A sense of duty

Recently, I attended a workshop through Boston 3G, a group for the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, at Facing History and Ourselves.  They gathered a group of third generation Holocaust survivors and asked us to take a look at ourselves, our history, our family’s history.  During the workshop, we engaged in a discussion regarding diaries and the purpose behind diaries.  We were given thought provoking excerpts from a book that was a collection of found diaries from the Holocaust and asked why we thought these individuals wrote.  Some wrote to confide in someone, some wrote in hopes that someone would find it after they were gone, some wrote because they needed to vent.  As I looked around the room at the other 20/30 somethings my age, I saw a lot of pain and sadness.  I realized again, as I did the first time I joined Boston 3G three years ago that there were others that felt like me.  Other grandchildren who loved their grandparents so much who had in turn; also felt the trauma of the past like I did.  Others who maybe until this meeting, had not shared those feelings or that pain with anyone fearing that others might not understand, others might not get it.

In that room that day, I felt a sense of safety, a sense of understanding, a sense of hope and pride.  I left that day feeling that I had a purpose, a duty to write a diary of my own.  A diary so to speak to confide in, a diary to open up to, someone to tell how I felt.  .   I decided that although I could never tell my loved ones how I truly felt, I should write it down and maybe someday I would tell the world.   So that others would understand that we are not simply grandchildren who loved our grandparents and are sad to see them age.  We are grandchildren who have too been affected from the trauma of the past.  Grandchildren who are not just a bunch of “kids” running around Boston remembering the Holocaust but Grandchildren who feel pain, feel hurt, and have nightmares of the past too.  Our parents, the second generation are the caregivers, the generation that didn’t want to know the past but just wanted to ensure that their parents were happy, comfortable and safe so that they would have to suffer no more.

We, the third generation, have a sense of duty, a burden of responsibility on our shoulders; a mission in life to ensure that our grandparents struggle, their survival, their courage was not in vain.  That we will do something with our lives, something extraordinary, and we will be good Jews because they were not tortured and brought to hell and back because of their religion for nothing.  And so I write…so that the world can understand and it does not just stop with our aging grandparents.

It’s interesting because we all have different coping mechanisms.  As a child growing up, I knew that my Saba and Savta (Grandpa and Grandma) were Holocaust survivors but we never really spoke of it.  The only stories I knew were told to me by my older brother who had interviewed my Savta for a high school history report.  Other than that, I picked up things here and there.  I knew my Savta and her three sisters survived the war.  I knew that her parents and 3 younger brothers had been killed.   I knew that I was named after her mother, Elizabeth.  I knew that my Saba had frostbite on his fingers because he hid in the forest for a year.  And I knew that my Savta collected dice and thought they were lucky because she had found one amidst the dirt and barrenness in Auschwitz.  This was what I knew.

And you know what? I think this was also the extent that my mom knew.  My mother’s coping mechanism was to block it out, to never discuss it, think about it or have to talk about it because if she didn’t think about it, she didn’t have to be sad.  I know my Savta wanted it this way; she never spoke about it because she didn’t want to pass down the pain that she held so deeply.  But then there’s me. The curious soul wanting to know more, wanting to know everything, detail for detail of what happened to my family.  To my fortune/dismay, this wish was granted in the form of a DVD handed to me nonchalantly by a cousin, 3 hours long, from Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem.

It was an interview that my Savta conducted in Israel, detailing her life from childhood to her immigration to the United States.  Every last detail was there, in my grandmother’s own voice and words.   What a “gift” for a girl who could no longer ask her Alzheimer ridden Savta, who she hoped was having happy dreams and forgetting the past.    I knew it would be hard but I set out to watch the DVD, to learn, to know. The three hours were a mixture of Hebrew, English, Yiddush, German and Hungarian – all blended into one language, one story, my family’s story.   A friend of mine set me up with a local Israeli who offered to sit down with me to translate the story.  It took weeks for us to get through it all but we did it.  I sat there next to her, vigorously typing in English, discussing what she may have meant with certain words or sayings and diligently wrote.  I listened, I typed, and I did not shed a tear. Ironically, not until I sat down to go through it all by myself and rewrite it to be something coherent, did it fully hit me.

Now mind you, before any of this, I knew a little about the atrocities that occurred.  I had seen movies, I had read books, and I had heard speeches.  And before this, I had my crazy 3G quirks.

I can’t watch violent movies, I can’t eat split pea soup, I think about my fortune of having food, a roof over my head, shoes and parents to grow up with.  The simple things that we take for granted.  Turning 21 meant something more to me than most people, thinking back to my Savta’s life at 21 in Auschwitz.  Becoming a mom deepened the pain more as I thought of all of the children torn from their mother’s hands and other children growing up with no one.  I have a constant guilt that looms over my head.  I feel guilty having such a good life, I feel guilty not doing more with myself, I feel guilty not being a better Jew.   It is because of my Savta that I set out to marry a Jew and raise my children Jewish.

Perhaps one of the things that struck me most recently was when my mom and I had a heart to heart about my daughter.  I knew it was normal for grandmothers to love and obsess over their grandchildren but when my mother explained how she was always so jealous as a kid that other kids had grandparents and she had always wished she had grandparents, it hit me.  While my Savta tried to shield her to the best of her ability from the trauma of the past, there were some things that just could not be hidden.  My family was not like other families, we had a dark “secret.”

From those four sisters that survived came nine children.  From those nine children came 24 grandchildren.  And from those grandchildren came 25 great grandchildren and counting.  That’s 58 and counting Jewish people because 4 women fought for their lives.  Imagine for a moment, what the Jewish community would be like today had those 1.2 million children lost also had a chance to grow up and have families of their own.  People always say we lost 6 million Jews in the holocaust but in reality, we lost much more than that.

Through it all, my grandmother talks about how God helped her, how she was lucky.  She talks about how her parents taught her to give Tzedekah, to help others, to work hard and be good people.  For someone to go through hell and back still believing in God and feeling lucky, it reminds me of what an amazing person my Savta is.  It inspires me to do the same.

Grandchildren of survivors are sometimes the last living link, the last to have a personal relationship and love with the survivors.  While it’s hard sometimes, I know that this is my mission to ensure that the world never forgets what hatred can do.  I know that I am lucky too, in so many ways and I know that I will never forget what a strong, courageous, special woman my Savta is.

This “project” of mine has been over a year in the making.  Listening, translating, transcribing, researching, rewriting and making sense of her story.  A true labor of love.  Now that I finally have it in a place worthy of sharing, I feel the overwhelming responsibility to share it with the world.  I started with my best friend and mom, to test the waters, to see the reaction I would get.  I was hesitant to not only share my feelings in the form of an introduction and admit that I was deeply affected, but wasn’t sure who would actually be interested in reading it all.  The final piece was almost twenty pages long.  After some encouragement from my best friend and mom, I then shared it with a few more family members and a few more close friends.

It became a bit viral and before I knew it, I was receiving emails from complete strangers thanking me for the mitzvah that I had done, telling me how moved they were by my actions and how proud my Savta would be of me.  Emails were flooding in from all over the world and I realized that what I was doing was really important.  It was important to my family because it was the story of four sisters who survived with each other’s help and much of many extended family didn’t know what had actually happened to their parents or grandparents.  It was important to the Jewish world, to remember what our ancestors went through not too long ago because of their religion.  It was important to the non-Jewish world, to know that these were real stories, real people, and real events.  Words like incredible, amazing, and touched were among those expressed.  While yes, it is incredible that anyone could survive four concentration camps in the dead of winter in Poland and go on with their lives; it is more incredible to me that the world let this happen.  It is incredible to me that one man could have such power.  It is incredible to me that so many people could be brainwashed.  It is incredible to me that people deny that it happened.  It is incredible to me that atrocities like the Holocaust are still happening all over the world today.

