For decades, Holocaust survivors rarely, if ever, spoke about their horrific experiences, even then only among close family and friends, never publicly. My parents were no exception. While today there are countless memoirs or oral history accounts, that was not the case in the past. Personal experiences were hardly ever reported in the media. I was, therefore, more than astonished when, in early 1984, upon their return from a holiday in the picturesque Giant Mountains in today’s Czech Republic, they told me that they had made a one-day train trip to Trutnovwhere my mother was a Häftling, a concentration camp prisoner, during the war. I was even more stunned when my mother sat down at her typewriter, summarized her memories, and sent them to the most popular women’s magazine, “Nők Lapja”. And to my greatest surprise it was published!
This is what she wrote.
György Polgár, a son of Gabriella Vágó
Nearly 40 years later, I returned to Trutnov, at the foot of the Giant Mountains, where I was a forced laborer. At that time, the town was called Trautenau, and the surrounding countryside was the Sudetenland. Where did I arrive from? From Auschwitz.
Not a Bite to Eat
On June 9, 1944, we, the persecuted were herded into cattle cars in Győr. An SS officer announced that we will report for labor service. The train didn’t stop before arriving in Auschwitz.
The horrors of the journey have already been written about many times. Everything was true. In Auschwitz, we marched by Dr Mengele and his magic wand. This wand – we did not know then – made the difference between life and death. I was lucky: with my mother, I was ordered to go to the side that meant life. We were first kept in a toilet barrack for two days, and later we were wet, cold, and starving for another six weeks. We slept on the bare ground when we didn’t have to line up for the “Appell” in the “Birkenau B Camp” barracks for hours. We saw the chimneys, and by then, we knew why they poured smoke day and night. We saw crutches stacked in piles and women kneeling, half unconscious. They most probably did something wrong in the eyes of the SS commandos. We feared the clubs, the dogs, the men, and women in uniform. Shyness and feminine vanity did not matter anymore.
In August, (we even didn’t know what day it was) the SS commando came to the block to sort us out. My only thought was not to be separated from my mother. I managed to stay with her because I had grown old in these two months, almost like her, although I was only 19 years old.
They tossed black clothes and a pair of sandals at me. We were forced into cattle cars again, but we were indeed taken to work this time. After a few days’ travel, we arrived at the town of Parschnitz on the outskirts of Trautenau.
We were taken to an empty, unused two-story factory building. It was furnished with high bunk beds. We were given mugs, plates, and brown tin spoons. We had covers – a blanket to be shared by two of us because two women had to sleep in a single bay.
We worked in the AEG plant in Trautenau. First, we had to clean, practically with a toothbrush, a freshly painted hangar, carrying two buckets of water for 12 hours without a bite to eat. At four in the morning, we were given some warm water they called coffee and 100 grams of bread. In the evening, we received a so-called “Eintopf” (one-dish soup), which was no more than a thin soup made from potato skins.
Yarn for Bread
I lost weight and was no more than 40 kilos. At a particular moment, my mother mustered all her courage and asked the “Lagerführerin” to transfer me to some easier work. Apparently, the woman was in a good mood because she did.
From then on, I had to assemble spare parts for airplanes. My mother worked on a big machine. We met in the evening. Winter came, and we walked two hours a day to the factory and two hours back to the Lager. Wooden clogs replaced our sandals. The wooden shoes often fell off my feet from their weight when the early snow grew to several centimeters. I limped along with my comrades.
In our camp, there were political prisoners from Kistarcsa, internees, women from the cities of Hatvan, Miskolc, Mosonmagyaróvár and Győr. Polish women also stayed with us. They worked in the textile factory. We exchanged with them yarn and knitting needles they made for bread, so we had scarves and caps for the winter to cover our bald heads.
We went through various hardships. A commando came to take away the sick every two or three weeks. We never saw them again. Pregnant women were taken back to Auschwitz to be gassed. Several of our companions went mad. We looked after them as long as we could cover for them, and they stayed with us, but this couldn’t last too long.
Once We Get Home
From early spring 1945, we were not taken to the factory but to the nearby forest to dig a bunker. One day, we, desperate wrecks of women, who no longer cared about life, spotted a barracks camp when marching to the bunker site. Men stood at the gate shouting at us, showing the number 15 with their hands and fingers. As we dug, we asked each other what that sign could mean. Then, by chance, we found a newspaper clipping torn from some French journal. We read that Budapest was liberated. The sign language continued, and after five days, when the men flashed only ten fingers, we realized that they were indicating how many more days they thought the war would last. We learned that they were French and Belgian political prisoners.
It was May. One day, returning to our barracks, we noticed a shop window displaying a black mourning ribbon on Hitler’s portrait. We could hardly conceal our joy. Walking along the center of the road – we were not allowed to use the sidewalk – we kept looking back at the display. A black flag hung at half-mast at the camp gate. From that day on, we hoped that something good would happen to us.
From far away, we heard cannon fire. The next day they didn’t take us to work. For days we were kept locked up. No one yelled at us anymore. We talked and cared for our sick who couldn’t get to the “Revier” (sick bay). We dreamed of nice food. We decided that if we ever got home and ordered mille-feuille at the famous Gerbeaud café in Budapest, we would sit at the table next to the lavatory, remembering the two days we spent in the Auschwitz latrine, being fed with slop from a bucket.
On Our Way Home
On May 7, 1945, at around five o’clock in the afternoon, we heard voices, together with the noise of heavy combat vehicles. The gate opened. A tracked armored vehicle stopped in the yard. Soviet soldiers got off it. They entered the building. By then, the Germans were nowhere to be seen; they had probably fled in the night.
Two young Soviet soldiers came in and greeted us. They told us that the war was over for us and that we were free. All the ragged women surrounded the two soldiers. We kissed them where we could and shook their hands. We saw sympathy in their eyes. They gave us some food. There was an interpreter, as a couple of women among us spoke one of the Slavic languages.
They asked us to strengthen ourselves for a few days, not to start the long journey, because the forest in the Giant Mountains was still full of Germans. After two days, we set off for home. In the Czech villages, the peasants put milk and bread in the windows of their houses. We realized that we were not the only inmates kept by the Germans; hundreds of political prisoners, French and Belgians, were also suffering in the camps of Parschnitz-Trautenau.
A Housing Estate at the Site
And now, after almost 40 years, here I was again! I looked around the streets of Trutnov, this small industrial town, walked on the sidewalk, not the carriageway. I asked a hotel concierge where the former AEG factory used to stand. When I told him why I was looking for it, he replied with much affection: he said it was close, within walking distance, and if I waited for a while, he would find the hotel manager to accompany me.
I found it by myself. It was Saturday, so the factory was not working. I explained to the porter, half in Czech, half in German, why I was bothering him. His tears began to flow. He remembered everything. He told me he was a schoolboy then and that they felt sorry for the prisoners but couldn’t help because they feared the Germans. He regretted that no one was in the factory because they would surely have let me in. He said I was the first Hungarian to come here since the liberation to see where we had suffered for months with our fellow prisoners. “I’m sure many of them are no longer alive,” he said.
We said goodbye and took a taxi to the former camp. The taxi driver drove us through the small town, and in five minutes, we were in Parschnitz or Porsici in Czech. We stopped. The taxi driver got out of the car with me in front of a memorial. We stood in silence for a minute.
A black marble plaque was inscribed that the Red Army liberated the political prisoners and deportees held here on May 7, 1945. “Their memory is being kept with devotion”, the inscription reads.
The camp building is still there but is empty and surrounded by a fence. A housing estate was erected on the site of the barracks. The driver told me he had fought some 50 kilometers from there as a partisan. He could not understand either why we had to march four hours daily, as it took only 20 minutes from the factory to the camp. Only the SS command could have answered that.
I saw the woods where we were cold and wet. I saw the house where the German commander-in-chief lived and the fortified building where we had to dig a defensive wall.
The inhabitants of Trutnov-Porsici did not forget us. The memory of the dead is remembered, along with that of the liberators. Every year a wreath is laid at the monument.
The taxi driver hugged me. He didn’t accept a tip. He probably told his family about us that evening.
On May 5, 2023, another fourteen stumbling stones were placed in Győr in the framework of a project started years ago by the Hungarian Jewish Cultural Association (Mazsike).
The first stone commemorates Ágnes Korein, who was murdered at the age of 15.
Dr Csaba András Dézsi, Mayor of Győr, was also present at the stone-laying ceremony and made a short statement. Péter Kirschner, President of MAZSIKE, also spoke. A TV report was made of the commemoration.
Twelve (12) members of the family of Jakab Neuwirth, who was murdered in 1920 (!), were also given a memorial stone at three different locations.
Stones were laid in front of the former residence of the Hacker family. How devastating that one of the Hacker stones was damaged a day or two after it had been laid. A metal thief looking for a copper block instead of the thin copper plate covering in reality the concrete block? Or an anti-Semitic manifestation? Shocking.
Ferenc Mátyás Csillag, a 12-year-old boy when murdered, is commemorated by a stone in Árpád Street.
From Csorna to world fame – Remembering Dávid Gestetner
A few months ago, I went to Csorna, 30 km from Győr, where I met the history professor of the Csorna high school that had entered two teams in the Jewish local history student contest launched by our Foundation. The professor kindly invited me for a short walk in Csorna discover the local Jewish historical sites. During the walk, he asked me if I knew the Gestetner Jewish family of Csorna. I said, not really, but that I had seen a copying machine with that brand name in an office where I worked. Well, that’s just it – my friendly casual guide confirmed – the inventor of the copier was born in Csorna!
This little recollection of Csorna inspires me to publish some details about the life and work of Dávid Gestetner. The source of the details not specifically cited is Wikipedia.
From Csorna …
David was born in Csorna (1854-1939), the son of Zsigmond Gestetner and Regina Gestetner. After his primary education he worked as a butcher in his uncle’s shop. At the age of 17 he left Hungary and started working in the Vienna stock exchange. His duties included copying statements and contracts at the end of the trading day. It was a very time-consuming job. That’s when he started thinking about a faster, more efficient method of duplication.
… to London
Gestetner arrived in London in 1880, where he received a patent for his first invention, the wheeled pen. A wheel pen is a device with a wheel with tiny teeth on the tip that leaves a broken line through a thin sheet of paper coated with wax that is to be forced through by an ink roller so that the same writing pattern appears on the blank sheet of paper underneath.
This invention became the forerunner of the stencil machine. Once perfected, up to ten thousand prints could be made from a single mould without any classical printing techniques.
With the advent of electricity and electric motors, the manual machine could now be ordered with electric drive. No special printing skills were needed to operate it.
Almost at the same time as Gestetner’s patent, Thomas Alva Edison in America also registered a patent for so-called autographic printing. This invention was then further developed and trademarked by Albert Blake Dick in 1887. An agreement was reached between the inventors’ companies. Under this agreement, Dick’s machines were marketed exclusively in the United States, while Gestetner marketed his duplicators in Europe and the rest of the world.
Continuing to perfect his invention, in 1906 he set up a factory in Tottenham specialising in the manufacture of stencil machines, inks, rollers and wheeled pens. The stencil machine became increasingly successful and the factory grew rapidly. It soon established an international network of branches to distribute its machines.
By the 1930s, the mass-produced stencil machine had dominated the market for reproduction machinery for 40 years.
However, in the 1970s, photocopiers appeared on the market. From 1973 onwards, a company founded by Gestetner also marketed such machines. This was the beginning of the decline of stencil machines. At this time, Gestetner had 52 subsidiaries worldwide, selling and servicing machines in 153 countries. Management of the company was taken over by the founder’s son Sigmund Gestetner and his sons David and Jonathan. In 1996, Gestetner’s interests were acquired by the Japanese Ricoh Group. Today it is part of the NRG Group, but some of its products still bear the Gestetner brand name. Its main activity is currently the distribution of digital office reproduction machines and systems.
The stencil duplicator provided individuals with a means to produce their own uncensored and uncontrolled ideas and distribute them in public places (near factories, churches, government offices, parks etc.). Previously, producing mass numbers of copies required the co-operation of owners of printing presses, which required a large amount of capital. Owners of presses would not agree to publish opinions contrary to their own interest. In many countries, the stencil and later the modern copier became an indispensable tool for major social movements and changes. It literally was the paper-based internet in the development of which Dávid Gestetner has made an invaluable contribution.
The misadventures of a Medical Doctor from Győr in the final days of World War 2
In the first part you learnt why and how the diary is born, in the second one you discoveredthat German and Hungarian military units couldn’t resist the Russian advance, bombs were dropped even during the Christmas holidays, a good pair of boots was worth its weight in gold and a doctor could help those in trouble anywhere and anytime. In part three you read about occasionalforced work hours, the tampering with their medical supplies and medicines, the adventures of the wandering troop in Székesfehérvár and their approach to the capital city.
Let’s continue. It is already January 1945.
Friday, 12 January 1945
We set off on Friday morning, the terrible amount of snow that fell two days before has almost completely melted away and we arrive in Kőbánya via Soroksár, Szentimre, Szentlőrinc. On the way, we met a boy from Kőbánya who was on his way home and his family offered us lodging in one of their shelters.
Saturday, 13 January
We are on the road early in the morning, because we want to get out of the Pest area as soon as possible, where heavy fighting is still going on and the shells are still whizzing over our heads.
Right at the start we are caught by two drunk Russians, I am released as a doctor, but Laci Harmat is thoroughly stripped, his pyjamas, handkerchief and small items are taken away. …
Soon another checkpoint, but the ID we got in Székesfehérvár proved to be good this time and we were released. Around 11 o’clock in Rákosszentmihály, another checkpoint, here things don’t go smoothly, they search me completely, take my maps (Hungary and Fejér county map), my stamps, my flashlight and even my ID card and throw me into a room where about 30 people are waiting to be judged.
Of course, we immediately get acquainted, besides us there are two other people with similar ID cards, they come from Bori, Serbia, where they worked in a labour camp, and they are going to Pestújhely, because they live there. They are terribly desperate. We don’t like it either, but what can be done, given the forced rest, we eat.
After about two hours, a Russian soldier with no insignia, who later turned out to be a G.P.U. captain, escorted four of us to a neighbouring courtyard, while the others, whose number had grown to at least 50, were lined up by armed guards and sent on their way to who knows where. I am the first to be called in and duly debriefed, then interrogated in detail. Where I have been, what I have done, from where to where, how I have been treated, etc.
While the others are being interrogated, I take the opportunity to wash myself thoroughly at the fountain in the yard. The sun is not shining, it is very cold, the temperature is around freezing.
During the interrogation I make the acquaintance of a Russian subaltern, with whom I have a long conversation, hand and foot, using a dictionary, which resulted in giving him a bottle of … that I had obtained from the pharmacist next door. As a token of his gratitude, the Russian brought me 4 pieces of cut meat, which I of course shared with the others, so we ate again.
After we had all been interrogated, we were escorted back to the building next door where we were being searched and now, we were placed in the inner room where there two tailors were already staying with moustaches. They have been working there for 3 days. There was a stove in the room, so we were immediately thoroughly warmed up. Since the house had a wooden fence, there was no lack of firewood, and I, as the eldest, fed the fire.
The only inconvenience was that there were Russian batteries set up about 200 m away from us, and the firing of these batteries was accompanied by a constant shaking. It was getting dark and we were hungry again. When the G.P.U. Lieutenant came in, we asked to be fed. He then arranged for us to be given bread, which we badly needed, as our stock was completely exhausted. We lay down on the parquet floor and slept very well …
Sunday, 14 January
In the morning we were given bread again, washed at the well and went back to the inner room, where an interrogation of those present took place in front of us. When about fifty or so people were collected, as they had been yesterday, armed guards took them away again. Towards noon, the G.P.U. Lieutenant came, brought our papers back and let us go. We asked him to write a few lines on our documents so we wouldn’t be caught again, but he refused. I have usually found that they are very difficult to provide anything in writing.
