Robert Tabory

Q: What is your birth name?
A: Robert Tabory.

Q: What country and city were you born in?
A: In Hungary, the city of Budapest.

Q: In what year were you born?
A: I was born in 1925.

Q: How was the place where you grew up?
A: I grew up in Budapest, my parents were from Budapest and I went to school in Budapest and I survived the Holocaust in Budapest.

Q: How was your family composed? You were living with your parents, siblings?
A: Yes, I was with my parents. I escaped from the Hungarian military which wanted to deport us to Germany. There was a so called death march going west towards Germany, which I escaped. It was in early December in 1944. We were at home in our apartment and from there we went into hiding with Christian acquaintances. I was an only child.

Q: How did you know these Christian people that were hiding you?
A: He was a famous person, if you ever heard of Kossuth? Kossuth was a Hungarian freedom hero in mid 1900-century, and this man was his great grand nephew and he had the same name Layos Kossuth and we knew him. My father was a journalist and his father was also a journalist, so they knew each other. He gave us a room to live in and we were hiding there up to a certain date.

Q: How old where you at that time?
A: I was 20 years old approximately, Budapest was already encircled by the Soviet armies and inside there was the Arrow Cross terror.

Q: Building up to that point in your life, do you remember the first signs of anti-Semitism in Budapest?
A: We grew up with anti-Semitism from my early childhood, way before Hitler. I had some tough times as a little boy in school, these other little boys made hell of my life and I was always asking myself how do they know, these 6 year old kids that they have to hit Jews? They learned it at home obviously. We lived in a neighborhood like that. So I grew up with anti-Semitism from my earliest childhood. Hell broke loose with the Holocaust in 1944.

Q: Do you remember the first anti-Jew laws in Budapest?
A: Yes, in 1938 the first Jewish laws came and in 1939 there came others that were more severe. We lived in our apartment until 1944 when the Germans came, on March 19th. Until then we had our business and lived more or less normally. There was a very intense anti-Semitism which I would say was not yet the Holocaust anti- Semitism, the Hungarian anti- Semitism was introduced in 1920 already and that just developed of its own and later got encouraged by Germany of course. That’s were we lived and we were hoping that the Russians or the British or whoever would reach Budapest before [the Germans].
The deportation started in Hungary when the Germans came in 1944 and for example my wife’s parents where deported and died in Auschwitz, because they did not live in Budapest. The Budapest Jews were saved from the first wave of deportations, before the Arrow Cross went to power. The intervention of the king of Sweden and the pope and president Roosevelt stopped the deportation of Budapest.
I witnessed personally the preparation of the deportation of the Budapest Jews. I was working as a slave labor with a Hungarian peasant on the outskirt of Budapest and I got permission to go home and visit and I did. It was a long ride on a tramway, this tramway was forbidden for Jews but I got up anyway. Somebody wanted to throw me out but there was a Hungarian lady there who said ”Leave him alone,” so she protected me.
I was on the tramway and looking out of the window of the tramway and I saw the Hungarian gendarmerie marching into Budapest, the whole battalion. The Hungarian gendarmerie; none of them were stationed in Budapest, they were outside Budapest. Budapest had its own police. But I saw this gendarmerie unit marching into Budapest, I immediately knew what this is about – deportation. The gendarmerie executed the deportation for the Germans and the gendarmerie marching into Budapest, a strong unit; hundreds of soldiers meant only one thing; deportation. I got home and told my parents the bad news but two days later Horty ordered the gendarmerie out, upon receiving that letter from the king of Sweden, Roosevelt and I think the Pope. He was threatened to be put on the list of war criminals. The miracle was that he could throw out the gendarmerie, despite all the Hungarian Nazis and Germans around. Somehow he was obeyed and he ordered the gendarmerie out of Budapest. The deportation did not take place.

Q: Do you remember the date?
A: No, not the exact date, but I guess it must have been in July 1944. It was summertime and I was working with that peasant. I remember it was a huge cherry tree and we had to get the cherries off for the peasant, and we ate as many cherries as we wanted, since then I don’t eat cherries. So it was July, the Germans came in March; the deportation outside Budapest took place in May/June.

Q: So you were hiding with these Christian people?
A; In October the Arrow Cross took over the power; hell broke loose and the men were collected. There were Jewish houses in Budapest with a yellow star. Where we lived all the time, became a Jewish house, so we were in our own apartment. So the Arrow Cross came and took us for building fortifications against the Russian army which were already at the outskirts of Budapest. My father was saved by a Hungarian Christian neighbor who argued with the Arrow Cross and told them that my father was a soldier from World War I, a good man. Somehow he was left behind. He had a cardiac condition and I ‘m sure he would have died if he had been taken. I was taken and went to this fortification-building in a village outside Budapest. That must have been in November or the end of October, 1944. From there, this death march was formed to go to Mauthausen, Austria. Many people died in that death march. I escaped in the outskirts of Budapest, before being put into the march. All you had to do was to escape. There wasn’t an Arrow cross everywhere. So you could do it. She escaped also [Mrs. Tabory] from the same death march.