At the end of my Savta’s three hour long interview, she says that she is sharing her story so that her kids and grandchildren will know what she went through.  So that they will know what a wonderful family she had and so that they will know how important her Jewish faith was to her.  Although my Savta would never tell us her story in person, I now know how important it was for her to share it with us and the world.   While my mom focuses on taking care of her, it is my duty to carry on this torch.  Sharing her story (and thus my story) in return has lifted a great burden off my shoulders and given me some inner peace.  I will share it with my children and my grandchildren.  I will ensure that the world never forgets.

It’s still a little rough around the edges and may be a bit politically incorrect in places but I wanted to keep it in the same words, phrases and feeling that it was spoken. This is for you Savta.

Here is her story…

Savta Eva’s story of survival

I was born in 1923 in Szerencs, Hungary.  Selymes, Eva was the name given to me by my parents.  My family had the most beautiful house in all of the town.  My parents were wonderful people, always setting a good example for my siblings and I.  They showed us by example and we had a loving peaceful home.  My father was a very special person.  He was a good Jew.  We were Orthodox, you know. My father was a good Hungarian as well.  He used to read 3 or 4 papers in Yiddish every day, the Mult Es Jovo (past and present) it was called.  He was very interested in the world.  In the First World War, he was a hero.  He got four medals from the Hungarian government.  Because of those medals, he got special treatment.

My father had a store in town; he was a very good businessman.  We sold radios, electronics, bicycles, sewing machines and porcelains. It was a real store.  On Saturday, he closed the shop to keep Shabbat.  He started really slow but by the end was really well known.

We were seven kids in the house, four girls and three boys.  The girls were older than the boys. I finished High School.  In 1939, for the first time, I felt that I was a Jew and that made me different.  I was a talented artist.  I could sew in combinations.  My mother and I decided that when I finished high school, I would go to a special school to make art.  When my mother and I went to this school to register me so that I could study art, we were told that only 2% were accepted to this school. They told my mom that they were really sorry but because I was Jewish, there was no space for me there.  I really wanted to attend this school.   For the first time, I felt that being Jewish was more than just my religion. I was 16.

My parents were not only religious people but they also did a lot of tzedakah.  Because of this, the name Selymes was well known in the town of Szerencs.  If someone was hungry or didn’t have anywhere to eat, they would go to the train station and would ask, “Maybe there is a family here? A Jewish family where I can get lunch?” And they’d say, “oh yes, go to the Selymes family.”  There was always food at my house.  We would sit around the table, 13 people, and there was always food.  There was a butcher, you know, a boy from the yeshiva where we would buy our meat. My parents were very giving people.  My mother also belonged to WIZO (World’s International Zionist Org) in Szerencs.  She was the Vice President of the organization.  The rabbitzon was the head of it and my mother helped with everything.  Even though she had 7 kids, she always had time for tzedekah. My father also.   He was the vice president of the orthodox shul.

My father was like a Doberman to the Hungarians;  he had 4 medals.  Till the last minute, they thought that they were not taking them from him or taking him out of the town.  There were 3 families that the Hungarians were not supposed to take out.   Selymes, Gold, and another family.   At the last minute they decided to take them all because they were afraid that people would see what they were doing.

In 1941, they took my father for the first time to Arba Itslagger, a labor camp.  It was actually inside Hungary.  They worked on bridges, they worked really hard.  My mother sent a request to the Hungarian government, because he was such a hero from the First World War, and asked, “what are you doing with him?”  After a few months, they let him come home.  He went back to his store.  We had a radio in the store, which was not allowed for Jewish families. Two years before this it had already become bad and we were told Jews could not keep a radio at home.   Because he had so many medals from the war, they allowed him to keep his radio in the store though.  In the morning, when my father went to shul, all of the Jews came to my father and asked him, “Selymes Batchi, what is the news?”  He always said, “it will get better, it will get better.”  We never dreamt that they would do what they did.

We had family in Slovakia.  My mother was from Slovakia, the part that belonged to Hungary.  We had heard when they started taking Jews from Czechoslovakia but we didn’t know where they were taking them.  We had no idea what was going on in Poland.  Life in Hungary was still very good.  In the beginning, we didn’t feel that much, really.  It was a very slow process.  Later, it became more difficult.  By 1944, it was really bad.  When Hitler occupied Slovakia, the part that belonged to Hungary, we thought that maybe nothing would happen to our family.  Maybe Hitler would not have time to get to Hungary.  Szerencs was not such a big city and we got good treatment from this side and that.  I was 18 or 19 and really didn’t feel it that much.  Maybe the last two years we felt it.  In 1942, they took the young boys to the labor camp; my father was only 45 years old. He was so young. They only took men under 50 or 60.  So only the women were left at home with the children.  There were no guys at home.

You know, when I arrived in Israel after the war, my kids asked me, “why did you let the Germans take you, just like they take horses, why didn’t you do anything?” But, we couldn’t do anything!  The guys were already taken – only my mother and her 7 kids were left.  What could we do?  All of this time, the paper said that if anybody tried to do anything, they would kill them.  We kept seeing in the paper, they killed this one and they killed that one and we were afraid.  When the Germans and the Russians were in the city, they told us that we needed to have dark windows.  So those who did not do exactly as they were told, they thought they did it on purpose.  We were all scared.  They killed Bela Shargo because he turned on his light at night to signal the airplanes.  There were bombings in other places.  We didn’t know if what was in the paper was true or if they just wanted to scare us.  We didn’t know.  It was a small town.

I’ll tell you again, we really did not even dream this was going to happen.  We didn’t dream that it really would happen in our town. We didn’t know this is how the end would be. We really didn’t. We heard they took the Jews but we thought they were just going to work, just like my father, and that they would come back.  We had no idea they were killing the Jews in gas chambers. We didn’t know.

The locals were sweet to us; there was one or two that thought of helping us.  In the beginning, I had a lot of friends. But eventually, one after another, they didn’t feel comfortable associating with a Jew. Slowly but surely, the troubles began.  This one was taken to a labor camp and that.  We knew they were taking them to the Don and Donube rivers.  We knew they were putting dead Jews in the water of the Don.

My (future) husband was in Kiev, which was just as well, for two years.  But my husband came back from Kiev, from the work camp, so we thought; maybe what my father always said was true.  The Americans were coming, the Russians were coming.  Just a little longer.  We had no idea what was happening. Maybe if we knew, we would have done something. But we didn’t know anything.  In March of 1944, Hitler occupied Hungary.

My aunt Marishka lived in Miskolc, Hungary.  This was my mother’s sister.  Her husband and her son were in work camps.  She was all alone.  She called my mother to ask if one of us 4 girls could help her.  We all helped each other.  I went.  And that’s when my troubles began. After I was in Miskolc at my aunt’s, I couldn’t go back to Szerencs.  Things got much worse and Jews were not allowed to go anywhere without papers.  My mother told me to stay in Miskolc, that maybe I would survive the war.  Because probably in Szerencs, they already started to deport the Jews.  My mother wrote me a letter.  You stay there; at least one of the family will survive.  In Miskolc, they saw that they had already started taking the Jews and putting them in ghettos.  So the mayor of Miskolc, who was a high ranking officer, wanted to help the Jews.  He said, let’s take the Jews and have them work here.  Why should we send them to Poland or Ukraine, when they could work here?

My husband owned a forest and would cut trees down to sell them for firewood to heat the house.  By this time, they had already taken his business from him.  But he said, you know, I can do something, we have the forest.  Let’s take the Jews to work in the forest.  We will show the Miskolc community that we can put the Jews to work here. You don’t have to take them to Poland.  The Jewish community in Miskolc wanted to do something so they took 50 Jews to one business and 50 to another and they will be busy working here in Miskolc.  My husband took people into the forest.  I was there for 2 weeks.  In the meantime, I got a letter from my mother. She wrote to me from Sator Alja Ujhely ghetto.  She wrote, “my daughter, we are already prisoners.  We don’t know where we are.  We don’t know where we are going but I hope that you will stay where you are.  Keep yourself, be well.”  I didn’t know what to do. At night, I dreamt I’m with my father and in my dream, my father told me, Evika keep yourself safe, everything will be alright.  That’s what he told me in my dream.  When I got up from that dream, I cried so much, terribly. I had a crying attack.  And I stayed at with my aunt.  I was only 20 years old.  What do you understand at that age?  I said to myself, maybe I’ll meet them.

