Q. What is your birthdate?
Mrs.: My birthdate is April 29, 1930
Mr.: July 28, 1928
Q: What is your maiden name?
Mrs.: My maiden name is Marie Georgina Agnes. Agnes was my Hungarian name, which I also used when I came to this country. I dropped my middle name, Georgina, it was a very common name in Hungary. If you were a girl, they called you Georgina, and if you were a boy, they called you George. However, it was not so common in this country.
Q: Where were you born?
Mrs.: I was born in Budapest.
Mr.: Born in Dunaföldvár, it is a small town, about 90 kilometers south of Budapest.
Q: Did you grow up in Budapest?
Mrs.: Yes, I did grow up there until the age of 6, I was at home, and I didn’t go to kindergarten. My mother raised me by myself, because my father didn’t want to expose me to the Hungarian kindergartens, they were not very good in those times. When I turned 6, she sent me to the Scottish Mission of Hungary for school, they had the best school in the area. The accepted Jews, and they had two foreign languages in the curriculum, German and English. So you learned those foreign languages from the age of seven, which was very important. It was sort of a private school.
Mr.: I grew up in the town in which I was born, Dunaföldvár which was on the shores of the Danube, which runs also through Budapest. In 1928-1930, there was a big depression, it was an outcome of the American depression. My father lost his store, so he started to reestablish himself in another profession; he became a vendor for fairs. He knew most of the officials in town, so he acted as an intermediary between the officials and clerks on behalf of the peasants, who were uneducated. He helped the peasants get loans. It was a very bad year for the peasants; the crops were not growing as they should be, so they were all devastated. That was how many Jews were forced to find other means of support. I was there until 1941. At that time, I went with my mother to her parents in Schopron, which was a border town to Austria, 4 or 5 miles from the border. Her parents were basically German, they were from Urdenburg. I was there for about a year, and I was helping some store keepers, from Jewish middle class families who were separated because of the war. My father was sent to a labor camp, and my older brother was taken by the Germans. Most of the Jewish population was no longer in Budapest, they were all transported to Germany. My mother thought that we should go to Budapest, because it was the largest Jewish community. All the Jews who escaped from small towns and villages fled to Budapest, so the Jewish population swelled at that time.
Q: Did you have any siblings?
Mrs.: I am an only child.
Mr.: I have two brothers. One died in Auschwitz, the other one is in Rhode Island. He is a big shot in the Jewish community, he was the principal of a Hebrew school, and he gives lectures on how he survived Auschwitz.
Q: Did you grow up in a Jewish community?
Mrs.: Not quite. I went to religious classes, but I went to a non-Jewish school, the Scottish Mission. Their aim was to convert us, the Jews, to the Protestant faith. But the kids all resisted, nobody converted. However, we enjoyed the liberal attitude, they gave us an education and they were very nice to us, when all the other schools in the city discriminated against Jews.
Mr.: The Hungarians were very anti-Semitic, almost as much as the Polish. They did not like to have Jews in their classes. I was the only Jewish kid in the middle school, ages 9-13. My brother had other Jewish kids in his class, but I was the only Jew in my class for four years. We were orthodox, my family and my mother’s family. We grew up in that little town and there was a Jewish elementary and middle school. It was established by a Jewish agency and corporation, the Nerug Jews. The more modern Jews, who were not orthodox, they were about 80 families. There were only about 5 or 6 orthodox families in the town, and we had a small schul. The Nerug was a huge temple, and the rabbi was Dr. Schiber, who became, after the war, one of the biggest Rabbis’ in Budapest. That was his first assignment, the Nerug temple. I got bar mitzvahed in my grandparent’s home, in 1941. My father wasn’t there, he was in the labor camp, and my mother was already in Budapest, serving, so both my parents missed my bar mitzvah.
Q: Was your family religious before the war?
Mrs.: My mother was traditional. She was a teacher in the Jewish orphanage. My father was never religious. He was a scientist, he believed only in music and mathematics. He did not go to the Jewish temple except to play the organ.
Q: What kind of activities did you do before the war started?
