Interview with Zsuzsanna Lorand (Győr, 1921 – Boston, 2006) in the local paper, Lexington, Massachusetts, USA, 1987
There were times during the Nazi persecution of Hungarian Jews that Zsuzsanna Lorand wanted to give up, commit suicide – anything to escape the horrors she was experiencing. Without her mother’s love and determination, Dr Zsuzsanna Lorand (born in Győr in 1921) admitted that she would not be alive today.
The scars of those days ran so deep that for 40 years Zsuzsanna suppressed the horror of her experiences during the Holocaust. “Lately I’ve been thinking more and more of the nightmare. Soon there won’t be any survivors left, and the world may forget,” she said. As a result, she felt obligated to come forward, as a way of keeping the memory alive and honoring her mother. She related some of her memories to about 200 people at the Yom HaShoah Remembrance Day Memorial Service at Temple Emanuel in Lexington (Massachusetts, United States). This was the first time she had ever spoken to a group about those painful memories.
“There were many occasions as a young adult when I was ready to give up,” she said, with a slight Hungarian accent. But her mother, who is now 91 and lives with her was the key to survival.
Zsuzsanna explained that until March 1944, when the Germans began their occupation of Hungary, she, her father, who was a doctor, her mother and her brother had never been physically harmed. However, those conditions would slowly change. It began with new regulations each day, she said. “First any Jew with a weapon should hand it over to German authorities. My father had a rusted gun from World War 1. He threw it into the Danube,” Zsuzsanna said. Then radios were confiscated, then bicycles. “Day-by-day they degraded us more and more,” she said. “Someone once asked me why I didn’t fight. They diminished us gradually,” she replied. “Little by little.”
Finally, the Nazis transported all the Jews to a “district” centre. They left their homes to live in an overcrowded ghetto where they were forced to wear the yellow Star of David. Then one day, they were herded into barracks where they stayed for several days. During that time, the Nazis shaved figures on the rabbi’s head to mock him. A few days later they were all herded to a railway station heading for Auschwitz. Her brother was headed toward a labor camp.
“I don’t know if we were naïve or they were just clever, because we thought we were being sent to an orchard in Hungary to pick fruit,” Zsuzsanna said, recalling the moment. “We were crammed in cattle wagons like sardines, penned in. They put a pail in the center which served as a toilet…” she said. There were little windows high up in the railroad car, which she used one day to watch Hungarian soldiers exit the train and German SS soldiers board.
At one point, the family considered a permanent way to escape: suicide. “My father had enough morphine in his bag that the three of us could have committed suicide,” Zsuzsanna said. “I was ready to do it, but my mother intervened. She said if my brother survived, he would never forgive us.” Zsuzsanna paused a moment that in retrospect “it would have been better for my father to commit suicide. He was gassed who months after getting to Auschwitz.”
Upon their arrival at Auschwitz, they were told to get undressed and the men and women were separated. Before he left, Zsuzsanna’s father told her mother not to leave their daughter. Then the Nazis shaved all the hair of each Jew’s body. Zsuzsanna and her mother stood near one another but did not recognize each other until they called out their names.
They were issued ill-fitting clothes that were open in the back. Then they were told to stand in line and were counted all night. Zsuzsanna developed a bad ear infection and a high fever. She was weak when the Nazis made all the Jews kneel in a line, holding their hands up in the air with a brick in each hand. When she was too weak to hold her hands up any longer “I was slapped on the face, and blood trickled from my mouth,” she said.
“My mother knew I wouldn’t survive” in the clothing she had on, Zsuzsanna said. So, her mother stole a man’s jacket from a pile near where an SS officer was standing. “If he had seen her,” Zsuzsanna said, “she would have been shot on the spot.”
They had been in Auschwitz for two months when the women were ordered to march naked “like horses” in front of SS officers. “This was for selection. They were short of laborers,” she said. Zsuzsanna and her mother were separated.
“She was 48 years old,” Zsuzsanna said of her mother. She was a nice, “little” woman, she added. But her mother took her father’s mandate “very seriously”, so when the Nazis herded the group, her daughter was in to the barracks. “She climbed through the window of the barracks,” Zsuzsanna said. Since there were no names being recorded, Zsuzsanna’s mother blended in. This group of women had been selected to go to a small town in Germany to work in a factory for 12 hours a day, six days a week. Although the food and living conditions were “somewhat better”, she became ill with pneumonia. When her mother came to visit her in the infirmary, the Polish doctor recommended that Zsuzsanna return to work the next day. “The next day anyone in the infirmary was brought back to Auschwitz,” Zsuzsanna said.
Then one evening the Nazis lined them all up and told them to start walking. “If you sat down,” Zsuzsanna said, “you would be shot.”
“We started walking at dusk, and walked 35 kilometers because American troops were approaching. “They wanted to get rid of us,” she continued. “They wanted to machine gun us in a valley.” During the march, Zsuzsanna became so weak that her mother had to drag her along. Another woman also would have stopped if Zsuzsanna’s mother had not dragged her as well. “This 48-year-old woman dragged two people all night,” she said.
What saved the group was that one of the German guards wanted to say goodbye to his family, so they marched a longer route. “This was to our advantage,” Zsuzsanna said, because American troops intercepted the group. “I’ll never forget that Sunday morning,” she said when they marched into a village and saw children with braided hair and people wearing white blouses.
Suddenly an alarm rang, and the Jews were herded onto a hilltop. “We heard a lot of planes and a lot of shooting,” she said. When dawn came, the German guards were gone. As Zsuzsanna and her mother went down, they saw a tall man standing there. The man was wearing a white helmet and a white armband with the letters “MP”. Her first taste of freedom was the chocolate candy bar the soldier gave her.
Quote from one of the messages of Peter Dallos, Zsuzsanna’s second son (born in 1956) to the site editor:
“I wish she were still alive, but she passed away 15 years ago … on June 17, 2006.
Although she was already in a coma for two weeks, my dad was sitting by her bedside every day and continued telling her that “Peter will be coming to see you.” (My parents were living in the Boston area, but I was living in New York). Around noon on June 17, 2006, I finally arrived … and two minutes later my mom breathed her last.
Since she was a passionate fan of opera and, particularly Verdi’s music, I made sure that this excerpt from Verdi’s “Requiem” was played during her funeral service: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7UENK70U6Lk”
Oral history video interview with Zsuzsanna: https://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/irn601494 (34 min)
Information received from Peter Dallos, New York, USA (b. May 1956), January 2022