Later, we were taken to a ghetto near Miskolc.  First they took me to the Goromboly ghetto, where I worked.  My husband’s parents lived there.  We worked for the Greek Orthodox Church, for the priest.  He was the one who took my husband’s business, since the business could no longer be in my husband’s name.  The Greek orthodox helped as best they could.  Him and his wife.  He was a good person.  He went to Miskolc town hall and said that he wanted the Jews to work in the forest so that it was not just coming from my husband.  That’s why we moved there, because he really wanted to help. We worked and there were older people too.  He gave us lunch.  But it was only for two weeks.  After that, the police came from Miskolc and told the Jews to go back to the ghetto.

Because I belonged to Miskolc, they took me back to Miskolc to live with my aunt. There was a ghetto there as well.  Her house was in the Jewish section, and that’s where all the Jews lived, all of them. So that was the ghetto. We lived there for 2-3 weeks and then we got a notice that we had to take food for one day and as many clothes as we can and we need to go to the ghetto. I didn’t know what sort of package to take, I was only 20.  I took as much as I could but my aunt was a woman with two little children.  One was 5 and the other was 3 and we had to walk by foot to a brick factory.  I carried one of the girls.  It took us an entire day to reach this factory.

I sat there alone with my aunt. I already knew that my mother and father were gone.  There was a 4 week difference.  They arrived at Auschwitz exactly on Shavuot.  I say the yizkor for my parents every year on Shavuot.

Later, they took us from this factory and I sat alone in the train.  The cattle train, on the floor. I have a big family, 7 kids you know, but I was alone.  I had already lost my aunt.  The police had took me.  They hit me, they said, “You just go.”  They pushed me.  You go here, you go there. It was unreal.  But I thought, well maybe now I will get a chance to see my family.  At least I am arriving and maybe we will be together.  After 4 or 5 days, we arrived at Auschwitz.  I looked around and I just walked.

We came to Dr. Mengele.  He pointed left or right.  The young ones went to the right, the older ones went to the left. They then took us to a shower and cut our hair. All of our hair, from here and there.  They gave us very simple dresses and we had to take off everything.  All night, we went through it.  The next day, I looked around and thought, where am I?  I just kept thinking, maybe I will see my family. I felt it, maybe.  Here I am. I couldn’t care less where I was, just as long as I meet up with my family

I was in B lager.  They weren’t prepared for us so we slept on the floor. The next day, I got up and looked around, there was an electric fence. I knew I had no chance of getting out from there.

Every day, they would ask for 20 girls to go and bring food from the other lager. Fifty girls to walk to this lager, 90 to go to another; I always lifted my finger and asked to go.  I was interested in watching to see what was happening.  The food was called green paint or black paint.  There was no real food, just these big containers.  One day, after two weeks had already passed, I was standing waiting for the cubly to bring the food.  I was at number 3.  Somebody from the other side that had brought the cubly (container of food?), screamed, “Eva Eva Selymes, Eva.”  We were bald, I couldn’t recognize anyone.  So I screamed back, “who are you?”  She said, “My name is Magda Kleinman, Eva, your sisters are here.  Come tomorrow at the same corner and I will bring your sister tomorrow.”  My sisters!  She was a young woman from Szerencs.

The next day,  my third sister came, Martuka.  My oldest sister, Sharika, she was very weak.  Before we came to Auschwitz, she had a baby.  The baby was already dead.  Her husband had already gone to Ukraine.  This made her very weak.  I was the second oldest.  My third sister was very strong.  The fourth one, Vali, was the one that was escaping. She was the little one. She was maybe 16/17, she was very young.

My oldest sister said, if we can’t bring Eva to be with us, I don’t think I can make it anymore. I can’t take it. And she kept saying it to my sisters. We were very close. She kept saying that she can’t come and see me and then leave me. And she can’t hold my hand because it was really far.  So my third sister, Marta, the strong one said, “I am strong, I’m gonna go. I promise you that I’m going to bring Eva here.”

So she stood there, far away.  We couldn’t speak to each other. But I knew that they were working on a plan.  I would go every day to the same place.  There was a woman on my side that told me there is a girl at number 3 that will switch places with me.  Do you understand? We could switch because we didn’t have numbers and we didn’t have our dress yet, the uniform that they gave. We were just wearing rags.

I went every single day. Every day I went there. I went to meet them and the girl who would switch with me. Sometimes I heard a word; sometimes we could stand a little closer.  It would depend on which German brought them.

They kept counting us.  All the time, I don’t know.  So I needed to be on my side, in place, all the time.  The block guards were Jews from Czechoslovakia and Poland.  After 3 years of being there, the Germans had made them sadists.  I never said that they are to blame. We knew they were poor souls, that was simply their jobs. The Germans, they made them, they beat us. They told us what to do. If someone was missing in the group, they were responsible for it. They would kill them too, that was irrational. Crazy.

After that, I met up with my sister; it took me about a week. I don’t remember how long it was exactly.  She was holding this container she brought and put it down and I went over to take the cubly.  Slowly I learned how to handle it; how to do it so they didn’t even notice that we were sisters. You see I was blonde and she was brunette.  They were so sure that sisters were not going to be together. I have to tell you that we were 4 sisters and we made it home.  I don’t think there was another one in the whole concentration camp. That’s how we loved each other. So it didn’t work out.  She moved the container and it didn’t work.  And she said, no no no, I don’t want to stay here and she went back. So my sister said, we’re coming. That’s how it worked every day. One word here one word there. And then she said, “I have something else.”

They brought in girls that were cholot, girls that were sick and they were on their way to the gas chambers. So they took them and they put them on a stretcher, these charalots, they were very very sick.  It had 4 sides and everybody held one corner. And then my sister brought somebody else. Its always the same sister. So she said come and they were in balgaga ambulances. That’s where they brought the sick girls. It was inside the lager you see. They were really inside.  So I walked into that place, the red cross, to the ambulance. I walked in and they walked in and it was a little easier. They walked inside and my sister was there and the other girl and they both held the sick girls, the stretcher, and we switched. The poor girl, she never came back.  I walked across and they kept counting, all the time all the time. The minute I walked in lager 3, I got hit on my head, right away, cause I didn’t know where I was.

There was a blockover over there, I didn’t know what a blockover was. There were all kinds of names there; I didn’t know any of them. I had no idea where I was and my sister said come with me, we are going directly to get bread. We held our hands forward and they threw bread at us. I took the bread and  walked around the block and we were together! It was a great thing. After that, my sister, the one who was weak, the oldest one, got better.

You’ve probably heard the story of Auschwitz. It was an unbelievable story.  We were there for three months, June, July and August.  We didn’t do anything while we were there. We just stood. Stood for hours and hours from morning until 4 pm in tsel a pen (counting process). . I wish we worked a little bit, I wish they let us get out of there. I wish we could do something while we were there, something. But no, we just stood, day after day.  I was strong but I wasn’t that strong. One time I fell, because I just couldn’t stand anymore but I had my sisters and they helped right away. They lifted me up and I stood again.

We had no hair and barely any food.  There was a pot, a little pot and we all ate from that one pot.  Four of us, maybe 5.  But we knew where the garbage was.  A pile of leaves from the cabbage that they threw away.  Like dogs in the street, we would go there and eat the garbage.  What can I tell you?

It was Tisha B’av while we were there. They gave us beans.  Because it was Tisha B’av though, the person that was in charge of giving us food did not give us food.  We didn’t get food all day because it was Tisha B’av and in the evening the food had already soured so they through it all out and so we didn’t get to eat that day.  Sometimes we didn’t know it was a holiday though, like Rosh Hashanah.  We didn’t know anything anymore.  It was December, September maybe. It was really difficult then. August, Sept, Oct, Nov, Dec.  till we got home. We didn’t know much.  For Pesach though, we were already in Hungary. We got home for Pesach.