We set off at a fast pace and, following the instructions received from our friends from Pestújhely, we headed for Fót, as it was a shortcut to Vác. We managed to get on a Russian car heading for Vác and we were already making far-reaching plans for what we were going to do in Vác in the early afternoon when in Fót a Russian female traffic policewoman forced us off the car and even trashed our luggage.
There was a beautiful, mild and sunny afternoon and we continued our journey towards Dunaharaszti – Alag, where we soon arrived and now, we were on the Budapest-Vác Road. Given the sad experience, we try to avoid the traffic police … Soon we were reached by a gypsy family, who came in a cart and allowed us to put our belongings on it. Now relieved of our luggage, we continued our journey at a brisk pace and arrived in Sződliget in the dark of the evening, where we immediately went to the police station. With the help of the police, we were given a room and rested our weary body on a wide hammock. …
Monday, 15 January
In Sződliget, the situation is quite dangerous, because people are being caught on the road and taken to robot (Russian word meaning “work”, in this case “forced labour” – editor). … Accompanied by a policeman, we reach the highway, where we continue our journey towards Vác. Soon we arrive at the Vác-Hatvan crossroads, where we can see the Russian policeman and some soldiers from a distance, but there is no other way, we are forced to go in their direction. Identification, the pass is good, but we have to go to robot, this time to help reconstructing a railway line.
I desperately insist that I’m a doctor and my legs hurt…, but the soldier puts us in line and we leave for the workplace. The workplace is about 3 km from the crossroads and when we get there, after unloading our luggage at a railway station, we are told that we have to remove the railway tracks because the Germans have destroyed them and we have to put them back in place again. Nice prospects! For the time being we wait and wait, I don’t like this situation one bit.
A lieutenant comes along, I show him my paper, he nods, and says harasho, harasho (Russian word meaning “alright” – editor) but he can’t relieve us, only the captain can. I look for the captain, he’s nowhere to be found, meanwhile the train arrives bringing the rails but the train did not stop where it should have done, so that the rear wheels of one of the wagons jumped off the rails… How lucky we were.
And the two of us started going back and decided that whoever asked, we would say that the officer had told us ydy damoi (Russian expression meaning “go home” – editor). We luckily avoid three working teams, quickly take our belongings from the guardhouse and just as we were leaving the guardhouse, we ran into a Russian patrol. Of course, we are immediately checked, we show our documents, but they don’t want to let us go and as soon as they see my medical bag, they start searching for Sulfidin. They don’t find it, but they take away a significant part of my bandages. In the meantime, I wink at a young Russian who understands and shows us out. We ask him to escort us a long way, and then I give him 20 pieces of Sulfapyridine tablets with a sore heart. Unfortunately, everything has a price and only later did I realise what a high price I had paid!
We quickly head back and now have an unobstructed crossing at the road junction. Soon we are at the Vác police station where we are given a Hungarian-Russian language pass to travel to Párkánynána, the Vác police cannot issue a pass further than that. We make the pass signed and stamped at the Russian headquarters, now we have the Russian stamp and we are on our way.
We are in the outskirts of Vác, when a Russian car stops and the captain asks where Nagymaros is and if there is wine there. I say I know the way, but whether there is wine I cannot answer. I tell him, it’s 13-14 km away and I can show him the way if he wants. The Russian agrees and we climb on board the car and set off towards Nagymaros. It’s cold on top of the vehicle, but we resist the temperature heroically, and make the 3-hour journey in about 20 minutes, … before we had caught a cold we had arrived. The Russians’ information was correct, because they had indeed found about 30 barrels of wine in a restaurant along the Danube. As we guided them and helped them to tip the barrels, they filled our bottles. The Russian was pleased and so were we, for having come so far! The wine turned out to have fermented and we couldn’t drink it, but the Russians must have drunk it.
In the street we are wondering where to find a place to stay, when an elderly lady comes by and, when asked, she says that we can sleep at her place if we are not afraid of the Russians. We take the risk, and soon we are sitting by a burning stove, eating, having milk, then cooking potatoes and having a delicious dinner. … Laci goes on a reconnaissance expedition, some pickles are found, and under the bed we find beautiful apples, a full basket and of course we pick a few, but leave the rest there.
Tuesday, 16 January
Starting from Nagymaros, we take a scenic route to Zebegény, where we deliver a message to Brulik bakers. We were given a good lunch and a two-kilograms loaf of bread on departure.
We hear bad news from people on the road, there are Germans in Esztergom and they are constantly shooting at the Helemba-Garamkövesd road. The front is right in front of Párkány and the rumours that Komárom has been captured by the Russians are lies. But we go on blindly, driven by the desire to go home and hope that the (Russian) troops released at Pest will push the front further. We want to be at their heels and follow them immediately.
We arrive in Szob, then cross the bridge over the Ipoly and reach Helemba at around 15:30. We find some quarters for the night when we hear that the road to Garamkövesd has been mined by the Germans to the point that it is not passable during the day. This would be the only way to get to Parkany. We get our things together and pack our bags to take advantage of the evening twilight to get to Garamkövesd yet by the end of the day. It’s supposed to be at an 8-km distance, but it seems we are very tired, because we can hardly walk at the end. Right at far edge of the village we find a house where we can stay for the night.
Apparently, it was all the same now, I slept on a sack full of corn stalks, I could sleep, I even slept well, but when we woke in the morning we immediately packed and moved on. Going through the village, we reach the Garam military bridge, but here the guards won’t let anyone through, supposedly in a day or two crossing will be allowed, but not now. Nothing can be done about it, we have to go back and take shelter in a nearby house, just in case if crossing the bridge becomes possible.
In the meantime, one of the policemen asks me to see the local doctor because he is sick and needs some medicine. I go to see him, he is in a terrible state of neglect, his flat and consulting room have been ransacked, he himself is dirty, neglected, full of wailing and lamentations. What should we say then about our own affairs?
With the assistance of the entire population of the country, the Hungarian authorities took everything from us and made people, who had worked all their lives, into outcasts, condemning them to definite perdition, showing no mercy to anyone, from the infant suckers to the elderly. Yeah, that was different, we didn’t mean it, that’s what they say now, but … with very few exceptions, everyone stole and looted the Jewish stuff they could get their hands on! The Russians were much better than the Hungarian gendarmes and at least they didn’t make exceptions. They take the watch from the Jews just as they do from the Christians.
I myself have been through a lot, the result of 16 years of my medical work has come to nothing, but as long as I can work, I will not despair. They cry and cry for mere material goods, but they are at home and their relatives and brothers are at home, but what about our relatives, where are they? I could go on and on about this, but that is not my intention, I intend to write the story of my wanderings.
Soon, I leave the ‘kind’ colleague and manage to get my shoes repaired in a Russian schusterei (German expression meaning “shoe repair shop” – editor) and return to my lodgings. After lunch, we noticed that civilians were being allowed across the bridge, and we immediately rushed over and managed to get across. We couldn’t take the highway because the Germans were shelling it so we took the Nána road to Parkany.
On the Nána-Párkány road, as we passed, I met Lajos Perlblum, with whom I had been together in Óbarok for quite some time. Both of us are thoroughly surprised, we greet each other stormily and slowly tell each other our stories. It turns out that he had simply been forgotten in Parkany to help the civilian population. We go to his place and enjoy his hospitality for two days. He lives in Dr Hermann’s doctor’s office in Parkany, or rather in the basement, because there are constant shots fired. We also move into the basement.
Wednesday afternoon we meet a nice, friendly, kind-hearted Jew from Parkany, who was hiding from the Arrow Cross in the area and has already returned home together with Ödön Schatz, who welcomed us with great joy. He has already taken under his protection two women and a boy who escaped from the Komárom ghetto and hid somewhere. They are currently living in the Tóths’ shelter. … they have decided to move to Uncle Schatz’s house, but here they are afraid of the Russians. Uncle Schatz thought that I, as a doctor, could protect them, and indeed I succeeded to do so during my stay in Parkany. The next morning, two more former forced labourers, also from Komárom, arrived at our place. They escaped from their troop in Győr, joined the Slovak partisans and fled from there to Pest, where they managed to survive with false documents until the Russians reached them.
(Photos are for illustration only.)
The end of Part Four.
And don’t miss the fifth, in which you’ll find out how a doctor managed to get food in hard times, what the war situation was like on the Czechoslovak-Hungarian border, and how much Uncle Ödön Schatz’s hospitality meant. They arrive in Pest, where they meet many of their fellow citizens from Győr.
Reflections by Les Sichermann on intertwined life stories
We are honoured to present Les’ writing here-below. His path is written in regular fonts and that of Albert in italics.
I am fortunate to live in an era of relative peace and prosperity and cannot fathom the ravages of war that impacted my previous generation who still live with the memories of death and destruction. I have never enlisted with the military, whether it be the Korean War, Vietnam War or any Canadian mission requiring active military service.
When I left Hungary in 1956 as a six-year-old, I remember Russian tanks rolling by our apartment while picking up empty shell casings left behind as a result of skirmishes between Russian troops and Hungarian resistance fighters. That was my only perception of war on any appreciable level. My parents unfortunately were the benefactors of the horrors of the Auschwitz’s death camps and later refugees of the Hungarian Revolution. They had eleven years to recover following WW2, only to be thrust into the fallout of another invasion that would likely impact their livelihood and usher in an uncertainty under the Communist regime.
I am eternally grateful for the difficult decision my parents chose in leaving behind a country that had been their home and those of their ancestors for hundreds of years, allowing us the opportunity to begin a legacy in our new country, Canada, that I have the privilege to cherish.
A reluctance to relate their war experiences is understandable. No one can fully appreciate the years of suffering and indignities they must have endured unless one was present as a witness. My references to their experience are but anecdotes gleaned from books, movies, documentaries, and holocaust survivors. Unfortunately, I know very little about my parents who passed away when I was quite young.
November 20, 1940
Hungary has joined the ‘axis of evil’ (Hungary became the fourth member to join the Axis powers – edit.). They are now an ally of Germany but playing a dangerous game of deception; trying to appease both Germany and the Allies. My Father is 38 years old and has been teaching in rural Hungary. He is married to his first wife and they have a daughter. I know very little of his life before he married my mother, his second wife, after the war.
Actually, any knowledge of my father’s situation during the war, I can only surmise from events that were part of the history Jews experienced in general while living under a government complicit with their German allies. Doctrines, dating back to 1938 and even to earlier times, restricting Jews from participating in the economy were reinforced in addition to the introduction of a forced labour regime in the frontlines for Jewish men as soon as Hungary entered WW2.
May 18, 1941
About 1700 kilometres to the west, a parallel universe was unfolding that would intersect with mine many years later. Albert Cox, a resident of Leicester, England, had just attained his teaching certificate and was about to go to war. On July 14, 1941, he enlisted with the RAF at Regent Park, London on Bastille Day. From 1940 on, Albert kept a daily journal of military events including adventures that took him to places such as Georgia, Alabama Halifax, Winnipeg, Estevan Saskatchewan, Trenton Ontario, and Italy; places visited that were part of his training regiment as a pilot and navigator.
“I was introduced to military discipline. My rank was AC1 (Aircraftsman First Class). I was fitted out in the traditional blue uniform that showed the world that I was a flyer in training by wearing a white flash in my RAF cap. We learned how to march and drill in unison, how to keep our buttons and shoes shiny, how to prepare for kit inspection, how to salute an officer, in fact, how to become a model soldier. My hair was trimmed short. There was a nightly curfew – and I received a pay packet about every two weeks. I forget the actual amount, but I remember that AC’s receive a mere pittance.”
September 23, 1941
Albert Cox sets sail from Liverpool in a beat-up oil tanker to continue his training overseas. He was given no information of his posting but told to report in Manchester then whisked overnight to Liverpool.
“… It carried about ten aircraftmen as passengers. We slept in hammocks deep in the hold of this wretched smelly ship. …The crew eased our fear of the rats that scurried along the hammock ropes and sometimes over our reclining bodies, informing us that they were too well fed to bother with humans. Cats were in a cat’s heaven. Their natural enemies were fat and sluggish. We were a convoy of about a hundred ships, guarded by a battle ship, a cruiser and quite a number of destroyers and corvettes…We were drilled over and over again as to what we should do when the alarm sounded … and we had lots of alarms. It was a nerve wracking two weeks…It was about this time that I learned from one of the crew that our destination was Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.”
“In mid-Atlantic, we came under attack from U-boats and one of the crew estimated that we lost four ships from torpedoes. The destroyers darted in andaround the convoy and on at least two occasions we were surrounded by a black smoke screen.”
“One fine afternoon when the sky was clear and the sea was calm, we were called to the deck by an alarm. We were being stalked by a German Condor aeroplane. The convoy’s anti-aircraft guns opened up. The Condor aimed a salvo of bombs at the battleship but narrowly missed. The worry was that we were pretty certain that the Condor crew had pin-pointed our position to every U-boat in the area.”
December 12, 1941
Hungary, after joining the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, declares war on the United States. Jewish men drafted into labour service were sent to the Russian front. I now recall my father’s inability to write properly as a result of an injury received from an exploding device during the war.
Many Jews converted to Catholicism in order to circumvent limitations and oppression.
September 23-October 7, 1941
“It took us two days or so to reach Toronto where we were met at the railway station by a convoy of RCAF vehicles that carried us to Maple Leaf Gardens. An ice-hockey game was in progress as we arrived… I was fascinated with Toronto and had a three-night affair with an attractive 30-year-old woman who I met at a Toronto dance hall.”
October 1941-July 1942
“We travelled through the states of Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, Georgia, and Tennessee. Our final destination was the large American military base of MaxwellField, Montgomery Alabama… It was all a completely new world to me. The meals were sumptuous.”
“The purpose of our three-week stay was to acclimatize us to the military expectations of the Americans. We were not impressed with the American version of discipline training… The menial tasks were carried out entirely by blacks… We were shown many films in all aspects of Venereal Disease which was rampant in Alabama. We were discouraged from having any contacts with blacks. We learned of the activities of the Ku Klux Klan. I found the inhabitants of Montgomery to be incredibly bigoted and racist.”
“Our Elysian life changed radically after December 7th, the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour and brought USA into the war. Off came our suits and on went our blue uniforms. The training that had been illegal under ‘international rules,’ now became legal. We were no longer ‘civilians’ training to be pilots. The Americans were now our comrades in arms.”
After completing his training in the US, Al was transferred to Trenton Ontario and Estevan Saskatchewan where it was determined that a problem with depth perception ended his pilot’s designation and forced him to become an Observer (navigator).
“When I arrived in Winnipeg on July 1942, I was welcomed with a heat wave. … I put up in a rough, cheap hotel quite close to Winnipeg City Centre, Public Library, and there I met my future wife, Miss Frances (Tanty) Cronin. Tanty was an incredibly beautiful girl and I was completely enchanted.”
“I graduated as an Observer on April 2nd, 1943, and was presented with my Observer Wings by the Commanding Officer with the famous Billy Bishop in attendance, who treated us to a pep talk. After the ceremony, Billy Bishop gave an exhibition of stunt flying over the base.”
19 March 1944
Germany occupies Hungary and the Hungarian government orders the deportation of all Jews. My mother and her sisters are gathered from the surrounding regions of Győr into a ghetto of 5 000 people and transported to Auschwitz in cattle cars.
Once more, I am not aware of my father’s circumstances; of his physical separation from his first wife and daughter or the reasons for his survival. By the time mass deportation ceased in June 1944, just about all Jews in the countryside had gone. The final roundup of Jews in Budapest continued well into 1945, in spite of the inevitable liberation of Europe. Germany surrenders May 7, 1945.
My father returned to his hometown, Csorna, Hungary, having somehow survived, only to learn that his wife and daughter had perished in Auschwitz.
In the meantime, my future mother and her two sisters survived Auschwitz and the “Death March.” They eventually made their way back to their home town and tried to pick up a semblance of their previous lives.
My father marries my mother who is from the neighbouring city of Győr.
