I turned 8 in May 1944 and remember very well the events of that fateful year that began exactly 61 years ago on a Sunday, March 19, 1944, when the Germans invaded Hungary. I was the only child of Tibor and Erzsebet Tarjan, who both perished in the Holocaust.
I don’t know the exact date when my parents began to obtain Swiss schutzpasse, but I clearly remember that my parents had three different versions. As a curious boy, I asked whether I could look at those mysterious papers and found it fascinating that each one was different from the other two in its header and other details. Whether any or all three were forgeries, I’ll never know.
These, I believe, came into the possession of my parents before October 15, 1944, the day Admiral Horthy announced his government’s withdrawal from the war. Of course, all hell broke loose a few hours later when the Arrowcross Party took power and the open season began on Jews in Budapest.
My father was in ”munkaszolgalat” (forced labor for Jews and many left-wing opponents of the regime) at that time, but he was home, perhaps for a short leave, on October 15. We lived in the VII. district at Kiraly utca 31, an apartment building that during the summer of 1944 became one of the Star Houses where Jews, often complete strangers to one another, were crowded into apartments and shared kitchen and bathroom facilities. My parents’ apartment became the home of about a dozen or more people.
During the month of November my mother and one of her friends, Mrs. Jolan Deutsch, who lived in the same apartment building, hired a regular soldier; I think he was an acquaintance of Jolan. This soldier accompanied the four of us, my mother, Jolan, her daughter Trudi, who was about two, and me, to a Swiss protected house at Szent Istvan Park 25, by the Danube, near the Margit Bridge. With the Swiss Schutzpasse, we were assigned to an apartment – I think it was on the 6th floor of that modern building. We had taken some minimal clothing and food with us. The living conditions were awful. I think there were 72 people in the apartment with three rooms and one bathroom, wall-to-wall people during the night. But it seemed to be a safe haven and everyone tried to get along as possible.
As there was no room for the children to play, we were horsing around in the stairway. The only evidence of the Swiss protection I recall was a Swiss flag over the entrance to the building.
At the end of November – I don’t know the exact date — Arrowcrossmen entered the building and ordered all the women who had no children under two years of age to report with their packs behind the building in the courtyard. My mother was among those, whom I last saw from the rear window of that apartment in that ”protected” house. My mother had a brief exchange with Jolan, who eventually arranged for me to leave the building with a gentile military tailor. She and Trudi went into hiding with false papers and survived. My mother was a participant and victim of Eichmann’s death match toward Austria.
After the war, Jolan remarried. Laszlo Farago and his family immigrated to France, where Jolan, Mme. Lucien Farago, died around 2000. Trudi, Mme. Nguyen, died of cancer in 2003. Her younger brother, Andre Farago and Trudi’s daughter, Mme. Nathalie (Nguyen) Bihan, live in France.
While the Swiss papers did not provide much protection for us, I am thankful to Mr. Lutz, the Swiss Consul for my own survival.
The military tailor spent several days trying to place me in an orphanage until he finally was able to leave me at an orphanage operated under the auspices of the Swedish Red Cross at Szent Istvan korut (Boulevard) 29. A few days later my mother’s friend, Anna ”Panni” Kertesz somehow had heard that I was at this orphanage and came to see me. She told me that she and her mother, along with cousins, uncles, aunts and others were all living in a Swiss protected apartment at Tatra utca 4, near the Danube. This was also part of the International Ghetto in Budapest. She told me that if worse came to worst, I should come to her place, but otherwise the orphanage was a better place for a child. becauseone of her cousins was suffering from dysentery in that room she was sharing already with 20 people.
A few more days passed and our director called us into his office one by one and asked whether we had any place to go. I told him about Panni and that evening, after dark, the superintendent let the children out one by one through the front entrance into the boulevard. I was lost and disoriented. A complete stranger stopped me and she began to ask me questions. As I remember, the yellow star had been taken off my coat, but I was carrying all my earthly belongings in a small black suitcase. Eventually she managed to get the address from me and she led me there. It was not very far, perhaps 15 minutes of a walk. The building was closed for the night, but she rang the bell. The building’s superintendent refused to let me in. The lady convinced him to fetch Panni, who then managed to get permission from the superintendent to let me stay for the night. From there on, until our liberation in January 1945 I was hidden in that Swiss protected apartment. The rest of the building was under the protection of the Swedes. Mr. Wallenberg spent time in the next building, although I did not learn that until 40 years later. He left on his fatal visit to the Soviet Army Headquarters from Tatra utca 6.
Panni’s papers were in proper order as far as the Swiss schutzpasse were concerned as her brother, Georg Kertesz, had been residing in Zurich since the early 1930s where he was a violinist and violist in the Tonnehalle Orchestra where he became concert master. He was able to secure valid protective papers for his mother and sister, Panni. After the war, Panni and her mother were able to leave Hungary for Switzerland where Mrs. Kertesz lived with her son until her death in the 1960s. Georg died in Zurich in 2001 at the age of 97. Panni was not given permission to settle in Switzerland and she moved on to England and ran a hotel in the Bayswater area in London for many years. She is now a resident of Frognal House, a retirement community in Sidcup, SE of London, where my wife and I visited her this past week. She is 94 and considering her age, she is well and alert.
Although there are no direct connections to Mr. Lutz in this note, we all owe a tremendous debt to him for his active role in creating the International Ghetto in Budapest where so many of us found temporary or permanent shelter from the Nazis and their Hungarian henchmen.
You may also wish to refer to ”Castles Burning” by the late Magda Denes, who described in that biography the time she had spent in the Uveghaz or Glass House during that period. Her book was published about 10 years ago and received excellent reviews.