Chronicle of Kati Kertesz, Thomas’s wife, who was saved by Wallenberg

My name is Kati Hantos Kertesz. I was born on February 23rd, 1933 on the outskirts of Budapest, with the arrival of the German Nazism. I grew up surrounded by the love and care of my family.

My mother was a Physics and Chemistry Professor and my father had a PHD in Chemistry and, as such, he was the technical director of a chemistry and pharmaceutical products’ factory. We lived in the factory. Opposite the factory, there were some hills, which allowed us to go for walks in the summer and to go on sleighs and to ski in winter.

In 1939 I went into the elementary school without any problems. During that year we were supposed to migrate to Argentina, where a sister of my mother already lived. My grandmother, my father’s mother, was very ill and my father did not want to leave her. By the time she died the last ship from Genoa had already left.

My family’s problems started in 1942, when all the men under 45 years of age had to enroll in the army. As my father was Jewish he was taken to a labor field, near the Russian frontier to build an airport. He remained there until 1943 when he could return thanks to the request of the factory and in the interest of the army.

In 1943, when I went into high school some problems arised. As my mother also worked, my parents wanted me to go to a full time school. These schools were either Protestant or Catholic and there were restricted vacancies. Thanks to somebody’s help I could go into a Protestant school.

On March 19th, 1944, the Germans occupied Budapest and in April we had to start wearing the yellow star, which meant limited schedules to walk along the streets and special places where to sit when traveling by means of transport. At the same time the Allies started bombing the city.

I shall never forget one night when a bomb fell into a gas tank. It seemed as if all the lights of Budapest had been turned on. There were many panic stricken people who wanted to go back to the villages because of the bombing but with little luck, an aunt of mine with a friend of hers and the children of both took a train which had to stop in the middle of the field because some Russian planes were flying over it, one of them fired and killed my aunt and her friend’s daughter.

By the end of April, the classes were finished and by the end of June, all the Jews who did not live inside the ghetto had to abandon their houses to go to live in the houses assigned to the Jews (a room per family).

Hitler asked Eichmann, who had experience in deporting Jews to other countries, for what was called ”the final solution”. Therefore they deported about 430 thousand Jews from Hungary. According to what the people in Auschwitz in those days narrated, the crematoriums could not cope with all the cremations.

The husband of a cousin of my mother’s, who was Catholic, managed to get us papers with false names and placed each of us in different places.

I remained in a convent until the first days of December. The nuns’ behavior was really excellent. Besides having girls from ”the provinces” as they used to say, they had 70 people they had picked up from the streets when they saw the lorries, which were taking them to be deported. One night a Nazi high official came and demanded that the Mother Superior should hand in the Jews, the Mother Superior said he could take them over her dead body and we were lucky….

In 1948 we arrived to Argentina, with the habitual difficulties. It was Perón’s time and you could only get into the country with papers where it was stated that you were Catholic.

I studied, worked and got married, I had two children and four grandchildren.
Translation: Nora Bellettieri