I was born in 1948. We then move to Budapest and can visualize my first recollection of events as an only child in a happy household. Family members who survived the death camps joined us in Budapest. I can recall visiting my aunt, uncle, and cousin in Győr during summer holidays. I was immune to the impact my parents must have endured during the war years of 1939-1945. Post-war realities of bombed out buildings and bread lines were still evident under the Communist regime, who exacted a punishing legacy for Hungary’s participation in the war with Germany.
September 11-30, 1943
“My son Dennis was born in St Boniface Hospital on August 31st, 1943. Now I held him in my arms for the first time.”
“When I said goodbye to Tanty at the end of September, the future was very much in doubt. At that time there was no sign of any quick end of the war and the odds were that it would be years before Tanty and I would meet again. I’m pretty ‘hard’ but I cried when we parted.”
“We eventually arrived in New York City — but we had no time for sightseeing. We found ourselves on that great luxury liner—Queen Mary. We were but a small part of a large army of servicemen, mainly Americans… The trip this time took us fivedays. The Queen Mary travelled across the Atlantic at great speed without a single escort… the destroyer’s engines were not powerful enough to give the destroyers sufficient speed capabilities. We were relieved when we sighted the coastline of Ireland, and later Scotland…I was back in my homeland after a two-year absence.”
March 14, 1944
Other postings and stops included Algiers, Catalina Sicily, Oran, Foggia and Zara Yugoslavia.
“We became a part of the D-Day Dodgers. We arrived in Naples March 15th, 1944, and Mount Vesuvius welcomed us with one of the rare eruptions… We joined our comrades in 608 RAF Squadron and our role was to protect convoys, report weather conditions near the Mediterranean, carry out armed reconnaissance and take photographs for the army.”
“The greatest danger to our lives, especially at night, was the American fighter plane whose ‘aircraft recognition’ was appalling and the American pilots on a number of occasions shot down Hudsons when they believed they were attacking Junker 88’s.
“In the period after I had finished my pilot training, I survived over 200 takeoffs and landings in a 34-month period. I was fortunate.”
From 1946 to the summer of 1955
“We lived in Leicester. During the period we added three more offspring to our family; Kathleen, Dale (Tony) and Shannon…In June 1955 Tanty and I went by train to London where we were interviewed for a teaching position in Saskatchewan Canada. I accepted the offer of a one-roomed school near Craik and so began another challenging chapter in our lives.”
We had become somewhat settled in our home in Budapest in spite of post war austerities, as a result of Russia’s political and economic stranglehold on the country. I began grade two in September when all hell broke loose in Hungary’s attempted withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact. Russia responded by sending in the Red Army to quell the uprising, resulting in several thousand dead.
My parents decided that they have had enough of the uncertainties that lay ahead and determined to leave the country before the borders became permanently sealed. My mother and I joined my cousin’s family in Győr. Under the cover of darkness, we assembled at the border with other refugees and began our walk across farmers’ fields, each family carrying a single suitcase with all their worldly possessions. My father and other aunt would later join us with legal documents at our destination. We headed toward lights on the horizon and were met by Russian soldiers waiting at the Austrian border. They had to be bribed with alcoholic beverages to let us through.
We came under the auspices of the Austrian Red Cross. Our first stop was in Strasburg’s refugee camp then made our way to Paris where we stayed with a cousin for six months, while waiting for a country to accept us. My cousin and I were enrolled at a private school just outside of Paris until Canada came through, giving us landed immigrant status.
On May 15, 1957, we landed in Edmonton then made our way to Saskatoon where we were assisted with accommodations and employment. My father and aunt joined us by way of Israel. Unfortunately, my mother passed away from breast cancer soon, leaving my 58-year-old father to look after me. Our family had a six-year stint in Montreal only to return to Saskatoon when opportunities turned up and our grasp of the English language had improved. It took my family about ten years of adjustment to be gainfully employed.
What happened to my father? When my father married my mother after the war, he was 20 years older. Upon me returning to Saskatoon to live with my aunt and uncle in 1963, my father remained in Montreal and died in 1968. By then, I was 19 years old. He had a very difficult time adjusting to Canadian life due to his age, but was an active member of the Montreal Jewish Community. He had gone to the hospital for a minor operation and never recovered due to some unknown complication. I only visited him during summer holidays. Unfortunately, I never really got to know him well. Most of what I know about the holocaust I learned from one of my surviving aunts that lived in Saskatoon. While my relatives were alive, I really had no interest in my past until much later.
Much later, I had a chance to visit Hungary (Budapest in 1971) on my way home, from a year spent in Israel on a kibbutz. (My second visit took place about 5 years ago also to Budapest, where I assisted the Red Cross in escorting an elderly gentleman from Saskatoon to see his long-lost daughter.)
“My first school in Saskatchewan was the one room school of Holmesdale, situated about 7 miles from Craik. We lived in the tiniest of teacherages with no electricity and no indoor toilets. Tanty and I and the four children slept in the single small bedroom… I bought my first car ever and drove to Saskatoon a number of times… My salary for that school year was $2 800 and that was supplemented by $9.00 per month for my janitorial services. I cleaned the school and looked after the furnaces. I was teaching children to read in the same room as I was teaching the grade 10 subjects to 16- and 17-year-olds. It was an excellent educational experience for it gave me a look at the whole wide panorama of education in Saskatchewan.”
Other teaching positions included a stop in Woodrow from 1956-1964 and Saskatoon from 1966-1986, followed by retirement. Albert served as an administrator on various boards such as President of Saskatoon Teachers Association, Commissionaire of Saskatoon Minor Soccer Association and President of the Nutana Legion. He was involved in provincial politics with The New Democratic Party and a guest lecturer at the University of Saskatchewan. He and his wife Tanty, also helped to raise four wonderful children.
My life from 1974
The year 1974 turned out to be momentous. Upon completion of my education, I received employment at the University of Saskatchewan in the Department of Agriculture. I was also active in the sport of soccer, playing for a team sponsored by the Saskatoon Nutana Legion. I can clearly recall the first time my team visited the Nutana Legion; listening to a booming voice with a Middle English accent, emanating from the lounge, I recognized Alf Bibby, our manager, sitting with the owner of that voice. Alf’s wife and a young lady were also at the same table. Alf introduced Albert Cox, the president of the Nutana Legion and his daughter, Kathy. Albert immediately brought us a round of drinks and the rest is history.
When I married Kathy in 1975, I was warmly welcomed into her family, having few surviving members left from my family side. It was truly a gratifying experience being part of a group of people that accepted me without prejudice. We have been married now for 48 years.
After my employment with the university, I was hired by the Saskatoon Police Service and retired after 24 years. Presently, I drive a school bus to keep busy.
I have 2 children and 4 grandchildren. I am an active member of my Jewish community and serve on its board.
Time and time again, I come to realize that my good fortune was a result of decisions made by my parents in leaving their homeland and taking a chance that life in another country such as Canada would provide greater freedoms and opportunities. As refugees, without knowledge of their destination or expectations of the life that would await them, one can only imagine the fears and uncertainty they must have felt in making this monumental undertaking.
I also owe a great deal of gratitude to Albert Cox who risked his life as an airman with the Allies, hastening the defeat of Germany and the liberation of the Nazi death camps. I also am grateful for the decision he and his wife made in choosing Canada their home as well having a daughter who has become my lifetime partner.
Finally, I thank Canada for accepting us unconditionally as refugees in our hour of desperation, but fear for the people of Europe, owing to dictators such as Stalin, Hitler, Putin and the like, that have supplanted democratic rule, creating historical refugee disasters. I am fearful of seeing Hungarian PM Orbán copying Putin’s style of ruling the country and shocked by his close ties with the dictator.
I think that I have led a full and fortunate life.
Written by Ildikó Mesterházi, Ambassador of the Zachor Foundation and the USC Shoah Foundation in Győr
April 16, the day of remembrance for the victims of the Holocaust in Hungary, is approaching. By the end of March, the renewed “Walk in the Jewish Quarter of Győr” will be available to help commemorate the event. On this occasion, I would like to introduce you to the IWalk educational programme.
The IWalk program is a digital education program of the University of Southern California (USC) Shoa Foundation, implemented in Hungary by the Zachor Foundation. The program offers local history walks through a free phone app. The phone application allows you to learn about the history of the Jewish community of a given settlement, either independently or with a guide, through a local history walk.
The information is supported by site-specific digital/multimedia resources; these are short (a few minutes) excerpts of video interviews from the USC Shoa Foundation’s Visual History Archive. During the walk through Győr, we will learn about the personal recollections of Lenke Askergren, Leslie Borsa, Ibolya Keller Krausz, Gabriella Polgár and Edith Tupy. In addition to the interview extracts, there are also resources to help the learning process related to each stop of the walk. The Győr walk includes maps, photos, posters and newspaper clippings.
The Győr IWalk brings the history of Győr’s Jews closer to us through active learning by visiting parts of Győr-Sziget and Újváros. The walk takes us through the peaceful and tranquil 1920s, and then through the period of exclusion, looting and deportation.
The walk takes us through ten stations in five locations.
Híd utca, the entrance to Bercsényi Park – the settlement of the Jewish community, a period of peaceful coexistence between Jews and non-Jews
the park behind the synagogue – the time of settlement of the Jewish community, the period of assimilation
Synagogue courtyard – building of the synagogue and the school
Emil Róth memorial plaque – the role of the Rabbi and the concept of Zionism
The Memorial to Child Victims – disenfranchisement, discrimination
Home for old and poor Jews (Menház) – the power of the community, the German occupation
Kohn’s Oil Factory Industrial Memorial – the role of the Jews in the industrialisation of the city, the period of looting
Bishop János Simor Square – ghettoisation, exclusion
Former Catholic girls’ school and convent – relocation to the barracks camp, silent bystanders
Győr-Sziget Israelite Cemetery – Vilmos Apor, Memorial to the Martyrs
The walk is a guided discovery and reflection. The process is prepared by providing the necessary background information about the place and then students gather information from a variety of sources. Knowledge construction is done collectively through discussions, so it is very important to ask questions related to the sites and video interviews, and to give students the opportunity to reflect on what they have heard. Reflection can take place during or after the walk in a classroom setting. The phone app also allows us as teachers to monitor individual student responses. In this case, we need to be familiar with the IWitness interface, which I will write about in more detail next time.
The IWalk app is free for anyone to use, and walks can even be done virtually.
The process to download the app is as follows:
IWalk is available under the name USC Shoah Foundation and can be downloaded for free on Google Play and the App Store. Look for this logo:
Once downloaded, the interface will display the available countries.
In our case, we have to look for Hungary, then Győr.
In the footsteps of the Jews of Győr, you can find a walk through Győr, with the dome of the Neolog synagogue in the picture. (In Hungarian only.)
The walk can be downloaded and will be offered by the app. The reason to download is that you don’t need an internet connection on the spot.
The interface asks if the answers should be sent to the teacher. You should tick no here, in which case the download will start.
The walk can be viewed virtually from home, giving you the opportunity to learn about the life and history of the community through personal stories.
Read this exiting second part on how Sándor built up his personal and professional life overseas from zero.
My daughter, Savannah Weil, wrote a biography about my father based on her online research and from listening to taped interviews of him. Her biography covers his life in Hungary. I will attempt to provide information about his career and accomplishments, but more importantly, share information about the personal side of this most remarkable man.
He always wanted to be a physician. Instead, he started at the University of Pécs, Faculty of Law because it was the only university that would admit him during a time that Jews were banned from advanced study in Hungary. While there, he sat in on medical school classes. After the war he was finally able to go to medical school and moved from the University of Budapest to the University of Graz in Austria and finally to the University of Munich in Germany, where he completed his medical residency. He received his Diploma in Medicine at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München in September 1950.
My parents met over cigarette rations. After the war Sándor and my mother, Irene (Irén in Hungarian) Steinberger, were both working at the Jewish Hospital in Budapest, he as a doctor and she as a nurse. My mother smoked cigarettes, he did not. Her roommate mentioned that Sándor Ullmann was not using his cigarette rations and so she knocked on his door.
They quickly fell in love and got married on October 5, 1948. As a side note, Sándor later became a cigarette smoker.
As you may recall from Savannah’s story, my father came from Győr. Irene was born in Fábiánháza (a village in NE Hungary close to the Hungaria-Romanian border), Hungary on February 19, 1927.
She was sent to Auschwitz on June 14,1944 when she was 17. In August 1944, she was moved to the Gross-Rosen concentration camp / Parschnitz work camp.
Parschnitz, located NE of Prague, was part of a complex of forced-labor camps established in the Sudetenland to supply workers for textile plants in Trautenau (Trutnov) near the Czech-Polish border. The women prisoners worked at the Hasse and Welzel textile plants manufacturing uniforms and gas mask parts for the Wehrmacht.
She was liberated from Gross-Rosen on May 8, 1945. In July 1945, she moved to Budapest and trained as a nurse. The only member of her immediate family to survive was her brother, Pinchas.
After the war Pinchas moved to Israel. There he changed his family name from Steinberger (which in German means someone from the stone mountain) to Avni (which means stone in Hebrew). Because of the change in name, it took my parents several years to find and reconnect with Irene’s brother.
In 1949 my parents were smuggled out of Hungary to escape the Communist Regime. They arrived in Austria and lived in Vienna for a month, and then relocated to Graz. In May 1950, they moved to Munich where my father completed his medical residency. My parents traveled from Ludwigsburg to Bremen Germany on March 15, 1951 then left Bremen by boat for Canada on March 27, 1951.
They crossed the Atlantic on the SS Stewart Bruce. When my father filled out the immigration paperwork for Canada, he entered Sandor for his middle name (as he had no middle name), and listed Alexander as his first name. The English-speaking customs officials did not realize that Sandor and Alexander were, in fact, the same name. From that point forward his legal name was Alexander Sandor Ullmann.
He arrived in Canada without speaking a word of English. He needed to pass the Canadian Medical Board exams, so he immediately began to memorize the English dictionary. It was quite helpful that he had a photographic memory. He set up his medical practice in Windsor Ontario.
My parents were living in my father’s medical office space when my brother was born in November 1951. They named him Stewart Bruce, after the ship that brought them to Canada. I was born in 1953. I was named after my paternal grandmother, Margit Gescheit Ullmann. (The Gescheits were a large family from Salgótarján in the northern part of Hungary). Shortly after my birth, my parents bought their first home.
Judaism and supporting the State of Israel were of first and foremost importance in my parents’ lives. My mother was very active in selling Israeli Bonds. They traveled several times to Israel to spend time with Irene’ brother, Pinchas, who had settled in Karkur. They also spent time with Gescheit family members who had settled in Givat Ada. Throughout his life Sándor stayed committed to supporting Israel and ensuring survival of a Jewish homeland.
Life seemed quite promising. My parents developed close friendships. My father’s medical practice was successful. They did not have much money but they had fun and they traveled some. I have vivid memories of my parents sitting with friends and playing cards, often with Magyar Kártya (Hungarian cards). Sadly, my mother was diagnosed with granulocytic leukemia and died a few years later in 1959 at the age of 34 years.
After Irene’s death Sándor began to commute over the US-Canadian border to Detroit Michigan to pursue his dream of specializing in Pathology. During this time, he also maintained his medical practice in Windsor, Canada.
He met a woman through mutual friends in Montreal. Hanica Cohen was a Holocaust survivor from Romania. In 1962, they were married in the home of Sándor’s paternal aunt, Sari Ullmann Unger (Frigyes’ sister). Sándor adopted Hanica’s daughter, Sabrina, and raised her as his own.
We spent many holidays together with Sari and her family. It is where I learned to speak a little bit of Hungarian and enjoy the smells and tastes of delicious Hungarian food. One of Sándor’s favorite foods was chicken paprikás with nokedli (paprika chicken with noodles). He shared with us that his mother always made him chicken paprikás on his birthday. He also loved Hungarian poppyseed rolls (mákos beigli) and we enjoyed them on a regular basis.
When Sándor finished his medical residency in Pathology, he accepted a job at a hospital in New York City. After only a year in New York, he made the decision to return to Michigan because he felt that it was a better place to raise children and because he had a large extended community of friends (both Hungarian and Jewish friends) there.
