In Fragile Moments
When it changed, forever...
March 19, 1944, is a day that will live forever in my memory. This was the date that sealed our horrible future. On this day, the Germans invaded Budapest and took over the leadership in Hungary. There was a rumour that the Jews in the countryside would be safer than those in Budapest, but unfortunately this was not true, and most of the Jews who left Budapest, believing they would be safe, perished in Auschwitz. Our “dear” Hungarian-Christian friends left us to the mercy of the Germans. Those who were our friends became our enemies, and they turned away from us as if we had leprosy. More laws against the Jews were introduced. One of the new laws was that all the Jews had to wear a yellow star. I remember the day we were ordered to wear the star as if it happened yesterday, and ever since then I have hated the colour yellow. I didn’t go out of the house for days. I wasn’t ashamed of being Jewish, but I felt so violated. The more they hurt us, the more proud I was to be Jewish, but I still only went out on the street when I really had to. I was only eighteen years old then, but I didn’t want to see anybody. I was already fed up with everything. I didn’t know that I should have been happy because I was still together with my family – my parents, my sister, Klari, and my brother Tibi. I didn’t know that it would be only a few short weeks before things changed. How could anyone know that the devils from hell had been unleashed?
In early April 1944, during Passover, the Jewish population from the surrounding villages was taken to the ghetto in Kisvárda. They were allowed to take only a change of clothes and some food. At the end of April, we too had to leave our home and move into the ghetto, which was located in the most Jewish district of Kisvárda, by the synagogue and the surrounding area near Csillag and Petőfi Streets. All the Jewish people living within thirty to forty kilometres of Kisvárda were transported there and forced to live in the few streets of the ghetto.
Everybody knew which streets made up the ghetto. Hungarian gendarmes guarded the ghetto and the roadways were closed with barriers. Luckily, my family had some relatives who lived on a street that was part of the ghetto, so we stayed with them. We slept on the floor and had to share the room with strangers. Nobody had a separate room. I don’t remember how we managed to eat because we were not given any food. We didn’t have anything to do in the ghetto, so I helped mothers with their children and I also helped in the ghetto’s kitchen. Most of the men were not there, as they had been sent to forced labour camps. Day after day, we became more frightened, but we were still hopeful that the situation would get better.
In late May 1944, all of the Jews were deported from the ghetto. The first time I saw a German officer was a few days before the deportations. When the German officers came, we were forced to stand in lines for hours until they counted us. They made a list with the name of every person; I never understood why, because within a few days many had already died, nameless, and those who were still alive and able to work were like walking skeletons. We became numbers on the lists the murderers kept.
The people from the ghetto were divided into two transports. The first one left on Monday, May 29, and the second transport left on Wednesday, May 31, 1944. There were rumours that we were being sent to Germany and that the young people would be working while the elderly would be watching the children. We didn’t know anything about where we were going to be sent. We only knew who was going with the first transport and that our street was going to be sent on the second transport, so we were lucky that our family had two more days to be together. We cried as we said goodbye to our relatives and friends who were leaving on the first transport; although we didn’t know what to expect, somehow we felt we would never see them again.
When the second transport left two days later, it was our turn to stand in line with our few bags. We didn’t have anything else with us but I wished that the Germans had taken everything from us, even the clothes from our bodies, if only we had been allowed to stay together. I cannot express in words how terrible we felt. No one could imagine how horrific it was. To this day, when I think about the sickly elderly people who wanted only to die in peace where they had lived and the innocent babies who couldn’t hurt anyone but would die because their great crime was to be born Jewish, I cannot hold back my tears.