Mrs. Tabory : Two hundred women were taken into a coal depository, and we slept on top of the coal, and if I hadn’t escaped from there I would have been on my way to I don’t know where. I went to one soldier who supervised two hundred women. I went to him and said ”Listen, I lost my luggage,” which wasn’t true I threw my luggage in the Danube, it was raining and I had bread and it got heavier and heavier, so I threw the whole thing in the Danube. I said ”I’ve lost my luggage. Would you let me go out and look for it?” He said no, but I thought sooner or later he has to go somewhere; he was all alone. And that’s what happened – he went to the toilet and I went home.

Mr. Tabory: So we were in the death march from which I escaped with a friend of mine. The way we escaped was of fooling – he had a Hungarian military cap and some kind of armband, national army armband. We played ”soldier and prisoner”. I was the prisoner and he was the soldier and we walked through whole Budapest, nobody stopped us until we got home where we lived. We lived on Isabella Street in Budapest no. 83, that’s were I grew up and that’s were we went.

Q: Were your parents at home?
A: My parents were at home but by that time the Arrow Cross arrests had became so intense that it was impossible to stay in our apartment, they would have taken us. We went to our Christian friends Kossuth. If you would look at a Hungarian history book you will find the name Layosh Koshut. He was the grand nephew of a Hungarian national hero and he had the same name. We were there, but we couldn’t stay. I guess that was on Christmas day or after. In 1944 the Arrow cross came and searched building by building, took all the men down, pants down and examined everybody, and if they found a Jew they shoot him, and they shot the Christian who was hiding them. So Kossuth told us he couldn’t keep us there anymore. He had children and didn’t want to be shot. Then- I don’t know how; but my father acquired a Swedish citizenship. I don’t know how he got it. So, we went to a Swedish house at the Pannonia Street number 30.

Q: Do you remember, you said your father got the Schutz – pass, do you remember the paper itself, how it looked?
A: I don’t precisely remember, I don’t remember if it had a photograph. It was just a paper with your name that said you were a Swedish citizen.
I don’t remember if the three of us in my family had one paper together or one each, but I don’t remember me having one separate, so it must have been one for the family. We somehow got from our home to the Swedish house. It’s not very far, but it’s not next door either. I don’t remember how we got there, I guess on foot. We were in Pannonia utca 30, and what I remember there, we were terrible hungry. There was nothing to eat, and we were sitting in our room and fantasizing about meals. That’s a symptom of a very hungry people, fantasizing about cakes and whatever, pork chops and things that we used to eat.

Q: How was the safe house, what was your impression of the first sight of it?
A: The safe house was quite good. We were in a ground floor apartment in one room for us three. There were lots of other people, all around the house. I don’t know if nobody of any close acquaintance or family was in that house. Most people were unknown to us, we probably came from all parts of Budapest and Budapest had many Jews, hundred of thousands. We were there until the early days of January. It was very cold. The Arrow Cross came and wanted to take us to the Danube. We were lined up in the street, facing the Danube, and I did not know at that time that we were going to the Danube to be killed. My parents must have known, because I remember they looked at me and they were crying. I didn’t know that we were going to the Danube, but my parents did and then, a big black car came with a Swedish flag and out stepped Wallenberg. I had at that time no idea who he was. After the war I saw pictures of him in the newspapers and recognized him; this was the man who saved us. He started to argue with the Arrow Cross and that argument lasted at least half an hour. I guess he bribed them, because I saw him touching his own pockets, that I don’t know the details of, but it any case at one point the Arrow Cross commander said ”Turn around.” My father who was standing next to me had a sigh of relief. We ware going to the ghetto, which was somewhere in Budapest, but not where the Swedish house was, so we were saved. Wallenberg somehow arranged this. We went to the Ghetto and later we were liberated.

Q: Do you remember how many people that were with you at the Danube, how many people were saved?
A: We didn’t get down to the Danube because we were turned around before. We were standing in the street in front of the Swedish house in the direction of the Danube, which I didn’t realize why, my parents did but I didn’t. Then we were turned around in another direction which was away to the Ghetto. That’s when my father said ”We’re going to the ghetto, our lives are saved.” That was after this half an hour of argument with the Arrow Cross. I guess we were 30, 40 people there at least.