Hanica died in 1978. In January 1980 he married Faye Schrage Kleiff and helped to raise her two children, Marcy and Steven.
He had a long and satisfying career working as the Chief of Pathology at Crittenton Hospital in Rochester Michigan. He continued to work there until his death from chronic lymphocytic leukemia in October 1994 at age of 69 years.
Sándor was extraordinarily generous in so many ways. When he opened his medical practice in Windsor, he made special arrangements with the owner of a restaurant across the street from his office to provide food to anyone who said I am Dr Ullmann’s patient and he told me to come here to eat. Long after he stopped seeing patients in the office, he continued to make house calls to neighbors and friends when they were sick. He was ever present and supportive for his two paternal aunts – Ella who lived in Israel and Sari who lived in Toronto Canada. The same was true for him maternal aunt, “Pici” (Olga Gescheit) Sunshine, who lived in New York. He co-signed loans for his employees and helped some of them pay off their tuition. When people wanted to thank him, he would say “please pay it forward and help out someone else when you can”.
Throughout his life Sándor loved to study, to learn and to teach. While in medical school he supported himself by tutoring students in Latin. At Crittenton Hospital he taught a weekly class for the doctors to help them know how to better diagnose different types of cancers. The hospital named the medical library after my father. He developed a program for new immigrant physicians to teach them English and help prepare them to take the Medical Board Exams in English. At Wayne State University he taught pathology to medical students. At his synagogue he taught beginning reading classes for adults learning Hebrew. He enjoyed preparing to be the Torah reader on Shabbat when asked.
He spoke many languages and loved exploring the origin of words. He always kept a dictionary nearby and was delighted when he would learn a new word. He loved getting to know people and he had a talent for learning much about a person’s life story, even in brief meetings.
He was a master Bridge player and he loved symphonic music. He loved helping people. He believed strongly in God and talked about his special relationship with God. He saw the goodness in people, and he was a great optimist.
In the addition to all these extraordinary accomplishments and traits, and ways that my father impacted the world, perhaps his greatest accomplishment was as a father. He lived the Jewish Value of “Tikkum Olam”, repairing the world, through his actions and examples. He was devoted, generous, understanding, and compassionate with his kids. His legacy endures in the lives and work of his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
It doesn’t surprise me that Sándor set up a student scholarship at the Révai High School in Győr which once he had also attended. He talked about what it was like to be a student in the school where his father taught, and how it made him strive to be the best in hope of earning his father’s praise. Advice he shared with his children from when we were quite young is that a person could lose all possessions, but that no one could ever take away someone’s education.
The misadventures of a Medical Doctor from Győr in the final days of World War 2
In the first part, you learned why and how the diary is born, and in the second, you read about how German and Hungarian military units cannot resist the Russian advance, how bombs are falling during the Christmas holidays, how a good pair of boots is worth its weight in gold and how a doctor can help those in trouble anywhere and anytime.
Let’s continue. We are still in 1944, but the last two entries in this chapter were written in January 1945.
Tuesday, 26 December
In the morning, we have a serious discussion about how to proceed, because the luggage is very heavy on foot. It’s true that we are relieved, because apparently while we were rolling barrels of petrol in Felcsút, our luggage was searched and the more valuable things were gone. Jancsi Freiberger was most seriously concerned because he had jewellery, that was gone now. In my medical bag the alcohol was missing, all the bandages, injections and 100 gr Wetol disappeared. As a result, the bag was almost completely empty, but miraculously syringes, pincers etc. were not missing.
We discovered these losses only this morning. In view of the large number of Russian reinforcements, all of which were heading towards Bicske, we were already thinking of going back, when we saw a large caravan with 2 wagons, also heading towards Székesfehérvár. As it turned out, they were in a similar situation like we were and so we quickly joined them. We were able to put our backpacks on the wagon and were able to continue our journey. At around 4 pm we arrived in Baracska, where we managed to find accommodation and stayed overnight.
Wednesday, 27 December
The next morning, we continued our journey and soon reached the Budapest-Székesfehérvár road full of marching people, where some members of our party broke off because they were on their way to Ercsi. We continued on the Balaton route and we were stopped only once by the Russian for a “robot” (Russian word for physical work). After half an hour we were released from the robot. Around 2 pm we arrived at the road junction to Adony and here we unfortunately had to be separated because the waggons arrived home, meaning that they did not continue the route with us to Székesfehérvár.
So, we continued our way along Lake Velence, passing abandoned cottages, until we found one with a stove and a bed. Here we spent the night. Tomatoes were found in the pantry, so we even had a delicious hot tomato soup and soon fell asleep.
Thursday, 28 December
Unfortunately, we had to pick up our backpacks again in the morning and sadly trudged on. The weather was not good either, the mildness had been replaced by severe cold and we almost had to hurry. We had hardly walked for half an hour before we spotted ox-carts ahead of us.
We immediately charged on and soon caught up with them and of course loaded our packs on the carts. It turned out that some of the ox-carts had come from the village Tab, where they carried ammunition for the Russians and were now on their way home. Three of the unknown forced labourers on the carts were from Tab, they would certainly get home soon through Székesfehérvár, where we were also heading.
The people of Tab are urging us to go with them, but we are sticking to our original plan. My feet are really suffering from the constant pressure of the short shoes, but I can’t sit still because of the cold, and I’m just trudging along. As we get closer to Székesfehérvár, the sound of shelling gets closer and closer and the three of us put our heads together worried about the hours ahead of us. We have just come from one front-line and are now running into another.
We ask the Russian soldiers how far the front-line is, but either they don’t know or they don’t want to tell us, and they just say “daleko”, far away. Finally, one says 15-20 km, that’s something solid but not very reassuring.
Finally, we arrive in Székesfehérvár at 2 p.m., and after saying good-bye to the people of Tab and the ox-carts which have done such a good service, we decide to look immediately for the town-hall to find the Headquarters, both to get a certificate, or some sort of a document, and to offer our services to the citizens of Székesfehérvár.
Still about 100 m away from the Headquarters, a Russian patrol intercepted us and took us to the G.P.U. (Soviet political police agency) to identify ourselves. After half an hour of waiting we are brought in front of a Russian captain, we confirm who we are with the help of an interpreter and we are released but no document of any kind is given.
We continued our way to the town-hall where we hope to obtain some sort of a document …, but the situation is not so simple. After a long wait, I speak to the mayor, as a senior citizen, who tells me that the Russian authorities do not want to issue any documents and that we need a certificate in Hungarian and Cyrillic. As doctors, we are not really needed, but he advises us to talk to Dr Berzsenyi, the director of the hospital, he may be able to employ us.
The situation is not at all promising, meanwhile it is completely dark and we decide to spend the night in the basement of the town-hall, in the police station room. We make a pretty good bed out of mattresses and lay our tired, tormented bodies to rest.
The next day morning we went to the city general hospital to speak to Dr Berzsenyi, but he was not to be found. Instead, we met a forced labour doctor there, whose explanations led us to give up waiting. We got back to the city, where we thought the Communist Party would give us a certificate. The Communist Party was in a frenzy and they couldn’t give us any certificate since the Cyrillic text and stamp were not ready and we would have to wait a few days.
In the Party Office I meet Dr Pál (Pali) Alpár, who graduated under me in Pécs, and he offers, if nothing else, to take us to the military hospital installed in farm stables, where he will provide us with accommodation and some food. Considering that we have no other choice at the moment, we accept the offered solution and move into the basement of the said military hospital, where we will find a place to stay in rather miserable conditions.
The conditions in Székesfehérvár are not very rosy, the front line is about 9-10 km away from the city, the shelling is almost regular, day after day in the evening hours, so we spend all our time in the basement.
… We received the desired identity card at the beginning of January, although it does not have the Russian stamp on it, but it looks good and as time has proved, it was worth waiting for.
Charap and Freiberger are of the opinion that they will take advantage of the invitation from the village Tab and go there. It is beyond Siófok, so they are further from the front line. I, for my part, in the naive belief that Győr will soon be under Russian occupation, do not want to move, and Laci Harmat, who has now turned up also from Győr is with me in this view. Laci Harmat works in a Russian bakery and supplies us with bread, which we desperately need because it is hard to get.
The incoming news is all the more positive. The Russians possibly make reconnaissances directly in the vicinity of the town and Pali Alpár and the forced labourers there leaved on Saturday for Pest on 6 January, which they expect to fall soon. In any case, they do not want to stay in Székesfehérvár because the situation is very uncertain.
The three of us, and I separately with Laci Harmat, have a lot of discussions and decide to leave on Monday, 8 January. Freiberger and Charap aim for Tab. The two of us will take the Balaton Road to Pest. Laci Harmat has friends in Martonvásár, we will find out the situation there and then decide where to go. In the meantime, we learn from the British radio that the Germans have launched an offensive along the Pest-Vienna Road. A German attack has reached all the way to the Bicske area…
The front is getting closer and closer, the shelling is constant and we are really worried. On Sunday morning, 7 January, while cleaning up, Laci Harmat drops in and brings the alarming news that the Russians are evacuating the civilian population in the upper part of Székesfehérvár and they are very much in a retreat. We don’t think much about it, but vote to leave immediately, and so we part ways.
Freiberger and Charap are leaving for Tab, the two of us are heading for Pest after a tender farewell. We set off, thoroughly packed, and sure enough, we see … loaded Russian vehicles, ready to go, transporting wounded Russians, partly in Red Cross cars, partly in buses.
At the crossroads, a woman joins us, heading for Dömsöd, and we set off on the slippery road to the highway. We change our luggage at a 4-km interval and soon arrive in Pákozd, where we rest, eat, and are even requested to see a sick person. Then we continue our journey in heavy snow. After a few kilometres of walking, we manage to hop on a Russian truck carrying vine that takes us all the way to Velence. …
Meanwhile, a Russian car comes along and the driver asks us where Dunapentele is via Adony. I explain the route with the help of a map I have on me, the Russian is impatient and tells us to go with him as guides. The car tempts us, … so we get in. In pouring snow we arrived in Adony, where, having given instructions to the Russian, we disembarked and looked for overnight accommodation.
Master carpenter Béla Stanczel and his family made us very welcome. They immediately put us up in the front room, where there were 2 beds and 1 bedclothes, … we cleaned up and settled in. By the time all this was done … a Russian pilot captain and an interpreter came to say that he was sleeping here too. We agreed that he would sleep in one of the beds, Laci and I would sleep in the other one, and we would put the sofa in the other room. We had dinner with the housekeepers and soon went to bed. The bed is quite hard, two of us sleep in it, uncomfortable, but we woke up rested.
Our hosts offered us breakfast and were very kind, their postal address is Béla Stanczel, Adony, Magyar u. 306. All what they had, they shared with us, they didn’t ask who we were, what we were.
Monday, 8 January (1945 !)
In the morning we set off to the Danube to cross to the other side. The boaters crossing the Danube were taking good advantage of the boom and took people across for Pengo 50-100 each. There is no other choice, you have to pay.
We arrive in Dömsöd at around 3 pm, where we get very disappointed. The lady who came with us was the wife of a mill owner, … but there was nobody at home, the miller’s house had totally been stripped, only the bare walls remained, even the doors and windows were missing. The two of us looked for a place to sleep and managed to find a farmhouse, but in much more miserable conditions than the day before.
Tuesday, 9 January
We set off towards Pest in the bitter cold, but luckily, barely leaving the village, we manage to climb on a carriage and that takes us a distance of about 12 km. This gives us a great advantage and we stop at a farmhouse 8 km before Taksony, have breakfast and for the first time we drink tea without sugar. Later on, I will get very much used to this way of drinking tea, because unfortunately we don’t have access to sugar anywhere.
The cold has eased a little, but it started snowing again and we set off in a heavy snowfall. A 2-hours journey is covered in 3 and a half hours, because the snowfall has turned into a blizzard. We arrive in Taksony in a strong headwind and heavy snowfall.
Already on the way, we decided to stay in a decent place, because we really needed a complete rest and we wanted to do some serious cleaning. The shoes I’m wearing are soaked through and my feet are soaking wet. We get very good accommodation at Gáspár Kresz, good hot foot baths, a thorough wash and a rest in a well-heated kitchen.
I find out that there is no doctor in Taksony and I am immediately called upon. People in Taksony beg me to stay there, but I am tempted to get closer to Győr and my wife, so I don’t give in to their demands. After a good dinner, we wake the next day thoroughly rested, but the police are here for me to go to headquarters immediately.
At the headquarters, I am checked, at first, they think I am of German origin after my mother’s name, but after I have managed to explain this, the captain declares that he will take me on as a conscript doctor. Taksony is a Swabian village and the male population of the village is recruited from 18 to 45 years while the female population from 18 to 30. So, I am forced to do 2 days of conscription, during this time Laci gets a good rest. I also have a few patients, thus money and food. The conscripts are taken by car through Hatvan. I ask the captain to allow me to get on the car to get to Hatvan, but the captain does not agree, a sad experience.
(Photos are for illustration only.)
End of Part III.
And don’t miss the fourth, in which you’ll meet drunken Russian soldiers, again skinning our heroes, who are then summoned by the Russian police, subsequently they help the Russians in their search for wine, while they move closer to Pest.
Jewish scouts at Révai High School – MEMOIRES NEVER PUBLISHED BEFORE
To the best of our knowledge, this document has never been published in any form, either on the World Wide Web or in print. It has been hidden in manuscript for over 20 years. We owe this little sensation to Margit Erdély, whose compilation about her grandfather, Dr. Ernő Erdély, the former Chief Commander of the Győr Fire Brigade, was published earlier on this site (https://jewishgyor.org/2022/07/11/dr-erdely-erno/). Ernő Erdély’s son Miklós, Margit’s father, was a member of this scout troop as a student at Révai and significantly contributed with his memories to writing this story.
This post is longer than average, but I didn’t see any reason to shorten or split the original manuscript. I have selected the photographs from various sources for illustrative purposes.
Thanks go to Margit Erdély for preserving this treasure and contributing to its publication, to Daniel Jaquet for putting the manuscript on the computer and to Judit Somló for the most indispensable corrections to the text.
The story of the László Szőgyi Scout Troop 479 in Győr, 1932-1940
Compiled by László Székely, Scout Officer, using the Yearbooks of the Royal Hungarian Révai Miklós High School (later Révai Miklós High School) of Győr and the recollections of László Szende and Miklós Erdély, 2001
Born in England at the beginning of the century and having arrived in Hungary before the First World War, scouting developed in the 1920s into a significant movement of youth, and especially of schoolchildren. This was demonstrated, among other things, by the 1926 County Scout Camp in Megyer, which was attended by 6 000 scouts representing the country’s scout troops. With its uniforms, excursions and camps, the scout movement became very attractive for the students of the Révai Miklós High School. The school’s scout troop Turul, which was formed before the First World War, had 60-70 scout members out of 340-350 students around 1930.
At that time, Győr, with a population of around 50 000, had a significant Jewish population almost 6 000. A considerable number of these citizens were merchants and intellectuals, and their sons were sent to the Révai Miklós High School (they had little choice: apart from the Benedictine Gymnasium, this was the only option for boys in the city to go into trade or higher education). These Jewish students also wanted to become scouts, but partly the Christian nature of a scout troop as such (and with it the majority of Hungarian scouting) and partly their different religious requirements (the Sabbath and the meal regulations) did not allow this. Thus, the need to form a separate Jewish scout troop arose in the early 1930s.
In 1931, there had been already 8 Jewish scout troops among the 589 scout troops in the country, and by 1934 (including the Győr troop!) their number increased to 12, meaning that elsewhere the same thinking was being followed as in Győr.
After such a precedent, in the first half of 1932 the (neologue) Israelite religion teacher of the school, József Ullmann, started to organise the scout troop. The Győr Israelite Community became the supporting body, while the troop recruited its members exclusively from the Jewish students of the Révai High School.