Mrs.: I was a bookworm. I read a lot of books and I was also a student of a very advanced teacher for those days- he was an Indian yoga. I was his student from 1940-1944. I did believe wholly in the principles. He talked about spiritual values, and taking care of your soul and body together.
Mr.: She still does yoga daily. I did mainly sports, football and soccer. I only had Jewish friends, because the orthodox Jews did not mix with the non-Jewish population. The Nerog Jews did mix, they went to trips around town, to different forests, and sustained themselves with food they could find. Most of the Jewish families were struck by the economic turn of events so the kids were underfed.
Q: When did you first notice anti-Semitism?
Mrs.: From 1933 on. It started to build up slowly. By 1939, when the Hungarians joined the Germans, then it became worse. First, with my father, they retired him forcibly, and took him to a work came. Nobody could be unaware of the events. My father really wanted to emigrate in 1939, he wanted to go to Montevideo as a mathematician, but my mother was afraid. She said, ”I don’t want to leave everything to go to a country where I don’t speak the language.” From 1940, I was a Zionist, because I did get this small education in a Zionist cell, which tried to teach students to immigrate to Israel. I got the idea in my head, and I knew that never wanted to go convert to the Protestant church, as they tried to do to us in school. I just hoped, deep in my heart, that one day I would go to Palestine.
Q: Do you recall any specific anti-Semitic events?
Mrs.: It went on and on for years. Not in the school, the school was the only haven for Jewish children, because these Scottish missionaries accepted all people. They just wanted to give an education to people. But as soon as you went out to Budapest, there were many people who voiced the opinion that Hungary would be better off without Jews. The Jews were very affluent, and most intellectuals were Jewish. The doctors, the lawyers, the best businessmen, were all Jewish. Budapest’s’ cultural life was based in theater and business, based on Jewish people. The Jews were the first people they eliminated in 1944, they took them away to concentration camps, took away their businesses, and most of them never came back.
Mr.: Most of the Jews took partners who were non-Jewish and signed over the name of the business to those people with Hungarian names. They survived up to a year with this partnership. For that one year, their business survived. Slowly but surely, they were all taken over by the Christian partners permanently, because they were all taken to concentration camps.
Mrs.: There were a lot of changes in the Hungarian government. First of all, they were relatively good when General Hortley was in charge. His ministers knew what the Jews did for Hungary. But then the government changed, and everything became terrible. They had one thing in mind, to exterminate the Jews.
Mr.: It started when the Germans gave Hortley, who was the leader of Hungary at the time, an ultimatum. They said, either you come to us, or we run you over anyway. So he sort of agreed, and let the Germans through Hungary with the aid of an extreme rightist organization.
Q: Were you aware of the genocide going on?
Mrs.: No. They wrote cards from Auschwitz to their families: ”Here I am in Schwartzward, which means black forest, and they are treating us well.” People did not know, they would have resisted, otherwise they wouldn’t have gone so willingly on these trains. It was suppressed very much.
Mr.: But they worked in forced labor positions, working in the war industry for Germany. All the German men were in Russia because of the war, so they needed forced labor. My brother wrote us a card sometime in 1944 from Waldzeig, that he is working and is treated alright, and we should not worry. That was the last card we heard from him. My father never wrote us, he was probably too sick. He was only 55, he was born in 1891, but he was already sickly, and he probably did not work at all there.
Q: What were your thoughts, feelings, reactions?
Mrs.: I was a rebellious, girl. I didn’t want to go to the ghetto. All the Jews, in 1944, had to move from permanent residences to Jewish houses. No matter where you were, they collected you and pushed you into the ghetto, which was where the orthodox Jews lived. I had this feeling that I did not want to go to the ghetto. I felt that there was a real danger lurking there, and I was right in my assumptions.
Mr.: If they could not take the Jews to Germany, they took them to the Jewish ghettos to demolish them there.
