A Tapestry of Survival

One day I went to visit a friend in the apartment house in which we had first lived when we fled to Budapest. While I was there, a troop of Hungarian soldiers came in to the centre courtyard of the building and were lining up all the Jews to take them away. I started walking toward the exit gate. A soldier stopped me.

“Where are you going?”

“I’m leaving. I don’t live here.”

He scowled at me, “But you’re a Jew!”

“No, I’m not,” I said.

“So what are you doing here?”

I knew that telling him that I was visiting a Jewish friend would not help my cause. Just in time I remembered that air-raid sirens had sounded right before the soldiers arrived. “I came in when the air-raid sirens started.”

An officer came by, and the soldier told him my story. “Aw, don’t bother. Let him go,” he said.

As the soldier escorted me to the exit, he said, “I still think you’re a Jew.”

And I replied cockily, “To err is human,” and walked out to freedom.

I was so proud of my cleverness that this story later became my first piece of published writing, in my high school yearbook. It is only in the last few years that I allowed myself to realize how close I was to being taken away by the Hungarian soldiers; my family would never have found out what had happened to me. There were many close calls, and I think it took quick thinking and miraculous escapes to survive those times, as well as a strong will to live. But I was not aware of these things at the time. We all just did what we had to.

A Tapestry of Survival, Leslie Mezei

Twelve-year-old Leslie Mezei, a lively, curious boy, doesn’t realize how precarious his life is as a Jew in German-occupied Hungary in 1944. His older sister Magda, aware of the growing danger from Nazis and Hungarian fascists, takes charge and bravely tries to direct the family’s survival, while his sister Klari, tough and determined, faces a brutal ordeal of her own. Confronting deportation, concentration camps and the constant threat of capture, the Mezei siblings carefully navigate the treacherous landscape of wartime Hungary. After the war, the family reunites briefly before setting out in different directions to start new lives, and in Montreal, Leslie meets his wife, Annie, who has a survival story of her own. In A Tapestry of Survival the voices of Leslie, Magda, Klari and Annie are woven together to reveal a larger tale of courage, resilience and the search for healing.

Introduction by Borbala Klacsmann

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At a Glance
Hungary; Poland
Passing/false identity
Arrow Cross regime
Siege of Budapest
Ravensbrück concentration camp
Forced labour camp
Postwar Germany, displaced persons camp
Arrived in Canada in 1948
Adjusting to life in Canada
Educational materials available: Leslie Mezei Activity
Recommended Ages

192 pages, including index

About the author

Photo of Leslie Mezei

Leslie Mezei was born in 1931, in Gödöllő, Hungary. In 1948 Leslie arrived in Canada, where he eventually became a professor at the University of Toronto. An early pioneer in the field of computer art, Leslie also developed two new graphic programming languages. Leslie lives in Toronto, where he is very involved in an interfaith and interspiritual movement.

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