The troop was officially formed in the autumn of 1932, at the beginning of the school year, with 33 members, who prepared for the recruit probation with great zeal under the leadership of Scoutmaster József Ullmann and Assistant Officer István Klein.
József Ullmann was primarily a religion teacher, he taught religion to students of the Israelite faith in several secondary schools in Győr. His profession, coupled with his purist personality, had a great impact on his work as a Scoutmaster. Parents were happy to allow their high school boys to become scouts because they knew their adolescent children were in good hands as a supplement to parental and school education. As a result, within two years, 70-80% of the school’s Jewish students were members of the troop.
The troop took the name of László Szőgyi, a teacher of the high school who died as a war hero in the WW1, and received the number 479 from the Hungarian Scout Association: thus the full name of the troop became László Szőgyi Scout Troop No. 479.
László Szőgyi joined the Győr Main Real School in 1910 and was a teacher at the school until 1915, after a one-year break (1911-12). He also enjoyed engaging with his students outside the classroom, for example, in the summer of 1914 he and three of his students rowed on the Danube from Ulm to Győr. In 1915 he was called up as a soldier and died at the front. His name is on a memorial plaque in the school lobby, unveiled in 1925, along with that of four of his colleagues and 55 former students.
In respect of the number 479, the scouts of the troop had a battle cry that went like this
“479! (whispered) – 479!!! (in the middle voice) – 479!!!!! (at full voice)”.
The debut of the team took place on March 8, 1933, whereby Pál Seller, national Scout Inspector, Gergely Bencsik, the Co-president of the Székesfehérvár Scout District (also a teacher of the school and the commander of the Turul team) and Dr János Erdős, the Chairman of the team’s organizing committee, were really impressed by the good work the team had done so far. As a result of the inspection, the troop was certified by the Hungarian Scout Association on 14 June 1933 and was inaugurated by District Co-President Gergely Bencsik on 19 June at a nice ceremony.
The troop held its first camp in Balatonlído (sic!) from 16 July to 30 July 1933. It was attended by 34 scouts. The camping was made possible by the generous support and dedication of Dr Ernő Erdély, School Board President.
The participating 34 scouts represent practically the whole troop – even in the following years the whole troop always camped together. This is remarkable, because e.g. in the Turul troop only 50-60% of the members were also campers. Obviously, this was only possible thanks to the parents, as well as wealthy (merchant) members of the community, who also provided substantial support to the troop, e.g. by paying for the camping costs of poorer scouts. The city of Győr also contributed to the costs with a 50 Pengo camping grant (at that time the cost of a scout camping was around 5-10 Pengo).
Dr Ernő Erdély, School Board President, was the Chief Commander of the Győr fire brigade. His son attended the second grade in this school year and he was of course a member of the scout troop.
This summer, the 4th Jamboree, the great meeting of the world’s scouts, was held in Gödöllő, Hungary. The recently formed, novice troop could not, of course, attend, but it nevertheless went on a one-day trip to the huge event, which attracted 30 000 Scouts, at the beginning of August.
This visit was a wonderful experience for the Scouts of the newly formed troop, and the boys’ reports of their impressions gave a great boost to the recruitment of new members.
From the autumn of 1933, the Jewish Community of Győr, supported by generous external financial contributions, provided the troop with a scout “home” and equipment ideally tailored to the scouting goals.
The Israelite Women’s Association also bought scout uniforms for the needy scouts, contributing to the uniform image of the troop.
In the school year 1933-34, the troop continued to grow and by the end of the year the troop had 50 scouts and 9 recruits under the leadership of two officers (Commander József Ullman and Frigyes Ullmann) and three assistant officers (István Klein, Imre Herzberger, Ervin Freiberger).
On September 10, 1933, the troop unveiled the troop flag donated by Dr Jánosné Erdős (wife of the chairman of the organizing committee) in the presence of a large distinguished audience. The inaugural speech was given by Dr János Erdős, President of the Organising Committee. A speech was delivered also by Dr Henrik Kallós, President of the Jewish Community, about the team’s namesake, László Szőgyi, who died a hero’s death (in WW1). The scout flag of the troop with the inscription “Ancient faith and integrity for the homeland” was blessed by Chief Rabbi Dr Mór Schwarz.
The good performance of the troop was recognised by letting it send six patrols to the national competition of the Hungarian Scout Association. The best result was achieved by the patrol “Hawks”. Three patrol leaders (Tibor Holzer, Zoltán Kállai, Pál Weiler) could participate in the 13th (national) training camp for patrol leaders in Hárshegyi Scout Park (Budapest).
The 1934 Big Camp was held from 9 to 24 July in Fonyód-Béla-telep with the participation of 51 scouts.
65 years later, László Szende, who was in the second year of high school at the time, remembers the camp as follows:
It was a real pleasure to camp on the shores of Lake Balaton. The murmur of the water almost echoed in the tents and accompanied our dreams.
Of course, this great experience also had its drawbacks, because when a storm raced across the lake, it didn’t spare the camp. The tent canvas was stretched to the point of being torn to pieces, and some of the more fragile parts of the tent fell on the occupants. It had to be rebuilt with the help of the most storm-resistant members of the team.
A great event was the flag-raising ceremony with a horn call at the opening of the camp, and the ceremonial lowering of the flag to music at the closing. Between these two occasions, the flag was flying in an imposing way.
In the mornings, a line-up and the issuing of orders in front of the flag followed a horn call, and in the evenings, the retreat to the tents was accompanied by music. All this made the sunrise and sunset more colourful.
Of course, those who were reprimanded in any way by the commanding officer during the morning call – for their objectionable behaviour the previous day – were not taken in by the cheerful colours, but rather by ‘other’ feelings and thoughts.
In general, a mischievous cheerfulness ruled the camp. Just to give a few examples …
… our friend N., who was fast asleep and disturbed his tent-mates with his snoring, was ‘rewarded’ by the others by having black shoe-paste smeared on his nose, forehead, face and many other parts of his body. On awakening, the tent dwellers were greatly amused at the spectacle. The most amusing thing was that, at first, our friend N., unaware of what had happened to him, laughed with the others. Then, when he realised what had been done to him, he withdrew, blushing and embarrassed, to “wash away the shame of what the centuries had smeared on him”.
… another nice experience was that when we found out that our friend J. was sleeping the sleep of the righteous in the night watch. A not quite appropriate piece of rubber was found somewhere and stuck in his open mouth until he woke up. He saw the joke and removed the “piece”, i.e. spat it out.
… the boat trip to Badacsony with a crew of about 3 men happened to be a nice adventure. First, we walked around the mountain and thereafter we “climbed” it (a low mountain). The route led up past some very spectacular press houses and vineyards, with the Kisfaludy house visible at the end. There was an amazing view down to Lake Balaton, walking down to the harbour and then crossing the water to the campsite was of course much easier. It was a really romantic day out.
In the school year 1934/35, the enrolment ceremony was held on 25 March 1935 in the presence of a large and distinguished audience. The inaugural address was given by Dr Károly Barna, Chief Government Councillor and President of the National Grand Committee of the Hungarian Jewish Scouts. The Hungarian Scout Association awarded the troop with two commemorative medals (for the raids and the obstacle race) acknowledging their good work this year. The 14th National Patrol Leader Training Camp, held in the spring in Hárshegyi Scout Park, was attended by Patrol Leaders Pál Kőnig and Miklós Erdély. The troop consisted of 6 officers (Scoutmaster József Ullmann, Commander, Officer Frigyes Ullmann, Assistant Officers István Klein, Imre Herzberger, Ervin Freiberger and István Silbermann) and 58 Scouts at the end of the school year.
From 8 to 20 July 1935 the troop camped in Sopron at the Tómalom. The generous support of the Jewish Community, the Women’s Association and the Holy Association made it possible for all the scouts to take part in the camping, which was refreshing for body and soul. After 65 years, little was known about the camp. Recalling his memories, Miklós Erdély, a former camper, said that …
… the boys had visited Vienna under the guidance of Scoutmaster Frigyes Ullmann, where the scouts had been warmly welcomed. They visited the most important sights of the city, but he also recalled that they saw soldiers in helmets everywhere. Federal Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss, who had introduced a fascist-style dictatorship, was assassinated by Austrian National Socialists in a failed coup in June 1934. A year later, in his opinion, there were riots because of the anniversary.
On 1 September, a boat launching ceremony was held. The 5 new boats of the troop were inaugurated by Dr Pál Vidor, Scoutmaster. This was a great opportunity for the troop to make adventures on the water, which, in Győr, given the rivers in and around the city, was a great opportunity. The scout troops operating here were able to take advantage of this situation very easily, as there was a separate scout boathouse on the banks of the Rába river.
The troop commander was pleased to note in his report in the yearbook of the Révai High School that the young scout troop was making progress year-by-year. He also wrote that they were striving to achieve the goal that scouting would help the boys in developing their spiritual and intellectual gifts and talents, which God had instilled in them.
On February 9, 1936, a scout enrolment ceremony was held again, at which Chief Rabbi Dr Emil Róth delivered the enrolment address. On this occasion, 5 new recruits took their vows and 32 Scouts made their pledges.
During the “good deed week”, the team collected two cartloads of in-kind donations and P100.15 cash for the needy. The donations were delivered to the city’s Social Welfare Department for distribution.
The Hungarian Scout Association rewarded the troop with a commemorative plaque of 500 good points rating for their good work during the year.
The size of the troop also continued to grow: this year, 52 Scouts and 32 Cub Scouts led by 6 officers were actively involved.
In 1936, the summer camp for the scouts was held in Kőszeg, but there was also a separate camp for the Cub Scouts in Vaspuszta, on the estate of Ignác Bruck, the Community President. In addition to the two camps, the troop’s rover patrol also attended a three-week boating camp at Lake Balaton.
Unfortunately, nothing more has been found out about these camps, even their exact dates, duration and number of participants have been forgotten over the decades. In any case, the fact that they were able to organise three camps in one summer reflects very favourably on the zeal of the leaders and the financial situation of the team.
A successful summer was followed by a very good year of scouting. According to the report the scouts participated in all national scouting events of the Hungarian Scout Association. During the “good deed week”, the usual 2 cartloads of donations was collected again this year, but the amount of financial donations almost doubled reaching 185.09 Pengo. The Hungarian Scout Association honoured the troop with an even greater award, 600 good points on the usual commemorative plaque.
László Szende (then in 5th grade) recalled that he was a member of the Seagull Patrol at that time. The leader of the patrol – son of the above-mentioned Dr. Ernő Erdély, Chief Commander of the Győr Fire Brigade and Chairman of the School Board – was Miklós Erdély. Dönci (this was his scout nickname), as a firefighter offspring, was extremely attracted to the fire brigade (he became a fire brigade officer after the war). From the point of view of the Seagull Patrol, this was interesting because …
… the patrol had a “fire discipline”,
… several times, its members would participate in a light drill of the firefighters in the yard of the fire fighter station (e.g. rolling out hoses, assembling, etc.),
… the scouts went often skating on the rink of the Skating Club next to the fire fighter station, managed by the fire brigade,
… in the spring and autumn, they played football and did athletics on the skating rink, which had been converted for the purpose.
Such programmes were accessible not only the Seagull patrol but other patrols could also participate in similar sports activities.
In his memoirs, László Szende also writes that besides the practical work, they also received theoretical training in the patrol (troop), talked in detail about the 10 Scout Laws (after 65 years he still remembered five of them verbatim!) and other requirements of the scout trials. But they also did special tests, he recalled, for example, taking the cook’s special test and the observation special test – and the badge related to these tests to wear on his arm.
In the summer of 1937, the camp was held at Síkfőkút, near Eger.
László Szende was also at this camp (he didn’t go to many camps because he had to help in his father’s grocery store in the summer), and this is how he recalled it long after the event:
Síkfőkőkút is located in the western part of the Bükk Mountains, an extremely beautiful area, an almost wilderness setting.
The hilly, mountainous woodland with its hills was perfect for a game of a ‘war’ with numbers fixed on our hats. We threw ourselves into this game with great passion. The numbers “shouted off” by the warriors in their hiding places were resounding. The number of survivors grew thinner and thinner and the number of “corpses” gradually increased, and at the end the winners returned to the camp site with a triumphant battle cry. I’m not boasting, but the game I remember was won by our patrol – the Seagulls.
The night watch was an exciting moment of the camping experience. The sound of the horn woke the boys at midnight. They woke up from their sleep, dressed as quickly as possible and lined up around the troop flag at the command of their patrol leader. The commander informed us that our posted observers had reported that an enemy formation was preparing to attack our camp.
The patrols surrounded the camp and waited for the enemy. However, after about half an hour on watch, the commander called off the alert because the observers reported that the enemy, having learned of our vigilance, had abandoned the attack. It was disappointing not to be able to fight and defend our camp, but comforting not to have to spend more than an hour of the night without sleep.
Among my experiences was an unpleasant one, namely the following:
There was a very beautiful meadow below our camp, which was often used as a football pitch. We used to play football matches there in free time. During one of these games, I got into a big fight with one of the assistant officers, whom I called an idiot in the heat of the game. Naturally, I got the short end of the stick. The affair turned into an interrogation and detention. The most painful thing for me, however, was that during the previous days of the camp I had been hoping to compete for the proud title of “best camper”, but this “malheur” put an end to that beautiful hope.
On one occasion, a small part of the campers went on a trip from Síkfőkőkút to Eger. Eger is situated between the Mátra and the Bükk mountains and is the capital of Heves county. It is very rich in monuments and historical sights. We visited the ruins of the fortress, famous for the heroic battle of Captain István Dobó against the Turks. We also visited the minaret from whose balcony the muezzin called the Turks to prayer in the name of Allah. The high tower offers a beautiful view of the city.
We saw the house of Géza Gárdonyi, the great writer of Eger, where he wrote his famous work “The Stars of Eger”, and we visited his grave. In addition, we also passed by several other historical sights and monuments. We returned to the camp tired, but with very nice experiences.
As the years went by, the Révai yearbook became thinner and thinner, and the reports in it about the scouts became shorter and shorter. This was particularly true of the report of the Jewish scout troop, which in 1937-38 was only a few lines long and contained hardly any meaningful information. From the following year onwards, any search for the report is futile; even about the Turul scout troop only a few lines could be included in these wartime yearbooks…).
In the 1937-38 school year, the troop participated in all the federal rallies and this year again it collected donations in kind for 2 carts and 152,90 Pengo in cash. In the spring and fall – every year, including this year – several day trips were organized to excursion sites near Győr.
László Szende remembered these trips in this way:
In addition to the big summer camps, we organised short trips in spring and autumn.
Our favourite and most frequent excursion target was Kiskút by the Iparcsatorna (an Industry Canal built for the factories around). This was mainly a patrol trip, but there were also troop trips, which were usually organised in conjunction with the summer outing of Révai in June. One of the favourite programmes at the camp show was ‘Mufti, the Wonder Spider’. Mufti, member of our troop, had the special ability to recite every text from the National Anthem to Toldi backwards and forwards. We had great fun with the improvised backwards recitation of texts invented by our mates from other patrols, that he was doing as if he were reading from a book. That’s why we called him “Mufti, the Wonder Spider”. Another friend of ours was a “counting wonder” who did similar tricks with numbers as Mufti did with words. He divided and multiplied everything and anything. It was a great experience for us.
Another of our favourite excursion spots was „Püspök erdő” (the “Bishop’s Forest”), up the banks of the Moson Danube, which was the scene of exciting number wars and obstacle races.
Several times during our scouting period, we visited Kismegyer, the scene of the Battle of Napoleon. Here we saw the monument erected to commemorate the battle.
The team also made boat trips north and south on the Moson Danube, as well as on the Rába and other rivers in the area.
Once (we have not been able to find out which year) a major undertaking was undertaken: it was our participation in the North-East Hungary Cycling Tour.
Months in advance, preparations were underway. The girls embroidered flags on the bikes and the parents – especially the mothers – were worried sick about their touring sons. The route was Budapest-Eger-Miskolc-Debrecen and back, with lots of fun and some not so fun.