Mrs.: My mother was taken to the ghetto, and I said, ”I am not going with you.” I hid in the Swedish house, and I went to the basement. There was a bathroom, and I hid behind the curtain, and I waited until the Edokurst? People collected everyone and went away. At night, I looked around, took off the yellow star, and started to walk the streets of Budapest assuming an identity as a non-Jewish refugee. I wandered the streets and every night slept under a different gate. Then I went to ask for help from my mother’s non-Jewish friend, who was a teacher. She said that she could not help me, she was already hiding two non-Jews. She gave me some money, and said, ”Buy yourself some food, and keep yourself out of harms way.” It was easier said than done. Once, a Jewish man asked me if I could go to his pharmacy, if I, as a thirteen-year-old girl, could go and get his nicoglycerin, which was for his heart. I agreed to go, and on the bus, I saw this guy, who turned out to be Raoul Wallenberg. He was sitting like any other person- he was in a coat and a fedora hat. I looked at the guy, and he had a good face. He didn’t look aggressive, just a young, middle-aged guy. I talked to him in German- it took all my courage, because if the Swedish flag was a deceptive measure, he would give me over to the police. Luckily for me, he was who he was. He looked at me, and he said in Hungarian, ”Go to Baross Street, 63, and tell them that I sent you.” He signed his name, which I couldn’t read because it was a scribble. He said, ”Go to the Swedish house, and tell them that you are a baby nurse, and you can take care of the babies.” And that’s what I did. My only connection with him, it was 20 minutes.
Mr.: This is a letter about Raoul Wallenberg, and that is a photo from that time.
Mrs.: Yesterday, a German lady who lives in the neighborhood and helps us a lot, she took this out from the computer, and said, ”You should read this.” I know most of this story, but I still don’t know what happened to him, nobody knows.
Mr.: There was a time when the Germans were already bogged down, near Stalingrad, late 1944. They desperately needed trucks to ship supplies to the Russian front. They made a deal, with the help of Raoul Wallenberg, to get 20 or 30 trucks from Jews in exchange to save Jewish kids and let them go to England. Two of my cousins are even now in London, where they survived with this Jewish kinder transport.
Mrs.: He did so much, but at that time we knew only of the Schutz-pass. He forced the Germans to accept these letters of protection. He established a few houses where they put up the Swedish people.
Mr.: The Germans could not go in, because the Swedish, Swiss, or Vatican people protected it.
Mrs.: When I met Raoul Wallenberg, and he gave me this address, it gave me the opportunity to have a roof over my head. They even gave us food- beans, and carrot soup, twice a day. The babies mostly got milk from nursing mothers. Luckily, I was not there very long, just 2 ½ months. Later, the Russians came and occupied Budapest. We could finally get out and try to find our parents. But it was still dangerous because the Russian occupying forces were not nice people. Some were from the Russian steppes, and they were totally uneducated Mongolians who just wanted to collect watches, 20 of them if they could, because they never had watches at home. For them, it was a real treasure. In the backward parts of Russia, people were so poor, they had nothing. When they came to Budapest, they did everything in their power to accumulate everything they could. There was not much left because the Germans took everything. They took everything of value.
Mr.: There was a story of a Russian soldier, who took a big alarm clock, and took it to a jeweler and said, ”Make me ten watches with this.” That’s how uneducated they were.
Q: How did your parents react to the decision not to go to the ghetto?
Mrs.: My father was not around. He was already marching to the border of Germany, and he was almost taken to Germany, except for one thing that saved his life. He was an actuary. He used to do books for a monastery for 25 years, for no money. When the monastery heard that, the nun and the priest came, and swore that he was not Jewish, under the protection of the Vatican. They put him in the ghetto, and said ”now, run and find a hiding place, because we cannot do more for you.”
Q: How did the war affect your family’s religious and cultural traditions?
