In 1944, as Budapest’s Jews begin to suffer under German occupation, eleven-year-old Zsuzsi (Susie) takes to her diary to write about her friends and family as she copes with what it means to be persecuted. Precocious and charming, Susie records the mundane along with the poignant as she describes her daily life in Budapest against the backdrop of the war. Alone after the war, Susie makes a fateful decision to leave her relatives and embark on a journey to a new country, where she struggles to adapt and begins to yearn for her home in Hungary. Uncertain whether she made the right decision to emigrate, Susie write all her feelings down in a new diary, the only place where she feels she truly belongs.
Waiting In Vain
I woke up to the sound of gunfire, and fear returned to my heart. I wondered what was going on. My mother tried to set my mind at ease, telling me not to worry, but she failed to reassure me. My fears were well-founded, we soon found out. Hungary wasn’t surrendering. The Germans kidnapped Horthy’s son, forcing Horthy to resign, and the fascist Arrow Cross Party, also called the Nyilas, took possession of the government, with Ferenc Szálasi, a ruthless Jew-hater, as its leader. The Nyilas were thugs, robbers and criminals.
Rumours were rampant about the goings-on outside, about groups of people marching on the street — we heard that the Jewish houses on either side of us were emptied and that the Jews were being led to God knows where. I was frantic with fear and terrified for my life.
There was nowhere to go. I was convinced that whoever was removed would be killed. What else could they do with us with the Russians almost on our doorstep? The gate to our building was locked and we couldn’t leave. I begged my mother to get a message to my gentile uncle to try to get us some false papers, to get us out somehow. I could not imagine dying. She agreed to ask a gentile neighbour to do it. My uncle himself came for us, but the superintendent refused to let us leave. I remember trying to figure out some escape route, but of course there was none.
We feared for the worst. A few weeks later the Arrow Cross men came with gendarmes and policemen. They entered our building and ordered us all to come down to the courtyard, where they sorted us according to age. My mother was among the women who were instructed to immediately pack and be ready to leave. One man timidly inquired whether he may remain, as his fiftieth birthday was imminent. He was allowed to stay.
The expression on my mother’s face as we said goodbye was familiar. I remembered it as the same one my father wore when I last saw him — an intensive stare meant to capture and hold my image.
About the author
Born Zsuzanna Löffler in Budapest in 1933, Susan Garfield immigrated to Canada as a war orphan in 1948 and lived in Vegreville, Alberta, before moving to Winnipeg, Manitoba, where she still lives. Susan’s English translation of her Hungarian wartime diary was published in Voices of Winnipeg Holocaust Survivors (2010), and her story as a new immigrant to Canada was told in Holocaust Survivors in Canada: Exclusion, Inclusion, Transformation, 1947-1955 (2015).
Susan’s memoir is available for purchase here.