NOTE TO THE READER:
This interview was transcribed, and was then revised by Mr. Roboz’s son, Michael, who made some editions, as he realized that some dates were not accurate.
Listen to the interview by clicking the link below.
This is a recording, a talk, with Mr. Steven Roboz. Istvan is your name, right?
Roboz Istvan. And you were just starting to tell me what happened. You were at the Olympics in Berlin in 1936. Is that your first time that you were confronted with Hitler?
No. Not the first time.
What was the first time?
I saw once before with my parents from Shaz-Vidan. My father was a lawyer and well-known Hungary.
Your father was a lawyer and well-known in Hungary?
He was a criminal lawyer.
He was a criminal lawyer.
And was he aware of Hitler?
In what way? How?
I think back in 1936-1937, Hungary was occupied by the Nazi Germans. And they started deporting the Jews, which were many in Budapest. And those of us who felt very strongly about it got together and we formed an organization. For instance, I… they helped the Jewish crowd marching towards Vienna on the highway, and somebody came, and called me and says, “They are almost at the border. So I got into my car, which was a jeep, and turned them around”
Yeah, yeah, ok….Yes?
And caught up with the group taking them out of Hungary. And the revolver was always on my uniform on the side.
Were these Jewish people that were…?
They were Jewish people…
It was a marching column.
…and the people who herded them towards the border, they were German Nazis.
Part of the Feuer Kreuze, right? The “Fire Cross.” The equivalent of the SS, probably.
So what happened?
So I caught up with them and I said, “These people go back to Budapest.” “No, they don’t.” So I pulled the revolver and I said, “You’re dead.”
Who did you say that to? One of the Nazi officers?
He was higher ranking.
It was a German officer. Yes.
I speak perfect, at that time, perfect German.
And what happened? Did you shoot him?
That was the only way to save those people?
What happened to those people then? Did they just flee?
They went back to their home.
To their homes. When did you first meet Raoul Wallenberg?
It was 1937….
‘44. [grumbles] His son Michael confirms it was in 1944 because Steven was a student at the Technical University in Vienna in 1937.
Or 1938. And he was working at a legation, at the Swedish consulate in Budapest. And…friends said that, “You, Steven, you are in army uniform, which is very valuable to us. Will you meet that man, although in civilian clothes? He did a lot for the Hungarian Jews.” And I was introduced to Raoul…Raoul was introduced to me. I liked him; he was nice. I think he liked me too. We were very close.
You were close.
So he told me…and we both hated the German Nazis. We both…
And what was he like? What was Raoul…
Yeah. Describe him.
You know, if I want to describe a gentleman…
And with impeccable manners. He was.
Why do you think he wanted to save the Jews?
Didn’t every decent person all over the world? Its’…
And you were one of them? You were one of these decent persons.
We were quite a few.
Were there? Were there other people like you?
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. It was a dangerous business, but…we hated the Nazis. And then, to top off everything, I married a Jewish girl. With eyes just _______?
Tell the story of when you and Helga met Harvey and Donna one time. Remember you told Harvey? Harvey had said…that, “Why are you so hard on me?” when you had done the Indian River, from Britannia down to Indian River, exploration…
Yes, I remember.
And he said, “Why are you so hard one me?”
Being an Engineer, working and Harvey Cohen was a UBC graduate. And my profession as mining engineer, his professor especially contacted me and said, “Take Harvey under your wing.” And I was hard on him, because he did not know any hardship
He’s hard on everybody. [laughing]
He was a comfortable Jewish boy, who didn’t know any hardship. He learned hardship.
He called me “anti-Semite.” And then we were walking on English Bay and… Helga and I…and we met Harvey, and I said “Harvey, meet this anti-Semite’s Jewish wife.” And Helga laughs her head off. Anyway…
Yeah, so your wife who’s Jewish.
Yeah. You see, sometimes Jewish people are very sensitive and if somebody doesn’t treat them right…
Are you Jewish?