Mrs.: my father became more religious, more accepting of religious values. After the war, they came to the Kibbutz where I was for several years, Kvutzat Metzubah, and they lived there for about 10 years. When I got married they told us they had to leave. But my mother always had very strong Jewish families. She was a teacher in the Jewish orphanage. My father, on the other hand, worked with non-Jewish people in the bank. He was an actuary, and he knew the Hungarian people. He was never very keen about Jewish values. His father left his mother when he was a child, and his father married orthodox women. My father was left alone with my mother, and he developed a middle-class European attitude, which was not too religious. They accepted many Jewish holidays, maybe they fasted on Yom Kippur, but otherwise, they didn’t push Jewish values. I left my parents, I went through three years of Aliyah, and I was the one who tried to pull them back into Jewish life. My mother accepted this better than my father. When they came to Israel as elderly people, it was very hard. They couldn’t get a job. The kibbutz didn’t support older people. When you were young, you could go to the kibbutz, you could go to the city, and you would do what you wanted. But if you were old you had a lot of struggling years ahead of you.
Mr.: After the war, I was involved with the Zionist organization. I stopped going to my boss who was trying to get me to be a partner with him as a dental practitioners. He practiced as a dentist but didn’t have the papers, so when he would come across something serious in his dealings with his patients, he had to give it to a medical doctor. In Hungary, this was an accepted practice at that time in Budapest. He wanted to adopt me because my father was gone and my mother was living her life, trying to establish herself.
Mrs.: He is very good with his hands, has very good manual dexterity so he thought that that would be good in his practice.
Mr.: So at that time, we were bombarded with a segment of the Zionist organization. They sent emissaries to Budapest to get all the youngsters to Israel. They established a summer camp on Lake Balatron, which is the biggest lake in Hungary. They established a camp for Jewish kids because there was food, there were girls, and there was dancing. For a month, it was a community. But there was a lot of propaganda for Zionism; that was the main issue. After this camp, I left the dentist and went to this ”Micha”- Middle Hachshara, to go to Israel. They started to teach us about Israel, about the language, about community life. So she went to Israel in December 1945, and I went with another group in January 1946. I saw her at a group meeting in Budapest, on a Friday night. She was reciting her own poetry, and I thought, ”Oh, that girl, maybe I’ll get close to her.” But for ten years I didn’t see her. She was in a kibbutz in the galil, and I was in the Negev, near Gaza. We were 5 miles away from the Gaza strip, so all the new kibbutzim were in heavily populated Arab areas, or close to the border areas. So she was near Chalita, and I was near Gaza. That’s how they made the kibbutzim, to be sort of an army force. During the day you worked in the field, and at night patrolled the area with guns. If you could get 4 to 5 hours of sleep a night, that was considered good. So, she spent ten years in a kibbutz, I spent 5 years. After that, I was in the Israeli army for 3 years. Afterwards, I was in Tel Aviv, and went to the [inaudible] institute, the academy of arts, for painting and sculpture. That’s where I met her for the second time. I recognized her, I didn’t know if she recognized me.
Mrs.: I did not.
Q: How did the quality of life change during the war?
Mrs.: It went really down. It was very hard from 1940 on; they gradually took the Jews out of the economic life. It became harder and harder to make a living. If you were a doctor, you might be able to still take patients, but if you were a merchant, you could not get a bigger store. My father was an actuary, and he spent most of his time in a work camp, where all the Jewish men were called in. That lasted for about four years. I saw him only three times in four years. Of course, almost everybody suffered economically. My mother had a very hard time paying rent and finding enough for me to eat, and clothing. We were a middle-class family, which was really effected by the economy, what the Nazis forced on us. It did not get better until the occupation of the Russians. That’s when I decided to escape Hungary, because I didn’t see any future as a Jewish person. It’s good that I did that.
Q: Do you remember when the Nazis invaded Hungary?
Mrs.: It was March 19, 1944. It was the middle of a theater show, in a little town, Tonteweider, I think. It was an American play, and during the second act, one of the actors came out and said, ”We regret to inform the audience that our German brethren took over Hungary and we have to stop the show.” Then people ran out of the theater, and everyone tried to get home safely and tried to make arrangements, but who could? It was totally unexpected. The Hungarian government tried to make us feel that everything would be ok.
Mr.: That was harvest time in Budapest.
Mrs.: That’s when they captured the Jews, they sent them to Germany, and they transported them from heir apartments to ghettos. Or, they took them on a death march from Hungary to Germany, because they didn’t’ have enough trains. They were desperate and they wanted to wipe away all of the terrible deeds they did to the Jewish people and others in Hungary.