The trip started with excitement, because one of our mates had such an unfortunate fall in the horseshoe bend in Gödöllő that he was injured and his bike was badly damaged. But we helped to fix everything and continued on our way.
We arrived at the camp of the Jewish team in Miskolc late on Friday evening (which was already part of Sabbath), so we were stigmatized by the camp rabbi as “blaspheming God”.
Well, in the end everything went very well and nicely. Lillafüred and later the Nagyerdő in Debrecen, but also many other beautiful places we saw on the way, were a great experience for the participants. It is true that we had originally planned the tour to be even longer, but we did not have enough time and energy for more.
The mothers were the happiest that we shortened the trip, still an unforgettable experience.
As the Jewish question in Hungary became more acute, the Scouts withdrew from the more “fashionable” campsites of the previous years (Balaton, Sopron, Kőszeg, Eger) to “modest” camping facilities. This meant summer camping on the estates of Jewish landowners or landlords in the Győr area, who, understanding the changing times, were willing to provide the troop with a campsite.
Thus, in the summer of 1938, the group was given a campsite on their property in Fúd near Nagyszentjános by the Vajda brothers, who were farmers there.
I have a photograph of the gate of this camp in the background with the inscription “479th Szőgyi László Scout Troop Győr” that I received from László Szende with the following lines of recollections:
I had been courting the little girl at the front of the picture for only a year; she has been my wife since 1946 for 53 years. When she came to visit me in the camp, neither of us had expected our lives to take such a turn. Unfortunately, this turn of life has been full of sad events. The deportation of our parents, family members, many of our fellow scouts and ourselves. After our return home, severely shattered but fortunately alive, we did what we were wisest to do: we got married.
It is interesting that our brother scout, Pali Grüngold – later Gábor – who is in the background of the picture, my best friend and my assistant patrol leader in the Seagulls, and the little girl he loved, were in a similar situation and acted in the same way as we did. Another of our teammates – the aforementioned Dönci Erdély – followed the same path. I think we were good examples of the perseverance and persistence of the Scouts. Examples that are rare in life.
I remember one nicer “story” from the puszta of Fúd: we had a fellow scout, Pollák, whom, who knows why, everyone liked to poke and prod. One day, we thought he was in the tent and someone shouted “let’s punch Pollák!” That’s all we needed, we rushed into the tent: pulling and pulling until the tent collapsed. We waited to see Pollák’s terrified face as he climbed out.
But our face became terrified, because on climbing out it turned out that someone had mixed up the person entering the tent who was not Pollák, but our extremely strict assistant officer: Uncle Gyuri Klausz. The trouble broke out, of course, followed by an order for questioning, and severe reprisals. Well, that too is one of the fond memories of the camp. In later years, when we met Gyuri Klausz, who had become a good friend, we would recollect old times and have a good time.
Sadly, neither Gyuri nor Pali Pollák are alive anymore.
As Hungary became more and more entangled in the fascist world, the Jewish troops’ options had narrowed to the point where they could only camp on one of the nearby Jewish estates. The last camp of the group was held in the summer of 1939, at Hodálypuszta near Ménfőcsanak. János Krausz, a tenant farmer on the estate, was kind enough to approve the camp.
The following letter is addressed to István Vértes, a former scout member of the troop, who understood the times, sensed the coming storm and was the first, or at least among the first, to emigrate to Israel.
Hodálypuszta Camp, 29 June 1939
SZŐGYI LÁSZLÓ SCOUT TROOP GYŐR NO 479
Dear Brother Scout,
We think of you with great affection in our Hodálypuszta Grand Camp where we have just held our cosy campfire in memory of you, in your honour. At the beautiful melody of Hatika Oath, every brother scout remembered you.
Our Scout regards to you, Commander József Ullmann (+ 17 signatures)
The letter is typical of the situation which, in the late 1930s and the first half of the 1940s, brought tragedy to Jewry, and of course to the Scout movement.
It is probable that the songs sung at the campfire mentioned in the letter were the ones learnt by those who stayed behind from their brother scouts who had emigrated to Israel, and which were often sung in difficult times. Here are two of them (which László Szende recalled, who unfortunately did not tell us the tune):
(Only in Hungarian)
A Jordánon suttog a szél A Jordán regéket mesél. És sejtelmes hangját Oly messzire viszi a szél. Elviszi messzire, távoli földekre, A zsidó szívekbe.
A Kineret tó partján Egy kicsinyke kis sziklán Ül egy fekete bachur És magában így beszél: Tízet szerettem És kilencet feledtem, De azt az egyet elfeledni Nem tudom soha.
Little is known about the years 1939-40. László Szekeres, a scout leader who graduated from the high school in 1939 took his scouts on several excursions even in the spring of 1940. But there was no camp in 1940 anymore.
The impact of the laws on Jews and the parallel state pressure was growing in general as well as on the Hungarian Scout Association. There was the choice: either to dissolve the whole association (all 600 scout troops) or to expel the 2,000 Jewish scouts, who were then grouped in 14 troops. In the interest of the others, the latter was decided upon and, according to the decision of the General Assembly held in December 1940, Jewish Scouting in Hungary was dissolved. This, of course, also meant the end of Scout Troop László Szőgyi No. 479.
But what happened to the scouts?
Many scouts followed Pista Vértes – together with his parents, of course. They emigrated to the most diverse countries of the world, from Israel, through North and South America, to Australia and even other places.
Some – like László Szende, Miklós Erdély and many others – stayed at home and were put into forced labour camps and were later deported. Those who were lucky managed to escape alive, but these were just a few. The majority, however, like their parents, and most of their families, were victims of the concentration camps.
Those who survived started a new life after the war and remembered for the rest of their lives that …
… “once there was a Jewish scout troop in Győr, which helped many boys to have a beautiful childhood, a character-building and an eventful youth.” (Words by László Szende)
Finally, here-below some of scout songs (recollections of László Szende):
(Only in Hungarian)
Megjött már a fecskemadár, fészket rakott nálunk. Hívogat már a napsugár, nagytáborba vágyunk. Virág nyílik a hegyoldalon, nincs szebb annál semmi: Harsog a kürtszó, cserkész pajtás, táborba kell menni.
Este van, este, szép csendes este, ragyognak ránk a csillagok. Nem zúg a szellő a sátrak mellett, jó anyám csak Rád gondolok. Aggódó, könnyes két szemedre, mosolygó szép tekintetedre. Te jársz eszembe jó anyám, téged szeretlek igazán.
Száraz tónak nedves partján döglött béka kuruttyol. Hallgatja egy süket ember, ki a vízben lubickol. Sej, haj, denevér, bennünk van a kutyavér. Sej, haj, denevér, bennünk van a kutyavér.
I have finished writing and I am sad to say that this collection of memories is shorter than I would have liked. The sources I have found have really been very limited and there are hardly any witnesses to remember 50 years later. Here, I would like to thank the generous accounts of two former scouts who were still alive when the data collection began. Without them this story could not have been written.
The question may arise: why did I, as a Catholic by religion, write the history of the Jewish scout troop in Győr?
I was a scout only after the war – for less than two years – and in 1990, as a teacher at the Révai High School, I reorganised the school’s Turul Scout Troop No. 42. In these two capacities, I come across the László Szőgyi Scout Troop. It caught my interest, because from my pre-war childhood years I remember with fondness the Jews who lived in our town: our doctor, our dentist, as well as my father’s friends, business partners and employees. I felt that, even though this story is not dedicated to them, I owed this piece of writing also to their memory.
It was a great pleasure for me to be able to commemorate the László Szőgyi Scout Troop in Győr.
Written by Ildikó Mesterházi, Ambassador of the Zachor Foundation and the USC Shoah Foundation in Győr
If you are lucky enough to talk to your parents or grandparents about your childhood, it can be a life-changing experience. It is important for all of us to learn as much as possible about our ancestors through personal stories. This is no different when we are dealing with history. In school education, too, oral history, personal storytelling, which gives an individual perspective on a historical event, is becoming increasingly important. I myself often use this tool when teaching 20th century history.
I am a teacher at the János Richter Music Secondary School and its affiliated school, the Béla Bartók Singing and Music Primary School. The primary school is located in Győr-Sziget. When we deal with city history as a part of Hungarian history and then more narrowly with the history of the place where we live in, it is inevitable to learn about the history of the Jews of Győr, whether it is the construction of the factories in Győr-Sziget, the prosperous peaceful times (editor’s note: the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries), or the time of the Great Disaster. This is also the case for secondary school students, who visit the synagogue on numerous occasions for school events. For them, too, it is essential to learn about the life and history of the community that built and used this wonderful building.
My graduation in 2015 from the training course for professors called “Video Interviews for the 21st Century Education” run by the Zachor Foundation for Social Remembrance and the Southern California University (USC) Shoah Foundation was a tremendous boost in my educational work, as it opened up a whole new perspective for me on the use of personal life stories in classroom teaching.
The Zachor Foundation, a partner of the Shoah Foundation, is a non-governmental educational organisation that develops teaching materials, educational programmes and teacher training based on the life stories of Holocaust survivors.
In recent years, I have participated in several training courses, developed and tested teaching materials, and created IWalk, a local history walk combined with video-interviews on the history of Győr’s Jewish community. Based on video interviews, my students and I created artworks for an art competition. Two classes of secondary school students have also been prepared for a visit to Auschwitz using interviews and teaching materials from the IWitness online educational platform.
It was a great honour for me to join, as Ambassador of Győr, the Ambassador Programme of the Zachor Foundation and the USC Shoah Foundation, which started in September 2022.
As an Ambassador, I see it as my task to promote the activities of the two foundations as widely as possible, by organising programmes that bring the personal stories revealed in the video interviews closer to teachers, students and in many cases “ordinary people”, thus helping to combat racism, intolerance, anti-Semitism and prejudice, and to overcome the trauma of the Holocaust.
Among the programmes being organised, I would like to bring to your attention an art exhibition visiting Győr in April 2023 and the Győr Walk, renewed in the IWalk app, which will pay tribute to the victims of the Holocaust in Hungary on the occasion of Holocaust Remembrance Day. I will write about both programmes in more detail and with more precise dates next time.
Győr, 24 February 2023
You can read more about the work of the Foundations:
“Useful courses for teachers’ continuous training” by Mónika Mezei can be found here
Uncle Gyula, by his full name Gyula Perl was born in Győr in 1881. In 1909, he changed his name to Gyula Pál. And when he lived in Denmark to Julius Pal.
Actually, one of his brothers married the sister of my grandmother and what is more, his other brother married my grandmother’s cousin. This is why it crossed my mind to remember him and share the life story of this remarkable person with you.
His parents were called David Perl (1839-1909) and Berta Perl (1857-1907) came from Vágújhely (Slovakia). His father, David Perl, was a merchant and later a carrier. His company was called “Perl Dávid és Társa”. They are buried in the Jewish cemetery in Győr. Gyula had four siblings: Arnold (1878-1945), Otto (1879-1944), Elza (1893-?), Ignatz (?-?) and Alajos (1888-1889).
Gyula Perl attended the Benedictine Grammar School in Győr. Among his schoolmates we see Frigyes Riesz, later the internationally renowned mathematician. Gyula Perl remained in contact with him later on. He was a talented student getting the best marks in nearly all subjects. After finishing the Grammar School in 1900, he continued his studies at the Budapest University where he got his degree in 1908. He went on studying at universities of Göttingen, Munich and possibly Paris.
From 1908–1918 he was a teacher at the high school of Székelyudvarhely (now Romania). The famous Hungarian writer, Dezső Szabó, teacher in Székelyudvarhely at the time, described him in his autobiographical novel as an intelligent, educated, and erudite person, but maybe too ambitious. (Dezső Szabó: Az elsodort falu (The village swept away); novel, 1919) Besides teaching he conducted an intensive research work under the guidance of Frigyes Riesz, who was then professor at the University of Kolozsvár (now Romania). Between 1912 and 1915 Gyula Pál published nine papers in leading periodicals. In 1916, he got his doctorate from Kolozsvár University under Riesz.
Perl tried to get a job in a university town offering good conditions for research. His applications for jobs at high schools in Budapest and Pozsony (Bratislava, Slovakia today) were turned down, but at the end of WW1, in 1918 or 1919, he managed to get a job in Pozsony. During the WW1 he served in the Hungarian army as a volunteer officer on the Italian front. He was wounded and perhaps a bullet remained in his back for ever which made sitting difficult for him and badly affected his temper. He received a Hungarian army medal in 1922.
He participated in the revolutionary movement in Hungary in 1918-1919. But it was possibly not the main reason of his emigration to Denmark. He simply lost his job as a consequence of Pozsony becoming part of the newly created Czechoslovakia.
Fortunately, Harald Bohr, mathematician (brother of the Nobel Prize winner Niels Bohr, Danish physicist), whom Perl met probably in Göttingen earlier, invited Perl to go to Copenhagen.
He started teaching as a temporary staff member at the Skt. Jørgens Gymnasium (Grammar School), where Børge Jessen, who later became a leading figure in the field of mathematics in Denmark, had been one of his students.
In the meantime, Julius Pal seemingly became a mediator in relations between Hungarian and Danish scientists through the Bohr brothers and Jessen.
In 1925, Pal joined the Polyteknisk Læreanstalt (Institute of Polytechnics) where he worked until his death. Beside his main job there, he undertook temporary part time jobs, too.
He started at Polyteknisk as a teaching assistant in 1925, and he continued as a lecturer as from 1926. His professional path culminated by the King of Denmark nominating him to associate professor in 1929. As a precondition, he was granted Danish citizenship in 1928. He taught mainly analysis and wrote a bulky and excellent textbook on the subject published in 1931 and rewritten in 1941.
From 1932 on, Pal was the teaching assistant of H. Bohr at the university. In addition, he was the first librarian of the institute. Unfortunately, in 1938 he had to leave the university because of his bad personal contacts with H. Bohr, B. Jessen and other professors.
I, my dear nephew, long for home every day and it is a special day for me if only a letter comes from home. I believe that [in this respect] your fate is easier than mine; because I was already 40 years old when I left my home country and at this age transplantation is difficult.
I do not long even for my siblings as much as I long after your father. My dear friend Zoltán [Dr. Zoltán Bánki (1873-1934), Ödön’s father] has virtually forgotten me, but I think of him every day and I would like to talk to him about all kinds of things and be reassured that there are people whose character and noblesse cannot subdued and destroyed. (Letter from Gyula Pal to Ödön Bánki, after July 1932)
By this time in Denmark, he changed his name Pal Gyula to Julius Pal loosing also an accent mark in his family name. It should be noted, however, that he kept Pal Gyula as signature in all his letters and felt home sick for a long time. He could visit Hungary only twice. First in 1931, with his family spending several months in Győr at his brother’s wherefrom he probably visited his sister Elsa Fisher, later Pollak, who lived in Vienna. He went for a second visit to Hungary alone in 1935.
In 1921, Pal married Alma Christine Bissen (1889-1962), the daughter of the Danish painter Rudolf Bissen. (Alma Christine Bissen was first married with the Swedish/Danish sculptor Gerhard Henning (1880-1967) between 1914 and 1918.) Their only child, Ilona Birgit Pal, was born in 1922.
I myself am almost always ill and my life is not worth much, except for the fact that I can still look after my wife and child better than if they had to make a living on the widow’s pension (which is rather low). (Letter from Gyula Pal to Ödön Bánki, 1932)
Indeed, Pal had to work hard to care for his wife and daughter by teaching in a foreign country in a foreign language. He complained about it in a letter to Frigyes Riesz.
But he kept contact with is hometown Győr. The ceramist Margit Kovács (1902-1977) studied at a porcelain factory in Copenhagen in 1932 and lived for some weeks at Pal’s house. Her father, Sándor Kovács (1871-1912) was actually his friend. In addition, Ödön Bánki and Margit Kovács knew each other from childhood in Győr, their mothers having been friends. (Interesting to note that Alma Bissen Pal worked for 15 years in the porcelain industry and had probably contacts that helped Margit Kovács in her studies.)