We slept on a shelf, a piece of wood; and it was really hard. But we were lucky, we were 4 girls and we were together. You know, whoever was on top, the poor soul, they soiled their pants. It all went down.

The worst was when they came for the selection.  All the time, they would come for us.  This was the worst, because we were so worried about each other. We were so worried that they would take us from each other.  So when we stood at the tsel a pen, we stood apart. One blonde, one brunette, one blonde, one brunette, because we didn’t want them to know that we were sisters. So I tell you, one day, the Germans came for the selection.  They had something in mind all the time and they were looking for special girls.

They checked the tsel a pen all the time, and one day, they saw me. They saw I was blonde you know, they were Germans. It wasn’t until afterwards, that we heard what happened, what was going on. But in the beginning, we didn’t know.  I was so lucky because he let me go back after he had put me aside to take me. They were looking for blondes that day I guess.  I may have been bald, but I had light eyes and light skin, you know. The Hungarians didn’t even know I was Jewish. I could have run away from Hungary and get Christian papers you know. Lots of people did that. But I just wanted to go after my parents, I didn’t want to run away and when I heard that my parents were gone, I did not have the strength to do anything with myself.

There was another time, they took my little sister Valika. My sister Marta ran after Valika and she said, no you’re not going to take my sister.  We stole her from there. We didn’t ask anybody, we just stole her.  We wanted so much to be together.

While in Auschwitz, I heard the orchestra one time. They did it for publicity. The Germans were such pigs. I saw it for myself because I always went with the group wherever they went.  I saw one place that had flowers. Flowers and all kinds of nice stuff and I said to myself, “Oh my god, is there something like that here?”   They were always taking us places.  You know, one time, they took me to get a pot for the lager.  They sent us to bring stuff here and there. Because in B Lager, where I was, there was nothing but a floor.  They always brought in whatever they needed, you know, they always brought from another lager. They had just built it, like last minute before we arrived, so everything they needed, they brought from somewhere else. We just slept on the floor.  The other lager was better organized. I was in lager 19.

They wanted to show us what would happen to whoever tried to escape.  I saw it once.  I thought, this is going to be our end, you know. The end will be to be hung.  We had walked with the group to another lager and I saw it.  I saw people standing there and they just finished that circus.  I asked what’s going on here?  They told me what had just happened, how somebody tried to escape.  That poor guy had been there for 3 years already, the poor soul. He realized there was no other way.  The Germans’ dogs had caught him.  They were around all the time, running after people.  The Germans had all kinds of techniques.  They were even making soap from flesh, but I don’t have to tell you that.  They beat people, we really suffered.  And there was no food, really.

By October, I was not in Auschwitz anymore.  But my friend from my apt told me that the young Hungarians that were in Auschwitz wanted to do something.  So they made a plan and they did it.  They blew up one of the gas chambers, and the Germans could no longer use it.  They killed all those young men after though.  I was no longer there by that time, a friend from A lager told me.  She now lives in Toronto.

At the end of August, they took us from Auschwitz.  Now that was something else.  We were standing in tsel a pen in the afternoon, maybe 2-3,000 of us and then they took us to Ilagan. Ilagan had a shower.  We had heard from the Polish and Germans that there was something like that there.  If you looked up and you saw the smoke, you knew what it meant.  But I think that they put Braum in the food.  Anyways, we didn’t have the strength to do anything.  There was an electric fence and we were so weak, we didn’t even get our periods.  Everything was gone. So we got into the shower, a really big room.  They actually showered us in that, but it was really close to the gas chambers.  We were not sure what was going to come out; if it was going to be water or something else.  We had heard rumors.

It was nighttime.  They did everything at night.  So after our shower, we got a dress. It was a flour sack, turned inside out.  Then, we were supposed to get numbers on our arms, but we didn’t get them because they ran out of time.  After that, we got a little pot of soup. Smaller than the other pots we used to get. We knew we were going to work in the morning.  It was just a transport, without any reason.

In the morning, we realized we lost my little sister, we lost Valika.  Where was she?  All this time, it was really difficult to keep the four of us together.  Right as the sun rose and a little light came out, we started running, “Valika, Valika where are you?”   Thank god, we found her. She was already in a line for a transport. So I took her out. I didn’t ask anybody, I just grabbed her and I said, “come here come here.” We brought her into our line and we walked to Stutthof.

It got more difficult when we left Auschwitz. Sometimes we thought that we were as strong as we were because we came out of such a good home.

We were in Stutthof for 2 weeks. We really didn’t like Stutthof.  We heard that a lot of Jews were brought into Stutthof that couldn’t work anymore.  They brought an entire ghetto from Lithuania.  They cleaned up the ghetto and brought the people to Stutthof.  Ghetto Loge and Ghetto Litvania. They were really miserable because they had already been in the ghetto for a few months.  They were very nice, a little bit older. They liked us and they helped us a little bit. They helped us not to get upset. We were scared, what now?  They put us together with them in a group.

There was a woman that was older than me with a young girl.  We didn’t understand what a little girl was doing there.  She was hiding this young girl. When they came to count the people, that little girl was always behind her. And I asked, “how did you say you found this girl?” They were saving her life. I will never forget it. But we moved away from there and I have no idea what happened later.  They stayed there and we moved out.

We didn’t do anything in Stutthof.  Every morning we stood in the tsel a pen and watched as they brought in a transport.  When I was in Stutthof, I saw for the first time the pile.  A huge pile of wooden clogs, they called them klumpa.  We had already heard about this pile of klumpa, it was huge.  And then I paid attention that they took people that were not alive anymore.  They took gypsies as well.

We heard every day that they killed the people. We only heard it, we never saw it.  It really wasn’t organized in Stutthof. We always heard and we always asked what is that what is that? What are they doing? We didn’t see anything.  We asked the blockova, our Jewish guards.  We really never had any contact with the Germans.  We were so scared of them.  We just ran when we saw them walking around. We ran away. They used to tell us that we better behave ourselves. Because if we didn’t, then look up there, at the chimney.

We heard shots early in the morning, they were killing.  We heard they killed people.  So we asked, “What is it? What are they doing?”  And they said, nah its nothing, its nothing. But it wasn’t nothing.

They sent us by train to Argeno.  Like cows again, on the floor, all the time. There were 2-3000 people in there. That came out of Stutthof.  Argeno was a prison camp.  It was a Russian Polish prison camp. We were only there 3 or 4 nights. Then the Russians came.   They were afraid that the Russians were going to take us, so they took us back.

Meanwhile, my face became swollen.  I got furuncle. You know, we didn’t shower, we did not have an opportunity to wash. A lot of people got typhos. My face was so swollen.  So there was a Russian doctor among the prisoners, Dr. Gorchev, and he took care of my face.  He helped my second sister as well.

They put us in the train again. We were scared.

It was already Sept when we were in Argeno. From Argeno we went to Torun.  In Torun, it was horrible, very difficult. We thought that we would never leave, ever.  In Torun, we got a circle of straw.  Our block was 44 B.  I’ll never forget it.  We were still four so that was a good thing.  Because we were 4 girls together, everybody got a blanket. We would put the blankets, one on top of the other.  It was already winter.  In Poland, it was very cold.  The four of us would spoon each other, so we kept each other warm.

They sent us to work. We did Schutzengraben (digging trenches). People were inside and they were killing people from there.  We put the hoe on our back and we walked. I don’t even know how many km in the forest. It was a huge forest; there was no end to it. We didn’t see any birds, we didn’t see anything.  Just the trees and we walked. There was no water and there was very little food. The name of the food was moris.   We worked the whole month, every day with the hoe. They gave us a coat for over our dress, which they took from the poor souls from the ghettos.  On the back of the coat there was a red magen david (star of david), which meant they were Jews. The Moritz were the soldiers that were dressed like Germans but they were actually Litvaks.   They were dressed in German uniform. They were really mean. We worked, we did our work.