Q: Can you explain who the Arrow cross were?
A: They were young criminals who were in jail and given pardons. There was a semi-intellectual named [inaudible] who was hung after the war. He was dangling on his rope in Budapest. I was a kid, I was 15 or 16 at the time. They were mostly taken from the jails because they weren’t being fed by the government anymore. The Germans took them out because they knew that they would be good, desperate, they would do anything with a gun and given authority. They went around and robbed anybody, mostly Jews. This was the law, the opposite of the law.
Mrs.: basically, the Germans said, ”If you kill Jews, all there property is yours.” So that’s what happened, they caught Jews, tortured them, killed them, and shot them in the Danube. His brother was active by saving these groups when they were taken to the edge of the Danube. He took some of the groups to safety. The arrow cross people had no law, no morality, nothing. They just knew one thing- whatever they steal from Jewish houses was theirs. It was a total anarchistic attitude they had.
Q: Did you have any personal encounter with them?
A: I have a funny story about that. The Germans needed help from only those who had special skills. In the house where I was, there was a young kid, 19 or 20, who worked with automobiles; repairing and fixing. Somehow, he was not taken to forced labor camp, because the Germans wanted him to repair war machinery, tanks and trucks. They established a garage on top of the hill in Buda. They took this kid there, and didn’t let him go until 11 or 12 o’clock at night, and then would take him back in their own jeep at night, after the curfew. Once, they didn’t take him home, and his parents came to me crying, ”My son didn’t come home, what happened to him? Would you please look for him?” Why me? Because I was a rebellious kid. I took off the yellow star, and since I was in the forced labor group, I had a work permit. People who were over 65 were not taken to forced labor camp, but were taken to bombed houses. I was in one of these groups, Jews under 16, or older than 65. So I had a work permit. I could go out after curfew because I could say that I just got off from work. So I went up the hill to find that work place in the German group, where he was repairing the cars. The Germans looked at me and said, ”Boy, this guy has guts. He has chutzpah to walk in the streets by himself at night.” So they took me in their special jeep. Of course, my brother gave me a hard time after that. It was like an act of defiance. I said, well, I could do it, why not?
Q: When did you first hear about Raoul Wallenberg?
Mrs.: Only after the war. I didn’t know the work that he did, but the people who worked in the Zionist house worked with him, helped him make schutz-passes. That’s when I put two and two together, and realized that I met him. I had no idea that I talked to him, and sat next to him, and he was the one who sent me to the Swedish bunker. I didn’t’ know all those important people, I was a 13 year-old kid without parents, milling around Budapest trying to find something to eat and to survive. I think it was providence which put him next to me on that bus. I had no money, no connections, nobody. After the war, when I went back to see our old apartment, and I heard about him, I was surprised that the Hungarian government didn’t do much to keep his name. Nobody could ever find out what happened to him. As long as the Russians were in power there, for 50 years, no one could get the truth. Maybe one day there will be an answer, and we will know what really happened to him. Because some of them think that he died in 1947, but some prisoners said that 12 years after he was taken, he was still alive in the Lupyana (?) prison in Moscow. But nobody knew anything for sure.
Mr.: One of my cousins was taken to Russia after the war. He somehow survived the war as an underground fighter. He was religious, I don’t think he ever had a gun in his hand, but he joined the underground. After, the Russians needed people to stock up on the stores, which were all boarded up, and they needed people to go raid these stores to give food and supplies to Russian advancing army. He was one of them, he was taken in on these raids for young people. We were all raiding the stores after the war, because that was where the food was. I survived by getting two boxes. One was a box of matches, which was worth more than money, more than anything. I could trade it for food, for sweaters, for earmuffs, or anything. That’s what saved me- raiding these stores, behind the Russian soldiers. They didn’t take me to Russia, but my cousin was in Russia for five years. He came all the way on foot from Russia to Budapest. We though he was gone, but he came, survived, and lived afterward in Brooklyn. But Wallenberg wasn’t the only one taken to Russia among the young population. Maybe they didn’t even know who he was.
Mrs.: They knew, of course.
