. The game now began in earnest. I was to become Ilona Papp, a Catholic child temporarily separated from her parents in the Hungarian countryside.