Every morning we got up.  They gave us tea in a little plate. We took the plates and put them on our backs with our belts, under our coats.  That way, if somebody hit us on the back, it hit the plate. It was psychological as well. Because we got it, you know.

When we were done with the shutzengraben, we did the tankgrabben for the tanks.   You know, I was little and I was inside the tunnel and in order to throw the dirt out, I had to throw hard. I don’t know how many meters it was. How did we have strength for that? But we did it. In the morning we got tea and a little piece of bread and a little piece of margarine.  We cut the bread so thin so we would have it.   We saved a little for the night.  When we came back from work, we had a little. It was already a month that we were there or even more, we ran out of strength.  The straw where we were laying was already garbage. Everything got really cold, it was the end of October.  It was very difficult. We had no strength left.

They told us to pick up the wood because the polish had cut the trees.  They wanted to put it in the trench for the tank. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I started to cry. It’s not normal, ten, fifteen girls schlepping this wood.  The guards were actually OK on that side.  I was crying and the other girl was crying, we knew this was it. We couldn’t anymore. What did they want from us? We couldn’t take it anymore.  There was a girl from Czechoslovakia; she was a good friend. She saw that everybody was crying because we couldn’t take it anymore. She went to the commander and he came to see and she told him, they’re killing them.

It was unbearable. The commander gave an order to the Polish people, to the goyim.  He told them to stop it right then and there, they are not doing it anymore. But at the same time, why did I cry so much? Because I got whipped on my back three times. I did not shlep the trees as well as I should’ve.  Of course I cried.

It was so cold and we didn’t know what to do anymore. I was very handy, I could sew.  So we cut a little strip from the blanket and we made ourselves slippers to wear inside. We put them inside the slippers we were wearing because they were horrible.  So we made 1 and 2 and 3 and then we made some for the others as well.  We took for everybody a little piece of the blanket and made slippers.  Somehow our guard found out.   He made us all stand in line and asked who made those?  He said if we don’t tell who made those, they are going to kill every 10th girl.  Every 10th will be killed from that line. My sister Marta, pointed her finger and said, “I made those.”  From the 4 girls, she pointed her finger. And he said, so come to me. And he whipped her 25 times on her back in front of us all.  My poor sister.  You know, where did god give us so much strength from?   So we walked back.

My oldest sister, Sharika, had typhos. They put her on an ambulance.  So we already knew that every 2 weeks, the Red Cross would come and would pick up patients from this ambulance and bring them to Stutthof to be killed. We knew that. They always told us, if you don’t work, we will send you back to Stutthof.

So for a week, my sister had typhos and she was very miserable and there was red stuff all around.  She thought, “I am through.” So what did we do? Me and my sister, Marta, we exchanged our dresses with her. I gave her my dress.  We had rashes and wounds and there were bed bugs everywhere so all day long they were picking the bed bugs from the body.  So I gave her my dress and I said, mine is clean, I don’t have bed bugs in mine. I told her, “we are trying to help you Sharika.” Then Marta exchanged dresses again. From the night to the morning, it was full of bed bugs again. After work, in the evening, we could visit her. We always brought her warm tea.  At the end, we took her from there. We stole her.  We walked in there, we took her out and they didn’t say anything.  They were not organized.

So we stole her and we put her under the straw bed to hide and we went to work.  We gave her some of our bread and some of our tea. Every day, the guards went in when everybody went to work and they didn’t see her.  You know, whoever did not go to work, they took them right away and they sent them to Stutthof.  So after about a week, she felt better and we took her back to work with us.

One day, there was a car full with potatoes. My sister Marta and I ran after the car and I took potatoes, as many as I could carry inside my coat, maybe 4 maybe 5. The fearer came and he saw that I stole potatoes. He ran after me with his dog and he told his dog to run after me and catch me.  So I ran and I didn’t see that there was a trench full of water in front of me.  I was so scared that the dog was running after me and of the commander who always had that stick in his hand that he used to scare us with; I fell in the trench.  I screamed and I screamed and my sister Marta saw from afar that I was in trouble.  She saw and she ran towards me. She got me out of the water and we ran away and he let us run.  I got so scared that I never went to work in the kitchen again. Sometimes I would ask to work in the kitchen because there were potatoes in there, because we were peeling potatoes in there. But after that, I was too scared; I couldn’t go anymore.

When we went to work in the village, we walked through fields of beets.  Sometimes we pulled the beets out, but we were not supposed to do that.  I once saw in front of my eyes, with my own eyes, a girl pulled a beet out of the ground and the guard killed her right away.  We were so scared after that we didn’t go and do that either. It was right in front of my eyes, it was from our group you know.  So really we did not have opportunities; I don’t know where god gave us the strength from.

In December, they started taking more girls out of there. There weren’t that many left anymore. They all died of typhos. They were all so sick and so cold because the floor was so wet. Everything was garbage, it wasn’t straw anymore. So we were less and less and less.  So in December, they had to take us away because the Russians were coming. We didn’t know that but the Russians were coming. So they put us in line again.  We put my sister, Marta, who got the 25 whips, in the back. We didn’t want the sheriff to recognize her.  We didn’t want anybody to recognize her. We were scared because there were some girls who did all kinds of stuff and did not go to work.  We heard that the sheriff had recognized them and they were left there.  I heard a few weeks later that whoever stayed there, they put them in a circle on the floor, they told everybody to lie down and they killed all of them.  Just like that.  One fell down and put her hand on top of her ear and the bullet went through her hand and after that, after the Germans left, she got up and she got out of there.  They said that 300-400 girls were there and they were all killed.  Girls like us. There was one that stayed because her sister was there, there were ones that were punished and stayed there.

There were political polish prisoners in there as well. They worked with the trees.  They lived in another place though, there must have been another place somewhere nearby. We really didn’t see them. Only at work we saw them and they were not near us.  Near us were the soldiers. They had bed bugs too; all of them had bed bugs.

The Postim (guards) in the forest were political prisoners.  They were Litvaks. Some of them were very nice. They were different prisoners than us. They got better food and different dress than us. There were ones that were sympathetic to the Jews.  Sometimes, they brought us news from the outside world.  Sometimes they even brought a newspaper.  They told us, “they’re coming, they’re coming. A little bit more, just a little bit more. The Russians are coming.”  They basically worked and told us what to do.  There was a bunch of them, some not as nice.  As things got worse, they turned bad.  You know, they didn’t get much to eat either. They had bed bugs just like we did and they blamed us for having to be there. They were mad that because of us they had to be there. There was Mortiz from litvak with German uniform, and there was another one Untershoft. He was a little older. He was drinking a lot, he really didn’t bother us a lot.

In December, we left.  Actually they took us; there were just a few of us left, about 300 or so.   We started walking.  So we were originally 2-3000, but now just a few hundred. It was really difficult to walk. Whoever couldn’t walk though, they killed them. My sister, Sharika, got skin rash and she said, “I can’t walk anymore.” Something from god always helped us. Somebody had a little bit of water. I don’t know where she got water from, but she gave her a little bit in Sharika’s mouth. Again, we walked.  They killed so many along the way, because we walked for 2 days. Who could walk for 2 days?   No food, no clothes.

The second day, we saw that the Germans were climbing a bridge and putting explosives up there.  We knew that if we didn’t cross that bridge fast, that was our end. (motions down)  One of the women in charge, the Czech one from the lager, asked to pass the bridge really fast because evidently the Germans wanted us to cross the bridge when it exploded.  That was the Germans plan.  So we crossed the bridge.

After we crossed the bridge, we heard the explosion. Unbelievable.  We were on the other side, close to Bromberg.

After that, we heard there was an order to kill us. That was the end.  So this woman, the Czech one, told the post, “I’m going to save your life.” She told her to send the other guards away and let them save their own lives.  She told them, “you go, and I am going to kill everybody that was left.”   She sent the soldiers away and was left responsible.  So there were about 300 of us and we walked again.  We walked to a farm of a rich Polish guy. A big farm. There was a castle there.  And she left us there.  She said, “I got you all the way to here, if you have the opportunity, get out of here, before the Germans come.” Because they could still take us, cause the Russians had not come yet.