Q: When did you first hear of Raoul Wallenberg?
Mr.: I heard from her. I was not involved, what young kid is involved high diplomacy?
Q: How did you hear about the Swedish houses?
Mr.: That’s a funny story. My mother had a connection with these baronesses. They said that there is a group of Swiss people who knew who established the house, but you cannot get in unless you have a paper. She got in touch with somebody who was a very good looking man. He said, ”I’ll get you the paper if you do something for me.” My mother was 45 at the time, a very good-looking lady, and she was very intelligent. She got in touch with this guy who was in his 40s or 50s, and he got her a paper. I don’t know what she did to get it, that’s up to you to think. She didn’t tell me how she got the paper, and that’s how we got into the Swedish house.
Mrs.: They charged a lot of money, 10,000 Hungarian dollars. If you didn’t have the money, it was very hard to get this paper. Most influential people were able to get into this group, and the ones who somehow got close to this group. At that time, copying wasn’t very good but they tried. The Zionist house copied the papers. He originally made 10,000 and then they made it into 15,000. They made papers for those who could not afford it. Few were privileged enough to pay for this paper. The Germans demanded a lot of money for their soldiers, and pressed the Jews constantly to give money, and merchandise… Raoul Wallenberg just tried to save anyone he could reach.
Q: The paper you mother got, was it Swedish or Swiss?
Mr.: I never saw it. I just knew that we could go and we were safe. But we were not very safe; our house was right on the Danube, where the bombs were going off. A guy with an apartment on the 5th floor was killed by a British bomb. That was in December, when it was still under siege.
Q: Who charged for the people?
Mrs.: intermediaries who got hold of these papers and tried to copy them. Somehow the Germans accepted it. The thing is, people were very dishonest. People betrayed and tried to get money for themselves. But we were innocent, we were children, we didn’t know all of this. I almost went on the train that went to Germany and Sweden, but I didn’t get on it because my father didn’t have the 20,000 coins. But I went to the Zionist house, where I was relatively safe. But some people fell through the cracks- they were caught neither by the Germans nor by the arrow cross because they were constantly in motion, like me. We slept in the entrances of houses, afraid to sleep because the raids came every two or three hours, trying to find ”illegal people” who had no papers, like Jews or spies. They came every 3 or 4 hours and lined people up in the yard. If you didn’t have papers they took you to Germany. I was never in the same place for a long time. That’s how I met Wallenberg on the trolley bus.
Q: Can you describe him?
Mrs.: He wasn’t very good looking. He was young, I remember his hat, I remember his coat, it was blue. I concentrated only on this. It was October. He had this Swedish flag, and that’s what captured my attention. I thought that maybe he was Swedish. I thought that if I open my mouth and speak in German, and he is German, I am lost. But he looked me over, and saw a kid with a pigtail, and I didn’t have a star on.
Q: Can you describe day-to-day life in the safe house?
Mrs.: It was absolutely terrible, I tell you. He put 100 times more people in the house than it was designed for. The house had maybe 50 or 60 people living there normally. They put maybe 32 people into every apartment, into an apartment for maybe 2 or 3 people, or a family.
Mr.: 32 people into a room- maybe 100 people in an apartment.
Mrs.: People were starving because there was no place to cook. You had no place to sit, children were crying, people got sick very fast. They tried to get into a Jewish hospital. Everything was dissolving. Everyone knew the end was coming for us. They had a very strong feeling of doom. There was no day-to-day life; you couldn’t go out to shop. They gave one hour for Jews in the afternoon, from 3 to 4, to use your rations to shop. You got a cup of milk, and 4 slices of bread, if you were four in the family. If they caught you one minute after 4 o’clock, you were taken by the police to a detention center. It was a time of fear. You knew that unless some miracle happened your life was over. The children were not always aware of this, and the teenagers were always looking towards the future. I, myself, had one idea: I didn’t want to go to the ghetto. I said to myself, where there are too many Jews crammed together. It’s like having dough with too much yeast. A lot of smart people get on each other’s nerves. It was not the scene I was looking for. I liked fresh air, and walking in the woods, so I decided to get away from his scenario. I said to my mother, I am not going to the ghetto, and my mother said they will capture me and shoot me immediately.
