Agota and George Adler

Q: What is your birth name?

Mr.: My name is George Adler.

Mrs.: My name is Agota Adler, and my maiden name is Szilasi.

Q: What city and country were you born in?

Mr.: Budapest, Hungary.

Mrs.: I was also born in Budapest, Hungary.

Q: What is your birth dates?

Mr.: February 21, 1932

Mrs.: May 17, 1936

Q: Where did you grow up?

Mr.: Budapest, I was in Budapest until1956.

Mrs.: I also grew up in Budapest; on the Pest side with my mother and father, until my father was taken away for forced labor. If I am not mistaken, it was 1943.

Q: Who did you live with? Parents? Siblings? Extended Family?

Mr.: I was living with my mother and father until they legally separated when I was about four years old. Later my father was taken away to a labor brigade with the army, as a Jewish laborer. Until the war, I was living with my mother and brother

Q: Did you grow up in a Jewish community?

Mr.: It was not a Jewish community per se, it was just one area of the city where maybe more Jews lived than Christians.

Mrs.: Same with me, it was an area of middle class, where many Jews happened to live.

Q: What kinds of schools did you attend?

Mr.: I went to a Jewish elementary school, and then continued in a gymnasium, which is equivalent to high school. That was before the war.

Mrs.: five grades of elementary school with some interruption, then 3 years of public school . 9th to 12th grade I went to a Technical high school and graduated with a Technical diploma,

Q: How did you learn your Jewish Customs and Jewish Religion?

Mr.: My Jewish traditions were generated by my Adler grandfather, who kept a Jewish home, probably kosher, and celebrated every religious holiday. On all the major holidays we would gather at his house, and celebrate together. He had two sons and all the family members gathered there. I suppose my Jewish identity was also influenced by the Jewish elementary school I attended.

Mrs.: I did not have a Jewish upbringing, but I was aware of my Jewish origin and knew that my extended family was all Jewish. But I don’t remember attending a seder or any other traditional celebration.

Q: Was your Family Religious before the war?

Mr.: I assume.

Q: When did you first notice signs of anti-Semitism?

Mr.: If I remember correctly, it was around the time when the first Jewish law appeared, but I was very young. The Jewish laws curtailing our activities, made me realize the situation. It awakened my fears.

Q: How did you first hear what was happening to the Jewish people?

Mr.: We spoke about how we were affected with every Jewish law. I also overheard the German situation and their policy against the Jews. We were really scared about our future, the war, but especially about the persecution of the Jews,.: I remember when we had to wear the yellow star. I realized that we were different from other people. We had to leave our home and move, and hide at a friend’s house and finally we got into the protective house, which, now I know, was established by Raoul Wallenberg. I didn’t know much about the political background, but I knew there was a war going on, and then my father was taken away. But the yellow star really made me really realize I was different then other people and made me worry very much. Remember; I was only 8 years old.

Mr.: Even before the yellow star, Jewish laws really changed our lives. Business people were especially affected, businesses were taken away, or closed, and people lost their jobs just for being Jews. Persecution is really the right word for it, because we were really disadvantaged in every way. Soon, life became more critical, and we could leave our house only at certain time of the day. We were living in fear. I think that was just before the Germans invaded Hungary. I remember overhearing, that the governor of the state, Horthy was called by Hitler, and told that Hungary must proceed in certain ways to help the Germany in the war. It was a pretty hopeless situation for Horthy. When I learned from my mother that he wanted to have a separate peace with the Russians, the Germans took him out of power. That’s when the situation really became severe for us, and that’s when the people with Jewish stars, the Jews of Budapest, were collected into buildings with the yellow star. The conditions, especially for me, a child, were miserable. You can image that there was only a limited number of these ”yellow star” buildings, so it was not unusual that ten families were pressed into one apartment. We could only bring a few things with us. It was meager. That was only phase number one.

When Horthy lost power to the Arrow Cross, the Germans occupied the city and that’s when Eichmann came to Hungary with a mission. We were told that all the Jews from Budapest were to be transported to the ghetto. The ghetto was in the inner city, the old city, which was a Jewish neighborhood even before the ghetto was declared. We thought that was probably the last stop of our lives, a virtual imprisonment. I remember we were totally hopeless, and didn’t know what to do. And all of a sudden we learned there was an alternative to the ghetto, organized by the neutral powers of Europe. They designated an area of Budapest, I have since learned it was called the ‘International Ghetto’. I don’t remember the details, but I know that all of a sudden we had a passport, the Schutz Pass, from Sweden and we had to move. Apparently, my uncle and aunt had an apartment in one of these buildings, which was declared to be a Swedish Protective Building, and we were to move there instead of the ghetto. It was much better, but we still thought this was the end of the road. Deportation from Budapest was not known at that time. However, we did know that the Jews from the countryside have been transported to Germany, but we didn’t know where they were taken.

Mrs.: To the camps.

Mr.: Well I didn’t know what the concentration camps were. We heard the name, but we certainly didn’t hear about gas chambers or extermination or anything like that, but to be taken out of Hungary, we knew that was not good.

Q: Have you heard of Wallenberg’s name by that time, when you first heard about the Schutz Pass?

