Q: What is your birth name?
My birth name is Thomas George Schwarz.
Q: What is the name you usually use?
The name I use is George.
Q: What city and country were you born in?
I was born in Budapest, Hungary.
Q: When were you born?
I was born in July 26th, 1932.
Q: How did you grow up?
We lived with very close family members, the grandmother, a couple of aunts who were living with us in Budapest, my father, my mother and my sister, who is one year older. I grew up basically in a, I would say, lower middle class surroundings. I went to school, to the kindergarten… We went to Jewish religious school. I remember I was a young boy and we went to the playground a lot. We lived very close to the city park, which is a famous place in Budapest. So we used to walk 4 blocks and we used to go to play after school. I liked to play soccer, and there was a little lake over there, I remember a little boats, we used to go on the boat, sometimes with my father, sometimes with my friends. That is what I recall more or less after the war.
Q: You mentioned that you went to a Jewish school, how was the religious part at home?
Yes and no. My grandmother was very religious, she was orthodox, but then my mother married my father and my father was not religious at all. So my father was not that happy to practice very strict religious followings. So, he was kind of not so cooperative, but my grandmother who was really religious, always told me: ”you have to study Hebrew, Torah, you have to study Jewish studies.” So she sent me to this religious school after school. I went to the regular school when I was about 6, 7, 8 years old. But after hours, starting the afternoon I had to go to the religious school to study Torah, and prayers.
Q: Do you remember how Jewish kids were perceived in Budapest at that time? Was there any kind of sign of anti-Semitism towards Jewish people?
Actually, from he very young age, we lived in a mixed neighborhood there were some Jewish people and some non-Jewish people. In our building their must have been maybe 5 or 6 Jewish families and maybe about 15, 16 non-Jewish families. At the very early age, we noticed the hostility of non-Jewish families who would come down the street and point out ”look, these are the Jews…” things like that. So at the early age I had already noticed it, it was very apparent.
Q: Did you tend to be friend with Jewish kids more than non-Jewish kids?
Actually it was not that strict. I had some very good friends in the building I used to play with them who were not Jewish. There were three Jewish brothers, I remember very well, who lived on the floor above, we lived on the second floor, so they lived on the third floor, and we became very good friend with them. So we played with non-Jewish kids and Jewish kids. It did not matter if they were Jewish or not, it was just how you feel about them and we did not pick them because of religion.
Q: How did you experience the first sign of anti-Semitism?
The first time I really noticed it was, I believe, in 1941, because what happened is that suddenly, my two uncles and my father were drafted to the Hungarian army as force labor. So suddenly, three people in my family had to go to the military, but it was not regular military, it was force labor. Everybody knew that they were not really regular soldiers. They were given hard labor and they had to go with the Hungarian military, they had to dig tranches and they had to wear a yellow band on their arm because they were Jewish. So it was pretty much a very difficult things for them. I suddenly realized that three men in the family disappeared; they were just gone to the service. And I kept asking mother where they were and mother was very upset about it so I already felt the tension when it happened.
Q: Did they come back?