So 9 of us, the 4 of us sisters and another group of 5 friends went to the cellar under the house.  The basement, where you put the stones to warm up the house.  We heard that evening as 9 or 10 Germans came back again. We heard them saying upstairs to the girls in the castle, loss loss. They wanted to take them away.  Somebody came downstairs with a light. We stood in one of the four corners.  A German girl and a German soldier shown their flashlights in one corner and in that corner and in a 3rd corner and we were there. (points to 4th corner).  This was a miracle.

We got up in the morning and got out of there.  Everybody left already and the only ones that were left were the goyim, the Herberts and the Kesterners.   We said just help us till the Russians will come. Can we just stay here?  They told us, “you get out of here or I’m going to call another German.”  So we didn’t have a choice.  We left and we started walking.  There was a river out there and it was winter, it was cold. It was Poland. We didn’t know what to do. We didn’t want to go to a main road because we were afraid the Germans were going to find us. We had no choice; we had to get over the river. We saw somebody who lived there and we asked if the water was strong there. Could we pass the river? He told us that we should go under the water, that he didn’t really mind if we were dead in the water.  But we overcame that.  We didn’t fall in the water and we didn’t drown.  We passed over the ice.

That was after Bromberg, you know, but we weren’t free yet.  The Russians didn’t arrive yet.  So we walked, the 9 us and we found a little house in the village.  There was still a little bit of water inside and there was still enough wood left for the wood oven. We walked in there and we looked around and it was really small, really really small.  There were two beds.  We slept 4 in one bed because we were only bones. We stayed there for 3 days and then somebody knocked on the door.  We were happy and we opened the door. It was a Russian man, we were very happy to see this Russian man.  But what can I tell you, the Russians were pigs. They did not help us much.

There was one soldier (smile), he was Jewish, in Russian uniform. He gave us a little jam and a little bit of milk and a piece of bread and he told us, “Don’t sit here, go to the city. The Germans are gone.”  So the next day, we walked out to the main road and we realized the Russians were there.  It took us a whole week to walk to the main road. We then found all kinds of lifts to go to the big city, Bromberg. One was a truck of sorts, it was round, to put water or something in I guess. The driver said that if we wanted to go with him, we could jump up on the top and ride with him.  So we did.  We lay on top of it and by the time we got off, we were full of green and blue marks.  I don’t know if he was Russian or whether he was Polish I don’t know, he just took us.

When we got to Bromberg, we just stood there.  We had no idea what we were doing there or what we should be doing there.  We looked around and we saw that there were a lot of Russians there.  In one door, a soldier stood, a Russian solider, guarding a door. Looking down from a window was another Russian guy, a tall Jewish guy.  He saw us walking and sent two Russian soldiers to us.  Then he came down.  He sent us to a place that used to be the Germans, where old people used to live.  The Russians had occupied that house and it was now empty.  Everyone was afraid of the Russians and had left two days before that.  The Russian high officer now had instructions to allow the refugees to be there.  We slept in beds and they gave us food.  We had a roof over our head. We had a room. We got a little bit of energy. We were lucky; we were the first ones to arrive.  It was January by then. There weren’t that many in concentration camps that were free yet and if they were, they were in other places.  We were lucky that we were in Bromberg because in Bromberg, the Russians came.  In other places, Americans came.  That took two months more.

The next day, we got out and we saw a Russian soldier, a Jew, we could feel it. We asked him and the soldiers for food and they helped us.  We took the food inside but was only there a week. We left after that because they had said the Germans were coming back and Bromberg was very close to where the Germans were.  It was best that we move out of there. We went to look for the train station. We knew we had to go through Varsha (Warsaw). We traveled everywhere by foot or by hitchhiking. When we finally found the train station, it was chaos. There was no plan. The Polish people themselves rode that train. Exactly like us, where the cows rode. There wasn’t any other transportation.  So we waited for the train and again we were lucky. A high ranking Russian officer, of course Jewish, told us to come in and brought us to a waiting room where he ordered us tea and food. He realized that we were from the concentration camp and he helped us.  When he left the room though, the Polish goyim kicked us out from the station; not just from the waiting room but outside.

There was a bonfire made of boards and we stood around the fire, warming up, warming our hands up. I don’t know where we got that strength. All night long, we stood outside by that fire and warmed up. In the morning, the train finally arrived.  We boarded the train, it was so full, there were so many people. They wanted to push us to the corner so we couldn’t get any air.  The simple Polish people.  They knew we were Jewish.  We were still wearing the coats that the Germans left for us which had the magen david (star of david) on the back.  We didn’t have any real trouble though.  We didn’t make any trouble; they thought we were gypsy.  We had found all kinds of shmatas (rags) to put on us, to wear.  We found a shmata to put on our head, a shmata for our back. We looked everywhere for clothes.  We found a coat that one of the Germans had thrown out. We tried to take everything we found.  I’m sure they were talking about us with anti-Semitic remarks but we didn’t understand Polish.  We didn’t understand what they were saying but I knew they didn’t like Jews.  They called us Geed.  So we understood what Geed meant. The train arrived in a town, I don’t know the name of it, in Poland, and we weren’t sure where to go. Where should we sleep at night?

We slept another night at the train station and the next night found somewhere else to sleep.  Somebody told us to go to a school where the Jews who survived the war lived.  So we walked there. There were two women there, the nicest women. They were happy to see us.  Here is my propushka, I want to show them my propushka. We walked into her house and she was so welcoming. We were filthy and had bed bugs and she gave us a bed and a down blanket.  They accepted us, so nicely and all of the 9 women stayed there, one night. We warmed up a little bit, they gave us some food and we left again. It took us a few weeks to get to Hungary, you know. About 6-8 weeks for us to get home.

The Russians didn’t really help us, they wanted to kill us on the way, all the time. They not only didn’t help us, they kept interrupting us. Most of them were pigs.  We were a little afraid of the Russians. They liked taking, they couldn’t care less about us. We were lucky because we were so skinny, so dirty, even the Russians didn’t want to look at us. See on one hand that was our luck.

One evening, we arrived at Varsha.  We were looking again for somewhere to stay the night.  There wasn’t a single house in Varsha where you could even stand up. All of Varsha was totaled.   We were told that we would have to cross the river Vistula.  It looked like we didn’t have a choice.  There was a bridge, you know a small bridge.  We couldn’t imagine in our lifetime that we could cross that bridge.  There was water underneath and it was just so narrow and there were people going this way and people going that way.

But we did it and met people from the Joint (Distribution Committee and Refugee Aid.)  It was organized and they gave us food and medical attention.  All kinds of people were at the Joint camp.  There were Litvaks, Polish and Hungarians. That was the first place where they actually tried to help us, but really there was nothing there. There wasn’t even a place to sleep or to sit.  But they had first aid. It was good for first aid.  We got a little soup and we stayed there two days.

You know, we used to check each other, for dots on the hand.  It’s something that happens when you’re dirty.  Some sort of disease.  After the typhoid that came, there were so many girls there with this stuff on their hands that we were afraid. We were afraid that we were gonna get it.  So we only stayed there for 2 days and we continued.

One option was to go to Prague, that was in Czechoslovakia, but that was impossible.  We were told that there was a Jewish community there and that was the first time that we actually found a Jewish community somewhere.  We couldn’t find any there though because the Germans came back and killed, killed them all.

We wanted to go through Krakow but they told us, don’t go through Krakow because the Germans came back to Krakow. So we went onward to Lublin instead.

From there we went to another city, I don’t know remember really what city it was.  There was a guy that met us there and he gave us kasha. I never in my life had kasha.  He took us to a restaurant there and he ordered kasha for us and we ate.  We kept walking and we always had a piece of bread in our hand.  We always found something to eat.  We weren’t ashamed to ask for food from the Russian soldiers, we did that as well.