Q: How did you get food and clothing in the safe house?
Mr.: They didn’t. What you had, you had, and that’s it. Sometimes you get some bean soup a day, and there was maybe some tea in the day, and bread was nonexistent, and we starved. November and December were very hellish. We only survived because the youngsters in the house entertained themselves and other people.
Mrs.: Before I went to the Swedish Red Cross, I had like 20 dollars. I bought a container of apricot jelly, which I brought with me to the Swedish Red Cross. I gave the children around me every day one teaspoon of jelly, and that was instrumental to my survival. In the morning we got soup, in the afternoon, we got some beans that was it. So this jelly was a little bit of sugar, and it lasted for two months. That’s it; there was no other resource. We couldn’t get any food.
Q: Raoul Wallenberg started an orphanage, a hospital, and also got trucks to help people. Did you hear of any of these?
Mrs.: After the war, yes. I escaped in December 1945 illegally though, so I was a couple of months into the Russian occupation and they kept it a secret that they took him. I heard about orphanages, yes. We tried to get to a place like that, because most of the people were orphans. I was lucky, my mother and father remained alive. His father was killed, and his brother. And his mother was not next to him.
Mr.: she was for a while in Budapest high society, living in a 6 or 7 room apartment in the best area of Budapest. She was living there, getting to know people who were not Jewish. That’s how she probably got that paper.
Q: how were you reunited with your parents?
Mrs.: after the Russians came in, they said we have three plates of food left, and after that you are free to go and find your old life. Go back; see if your relatives are alive. So I left the Swedish Red Cross and went to my old apartment. There was a strange family living there, a Russian translator. Somebody who was responsible for the house was a janitor, and he said he saw my parents. He said, go down under the house where they keep the wood for the stoves. I went down, into the total darkness, and at the end of this basement, I saw a light flickering- somebody had a candle. I saw my mother and father. I looked at them, and I didn’t recognized hem, because my father was always clean-shaven since he was a banker. When I saw him last, he was 44, a youngish man. When I saw him after the war, he aged like 15 year. My mother I recognized, but my father didn’t look like himself. On the way to the apartment, I saw a Russian soldier, a woman. And she says to me, ”Barishnya!” which means young lady. She gives me a present, a chicken without a head, which died in the bombings. I looked at it; I couldn’t believe that she gave it to me. I said in Russian, ”Spaseva,” which means thank you. I took the chicken, and walked to my old house. They saw the dead chicken, and my father said, ”We haven’t eaten for two weeks. Find a place where you can cook this chicken, and make us something to eat because we are going to die of starvation. So I marched back to the Swedish Red Cross, where they had a big oven, and there were some coals glowing there. So I threw the chicken in, which burned away all the feathers. The lady said, I can’t give you anything to put on it-, but here’s some salt, rub it on the chicken. So I took back the chicken to our old apartment, and my mother and father took the chicken and literally ate it in 20 minutes. They were ravenous, they were at the end of their lives almost. My mother, at the end, when they finished, said, ”Oh my G-d, we didn’t leave you anything, forgive us. We were so hungry.” This is an image that remains in my mind. I realized, at the age of 14, that I have to be a protector. They totally lost everything during the war. I am just telling you this to give you a picture of how people got out of their regular human form during this war. People did really horribly things. They lost their humanity. This is what the Germans did to them.
Q: Were all the people in the safe houses Jewish?
Mrs.: Some of the people who refused to leave their apartments were non-Jews they resented it. But some of them were very sorry for this multitude of people, and they went out during the day, and tried to buy some food for the people. They could do it, because they were not Jewish. But there were some good people, who remained in the houses. They tired to alleviate the pain of what was happening to the Jews. Some were happy about what was happening. It depends on the intelligence, their status in life. The good were few and far between.
Q: If Raoul Wallenberg were sitting here today, what would you say to him?