One uncle survived, he was in a camp some place in Germany and he came back. One uncle I believe died in Auschwitz, and my father came back in 1944. He was still in the camp, he was not allowed to leave the camp, but they gave him the right to leave for a day or so, so he came home, but he had to go back to the camp. At one point they would not let him out so my mother said, ”You have to go there, its behind the old synagogue, in the other side of the river”. You know, Budapest consisted in two sides, Buda and Pest. Buda is on the western side of the Danube and Pest is on the east side and we lived on the east side, in Pest. So I had to go there with food, and I used to go in the afternoon and bring food, but I was not allowed to go into the camp so I had to give it to the guard. And the guard said:” Oh this is for your father (his name was Bella), okay do not worry I will give it to him.” and he got the food. Except in November, I forgot the exact day, I came, the guard was still there, he already knew me, and he said to me ” Your father was taken, they are gone, they took them to Germany” I said ”When?” he said ”Last night”. I did know what happened, I ran home, with the food, and I told my mother and my mother had already heard from other women that they marched them to Germany. We did know exactly what happened to him until after the war. Then there was one Jewish agency who took care of Jewish affairs in a certain location. And they had a big list on the wall of people who they know died in the camp. Somebody came back and said; ”I know this person died”. So we were looking and we found his name. Later I found out that he was in Dahau, he died there. I know exactly what happened because now there is a website than who can actually go, the Dahau website, and it actually tells you all the information about my father, I have it printed out, his name, where he was born, when he was born, when he arrived in Dahau, when he died and where he lived in Budapest. So I know exactly, he died in early 1945. And most people in Dahau, I heard and because I read a lot of documents, died of diseases, there were a lot of diseases, hunger, diphtheria, and all these diseases. Thousands of them died. Just the other day I saw a film from the American army that took pictures of Dahau, when they liberated Dahau and they were showing all these people who survived, and showing fields of dead people lying there, dying, people who died few days ago, people who were dying the day Americans came in and after that, because they were so sick. So we found out that my father died and one of my uncle survived, he came to Germany and he got married there, and had a child. Most Hungarian Jews, when the Russians came into Hungary in 1945, had an opportunity to leave. So thousands of them left, including us. We first went to Germany, where the American government set up these DP camps, dispersed person camps. So other people stayed in the camp until they decided where to go. Some came to the United States, some went to Israel, some to other places. My uncle, his name is Simon, married this woman who came to the United States later because she had a sister, and I knew her for quite a while, and they had a child but the child died in Germany at a very young age, maybe 2 months old. My uncle Simon got very sick and he died of a heart attack, he was a young man, so the wife, her name was Bertha, said that he was so sad about the child’s death that it probably caused his death. But he survived the war. The other brother, his brother, my uncle and another uncle, whose name was Sigmund, they both died in a camp, we do not know exactly where but we assume it was Auschwitz.
Q: Going back to Budapest, it is 1941; your father was taken away to the camps…
We still lived fairly normal life, except economically it was already becoming difficult. Anti-Semitism was pretty apparent during that time, 1941, and 1942. As a matter of fact, my grandmother who was born in Austro-Hungarian Empire, not in Budapest but in a region in North-East of Hungary. But she came very young, maybe she was 14, also my grandfather was from there, from my mother side, and they got married very early and they had like 8 children. Suddenly, in 1943 the Hungarian government put this poster on the wall and said that everybody that was not Hungarian born has to go to the police station to register. My grandmother was not born in Budapest so she had to go, but her friends and the family said, ”Do not go, it could be dangerous!” But she did not listen because she was scared. So she went to register and write on the spot they kept her and we know that she was taken to Auschwitz. Later, we found out.
Q: How old was she?
She was in her early sixty. 61, maybe 62. She died there, so we had quite a few member of the family who died in the war.
Q: Do you remember the Jewish laws?
Yes I remember. I am not sure what year they came out, but there were all kind of laws erected against the Jews like: Jews are not allowed to own a business, they are not allowed to practice some professions like law, medicine… all kind of restrictions. I remember that. How they manifested, I do not know because anybody in the family who had a business or practiced law. So I do not know, but I know there were such laws against the Jews.
Q: Do you remember March 1944 when the Germans came in Budapest?
