The True Story of a Hungarian Jewish Man’s Fight for Freedom
A book by Robert J Wolf MD
Featured image: The cover page of the book to be launched on 12 October 2022, Amazon, (549 pages)
Robert J Wolf is the author of a biography about his father’s amazing story of living as a Jewish man in Hungary when the Nazis, and later the communists, seized power. Growing up in affluence, Győr, Hungary, young Ervin Wolf was forced into a labor camp, unaware that his parents were deported to Auschwitz where they were soon killed. In “Not a Real Enemy: The True Story of a Hungarian Jewish Man’s Fight for Freedom,” Ervin relies on his wits and good fortune to escape the Nazis not once, but twice. Once freed, however, he finds life under communism so unbearable he must make the most daring of all escapes in the dead of a winter’s night. “Not a Real Enemy” is the true story of one of the most unknown chapters in the Holocaust, following the transformation of a young man as he confronts antisemitism, cruelty, kindness, despair, and hope in his journey toward freedom.
Three excerpts from the book are reproduced here.
Their recruiting station was in Komárom, a town in Hungary bordering Slovakia and approximately 64 kilometers from Győr, the place of their departure. Ervin’s home. What would be expected of them when they reached Komárom was anybody’s guess. No one really knew the fate of the young Jewish men drafted into the Auxiliary Labor Service, one only knew that Jews were not permitted to join the German-allied Hungarian military. Instead, they were conscripted into forced labor and sent, unarmed and poorly equipped, to Ukraine and the most remote regions of Hungary, their parents left with no knowledge of what their children were enduring, other than the occasional letters that arrived, no doubt opened and reviewed by government agents.
These parents would do their best to read between the lines to guess at what their sons were really made to do, how they were really doing. They knew only that the work was hard, the conditions brutal, the boys hungry. They knew some labored in the harsh cold, cutting trees and carrying the heavy logs back and forth all day, all night. Some dug graves and buried bodies. So many bodies. Some were forced to cross the mine fields, human mine detectors. So far, none had returned home to tell what really happened.
Ervin, the only child of Dr. Joseph and Kamilla Wolf, had never known labor of any kind, much less hard labor. He had, if anything, been coddled by his parents, spoiled with every toy and sweet and privilege a child of wealth might enjoy. True, his father could be a stern disciplinarian and Ervin knew too well the whack of a stick or the sting of a belt for misbehaving or worse, for being late. But his father was neither cruel nor cold, and Ervin never doubted for a moment the love both his parents felt for him. If anything, he understood his father’s discipline was less a correction of Ervin than it was a correction of himself, for Joseph’s own childhood had been a punishing one, one he had devoted his life to undoing…
Joseph listened to the click of the door as his wife and son walked into the cold, desolate street for what he feared might be their last walk together. He shaved and dressed, carefully buttoning his collar and adjusting his silk tie, as he did every morning, before slipping on one of his tailored, monogrammed suits, now beginning to fray. Though he continued to see his patients, many could no longer pay and, as a Jew, his access to supplies was limited. But his mind was not on his dwindling resources this morning. All he could think about was the danger his son was heading toward, and the danger that was coming closer to their home with each new day.
Joseph had known few years without danger, and never took for granted the prosperous life he had established. Born in the city of Alba Julia, then the capital of the Eastern Hungarian Province in Transylvania, he had grown up the middle of six children from a well-to-do family in one of the region’s oldest Jewish settlements. Being Jewish at that time, and in that place, was a marker of belonging. Virtually every family he knew was Jewish, and to be Jewish was as respected in the Kingdom as to be Christian. He was as much a Jew as he was Hungarian, as he was a boy, which is to say, the normal state of things, unchanging, unremarkable….
Ervin turned from the train’s window to see a tall young man in uniform, no older than himself, glaring at him, his hand outstretched for his identification papers. Ervin obediently presented them and, once satisfied that they had the right Jew on board, the man turned to the next young man seated on the train and repeated his demand.
It was a packed train and Ervin was thankful he’d even gotten a seat. It seemed as if everyone was shouting and shoving, and while the train itself moved slowly, it lurched and stopped so often and so abruptly on its journey that every few minutes the passengers were thrown back and forth like dominoes knocking the others down. Ervin felt nauseous from the jerky movement, but he was in no hurry to reach their destination. Once there, his life would change in ways he couldn’t imagine. Until then, he tried to lighten the mood by joking with his friends. They all felt that strange sensation of dread and delight. Dread at what was up ahead, delight at being together for the adventure.
Nearly two hours later, the morning light now bright, the train pulled into the station in Komárom.
Just as they’d been pushed and shoved into the train, they were pushed and shoved out of it, where Hungarian gendarmes were swarming. These were the csendőrség— easily identified by the large rooster feathers affixed to their bowler hats. Though reputed to be well trained enforcers of the law, they were as known for their cruelty as their skill.
Ervin’s heart raced, but the csendőrs merely handed them off to a few soldiers waiting to escort the young men to their destiny. It was in that instant that Ervin realized he had lost his humanity in the eyes of these uniformed soldiers. No longer was he even looked down upon as a Jew. He was, in that moment and into the unforeseeable future, an animal to be herded and put into service.
A jolt of terror shot through him as the realization hit him and he was flooded with fear. But he knew better than to let them see his fear, for if they did, he was certain they would maximize the terrifying effect they had on him. Instead, he stood taller, shoulders back (not an easy task, given the weight of his backpack that once again pulled on his spine), and chin high. He compelled his face to reveal nothing of his inner thoughts and emotions. If they were determined to view him as nothing, then his survival would depend upon maintaining that illusion. He would do nothing to attract their attention, while expressing only respect for those he least respected.
How much he’d aged in that short train ride, when just two hours before, he had been a boy walking with his mother…
Why this title of the book?
“Not a Real Enemy” is how the communist bureaucrats described Ervin in his dossier, in the office at his medical center, where he had the guts to have a look at his secret file the night before his final escape after the revolution.
Protagonists of the book
Ervin’s parents, Dr. Joseph and Kamilla Wolf, a couple from Győr, perished in Auschwitz at 50 years old, 1944, the grandparents that the author never met.
After working as a doctor on a military ship during WWI, he became a practicing and respected dentist until forbidden to practice, and ultimately taken away.
There is quite a bit about them and their hometown in the biography.
The author’s parents, Dr. Ervin and Judit Wolf were married January 15, 1953 in Budapest, Hungary. Her Uncle Laci Benedek, a surgeon and chief of the local hospital, was arrested following the nuptials, imprisoned, and tortured for 13 months by the Soviets for sponsoring an illegal Jewish marital ceremony. Laci emigrated to Sweden, where he was a successful surgeon!
Ervin and Judit (the author’s dad and mom) were frontliners during the Hungarian Revolution, 1956, as he assisted with the trauma surgery in addition to his responsibilities as an OB/GYN, and she ran the blood bank. They soon after escaped the country, ended up in the Detroit area in the USA, and he went on to deliver over 10,000 babies!
About the author
Robert Wolf, M.D., was born in Detroit and grew up in a nearby suburb as the only child of Ervin and Judit Wolf, Jewish immigrants from Hungary. He obtained a B.S. in Biology and Psychology from Tufts University in 1984, attended the University of Michigan Medical School until 1988, completed his residency at Brown University/Rhode Island Hospital, following up with a fellowship at Yale University in neuroradiology in 1994. He has authored and co-authored several published scientific papers. With 31 years of experience in Diagnostic Radiology, he is now semiretired. His parents’ adventurous life inspired Robert to document and share their stories.
Link to book presale: https://mybook.to/I3hEA5