When we got to Lublin, that was the toughest part for us because my sister was very sick by then. She was all swollen and we couldn’t help her anymore. Luckily, the Joint was in Lublin.  There were rooms and there were doctors.  They gave us vitamins and a little bit of food and they asked my older sister if she wanted to make a little bit of money.  She could make money and prepare food. There was a market to go to buy a little bit of milk, a little tomato, etc.  So my older sister went to work. There was a family there, a Polish family and she was their housekeeper. The job of a housekeeper, poor soul.  I don’t know where she had the strength.  We were all bones.

Myself and one of my other friends from our group of 9 realized it was Purim.  We decided to ask for charity. We didn’t have a choice. There were Polish Jews there. Two of my sisters were in the hospital already, and we wanted a little money so we could go and buy some milk.  Sometimes we got it and sometimes we didn’t.  Somebody told us that in that big house there were Jews.  They said its Purim now, you go there.  So we knocked on the door and we said Happy Purim and we asked.  There were some that gave it to us and there were some that were angry at us.  You know I come from this family where our parents gave all the time and helped everybody.  Do you understand how I was feeling going out there asking for charity?  But we helped each other. I’m telling you again, we would have never have come back all 4 sisters if we did not help each other. The end was always good you see.  So we stayed there.  We got some money and I went to the market and I got a little milk and a little bread and we brought it to the hospital because the Joint only gave us one plate a day.  There were Jews there from all over the world.

We stayed in Lublin for 2 weeks until my sister gained a little energy. We wanted so badly to go home. We thought we would find somebody at home.  My father never came back.  We heard afterwards what happened to him because we asked, because we asked.  He was young, he wasn’t even 45. My brothers, Lacika, Josika, Imre, ages 15, 12 and 9 were also killed.  We thought how we were strong and he always taught us how to work.  Even though we were rich and we were really rich in Hungary. He always said, we always have to work.  Because without work, you can never ever be rich, that’s what he explained to us.  On the steps, only slowly, and steadily, you can get up. If you get too high, you can fall. It’s easier to fall. So we learned how to work, we did learn to do that.  After 2 weeks, we were home.

We thought the Jews that stayed from the mukataa, there were about 10-15.  When they saw us, that the 4 girls arrived home with our hair full of lice and our ragged dress, they immediately burned everything and gave us clothes.  We went to our old house, where we used to live.  It was a really, really big house and those Jews lived in my parents’ house.  There was space for everybody, there were a lot of rooms in there. Not only that, but there was another house that was for rent, rented to a family.  I forgot to tell you.  We used to have a family that lived in our backyard. A very religious man with a beard, Kaiser Bachi was his name.  Every Friday, he would come to my mother and tell my mother when to light the candles for Shabbat.  Keiser Bachi taught us Hebrew, to write and to read Hebrew.  We studied with him.  My father was such a Zionist.  He helped a lot of Jews.

So we came home and we started waiting for my dad to come home because my parents were so young.  I waited for my husband to be too, it was serious.  We didn’t get married though because there was a war. My husband came back and we had a wedding in Szerencs.  My sister stood in place of my mom.  Well, it wasn’t really a wedding.  It was really difficult without my parents.  It was already August.  We waited 3 months and still didn’t have anybody.  My sister was already married.  Her husband was in Russia in a prison camp, we knew that.  She said, “what should we do?”  We have no choice; we will have to marry you. Mr. (Vilmos) Reisner was a real mensch. You could trust him.  That was a shidduch.  I was already 21. Of all my relatives, one other person survived.  My father’s brother was alive.  He was the interferer, my father’s brother.  On my mother’s side, I had my sister, the one that was older than me.  Only the family was invited, about 5 or 6 that’s all. Maybe 15.  My husbands’ brothers were there and my uncle and a few cousins, 2 or 3 that were alive.  They brought the rabbi, our rabbi had just came back  – 2 weeks before.  His name was Polack or something.  There was no dress or anything.  My sister said, don’t worry, I’ll make you a white dress and she took a white sheet.  I didn’t really dream about it, I didn’t want it. But we thought that was the tradition.  It was a short one made from the white sheet. They found something to put on my head and the rabbi came and did the blessing. You know it wasn’t really a wedding, it was more of a funeral. Everybody was crying. My uncle cried so much that even the rabbi could not do the blessing.  I don’t have any pictures of course, how could I have pictures.  So I got married and I went with my husband to Miskolc, the other town.

After a few months, I was pregnant.  I was pregnant and Miskolc was so cold and there were anti-Semites everywhere.  So instead of green or black shirts, people wore those red shirts.   I lived with my husbands’ brothers.  I was the only woman.  He had 4 brothers who were all waiting for their wives to come home, so they stayed with us. My house was full with my husband’s cousins as well.  I was just happy to all be together. I was a balabusta but I had a helper.  We were a group, it was one big family. They were trying to put the business back together and they started to work again at the coal mine.

Suddenly, there was a riot in Miskolc.  There was one guy, he was Jewish.  You know, there are all kinds of Jews.  He was totally nuts.  This guy was making flour and then selling the flour for a higher price to the black market.  They wanted to kill that Jew. They came to our street looking for him.  There was a riot and people were screaming everywhere.  They put rope around his neck, hung him and then brought him through the main street.  The war had already ended.  They walked through Main Street screaming that anyone who dare sell things on the black market will be punished.  I was 9 months pregnant with my baby at that time, my poor baby.  My cousin who was living with us came to me and said,” there are riots, get up”, because I was asleep.  I looked out of the window and I had a crying attack. I had a lot of crying attacks those days. We suffered a lot.  We suffered all the time and we always had bad dreams.  A few goyim had already come to the house and asked for Mr. Reisner. I don’t know what they wanted. Mr. Reisner was one of the bosses that gave work to such goyim and my husband gave them work, in the coal mine.  Maybe they just wanted to frighten my husband. I don’t know.

So when my son Peter was born (1946), I said, I am not staying here.  When he turned one, I went to Budapest to the Palestine organization and I asked to go to Palestine, right after my sister Vali had.  They told me I could not make aliyah with a one year old, because he was such a small boy.  They sent me home and told me to wait another year.  They said, when the kid is a little older, then you can go, but you have to wait at least a year.

In 1948, when the state of Israel was born, I was still living in Miskolc.  The communist party of Miskolc was always asking us for money. They always asked my husband and his two brothers because they were all in business.  But we always gave as much as we could, to help the state, to help Israel.  When my sister came to visit, we also sent money from Hungary to Israel. There were also soldiers that wore English uniforms who came to Hungary to smuggle boys and girls into Israel.  They would also take money with them.  They also got money to pay for the smuggling.  So when the state of Israel was born, of course we were happy and we thought here is our time.  The government of Hungary said, whoever wants to leave now and does not want to be a part of Hungary, of the communist party, the road is open. They can leave.

So we left! Me, my 2nd sister, Marta, who already had a daughter of her own and my son who was 2 years old. We had protection because we were Zionists. We gave a lot of money to the Zionists.  There was a guy in the Budapest office who knew my sister because she had a little money as well.  So we gave it all. We had connections and we got out of Hungary with a passport.  We were told as we left that we would lose our Hungarian citizenship.  So I said, make peace on the Hungarians.  Just let me get out of here. And we left.

We boarded the train and we rode through Yugoslavia. The name of the ship was Kefelos.  It was legal from Hungary and in the bottom of the ship were weapons, we knew about that. They had boards on top to sleep on; it wasn’t really a luxury boat.  It took 2 weeks to arrive in Israel.  We arrived in Binyamina, near Hadera. They took us from Haifa on the train to Binyamina.  When we arrived in Binyamina, it was just us, our suitcases on the floor and my little boy sitting there, under the sky.  It was nothing organized.   It was 1948, in November. There was nothing in Israel. My sister Vali, who was already in Israel came. She waited for us in the port of Haifa but then they put us right away on the train so we disappeared. She had no idea where we had gone to.  I cried a little bit and I was afraid.  I also had bad dreams from the concentration camp experience and I just couldn’t stop crying. Don’t even ask.  They came there but then it was night again and it was just a big open space, no roof or anything.  I was a little worried. I’m telling you the truth.  Peter was so small; we had nowhere to go, just under the sky  We were lucky that it wasn’t raining. My son was so adorable, he was such a good boy.