I remember very well. March 1944 when the German army rode in, they took away the country, and of course at that point they started the deportation of the Jews. It did not start in Budapest. In Budapest they took all the military aged men, and if I was 14 by then, which I was not, I would have been taken also. So they took it from 14 to whatever. We had some friends and the parents told their children ” Don’t tell them that you are 14; say that you are 12”. Not to be caught in this situation. They started to deport people from another towns in Hungary, almost every towns including Transylvania, Slovakia, which is not a part of Hungary, but not Budapest yet because, as far as I know, the governor of Hungary, his name was Horthy, he insisted with the Germans not to take Jews from Budapest. For some reasons we had this situation. The Germans apparently listened to him and they did not take people from Budapest. Until October of 1944, we were still living in our own home. In October, that is when the Wallenberg situation comes in, my father who came home at that time, he was in the synagogue but he used to came home, he found out that we can buy, purchase, a Schutz-Pass. So he arranged for the family to have a Swedish Schutz-Pass. I remember seeing this Schutz-Pass and we know that we were under the Swedish government protection. And at one point, we actually moved into a house which was under the Swedish protection, I forgot the address but it was not that far from where we lived, near the Danube.
Q: Do you remember how your father heard about Wallenberg?
I am not sure how he found out but you know, you talked to some people in the same situation, and they said ”Oh by the way I heard about that there is a possibility to get the Swedish protection” and of course everybody wanted to get some kind of protection because it was a life or dead situation. I remember that there were four governments who provided their protection, the Vatican was one of them, the Portuguese government, the Spanish government, the Swedish of course, and the Swiss. The Spanish I am not sure. Portuguese I remember, Swiss I remember, Vatican I remember and Swedish because apparently this was the best, so people knew about it.
Q: Do you remember when your father came home with the Schutz-passes? Did he mention Wallenberg; do you know if he met him?
My father didn’t know about Wallenberg and he did get the Schutz-Passes. The reason I know Wallenberg’s name so well, even when I was in Hungary, is that because one day my mother did not come home at night. We already lived in the ghetto. After we went to the Swedish house, they overthrow the government in 1944 by the Nazi regime, Arrow Cross, and there was a leader like Hitler, his name was Szálasi, who was later hanged; so they told everybody in this protected houses to leave. They just said ”out”. Some of them, actually, they took them right to the Danube and shot them. I remember that I was walking with about 30, 40 children, and my sister next to me, and we did not know where we were going. It was a raining morning, and we were walking in the streets and suddenly my sister said to me:” You know, nobody is watching us, maybe we should run away” and I was little boy so I said ”No, I am afraid” but she said ”No, no, come on” and she pulled me to a sight street, we went under a gate of some house, and we were sitting there, waiting, and they did not notice us, there were lot of children. We ran to the next street and we knew where we were, so we went to the house where our aunt lived which was in the ghetto area. So later we found out that those children were taken to the Danube and actually were shot. That is what we heard. Maybe God helped us. Anyway, my mother did not show up one night. She used to go out everyday to try to get us food. That was the main issue, because the food was so scarce. But she always found some places, I do not know exactly how she managed, but she did. We were waiting and waiting, we were living in the ghetto, which is a special section in Budapest where they put barriers, with wooden gates with guards, and people were living inside, there was very crowded, there was thousands of people. I remember, we lived in an apartment, maybe four or five families in one room, some people slept on the floor, there was a small sofa, four peoples were sleeping on the sofa, it was terrible. So we did not know what happened, and we were all worried about mother, she did not come home. It had to be midnight; my mother came in, crying. ”What happened?” and she said ” I was walking down the street and they captured us, they told us to go on this truck, and they took us to the brick factory, which was a gathering place somewhere in Budapest, and they said that we were going to go to some place. There were waiting with hundreds of people. And suddenly, two cars came by, and Wallenberg (she remembered the name even) came and said ”Anybody with a Swedish Schutz-Pass please step forward”. My mother jumped, because she had one, she went there, and he sad ”Get into the car” and he gathered other people, I do not know how many exactly, maybe 15, 20 people, and he brought back my mother back right to the door where we lived. So mother came up and said ” I just came with some Swedish diplomat, he took me from the brick factory” and she was all excited and crying, because she could have been finished. So I remember very vividly that section of her life.
Q: Did she mention anything more personal about him? How he looked? How he behaved?