Q: How did Wallenberg look, what was your impression when you saw him?
A: It was a tall man I remember. I wasn’t too close to him, but to us he looked like an angel. We knew that something was going on. We were in the Swedish house, but nobody took that seriously at all; these Swedish papers were fake of course. It was a Swedish house with a Swedish flag on it, but we did not expect that car. It was a big black Mercedes if I remember it right with a Swedish flag on it. The ambassador or the embassies car was going to come and argue for us. We thought it was a Swedish diplomat who wanted to argue that we were Swedish citizens. It was a Swedish diplomat, it was Wallneberg and that’s the way we were saved.
In the ghetto we stayed maybe a week, a few days more under pretty bad circumstances until we were liberated by the Soviets.

Q: Did you ever hear about Wallenberg again?
A: I had no idea that he’s name was Wallenberg, I had no idea what happened until maybe years later, I was sitting in Paris reading the French papers, I read the whole story that the had disappeared, taken by Soviet, then his picture was there, and I recognized this man. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m 99 percent sure that it was him. Who else could had been. There was nobody else, he had no help. I don’t know about it.

Mrs. Tabory: There was also a house with many hundred people, that were Zionists, and they helped a lot, probably they were there, I know that because I have friends there. One day they came and killed the whole company, all the people who were living there were killed. That was Vaci utca 100.

Mr. Tabory: There was one more reference to Sweden when the Russians liberated us, my father was standing next to me and we were in the basement of a building in the ghetto, because up on the top floor were German soldiers, who didn’t care about us, they were fighting the Russians; but then these Germans withdrew and suddenly the door of this basement opened and there was a tall guy I a strange uniform and said ”Aleksei, Ruski soldat” Aleksei, Russian soldier, and they were looking for Germans hiding. My father was standing next to me and said ” Good bless Sweden”, because the Arrow Cross were killing to the left and right and it was just a matter of time, before they were going to get us. But they didn’t have enough time, because the Russians, in the meantime occupied the ghetto. It was The First Ukrainian front under general Malinowski, the Russian commander.

I learned later in Paris that Wallenberg was arrested, probably not by this soldiers but I guess by the Police, I guess nobody knows what happened.
I have my own theory; it was not a deliberate move by the Soviet secret police. He was arrested just like any other and they realized he’s a Swedish diplomat and they called somebody in Moscow saying: ”What do we do with this guy?” and that somebody was another idiot who would say: ”Put him in the prison, and that’s that was how he ended up in Russia. And when they turned out who he was then the Russians covered up. They didn’t want to say that they arrested this man by accident so they denied the whole thing. And there is this all ”American spy” theory’s are not very believable, not that he wasn’t an American spy, he was not, but if Russia did believe that – spies are not sent to concentrations camp in Siberia, spies are used to become double agents, or maybe that’s what happened, who knows… The Russian counter-espionage was sophisticated enough to know this guy.

Mrs. Tabory: They killed him because he helped Jews and the Russians are not better than the Germans. That’s my opinion.

Mr. Tabory: The regime wasn’t overly anti-Semitic.

Q: What was your experiences after the war, how did you come to the U.S?
A: I left Hungary in early 1946. I ended up in Germany for two years, where we got married in Munich. In Budapest we happened to live quite close to one another but we didn’t know each other, we met in Munich in Germany, after the war, and got married there, and from Munich I went to Paris. I lived 16 years in France, did university studies in Paris at the Sorbonne, and was hired by an American company, IBM, in Paris. Later in 1962 I came to America, first on a temporary basis then we stayed on. Since then we have been living in America. I retired from IBM, 19 years ago. I worked for IBM all my life, except some very early insignificant jobs. I was hired my IBM in 1957 in Paris and in 1962 we were in New York, and retired in 1981.

Q: Do you have children and grandchildren?
A: I have one daughter, yes, Catherine, she lives in Chicago, she is an economist there.

Q: Have you talked with here about the war?
A: Yes, she said I should write my memoirs, specifically the Wallenberg story, and I told her it’s going to be for posterity.

Q: Do you know any other people saved my Wallenberg? Or have an experience similar to yours?
A: No, the people I knew were in Auschwitz, not in Budapest.

Q: What would you say to Wallenberg if you had the opportunity?
A: I don’t know, but I’m very, very thankful, that’s for sure. He literary saved us, he saved my parents life, it’s not like he wrote a letter or protested, he was there on the spot when we were being taken to the Danube. He was there and saved us, it’s quite an excellent thing. I followed the newspaper articles on his fate and Russia. I was very, very sorry that nobody knows what happened to him. That he had to end his life like that in the Soviet Union.

Interview: Daniela Bajar
Transcript: Sofia Lindström