I am. And if somebody we are sensitive and somebody doesn’t treat us right, our first reaction is, “Oh, they must be anti-Semitic. But that isn’t true, is it? It’s not true. You weren’t.
He’s a very hard man, that’s all.
So, um…how were you initially involved? You met Raoul Wallenberg. You met him.
How were you involved with Raoul Wallenberg?
By being with him on his missions, his aid, Jewish houses, even houses with a Jewish star. In Budapest.
This was what, 1944?
This is….yeah, 1944.
But then, when you first met him was probably 1944, right?
You know, Michael, I’m getting very tired.
You know, I wanted to ask you, you risked your life, you risked your life to help save Jews.
Why? I mean, it was your life…
Because first of all, I hated the Nazis. And secondly, if you very carefully go through this non-Jewish ancestry, in Hungary you find a Jewish ancestor somewhere. An uncle, a great uncle, somewhere!
Somewhere in the family? Which is why…
So you had a feeling…
All decent people had the feeling.
That’s very interesting, Mr. Roboz.
All decent people.
Do you know what happened to Raoul Wallenberg? Were you with him when he disappeared?
Yes. He was taken by the Russians.
Where was he taken? Do you know?
Just to Russ…
Why was he taken?
The Russians are very anti-Semitic. Very. And he was a man who saved Jews. And the Swedish consulate in Budapest mobilized quite a lot of people. I was the prized one because I was in Hungarian army.
You were a major in the army. You were high up.
A captain. And then later…
And later I became Major.
The day after the Soviets came into town.
Came after the war. I didn’t even bother. Though I was captain, was the highest rank.
[Michael, his son, adds that he had received his promotion in the mail on the day that the Soviets entered Budapest. He ripped them up and threw them away.]
So you never heard what happened to him? Just that the Russians took him.
Well, they never came back.
Never came back. Do you think that he’s still alive?
You know, the other thing I wanted to ask you, is, some of the Jews were given false documents False Swedish documents?
Yes…it was worthless. The Nazis knew about it.
So they… that didn’t help them?
How were these safe houses created? Do you know?
It’s not safe houses.
Well, the Swedish Houses.
They put a big Swedish…
In the window. The Nazis couldn’t care less.
They couldn’t care less…
Were they going to kill the people in the houses, too?
Is that why you took Marta out?
I knew that ahead.
You knew that ahead?
It was late in the evening. And the German…were very in trouble at that time. And the British B52 bombers were bombing Budapest. And I was hold of Marta because she was to have been deported. So we walked, and there was a high ranking German officer. He said to me, “Captain, come here.” I went there. I saluted. He said “You’re a soldier. You’re exposed to danger. But to expose a lady!” I almost said to him, “This lady was to be deported tomorrow morning!” But I didn’t say it.
You didn’t say it.
I just saluted. “Yes, sir.” And we…There were many funny things.
So did he allow you to continue to take Marta away?
He couldn’t do anything.
He didn’t know anything.
He did not know Marta was Jewish?
He did not know that she was Jewish? Did the officer know that Marta was Jewish?
No. No. he didn’t know. No.
I understand that he opened a hospital and an orphanage. Wallenberg opened. Did he open a hospital…in Budapest? Or an orphanage?
It was more a nursing home, than a hospital. It was very modest.
Money was modest. Anyway, he did a wonderful job. [cough]
So the false documents that were made for the Jews. You say, they were not any good, they were defective, the Nazis didn’t believe. So they took those people anyway, even though they had Swedish documents?
It was worthless.
Mr. Roboz. I don’t know how to thank you.
No, you don’t have to.
I need to thank you. Please. Thank you on behalf of the Wallenberg Foundation. It’s so important, your voice.
Yeah. Be careful, be careful here. Can I Help you? You want to go…you want to go someplace? Or you want to stay here
Yeah, I stay.
Just, I need to…If you lift your foot.
Thank you, thank you. That’s it. This is so important.