No she said there was a man there, whose name was Wallenberg and who was a diplomat, and he was helping the Jewish people with the Swedish passports, and that is all she remembered. She was so happy that it happened but very upset that she almost did not make it. And we were talking about it for years. So it was a very known incident.
Q: How did you go from this house in the ghetto to the Swedish house?
The Swedish house we went from our own apartment. Because when we got the Swedish Schutz-Passes, after that, they said that there were some special houses where the people with the Swedish Schutz-Pass could live. So my mother found out where these houses were and one day she told us: ”Come on, we are going to live there”. I did not want to go there, I remember I said ”But I like live here, I have my friends”. We had a big courtyard, in Hungary, apartments were built around courtyards, so there is a big open space, that is where the children play. And I liked it but my mother said ”No, no, no”. So we took out suitcases and everything and we went to this house.
Q: What do you remember about the house?
I remember it was a really nice house, a very well kept house, that was a four stories building, and it even had an elevator. Our building did not have an elevator, so I used to go up and down, because it was something new. We lived in a small apartment with maybe two families. We did not spend a lot of time there, maybe a month, a month and a half, and then things happened and we had to leave. But I remember very vividly.
Q: Do you know how Wallenberg manage to maintain those houses?
I remember there were some people taking care of the building. I was not personally involved in but they took care, there were some people kind of in charge, like a supper, somebody who made sure that children do not run around, that they clean…we were very disciplined there, because they said that we had to be very clean, we had to take care of ourselves. Not like when we were at home, more free. There, it was more restricted.
Q: After the safe house where did you go?
After that we went to the ghetto. We had an aunt who already lived there in that region and she had a very large apartment. So when we had to go to the ghetto, she said, ”Come to my apartment”, so she took us in. In her apartment, were originally was only one family, we were maybe four or five families living there. We lived in that building and then, I remember, before the war, maybe 2 months before, for some reasons we had to move to another apartment, which was next to the great synagogue of Budapest. That is where the Adler family lived, so I remember them from that building. When I met him in Israel talking I said ”You look familiar” and he looked at me and said ”You look familiar too” and I said ”Don’t you remember, we lived in the same building!”. So we found out that we lived in the same building. And then in January 18th, 1945, the Soviets tanks came in front of our building. We did not even know, there were a lot of commotions, shootings, noises, we were in the shelter. We were not allowed to go upstairs because it was bomb shooting all the time. And then suddenly somebody said:” The Russians are here, the Russians are here!” So everybody in the shelter ran out to the street, it was cold, January, and we saw these tanks. First we thought there were German tanks because we used to see German tanks. We did not see the difference. Then someone said ”Ruski, Ruski” in Russian. In Hungarian you say ”Orosz.” But because the Russians came, we already used the word ”Ruski.” I remember they set up a big cattle for soup and everybody was getting soup, we were all so hungry we did not eat real food for months; they gave us hot soup and this black bread they used make. It is like a pumpernickel bread today we should call it a healthy bread, but at that time for us it was a very bad looking bread. So we used to get slices of bread and soup. The same day, everybody was running along the streets and breaking all the shops’ windows and taking everything from the stores that they could. Suddenly it was like, nobody says no. So I remember that incident too because people were running around and taking things form the stores. There was no food, but they took whatever was available. And the war ended.
Q: Did you hear, or your mother anything about Wallenberg at the time because he disappeared in January 17th?
We did not hear personally but of course we had already read things, newspapers and heard rumors and they said that Wallenberg was taken by the Russians. But we did not know. But many years later, it is interesting, I do not know if it is true or not, somebody said that Wallenberg had a very good car, I do not know what, he used to drive with a car. And one of the Russian officers who had came there with occupied army, saw the car, he did not know who was driving but he said, ”I want that car”, because the Russians took everything they had no laws. Somebody told me that I do not know if it is true or not. So they went to him, took him out of the car and took his car, and somebody said that it must be a reason for they wanted his car. It could have been the smallest thing since the Russians were so cruel, they used to rip off watches from people’s hand and things like that. They were totally free to do whatever they wanted as the occupying army against an enemy. So whatever they wanted they took. So I heard that rumor that they wanted his car.