Mrs.: Well, I would thank him because he alone kept his humanity and tried to help other people. When all others forgot everything they learned in churches, the greed took over. They just wanted to do well from the wealth they accumulated from the Jews. Wallenberg didn’t have to do this because he was a member of a privileged family from Sweden. He was an exceptional human being. I wish fate would have been able to pay him back for all the good deeds he did.
Q: What do you think he would say to the world today?
Mrs.: Well, he probably would be very active against Darfur, and against all the things that happened afterwards. He would keep his humanity until the end of his life. He would be 88 now if he were alive. No one knows what he would have done after the war. But my admiration for him is forever. He was a human being when other lost his humanity.
Q: Why is it important to keep his lesson alive today?
Mrs.: because there are less and less people like him. Nowadays, atrocities are still happening, and there are less and less advocates. What really happened those people? In South America, Africa, even Israel. Most of the world, they couldn’t care less what happens to our people. They don’t realize that Israel fights for its existence. The Arab sheiks built this terrible story about what happened after 1945.
Mr.: there are extremists. Just look back through the past 2000 years, they were always there, but they didn’t make the desert bloom or establish farms. All those years, after the British found oil and made the region rich, they could have made a paradise for all the Arabs. Instead, they were just thinking of their own extended families. They did not establish what the Jews did, to make Palestine, a backward country, into a rich country. We were among the Chalutzim. We were in a big Arab village, but they all left then the Jews established it in 1948. I was there for about 10 years; we ruined all the Arab huts, made of mud.
Mrs.: In all their existence, only the Jewish people had enough initiative to build something out of nothing.
Mr.: With a lot of outside help.
Q: Mr. Adler, you were in the safe houses with you mother. How were you reunited with your brother?
A: My brother at the time was active with the youth movement of the Zionist organization. When I left to Israel, he was one of the group leaders of 150 youth. He came after that, to Israel in 1948, after the war. He was not in the religious group, he was in one of the highly motivated, young group. All the groups were people from the orphanages. It took a year and a half to Israel, to Austria, and Italy, and finally in Palestine. But then it was still British, and they captured us and shipped us to Cyprus. We spent 11 months there. We were fed and we were taught Hebrew. There were almost 10,000 people in that camp in Nicosia and [inaudible]. My brother came to Israel in 1948 when he was in a kibbutz. When I left Budapest, we met again, but had to leave because we were in different Jewish groups.
Mrs. : I tried to find out more about what happened to him, when I went back to Hungary, but nobody knew anything. That was in 1986, when Hungary started to be independent again. We tried to find out what happened after the war, we escaped and we were in Israel on a kibbutz. I didn’t get any information, even about my old school, my teachers disappeared, because they advocated humanitarian principles, and they taught Jews, which was forbidden. So I didn’t gather any knowledge about Raoul Wallenberg. But I did see a street called ”Raoul Wallenberg Street”. That’s all. They didn’t even make a monument or a plaque, just a street. There are some people who must know, but only the prisoners who were with him. Those are the ones that said he was alive, and sick, and died 12 years later. The Russians said he was executed in 1947. His family tried all these years to find out what happened to him.
Mr.: It’s very nice that there are young people like you trying to keep his legacy alive. We survived and we’re trying to rebuild ourselves and society as a whole.
Mrs.: it is late in our lives so we try to tell our children what we knew about him and the war. And the reason Steven Spielberg sent his technicians to make this video, because my daughter said you should be interviewed so we do not forget what happened. 50,000 people were interviewed. We lectured too many children in middle schools in this area. There was a tremendous exhibition here for two months.
Mr.: I had a plaque which I put together, [shows photographs, other documents]
Q: How did you keep these pictures?
Mrs.: My mother kept them, and later we found them in the basement after the war.
Mrs.: This is my sculpture, I sent it to Yad Vashem but they did not accept it. It was too figurative, the Orthodox don’t like to see figures like that. Its three women, the first is in desperation, the second is calling to God, praying, and the third is after it’s all over, falling over thanking God. It was in the exhibit in Jerusalem, but it did not win the prize. This one got a prize, in the Al Charitzeh gallery.
Interview: Daniela Bajar
Transcript: Sharon Tobias, Megan McGee