The Holocaust Survivor Memoirs Program

Ferenc Andai

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Born
April 15, 1925 Budapest, Hungary

Map of Mukacevo, Czechoslovakia

Immigrated
1957 Montreal

In the lush mountains of Serbia in 1944, thousands of Hungarian Jewish men are held captive as slave labourers, their pain and suffering echoing in the silence of their surroundings. Within the beauty and the devastation, nineteen-year-old Ferenc Andai is forced to work to exhaustion, subject to the whims of cruel Hungarian commanders and German overseers. For Ferenc, the only relief from his harsh reality is his company — an artistic and literary circle of men that includes the renowned poet Miklós Radnóti. As liberation inches closer and a fierce battle for power between Nazi collaborators and resisters rages on in the region, Ferenc faces decisions that will determine whether he lives or dies. Powerful, evocative and lyrical, In the Hour of Fate and Danger is the true story of Ferenc’s chilling and suspenseful journey through Nazi-occupied Serbia.

About Ferenc

Ferenc Andai (1925–2013) was born in Budapest, Hungary. He arrived in Canada in 1957, where he obtained an MA in Slavic Studies from the Université de Montréal and a teaching diploma from McGill University. He also earned his PhD in history (summa cum laude) from Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest. Ferenc was a history teacher and then head of a high school social science department. His book Mint tanu szólni: bori történet (To Bear Witness: A Story of Bor) was published by Ab Ovo in 2003 and awarded the Radnóti Miklós National Prize in 2004.

Photos and Artifacts

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    Ferenc’s father, Izidor Goldberger. Budapest, Hungary, circa 1916.

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    Ferenc’s father, Izidor Goldberger. Budapest, Hungary, circa 1916.

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    Ferenc’s mother, Blanka Goldberger (née Grunbaum), and his father, Izidor Goldberger. Budapest, circa 1920.

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    Ferenc after liberation, wearing the Titovka cap given to him by Duško Milić, the president of the Kučevo National Liberation Council, and boots and a jacket that were a present from Auntie Sári’s neighbour in Petrovgrad (Zrenjanin), Serbia. Bucharest, Romania, 1944.

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    Ferenc after the war, on his birthday. Budapest, April 15, 1945.

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    Ferenc (right) at an event for the sports club MTK (Magyar Testgyakorlók Köre) Budapest as part of a volleyball team. Budapest, circa 1950.

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    Ferenc with his mother, Blanka, and his sister, Rozsi. Budapest, 1946.

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    Ferenc’s sister, Rozsi Bonczi, and his niece, Judit. Budapest, circa 1948.

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    Ferenc’s brother-in-law, Dezső Bonczi. Galyatető, Hungary. 1950.

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    Ferenc and his fiancée, Eva. Budapest, circa 1955.

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    Ferenc and Eva. Budapest, 1955.

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    Ferenc and family after they moved to Canada, during one of his mother’s visits from Hungary. From left to right (in back): Ferenc’s wife, Eva; Ferenc; and his mother, Blanka. In front, Ferenc and Eva’s children, Diana (left) and Tom (right). Shawville, Quebec, 1962.

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    Ferenc (far left) at a party with colleagues from his first workplace, Ciba pharmaceuticals. Montreal, circa 1958.

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    Ferenc (fourth from the left) with fellow teachers at Pontiac Protestant High School. Shawville, Quebec, 1982.

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    Ferenc visiting Miklós Radnóti’s wife, Fanni, at her home in Budapest. Circa 2000.

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    Ferenc receiving the Radnóti Miklós National Prize for the publication of his memoir in Hungarian. Budapest, 2004.

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    Ferenc at a National Day concert and reception to commemorate the 1956 Hungarian Revolution with then Canadian ambassador to Hungary, Dr. Pál Vastagh, and then Governor General of Canada Michaëlle Jean. Ottawa, October 19, 2008.

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    Ferenc Andai, circa 2007.

The Book

Cover of In the Hour of Fate and Danger

In the Hour of Fate and Danger

Portents of death are trembling in the air.

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In the Hour of Fate and Danger

A Fragile Liberation

Just as we have completely caught up with the head of the column, we spot, on the left side of the bend, a strong, slim young man looking down on us from the top of a hill covered with rocks and brush. His gaze is confident; he has a quick-firing gun in his hand and is wearing a black felt cap with a red star on the front. He stands all alone on the peak. A few times, he motions toward the bottom of the hill with a wide sweep of his arm, as if he were signalling our arrival to his army. 

The man is a Tito Partisan. He aims his weapon at the deathly pale guards. “Put your rifles, handguns, magazines and bayonets in the middle of the road!” he shouts with blood-curdling determination, and we hear him cock his gun. No sooner has the Partisan finished giving his orders than the soldiers guarding us throw down their weapons helter-skelter. They stand around the discarded weapons looking lost: without their guns, they are naked. They are whining and there is fear in their eyes; they are afraid of retribution. 

The second Partisan, who has just appeared on the top of the hill, gives instructions to us in Hungarian, “Collect the guns and stack them in a pyramid shape. Use separate piles for handguns, hand grenades and magazines. Don’t lay a finger on the guards.” 

The despondent prisoners are about to be seized by the urge to start lynching. 

The Adam’s apple of one of the sergeants is bobbing in his throat; his handlebar moustache is trembling. The foul-mouthed corporal who wanted to leave us rotting in a dirty rathole now begs us for civilian clothes. He has already cast off his uniform, along with his soldier’s honour; he starts blubbering, imploring his former prisoners to hide him and give him some clothes. 

As if the Holy Ghost had entered some of the older men, the limp­ing pharmacist pulls out a T-shirt that mice have gnawed holes in to give to the corporal. He is about to hand over the raggedy garment, but the others attack him, angrily berating him and calling him a filthy traitor. 

If someone were to make a movie now, he would observe what a poor, pitiable, ghostlike bunch of people we are; we simply cannot process what has happened to us. The orderly rows have broken up, but it hasn’t dawned on us yet that we are liberated from bondage, from the murderers and their henchmen, from those who filled us with anguish, from the thieves who sold the bulk of our provisions on the black market.

The two Partisans on the hilltop direct the rescued men impatiently from the road to the mountain path covered in shrubs and wildflowers. We retrieve the weapons and ammunition from their stacks and distribute them among ourselves. The guards now march in the middle like a flock of sheep. Deathly pale, they walk as slowly as altar boys before Mass.We are in the Erzgebirge, in the woods of the Homolje mountains, somewhere near Žagubica; the other village, Laznica, cannot be too far off.