Q: That is interesting, I have never heard of that before.
I heard it to somebody in Israel who said he heard it, that he had a very good car, and for the Russians a car is a very important thing, or the army and for the officer. So the officer said” I want this car” so they took his car.
Q: I think he had a Buick
This was a special car at the time. I do not know if it is true or not, you have never heard about it.
Q: Actually it is first time I hear it, but you know, it is possible.
It is, such a mandating thing, ”I want your car, I do not care who you are”.
Q: Once the Russians came in, what happened?
Once the Russians came in, we had already planned to leave because all the Jewish people used to go to the Jewish agencies to found out what can we do. The situation was very bad after the war, there was no food, and everything was scarce and chaotic. So my mother decided that we were going to leave Hungary because everybody was going to Germany and then we will see what happens, we just wanted to leave. So we went to this Jewish agency and they told us how to go about it. We had to go to the railroad station, we took whatever belongings we had, and we went to Vienna. I do not know exactly who paid for the tickets and how it happened, maybe the Jewish agency. In Vienna they had a Jewish hospital called the Rothschild Hospital, and that was the gathering place, everybody went to the Rothschild Hospital. We were refugees basically from Hungary and we stayed there maybe a month, just staying there, we were fed by somebody. And then after a month, five weeks maybe, we took another train, we ware still under the Russian occupation in Austria this time, and we went to the Western side of Germany which was American occupy, and somebody told us that when we cross the Alba river, which is where the Russians and the Americans divided the country, somebody took a suitcase of money and gave it to the Russian guard to let us pass. This was kind of bravery situation. And then we went to this camp in Bavaria, which is near Munich. I forgot to tell you. We leaved in 1946, at that time, we already introduced to the youth Zionist organization in Budapest, and my sister and I attended meetings. We were all studying Hebrew, we sang songs, it was like a camp. So we sort of became Zionist at that time. They even sent us to another city for a month, like a training camp to become more involved in the idea. Then when we went to Germany in 1946, we had already joined this group so we went to this first DP camp in Bavaria we already went to this special place where the Zionist organizations waited for us to get organized. My sister was also with me. My mother went to another place where there was mostly older people, but it was not connected with designer’s organization it was just another Jewish organization.
Q: How old was your sister?
My sister is one year older than I am. Then we were there for more than a year in Germany. My sister was in a different camp because she was a little older so she was in another group, until they said we can go to Palestine, which wasn’t Israel yet. So we went to France, to a port city which is near Marseille and we boarded the ship but we did not know it was the ”Exodus” because it was one of many ships. They were many ships that took Jewish to Palestine, against the British because the British did not want us to go in there. So we went to the ship, the ship went to Israel, to Palestine. The British took us off the ship, took us in the British ship and they took us back to Germany. All the others ships landed in Cyprus, we were the only ship took back to Germany. That is why it is so famous. My sister did not come with me, she came a little later, maybe 6 months after with another ship but the ship already landed in Palestine because the mandate was already finished and the British didn’t stop them. There was no more control.
Q: How did you eventually get to Palestine?
We came back to Germany and they put us in a DP camp named Pependorf and we stayed there until November 1949, when the United Nations declared Palestine divided into Arabic, Egyptian and Israel. So the British opened the gates because they had no longer control of Palestine and whoever wanted could go. Then the Zionist organization came, they put us in a truck and took us back to Marseille and put us in a regular passenger ship and this passenger ship went to Haifa.
Q: How was the life in Israel?