Pal was frequently ill. In spite of this he participated in the resistance during Nazi occupation. His bad state of health became even worse when he got the news after the war about the death of his relatives in Hungary. This surely contributed to his early death in a Copenhagen hospital on September 6, 1946.
Of his close relatives only his sister-in-law Ilona Perl and her son Jancsi survived in Budapest as well as his nephew Peter Thomas Fischer (changed to Fisher in the US) by immigrating to the US in 1938. What happened to his sister Elsa, Peter Thomas Fischer’s mother, is unclear. Nothing is known about the life of Ignatz Perl either.
Written by Esther Bánki, The Netherlands, Gyula Perl’s second niece
May the editor (P. Krausz) quote here a short email he received from Esther Bánki while exchanging on Esther’s writing on his Uncle Gyula:
“Dear Peter Krausz,
My Hungarian is not so good, that’s why I’m writing to you in English. The idea of the meeting in 2024 is really great! Thank you so much! I will definitely send this information to more of my family members. …
My great-grandmother was Lidia Perl. She married Mór Reichenfeld, who was a grain merchant. They had 7 children, but 5 of them died young.
Only my grandfather Zoltán (1873-1934) and his sister Lenke (1875-1944) became adults. Zoltán Reichenfeld, born in Győr, changed his name to Bánki. He was a gynaecologist by profession in Győr. My grandmother’s name was Olga Árpási (former Goldschmied).
They had two children, Ödön and Zsuzsanna (1912-1944). Ödön Bánki (1903-1978), my father, was born in Győr too. He studied in Würzburg and München due to the Numerus Clausus Law in Hungary. He was also a medical doctor. In 1928, he emigrated to The Netherlands and survived there. Here he had 8 children. My aunt was an architect. (I wrote an article about her, translated into Hungarian). She married Dr. István Pál (Sterk). My grandmother and aunt were deported from Győr to Auschwitz and killed there. István Sterk survived in a labour camp. But died of cancer in 1953. His daughter Eszter Sterk (born 1953) lives in Austria now.
In Hungary, I have only a few relatives, all descendants of Adolf König from Györ and I have contact with the descendants of the brothers and sisters of my great-grandmother Lidia Perl. They live in Hungary, Israël, the U.S., Serbia and Australia (Eva Quittner’s family).
Esther Bánki (born in 1964)
Sources of Gyula Perl’s biography written by Esther Bánki:
An article, Pál Gyula – Julius Pal (1881-1946) the Hungarian – Danish mathematician by László Filep and Sigurd Elkjaer, 2001, was an important source for this biography
The life of a lawyer-physician, Sándor Alexander Ullmann– Part One
Here-below is a document written by Sándor “Alexander” Ullmann’s grand-daughter, Savannah Weil, when she was 21 years of age about her grandfather’s life in Hungary.
According to information received from her mother, i.e. Sándor’s daughter, Savannah has always had a great passion for continuing the research on the Ullmann-Gescheit family tree that her grandfather began to work on in the early 1990s. Much of the information in this biography came from taped interviews of her grandfather.
Savannah’s story on her grandfather starts from the age he took up his studies at the University of Pécs. Let us add an important detail which is that Sándor attended the Győr High School Miklós Révai and passed his maturity exams at this institution.
We received the continuation of Sándor’s life story from his daughter, Margie Ullmann-Weil, from the moment when Sándor had arrived in Canada. We shall publish this document as the 2nd part of Sándor Ullmann’ life story.
But now, let us see the biography of Sándor Alexander Ullmann as noted by her grand-daughter. I have received Sándor’s photos from his family. The rest of the pictures stem from other sources and they are included only for illustrative purposes.
The Nazi regime of Germany occupied Hungary on March 19th, 1944. Sándor was 19 years old, in his first year at the University of Pécs, studying law and medicine. When he heard the announcement on the radio, he knew immediately that as a young Jewish man, he must return home to Győr, although he had no idea for how long. The next day, Sándor went to his university to bid farewell to his classmates and teachers, and then boarded a train for Győr. Sándor notes that one classmate had the foresight to provide him with a Nazi hat and Arrow Cross shirt so as to be able to travel freely. As a young Hungarian Jewish boy, Sándor had always experienced anti-Semitism, but never to the extent that occurred during World War II.
Sándor “Alexander” Ullmann was born to Frigyes Ullmann and Margit Gescheit on January 28, 1925 in Salgotarján, Hungary. Frigyes was a teacher although he had been unable to find work since he returned from Siberia as a prisoner of war in 1923. Under Miklós Horthy, Regent of Hungary, it was becoming progressively more difficult for Jews to find work in the government and civil service. At age 6, Sándor moved to Győr with his parents and younger brother, Dezső. Sándor excelled in school and soon became a tutor by age 15, assisting classmates in Latin, German, and French.
Horthy established the first anti-Jewish laws in 1938, marking a significant turning point in Sándor’s life. While Sándor did not observe any overt discrimination against Jews following the introduction of these laws, he did experience first-hand the reluctance of universities to accept Jewish students. In 1942, Sándor won a statewide contest for Hungarian students for his mastery of the Latin language, earning him full tuition at any university of his choice. Unfortunately, the only university to accept him was the Faculty of Law at the University of Pécs. Sándor was adamant that he would attend the University because the government owed him a free education.
Upon arriving, Sándor experienced great anti-Semitism from his classmates and was often physically attacked by them. To make the best of the situation and prove the anti-Semites wrong, Sándor surprised classmates and teachers alike by maintaining a course load in medical and law courses in parallel.
When Sándor returned home to Győr on March 20, 1944, he had no idea how long he would stay there but understood that his life in Hungary would be changing. At 19 years old, Sándor was drafted into the munkaszolgálat, the Hungarian Labor Service, around April of 1944. This was a system of forced labor for Hungarian Jews between the ages of twenty and forty-eight. Units were assigned to mining, construction, clearing minefields, building military fortifications, and digging trenches. Sándor recalls the day that he boarded the train for Pécs to take up the forced service, looking back to see his father and mother for the last time.
Once he arrived in Pécs, Sándor was sent to do hard physical labor in a nearby camp. Later on, Sándor was relocated to various camps and expected to carry out numerous jobs during his period in the Labor Service, one task being to clean up a local ghetto after it had been liquidated. Sándor had never seen a ghetto before and his only knowledge of Nazi persecution came from the short period of time when his father was sent to a labor camp. This was a surreal experience for Sándor as he walked through an empty ghetto and sifted through the objects that characterize one’s life. It was his responsibility to sort various belongings of the faceless Jews that once lived there so that the Nazis could pillage the valuable items. As a boy who was largely sheltered from the poor conditions that many Jews experienced during the Holocaust, Sándor was disoriented by his experiences.
Another of Sándor’s duties in the labor service was to mine manganese in the town of Úrkút (north of Lake Balaton). This task lasted longer than many other jobs but also left a significant impression on him. A typical day at the mine involved working for eight hours, five to six days a week. While the wakeup call was at 5:00am, Sándor habitually arose fifteen minutes early in order to pray, wash at the faucets outside the barracks and get dressed. Breakfast consisted of ersatz (a coffee alternative) and bread. While there were no fences around this particular camp, there was nowhere to escape to as the barracks were at the top of a mountain.
Sándor recalls celebrating his 20th birthday in the mines, reflecting on his life and his future. Because he wanted to have a celebration by himself, Sándor stayed in the mine at the end of the day and celebrated alone for sixteen hours, until the next shift started. Because the guards were unreliable in the camp, no one noticed that he was missing at the end of the workday. Sándor spent the time reciting poetry in different languages and singing Hungarian songs. He spent time planning out the rest of his life and came to the conclusion that he wanted to complete his free education in Hungary specializing in medicine, then would start a new life somewhere else. Sándor had no doubt that he would survive the war and knew that because of the war, he would never live in Hungary again. Sándor recalls his 20th birthday celebration as a joyous time when he was able to introspect and engage in meaningful activities.
Sándor’s time at the mine ended when the guards attempted to drown all of the Jews by shutting off the electricity for the elevators and flooding the mines. The mine was 2,000-3,000 feet underground but the guards did not realize that there were ladders available in case of emergency. Every single Jew escaped from the mine because the guards did not wait behind to ensure that everyone had died. Due to the isolated location, the Jews were soon recaptured and moved to a new camp.
Sándor was one of the privileged Hungarian Jews to receive a false Swedish passport but unfortunately was unable to make use of it. Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish citizen who had studied in America, was recruited by the U.S. War Refugee Board to travel to Hungary in July 1944 as a Swedish diplomat with the goal of assisting Jews in any way possible. A friend who worked with Raoul Wallenberg mailed the passport to Sándor’s home without knowing whether he was alive and the package was successfully delivered to Sándor at the labor camp. A friendly commanding officer at the labor camp offered to bring Sándor to the border when he learned of the Swedish passport but an opportunity never arose for this plan to be carried out.
Sándor transited the labor camp in Mosonmagyarovár when the Jews received orders of a forced march to the Austrian border at the end of March in 1945. The Jews had been marching for four days when the Russians found them. It was important for Sándor to wear his tallit when he was liberated, a sign of perseverance and commitment to Judaism. Although the Jews were pleased that the Russians had arrived, they were also frustrated that the Russians treated the Jews almost as badly as the Germans or Hungarians. Sándor recalls that a Russian soldier stole his watch and threatened to shoot the Jews if they did not have any more possessions.
After Sándor was liberated from the labor service, he returned to Pécs since Győr had not yet been liberated. Once there, he immediately registered for his second semester at the medical school. Four or five weeks later, Sándor woke up in the hospital due to typhus, without having any memory of how he arrived there. He learned that someone found him lying in the street and took all of his belongings, including his clothes. Once Sándor regained his health, he travelled back to Győr to look for his family but only stayed for twenty-four hours because it was too difficult for him to be there. By 1945, Sándor was finishing his second year of medical school at the age of twenty. After graduation, Sándor moved to Budapest, where he slept on a park bench and worked at a Jewish hospital opened by medical students. Sometime later, doctors took over the duty but Sándor continued to work there along with seven other medical students.
Around September of 1945, Sandor discovered the fate of his family. His mother, father, uncle, and brother were all deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp. His mother, Margit Ullmann, was sent to the gas chamber immediately upon arrival. His brother, Dezső Ullmann, worked in “Canada” (the prisoner term referring to sending inmates to the gas chamber and organizing their belongings) and committed suicide by walking into the electric fence because he could not handle the stress.
Sándor’s father, Frigyes Ullmann, and uncle, József Ullmann, were transported to Dachau in July of 1944. József had died three weeks before Dachau was liberated whereas Frigyes died one day after the camp’s liberation.
Sándor escaped to Austria in 1949, later he moved to Munich, West-Germany, where he completed his medical residency in 1950. He immigrated to Canada on March 27, 1951.
Epilogue of Savannah
I was surprised to learn that when asked why it is important for Sándor to share his story, he could not see the benefit in documenting his experiences. From a personal point of view, this has been an emotional and meaningful opportunity for me as many of my relatives have passed away and my family is quickly losing any ability to learn about our heritage. It is very important for me to learn about my ancestors and this project has reinvigorated my efforts to build a family tree. As a senior project in high school, I was able to build a family tree that goes back ten generations, but as the internet becomes more comprehensive and more records are digitized, I have been able to fill in many holes and elaborate on many details. I wish I could speak with him now to tell him that this opportunity has been powerful and moving and that I will remember what I have learned about his life and his perseverance and optimistic attitude during the war.
This has been a meaningful undertaking for me as Sándor, my grandfather, died in 1994 when I was 6 years old. I never had an opportunity to ask my grandfather about his experiences during the war and later his experiences traveling to Michigan via Canada. While it has been difficult to hear a tape recording of his experiences and know that I am unable to ask him questions or initiate a dialogue, I have nonetheless enjoyed the opportunity. Sándor’s story is unlike anything I have come across in my twenty-one years of existence and yet it is amazing to me that we still have many common characteristics as emerging adults.
Sándor mentions on numerous occasions that he often reflected on his life and considered plans for his future. While this is a large part of my life, as I prepare for graduation in a mere few days, it is astonishing to me that while he was in the middle of a war, working in a labor camp under inadequate conditions, he would still take time to plan his future. I think this speaks to the maturity level and state-of-mind of most eighteen-to-twenty-two-year-olds as they reach a point in their life when they are ready to become more independent and create long-term goals. As I struggle to transform my passions into career choices, I admire my grandfather for his determination to get an education regardless of the many obstacles and to use his intellect to help other people.
Savannah wrote this when she was 21 years old. She is now 34. She has her graduate degree in Social Work and lives in Philadelphia.
As mentioned in the introduction, we had received the continuation of Sándor’s life story from his daughter, Margie Ullmann-Weil, from the moment when Sándor had arrived in Canada. We shall publish this document as the 2nd part of Sándor Ullmann’ life story.
The misadventures of a Medical Doctor from Győr in the final days of World War 2
In Part I you learnt why and how the diary was written, and that the roads were constantly under attack by Russian planes and the German army, especially supply columns and mechanised units, were pouring back, with many tanks, some of them damaged.
Let us continue. The year is now 1944.
Saturday, 23 December
“The farm and the highway are so congested that it almost offers the opportunity for a plane attack, and it won’t be missed. Russian planes are attacking in low flying with terrible machine gunning, impacts in our immediate vicinity. We get some machine gun fire, but no major hits in the village. Some houses burnt and set on fire, the room in the farm …, the cow shed in Vázsony – the cows have been let out and are now wandering in the
I move off, but I only get as far as Mohos, another attack, I am forced to retreat and then go back. … By the afternoon the air activity has quietened down, it is true that there are only occasional vehicles on the highway and I decide to go back up, bring down all the bandages and petrol so that we have lighting, because the electricity had gone out days before, so unfortunately, we can’t use the radio.
The way up wasn’t very pleasant either, but I got everything fixed. In the barracks I met one man, Leon, who was at home as a telephone operator. He had aged at least 10 years in 2 days – company commander and guards are nowhere. I gave Leon 2 blankets at least to keep him warm and recommended him to go to the shelter, where I was soon forced to follow him as a terrible cannon thunder began.
The pre-dinner duel between the German long barrels and the Russian batteries. In the shelter, 2-3 women prayed in Hungarian and German, while grenades flew overhead with wild whistling. Fortunately, nothing lasts forever, so this too was quietened… On the road, to complete my happiness, as I passed the cornfield, planes came, and I thought it better to lie low in the trenches… By the time I reached the middle of the lucerne, they were coming back, but it was already very dark and fortunately they were not firing … But I … when I heard the roar of the machines, I made a run in the wide-open country that would have done any champion credit, until I reached the big pit, where I recovered a little. I then pushed on at a strong pace to reach the Friedreichs’ cellar, where it is much safer after all, or so we think. When I got to them I am told I looked a bit shaken! … By nightfall we settled back in the post office room, but at 11 o’clock there was such a wild shoot-out that we hurried back to the cellar. By the time we got downstairs it was quiet, with only occasional shots from the enemy to signal their wakefulness …
Sunday, December 24
At 5 o’clock in the morning we are woken up by the news that the Russians are already in Vázsony. This news proved to be a fake, but we didn’t go to bed again and waited for what was to come. We saw Hungarian soldiers partly unarmed and un-equipped on the road beside the house going towards Zsámbék, then some German tanks passed by, and by half past eight there were no more Hungarian or German soldiers on the road or in the village.
A strange, frozen silence has replaced the constant noise of the previous days, there is little sound of cannon fire, the people of Vázsony say that the Germans had loaded up during the night, and had taken their long-barrelled guns and towed away their damaged tanks.
Considering that it is morning and I am hungry, it is also quiet, I advocate some food, but I see that the appetite of the cellar people is very weak and only Charap is with me … In the meantime, we are trying to put some order in the cellar, so that at least we can move around. The idiots are ejected, but they only give in to violence, despite the total silence. In the noise of battle, they are so afraid that they cannot be lured out.
