Suddenly the Shadow Fell
Salvation and Liberation
…a distant relative managed to get hold of some false papers for us from Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat. My mom, aunt and I had everything we owned in a wheelbarrow – from where we got it I haven’t the faintest idea – and we managed to get to a safe house. The safe house was close by, right outside of the ghetto on Akácfa utca 26.
By the time we ended up there it was a bitterly cold winter and I remember a lot of people being in the home. I also remember trying to get hold of some water, not so much to bathe – for which we used snow – but at least to drink, and the faucets were down in the courtyard; we had to stand in line with everybody else to get our water, which was barely dripping because it was frozen. I collected the water in a pot as it dripped down. I don’t know how we managed to get food in those days but we didn’t starve. My mother later told me that sometimes she soaked dry bread crusts in the snow.
When we moved down to a bomb shelter in the basement, my mother took turns with the other women going upstairs to cook food for the children and everybody downstairs. They used a Jewish man’s apartment because his kitchen still had a few supplies. Once, a bomb fell on our building while my mother was up there. She ran downstairs and when she saw that I was all right, she covered me with her body, just yelling and screaming. Her hair was white and I thought it had suddenly turned white but it was the dust from the building.
Many times, people ask me what we did, as little children, in a basement all day long. My mother made a doll for me from a sock, which she drew a little face on, and my friends and I played with it.
We were liberated by the Soviet army in January 1945. They were going from house to house looking for Nazis hiding in civilian clothes. When we saw men coming down the basement stairs with guns bigger than a soldier, pointing it ahead of them because they didn’t know what they were going to face, I didn’t know who they were or what was going on. They spoke a different language – I probably couldn’t distinguish between German and Russian. One young soldier came over to the corner where I was huddled together with other children; in one hand he had a huge rifle or gun and with the other he reached back into his knapsack and took out some dark brown bread and handed it to us. I will remember that dark bread as long as I live. It was something we hadn’t seen in a long time and the fact that it was coming from a person who was also holding a gun had an effect on me.
When we finally came out of the basement, I couldn’t see. My mother told me that for three or four days I simply could not see at all. My eyes weren’t accustomed to the light and she would tell me to keep my eyes closed and just open them for a few minutes each time, a little bit longer each day, until I got used to the daylight again.
When the basement was again used for storing coal and wood after liberation, I was always afraid to go back down there because I knew in what corner a neighbour had died or where somebody else had passed away from starvation. If I had to go down there, I went singing and whistling and my parents may have thought I was crazy for being afraid of the shadows from the memories.