I went to this youth camp, youth organization school, which was near a kibbutz. You work half a day in the kibbutz and you study half a day. I was there for about 3 years, I finished high school there, and then I decided with another group of people to find a new Kibbutz, maybe in the desert. So we went there and we found this empty space with two little houses and we built a Kibbutz. We got cows, we got farming and this and that. Most of us were from Hungary in our group, maybe 200 people, and for about a year we were doing pretty good. But after a year the economic was so bad in the Kibbutz that people said that we have to do something because we cannot survive. So they decided not to keep it as a Kibbutz but to convert it into a Moshav. The difference between a Kibbutz and a Moshav is that in the Moshav you basically own your own house, you live on your own but you work together with the people in the field, agriculture. In the Kibbutz, everything is own by everybody, you do not even have your own house. Since I was single, it did not make sense that I was going to stay there, so I went to another place, another Kibbutz and joined other Kibbutz which and I stayed there for a few years. Then I went to school, I went to college, after I served the army, I stayed 13 years in Israel, and then after I finished everything I decided to go to the United States because my mother from Germany came here. She found somebody in Germany she married who also lost his family and I came to the United States and I came to the States.
Q: How did your sister join you?
My sister was in Israel for about ten years, and then she found somebody in Israel, whom she married, he was a German actually, born in Berlin, he was an engineer, they still live in the United States. Her husband Henry moved around the world. They lived in India, they lived in Sweden, in Denmark, because he always got a job somewhere, until 1968 when I told my sister ”Maybe you want to come to the United States”, and I arrange from them to come in and they have been living here since.
Q: Do you still have some documents?
All my documents, the photos…fell in the water before I got into the ship. I do not think I ever kept the Schutz-Pass, it was probably my mother who kept it. So I have no documents from Hungary. I really do not have any physical documents for Hungary at all unfortunately. I wish I did.
Q: Do you have children?
I have a daughter.
Q: Do you speak with her about the war, Wallenberg?
Yes, I do. My daughter is adopted, she was born in Colombia, She now works for the United Nations, and she is 31. We occasionally talk about it. She used to ask me ”What happened to you father?” I talk a lot with my sister. And somehow we have selective memories, like sometimes I remember something and my sister says ”You really remember that? ”I cannot remember it!” and sometimes she tells my something and I say ”I cannot remember that.” Sometimes I remember and sometimes she remembers.
Q: Is it sometimes that you remember things differently?
Yes, not that much differently but a little variations. We interpreted things a little bit differently I think.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
I would say that I am really happy than I met this group here because I think it is a very important issue that somebody like Wallenberg who saved so many people should be honored and should be known to everybody and should point to other people how to behave under dire circumstances. You do not have to follow the bad things, that you can actually be your own person and do good for whomever you fell like. So I think it is very important.
Q: Have you met other people saved by Wallenberg, in addition to the people you met here?
I think in Israel, when I lived in Israel, in a kibbutz, with my friends there, I knew a few people who knew Wallenberg and who talked to Wallenberg.
Q: From what you heard or read, what do you think happened to Wallenberg?
The certain things I am not sure how it happened, but what I read is that Wallenberg was actually financed by the American Jewish Agency, that he was actually supported by them. I have never heard that before, I only heard that recently. A few years ago I was in Hungary, 5 years ago maybe. I have a very good friend who was in the Jewish orphanage in Budapest, which is a very well known orphanage, and they had a big reunion. When the reunion was organized, my friend who lives in Israel said ”You have to come” and I said ”But I was not in the orphanage,” and he said ”But didn’t you tell me that when your father was taken away, your mother was considering putting you in the orphanage because she had trouble taking care of the children,” I said ”Yes that is true but she never did it,” ”So potentially you would have gone to the orphanage.” So, I had to go but I wanted to go anyway. It was organized by a person in the United States who became very wealthy, I forgot his name. He chartered the bus with his own money and he invited maybe 500 people who were in the orphanage. We went to the orphanage which is now a governmental building. And when we were at this meeting and we had some discussions, some people mentioned Wallenberg. A lot of people knew about Wallenberg.
Interview: Daniela Bajar and Anne-Sophie Moreno
Transcript: Anne-Sophie Moreno