Testimony of Joseph Reich

I was born in Check Republic and grew up in Budapest.

My mother died at a very young age and my father remarried. I lived with my sister and a brother. I was sent to live with my grandmother. We were very poor so for 7 years till Hitler arrived, every day I would go to eat at a different house.

I studied Torah at the Heder.

From 1938-1944 we felt the anti-Semitism everywhere. Jews were not allowed to enter their schools. They cut our side locks. When the Germans entered in April 1944 my parents were sent to Auschwitz.

My brother and me were placed in a labor camp in a brick factory in Budapest.

We were separated because they did not want us to be together. I was sent to the town of Ketcka near the airport. Later in November we were taken and put on the transport train to be sent to Auschwitz. We crossed Budapest again which was already bombed and the commander who was a communist told us, who ever can should escape so a lot of us escaped, including my brother.

My brother bribed the commander who helped us find a job at the beer factory. All those who were able to escape were working there.

A month later I entered the Ghetto. When I returned to the barracks there was no one there. It was empty. An old gentile man told me to run so I ran back to the ghetto. My brother disappeared and I never heard from him again. He probably died on his way to Russia.

In the Ghetto, the Hungarian Militia was in charge. One day they ordered us to go out to the courtyard and started counting us.

There I saw Wallenberg.

He was nice, friendly, looked at us, pointed at me and said to get out of the line. How did he save me? He told me to return to the Ghetto, just like that, without knowing who I am. I was young, only 16 years old. He did not give me the pass. [Schutz-pass]

There were however a few Jews who were dressed as Germans who were able to give the Schutz-pass. Wallenberg was not seating alone. He was a pleasant man, dressed in a leather coat, handsome. Looked like a detective.

In the ghetto I was always hungry so I would go out to look for food. It was not kosher. Once the militia caught me. They hated the Jews like the Nazis. They took me by the arm and asked if I was Jewish. I had a Hungarian and a Swedish passport but I was afraid to tell them because I knew the Russians were coming. The Russians were bombing and surrounding us. I was caught, beaten, tied up; my teeth were pulled out. I was thrown into a shelter that was filled with men, women, and children. They were all crying. In the evening we were ordered to go out and stand in line. Men and women were separated. We all wanted clothes. Men were told to step forward, women back, behind.

We were taken to the center and were accused of always causing trouble. They stared shooting around us with a machine gun. The women were screaming for mercy. I jumped into the river. That is how I was saved.

The Swedish officers sent their men and were told who ever escapes they should try to save. It was very cold. The river was frozen. One man grabbed me and put me in an ambulance. We were taken to the Swedish hospital on Tatra St. once we arrived the personnel refused to take us so one of them stayed with us and waited for the Russians.

So the Russians took us in. I was swollen, cold and beaten up. When I left the hospital a Russian policeman found me and asked if I am a Nazi. When I told him I was Jewish he asked if I am a speculator. He took me to work with other people to help build the bridges in Budapest which were bombed. I stayed there for 2 days when a Russian soldier asked if I am Jewish. When I said yes he said: ”I will show you a way to escape, run and don’t look back”. So I did. Like Lott’s wife.

This is the whole story.

Wallenberg helped me twice. Once he took me out of the line. Second time his policemen got me out of the river and place me in the ambulance.

If I meet him today I would kiss him!

I was in Israel for 30 years before I immigrated to this country.


Interview: Aliza Klapholz, Daniela Bajar, Adam Esrig
Translating and editing from Hebrew: Micki LaVine