Mr.: No I did not know about Wallenberg’s name at that time. We moved into this apartment in the Swedish building and again we were crowded with 4 or 5 families into one apartment. We knew our misery would have to come to an end soon because the Russians were very close to Budapest, and it was just a matter of time that we will be liberated. We thought that living there and doing everything by the rules we could buy us some time.

That was all happening probably in October 1944, or maybe later, in November, I don’t remember. The building had a Swedish flag and a big sign on the gate that said the building is under the protection of the Swedish embassy. The next thing I remember is, that one day, the police and Arrow Cross came into the building and they wanted to check all the Schutz Passes because there were some fake ones in circulation. At that time we didn’t know why all this was happening, but they told us to line up, and we had to present the Schutz Pass. They would tell people to go to the right or to the left after looking at the Passes. Then, I don’t remember if it was the people on the right or the left, but one of them were taken away because apparently their passes were forged. Ours were good.

The next terrible event was when the police and the Arrow Cross invaded the building again and shouted that all women should immediately go down to the courtyard of the building. We all knew that they would be taken away. Of course, I wanted to go with my mother, but she didn’t want to take me. It wasn’t announced that children had to go too, so she ordered me to stay. It was a terrible scene and I don’t want to go into it, but it was very bad. She was taken away along with her sister Iren, and that was the last time I saw them. I later learned she was taken to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and she died there. For an other month we lived through starvation and illness, bombardment and prayed that we not die the next day, but we survived. Evidently, the Swedish protection worked and one day the Russians came in and we were liberated.

Q: Do you remember the address of the house?

Mr.: 40 Pozsonyi ut. It was a very nice building, modern, overlooking the Danube, next to a square called Szent Istvan Park where they would line up the Jews every day before taking them away. We saw that every day.

Q: Had you seen or heard anything about what was happening at the Danube?

Mr.: There were rumors, but we didn’t see anything, they were shouting and I heard small arms fire, but I didn’t know what it was for. They were shooting everywhere; the city was encircled by the Russians, just after my mother was taken away. There was house to house fighting all over the city. As I learned later, she was taken on one of the last trains out of Budapest.

Q: What about you?

Mrs.: My recollection is, just that one day, my mother was able to contact a friend of the family. Her husband was taken away, so she was left alone with their child. She lived in a protective building, and my mother arranged for us to go there. I remember I got a special piece of paper. I think it was after the war that I realized it was a Schutz Pass. We moved in with 30 other people into a small apartment. I can’t remember such dramatic events as him (Mr. Adler), but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they didn’t happen. However, I remember that my mother got very ill, she had pneumonia. I don’t remember how, but somehow I was able to sneak out of the building, and get a doctor and some medicine, and she got better thankfully. I really don’t remember how I was able to do this. But that’s how we lived, 40 of us, including lots of children.

After the war I learned about Wallenberg . As years passed I couldn’t remember what the Schutz Pass looked like. One day we went to the Holocaust Museum in Washington and to my surprise there was a whole wall showing Schutz Passes. Not too long ago we took our grandson to Ellis Island, and there was a room dedicated to Wallenberg and his activities and I saw the Shutz Passes again.

Q: Do you still have it?

Mrs.: Well I had it for a long time, but when we fled in 1956, I didn’t take any papers with me.

Mr.: No, unfortunately I do not.

Mrs.: It was a very emotional thing when I saw those papers.

Q: Were you able to continue with any Jewish traditions in a safe house?

Mrs.: I don’t remember now, but I don’t think so, everyone was strictly trying to survive, and that was a full time job, it was a very trying time.

Mr.: No, there were no orthodox people at the house and we had lots of other problems.

Q: How did you meet?

Mrs.: We met in this country, it was a blind date.

Mr.: It was a blind date about 50 years ago.

Mrs.: And by the way whenever we go back to Budapest, we happen to stay in the area called ”Lipot Varos” which is very close to where my safe house was, it was at 25 Szent István Park. It is a very nice part of the city and now there is a memorial monument to Raoul Wallenberg in that park.

Q: How close were your safe houses?

Mrs.: Only about 5 minutes apart.

That’s an amazing story.

Q: If you hadn’t come in contact with Raoul Wallenberg, what do you think would have happened?

Mr.: Well, it is obvious that he saved our lives. It is clear as daylight. We certainly wouldn’t be here, and probably wouldn’t be alive. I don’t remember the percentage of Jews who survived in the ghetto, but it was very small. We would have either been deported and died in the concentration camps, or died in the ghetto. There were about 600,000 Jews before the war, 500,000 perished.

Mrs.: Those who survived were in Budapest, because from the countryside they were all deported.

Mr.: So most of those who survived can thank their lives to Wallenberg and his helpers from different countries, especially from Sweden, and the Americans who probably financed his activities.

Q: What about your family?

Mrs.: I had a very small family, just me, my mother, and father. My father was taken to a forced labor camp and never came back. My mother lived until 1979. We came out from Hungary together in 1956. We went to Brazil first, and then, we came here. My mother stayed with us until her death in1979.

Q: And you also came in 1956?

Mr.: Yes. After the war in 1945, when I was 13 my uncle and aunt, the Kauffmans, had sort of adopted me, and I lived with them until 1956. I got my engineering degree from the University in Budapest and after the revolution in 1956 I came to the US.


Interview: Daniela Bajar and Maya Joyce
Transcript: Maya Joyce