Binyamina. I will never forget it.  Every time I go past Binyamina, I remember that. Binyamina looks exactly like it looked then.  So when my sister finally found us after taking the bus to get there, it was like one o clock in the morning, really late.  She arrived there with her husband, who was also my husband’s brother.  That’s what I said. The 2 sisters married 2 brothers.  So my sister and her husband took us to a kibbutz. They used to live in a kibbutz. Rachel (Vali) and her husband.  Kibbutz Maagan.  She did not have a penny in her hand.  She didn’t even have a penny for us all to rent a room.  She is still upset about this. Well I had money, I came from abroad. So the next day, we went back. We found out that everybody had gone to the immigration center in Pardes Hana.  There was food there and I ate Halva for the first time. I had never seen Halva before.  We danced the Hora for the first time and it was all for us.  We were happy.  Whatever will be will be, but we are free. We were happy

My sister, Marta, was pregnant with her son.  Her husband’s cousin took my sister and the 2 little kids there and I stayed at the immigration center. He was in Ramatayim. That’s how we found Ramatayim.  We eventually found a house in Ramatayim and we lived there for a couple of years, 2 – 3. We were 4 families in one house. I had the porch. One had one room and a kitchen. From there we went to Raanana. In Raanana we started to work a little bit. My husband first worked with vegetables for a person that had a farm. Later, he worked in a chicken farm in Ramat Hashevim.  We were happy.  It’s better to be here when its dry than the place where we had fat. That’s what the saying says. We didn’t have anything except a bunch of furniture from Hungary. We had a little money too. We loved where we were immediately. We loved it.  As long as were free. That was the most important thing.

When we went to Raanana, my son was 5 years old, maybe 4.  He went to nursery school for the first time. In the nursery school the children were singing songs and they were speaking Hebrew.  I studied Hebrew from my son. I never took a course or went anywhere to study, I just learned Hebrew from him. I didn’t have the time, we worked hard.  But I always cried in that nursery school. Little young kids, I told you I had 3 young brothers. They were little and we loved them very much.  They didn’t even let them grow up.  So we always cried.  I guess we were happy that we were here.

Later, my husband opened a shop in Raanana so we moved from Ramatayim to Ranana.  We bought an apt in a neighborhood. We learned from my father. You keep your money, you work hard, but you have to keep going up. There were all kinds of political sides and we belonged to Mapai. My husband had a Laundromat and he used to bike there, poor guy.  Later he had a donkey and he would go to customers to take the laundry and I stayed in the Laundromat to give the numbers, separate and  iron.  I was always at the Laundromat. The guy from the Laundromat came twice a week and he took all the dirty and he brought back the clean. That’s how we made our money.

In 1957, my husband went to Sinai. It was the Sinai war.  My son was under 13, maybe 12, and my daughter Brenda was 5. They told us at the apt that everybody needed to make trenches.  My son did it for us since my husband was in the army.  He had a very responsible job. He took a letter from Ramli to bring to Jerusalem.  There was no telephone yet.  My husband was 6 weeks in the army.  We could see Kalkilya from where we lived.  The war was through Kalkilya.  I was really scared. I was so scared because I already went through a war and here it is again. A war.  The kids were growing up and I was scared.  My husband came back from there though.

In 1959, my sister Sharika came from America to visit me in Eretz Ysrael. She saw how hard I work. I did laundry in the house, I washed the curtains, I always worked hard. Here in Israel, girls didn’t work that hard. They all slept in the afternoon from 12-4. But I never took a nap. I opened the store in the morning, I was there till 12.  Then I came home and from 12-3 did house chores. I cleaned and cooked and then from 3-7 I went back to the store. I had a bike.  Before Pesach, I did curtains. I washed them, put starch, framed them and then my husband put them on the window. That’s how I made money before Pesach. From that money, I bought my first refrigerator. Believe it or not.  We had a little gas camping thing. We were happy.

So my sister said, Evika, you’re working so hard. She said what do you care, just come and try out America.  Just come for 2 years, just to try it out.  You are working too hard, you’ll have a much easier life, just come. She started crying that she was alone in America and the rest of us were all here together.  She was always alone.  My sister and I were very very close. I loved her so much.  I always loved her. She’s been dead already for 7 years.  So I went to the American consulate. I got the visa to come to America to take the boat.  Then I came back and I said, why should I do that?  I don’t want to go to America, I love it here. It’s much easier now, why should I go to America?  So I went back to the consulate and I brought them the papers back.  I told them I changed my mind that I really didn’t think I wanted to go. They all looked at me like I was out of my mind. You have the possibility, the opportunity to go to America and my brother in law (my husband’s brother) sent me tickets.  Why aren’t you going? You can always go back.

My mother used to tell us that life is like that.  You need to decide what you want to do because there is no later way; it’s difficult later to come back.  There was something written like that in Hungarian.  For the rest of my life, I suffered because of that decision.  I was so homesick because I left Israel and I took my daughter.  I promised the children when I took them that I would bring them back, that I will never hold them in America. If they wanted to, they could go back.

For a year, I worked really hard in a factory. Yes I worked. I’m very handy, I learned how to make sweaters. That was crazy, I worked 8 – 9 – 10 hours, just so I’ll have a ticket to go back to Israel.  Not to buy a house, not to buy curtains, not to buy anything – just to go back to Israel because I felt that I wasn’t ok.  My husband wanted to come very badly though. But I’ll tell you the truth, maybe I could’ve gone back.  Really I can’t really say that I couldn’t have if I wanted to. So after a year, I came back to Israel and I saw my sisters and my husband said so now? Are you feeling better?

We lived in Brooklyn then and I sent my daughter to a Jewish school. I sent her to Shulamith School, that was something special. I paid 45 or 50 dollars just so that my daughter would have a Hebrew school.  My rent was 45 dollars but for my daughter I paid $50 a month.  Trust me; I wanted them to stay Jewish because I knew I was going back to Israel.  It was 1960 already and then it was 1970.

My mother used to say, be careful with what you do because there is no way back.  So we stayed in America.  So what do I do now? I come here for a visit for 2 months. We have a big family here. Now I don’t work anymore and my husband is on pension too. Every winter we come to Israel and my sisters come to America for the summer.

My children are very active with Israel.  They belong to Hadassah and Bnai Zion in NY. They come for meetings and they are always good Jews.  Thank god, god helped me.  My daughter married a Sabra in the States and my son married a Sabra as well.  They met the Sabras in New York. They used to have folk dancing on Saturday night and all the Israeli children met there. That’s what God gave me.  There were a few times that God helped me. My children are good Jews.  We have to be good Jews in America, we are not in Israel, we are not. We help, we do help though.  God helped me.

The bible says we will bring all our people from all over the goyim. That means there are Jews among the goyim. It’s a well known fact that there are Jews in other places. You’re not the only phenomenon.

Maybe my grandchildren will come too.  My sons’s son fell in love with Israel. I told you, he asked me. Why? Why Savta? It wasn’t because it was difficult; difficult we already went through. That’s what I can tell you. That’s our life. What can we do?

I wanted to tell you one last time what a wonderful person my father was. It’s very important for me to say that. He was such an amazing person. What kind of amazing people my parents were.

I wanted to share my story because I want to leave it for my kids.  They were little kids, I couldn’t talk to them.  I didn’t want them to be sad because of my stories. Every year during Shavuot, in Israel, America, and Hungary, people put flowers everywhere.  My mother would put them everywhere, even in the shul they put flowers.  I light my Yahrtzeit candles on Shavuot.  During Shavuot,  I get my attacks. Whatever is left for us. In Ramat Gan, in the synagogue there is a memorial plaque for my parents, the Selymes family.

I want to say again that if we were not the 4 of us together and guarding each other, nobody would have come back and we would not have been able to create this wonderful tribe.  Each one of us.