Around half past ten the first Russian troops appear, but they only pass through and do not stay with us. More and more Russian troops are pouring in, some of them marching towards Zsámbék and some towards Németháza, but the village and the Friedriechs are getting some of them. In Friedriech’s apartment there are also 10 or so Russian soldiers, while in the post office building there are 4 officers … and they ask for lunch at 2 p.m., so we start to prepare it.
In between, more Russian soldiers come, eat what they can find, but they don’t hurt anybody. A Russian lieutenant likes my wristwatch, so I have to exchange it, I get a woman’s wristwatch instead, which doesn’t work … It seems that this exchange, which took place in the kitchen, was surprised by a Russian soldier who relieved me of my money and the wristwatch I had received. This is war!
Then a man runs barefoot out of the barn, his boots pulled off, and Charap is equally freed from his watch. Despite all the protestations that we are doctors and need the watch, nothing works. “Davaj, davaj” says the Russian, and it must be given to him.
They left around 3 p.m. Leaving a terrible mess behind them, they took nothing but food, and the cupboard doors, although open, were damaged by the visit. Then a detachment of Russian soldiers took Jancsi Freiberger’s medical bag from the post room…
The sound of battle is getting further and further away, and we are calmly picking up the things scattered around the flat, thank God, we have got over that too. The joy proved to be very premature, for by evening the German batteries in the distance began to fire on the village, and it was shot in and shot out. One shell hit the church tower, which caught fire and fell down the next morning when the wooden structure was burnt out. …
Monday, December 25
Christmas Monday, the first day of Christmas.
We almost completely forgot it was a holiday and only remembered it in the quieter hours of the morning. … after 10 o’clock the air activity started again and we received air raids to the south, this time for a change the Germans were machine gunning the village. I was bandaging a wounded Hungarian soldier in the house near the highway, … the poor fellow must have been dead since then – he had a nasty big gap wound on the left side and his right elbow was shot away too. We tried to keep to the corner of the room to avoid any trouble. … I started towards our safer-looking basement apartment. On the way, of course, there was another wave, and I ran into the cellar, flattening myself against the wall.
Meanwhile, the noise of fighting can be heard nearer or further away, but the arriving news is not very encouraging. The Germans are very close and we are trying to think what to do. …
We decide that as soon as the situation is clear, we will move on and leave the Friedreichs to their fate. So far, we have represented the family and we have negotiated with the Russians if necessary. By 3 p.m. there was a lull in the firing and no cannonading, but small arms fire could be heard in the immediate vicinity. The incoming news was that the Germans were back in Vázsony, Russians were hardly to be seen, and the Russians who had appeared here and there were all moving towards Bicske. The situation is very uncomfortable, we don’t want to fall into German hands again under any circumstances, so we have to go.
We take only a side bag, but the Russians at the mine office laugh at us for our concerns, … so we decide to go back for the rest of our belongings. Just in time, as a woman with a broken leg has been brought in, we put it in a splint and after another emotional goodbye, we set off. We head for Székesfehérvár. First stop Felcsút, where we intend to spend the night at the Tessényi’s. We set off well packed and tried to get over the railway embankment as quickly as possible, … in the meantime Freiberg’s Red Cross badge was torn off by a Russian, but no other trouble happened.
Near the oil depot we were joined by a young Russian soldier who took a great fancy to my boots and I was forced to part with them, but again in exchange. The only fault was that the boots I received were too tight and I could not walk in them. With great difficulty we got to nearby Felcsút, where a guard checked on us. While we waited there, I exchanged the tight boots for Jancsi Freiberger’s half-boots, which were slightly too large but wearable. After the exchange, the guard led us to the headquarters, where we left all our belongings and were driven off to roll petrol drums.
When we were done, we were let go without further ado, told to move on. Of course, they did not give us any papers. On arriving in Felcsút, we found out that we could not sleep at Dr Tessényi’s because the Tessényi family were not at home and their flat and surgery had been completely looted. Since we couldn’t find a place to sleep in Felcsút, because there were so many Russian soldiers everywhere, we continued on to Alcsút, where we arrived in the dark. We had no special adventures on the way, except exchanging gloves with a Russian soldier, but at least here I got gloves that were usable, even if worse than mine. In Alcsút we managed to find accommodation with a retired printer who welcomed us and even protected us at night from the Russians who were trying to enter.
The end of the second part.
Don’t miss the third part, which will tell you that medical supplies, medicine and good shoes are a great treasure at the front. Who cares about dry gunpowder!
I reproduce these few lines from the Hungarian version of Wikipedia.
Why is that? Because Vilmos Apor was the only Hungarian Catholic prelate who, not without risk, openly stood up for the Jews in the most difficult times of the 1940s.
He was born in Segesvár in 1892 and died in Győr in 1945 as Bishop of Győr.
Scion of a prominent Transylvanian aristocratic family. He studied at the Jesuits. Enrolled in the seminary of the diocese of Győr, graduated from the University of Innsbruck. He was ordained a priest in 1915.
He began his ministry in Gyula as an assistant pastor and teacher, then as a parish priest. At the age of 26, he gained great prestige when, after a hostage-taking operation by Romanian soldiers, he and several others negotiated the release of the captured citizens of Gyula with the Romanian queen.
He focused on the social responsibility of the Church and ran a children’s charity kitchen. He set up several communities, visited prisoners, helped the poor and the sick, renovated churches and founded a Catholic newspaper. In 1919, when the Hungarian Council Republic abolished religious education in state schools, he succeeded in getting this measure revoked by mobilising parents in Gyula.
In 1941, at the age of 49, he was consecrated Bishop of Győr. At the beginning of 1941, the Cardinal appointed him president of the Hungarian Holy Cross Association, a body which was concerned with the cause of Jewish converts to Christianity throughout the country.
On 26 August 1943, Catholic public figures of the time gathered in the Bishop’s Palace in Győr to discuss the possibilities of Christian politics, in opposition to the cursus politics of the time.
„And whoever denies Christianity’s fundamental law of love and claims that there are people and groups and races to be hated and proclaims that people should be tortured, whether they be Negroes or Jews, no matter how much he may boast that he is a Christian, is like a pagan and a public sinner.” – Bishop Vilmos Apor’s sermon on Pentecost Sunday 1944 (excerpt)
After the German occupation and the takeover by the Arrow Cross, he stood up for the persecuted, regardless of their denomination or ethnicity. He strongly criticised and scourged the established order, personally defending the vulnerable against the German and Arrow Cross leaders (1945).
However, his protests, petitions and telegrams on behalf of the Jews remained ineffective. Some of those who approached him were hidden or sent on to Nuncio Angelo Rotta, who issued thousands of letters of protection, or to his sister, Gizella Apor, head of the Hungarian Red Cross. He also helped the civilian population of the city, working with the monastery leaders to house many refugees, especially after the bombing of Győr in April 1944.
On 28 March 1945, the siege of Győr began. The city was also shelled by the retreating Germans and the cathedral was hit. The Bishop took in all the refugees, and hundreds of people found shelter in the cellars of the Bishop’s Castle.
On 30 March, after refusing to extradite the women who had fled to his residence, a Soviet soldier mortally wounded him in a scuffle, and on 2 April, he died of his wounds.
He was temporarily buried in the Carmelite church in Győr. His reburial took place in 1986, when he was laid to rest in the Héderváry Chapel of the Győr Cathedral.
In 1997 he was beatified by Pope John Paul II.
Vilmos Apor’s lifesaving activities in 1944-45 and his actions to save the Hungarian Jewish community in Győr and nationwide are well known. In the 1980s, he was nominated for the title of Righteous Among the Nations, an honor awarded by the Israeli Yad Vashem Institute.
Several serious Hungarian sources mention that Vilmos Aport was honoured with this title. Reading these materials, I myself was under the same misapprehension. However, I recently learned from the Yad Vashem Institute that the title has not been awarded. The Institute informs me that they are of course aware of the bishop’s activities in saving human lives, but since no testimonies or authentic documents have been submitted so far, they have not been able to award him the title of Righteous Among the Nations.
Our readers are invited to contact us if anyone knows any specific details about Bishop Vilmos Apor’s concrete steps to save Jewish lives. If there were any testimony or irrefutable documentation that the Bishop provided concrete protection or assistance to even one Jewish person during the Holocaust, it would be a great step forward in the matter of granting him the title of Righteous Among the Nations.
„He who saves one life saves the whole world.” – the Talmud
The misadventures of a Medical Doctor from Győr in the final days of World War 2
The document, entitled ” Dad’s Diary “, was preserved by Hugi Bakonyi (real name Irén), the daughter of Dr. Bakonyi of Győr, who died recently. It came to me through Hugi’s daughter and friends. I subsequently discovered that the description had previously appeared on the World Wide Web under the care of Archivnet.
I publish the diary on our website in six parts, with only minor omissions, each marked with three dots. I do not change the text, except to correct minor punctuation errors and to break paragraphs and longer sentences for ease of reading.
The diary begins on 19 March 1945 in Penc, exactly one year after the German invasion. It was there that Dr Bakonyi decided to write his notes in a diary. This is made clear in the entry of 8 March 1945, towards the end of the diary. The whole story begins on 12 December 1944 (the date of his wife’s last visit). There is some inconsistency in the dating here and there, but it is really not disturbing.
The photographs shown here are not part of the diary, but are for illustrative purposes only. The Google maps presented in today’s format may help a little with geographic orientation.
While editing the diary on our website, I think of my father, Károly Krausz (1903-1983), who, like Dr Bakonyi, tried to break away from his company of forced labourers (muszosok) in the final days of the war, but unlike Dr. Bakonyi, unfortunately, he did not go in the right direction, fell into the hands of ill-willed Russian soldiers and ended up in a prisoner of war camp in Russia. After many long months only, his journey led him back to Győr, where he had ‘no home any more’.
So, the diary:
“I write these lines, in which I record the story of my wanderings, with the purpose of recalling things years hence, so that my dear Wife, who is far from me, may, if fate would have it, be informed of my progress while the diary lasts. I therefore ask anyone who may have the diary in their hands to send it to my Wife at the following address: Irén Kőműves, Győr, Erzsébet liget u. 16.A.
Penc, 19 March 1945
For a long time now, I have been thinking of putting down on paper the events that have happened to me since 12 December 1944, when my wife left Óbarok. Since that time, I have received no sign of her, I hope she has returned home safely. …
The situation is becoming more and more tense, distant flashes are seen in the evenings, the people of the neighbourhood are aware that some villages have already come under Russian authority. During the day, there is almost a constant air raid, but fortunately our barracks camp is not bombed, the company is assigned to road repairs.
… every day I go down to Óbarok and try to learn something new and positive. We three doctors decided that under no circumstances would we go any further, but that if our companies were ordered to move, we would quietly fall behind. In the meantime, events are developing rapidly, a lieutenant and his entourage are moving into our infirmary room, in charge of road repair work, and they are beginning to wagon the more valuable mechanical parts of the mine. … according to leaked reports, the German lieutenant, in view of the threatening proximity of the front, has been constantly urging the departure of the companies in the direction of Komárom since the 18th.
This is, of course, impossible, because on the one hand the roads are taken by the retreating units, and on the other hand our men are so poorly dressed that about ¼ of them are permanently in barracks and do not even go out to work. The roads are under constant attack by Russian planes and, I notice, the company commanders do not want to depart either. The roads are constantly being flooded by German troops, especially supply columns and mechanised units, with many tanks, some of them damaged. A good one pulls 2 or 3 bad ones.
Meanwhile, along the road to Óbarok, 4 German twin anti-aircraft guns had nestled in the fields and were firing at the passing Russian planes, which of course returned fire and now the machine-gunning was almost constant in our immediate vicinity and the shelling could be heard closer and closer.
On the 19th the squadron is no longer going out to repair the roads, because the workplace 6 km away from us is already under heavy threat, the Russians are in the immediate vicinity. The men are permanently in the mine shelters, they don’t even come home to eat properly.
I am normally in the nearby shelter, but we don’t get attacked. In the meantime, I go down to the post office every day and I think it happened on the 18th that I was in the middle of the lucerne when 2 Russian planes came and I came under machine gun fire. I vowed that in future I would cross that part of the field on the run.
The same planes dropped some bombs along the road through Újbarok, with no loss of life. The German Oberleutnant is increasingly urging us to leave and will accept no excuses, but it is impossible to leave for the reasons mentioned above, and it is also impossible to assemble the company, because they are hiding in fear of air raids, and they do not sleep at home at night, but hide in shelters and cellars.
… I slept at home until 20 December, but it was very uncomfortable, my things were falling off the shelf above the sink from the constant shaking, and so I decided to move in with the boys. On Thursday, I completely repacked and brought my belongings and instalments to Óbarok, where we stored them in the Friedreichs’ basement. … the kitchen was no longer working, as our cooks had also seen fit to seek a safer place, in view of the constant air activity. …
On the way to Óbarok, I was stopped twice by the camp gendarmes, but fortunately they did not ask for any writing and were satisfied with my saying that I was a doctor and going to a safer place. On Thursday night I slept at Freiberger and Charap’s, but the situation there was as threatening as at my place and we decided to follow the example of the Friedreichs and spend the time in the cellar. On Friday morning I went up to the company, but there I found complete confusion… Boriska was cooking something in the officers’ kitchen, I said goodbye to her too – I haven’t seen her since, and after picking up a few more odds and ends I went down to Óbarok.
We’ve been in the cellar almost all day, there’s an endless stream of people retreating down the highway, sometimes planes come and we don’t know what kind, but it’s good to take shelter because they can let go a few machine gun rounds very easily. The farm is also full of German and Hungarian cars, not a very pleasant proximity. The Russian planes are being fired at a great deal but to no effect, meanwhile German long-barrel cannons seem to have been set up around Vázsony puszta and are firing from there in the direction of Felcsút, from where the Russians return fire, the in and out shots are very similar and we are left to guess what the banging was all about.
Our cellar is not very safe, but it is better than nothing, the overcrowding is enormous. …
The meals are completely rhapsodic, the lunch is of course interrupted by a plane attack on the highway … The German tanks are firing heavily, one tank has positioned itself between the 2 houses and is firing from there, so at close range. The Russian pilot returns again, and he does not regret the shelling, which has an effect, because the windows of the servants’ house are all smashed.
Another tank is parked in front of the church, but its operator seems to have had enough of the war, because he doesn’t fire a single shot and leaves on Friday. Also gone were the twin machine guns set up on the lucernes, … which we were very glad about because they were a constant nuisance. By nightfall, it had quietened down a bit, so Charap, Freiberger and I decided to sleep in the post office room, where we could feel comfortable and at least stretch out. …”
The end of the first part.
Don’t miss the second part, which will tell you that running is a shame but useful, and that the Russians are coming.
Oszkár Papp, president of Győri AC, recently told the online version of the Győr daily Kisalföld (1):
“I believe that without an appreciation of the past, sports cannot have a future. Rowers have always followed this ars poetica …
… rowing in Győr is now 145 years old, /our club/ is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, still active in the country …”
“Few people know … that behind the swimming pool there is a stone memorial erected by our ancestors to the rowers who died heroically in the First World War. I don’t really know its history … In 2018 and this year … we commemorated the athletes who died more than a hundred years ago,” said Oszkár Papp, who would like to organise a meeting for the living family members of the rowers who died in the war.
“We are probably talking about grandchildren and great-grandchildren who might like to get to know each other and the past of rowing in Győr, as this is what their families have in common. … a meeting like this … would be a decent way to remember those who have been part of our club’s glorious past,” said the club president.
The names on the sports club’s memorial are: foreman Dr. József Kellner, foreman László Szőgyi, secretary dr. Rezső Reichenfeld, Gyula Csillag, János Czigler, Gyula Gold, János Gunyhó, Antal Gyulai, Lajos Harmat, Dezső Haut, Lajos Holló, Elek Karsay, Imre Keszey, Lőrincz Meixner, Antal Németh, Nándor Rosenkrantz, Emil Róth, dr. Imre Sághy, Lipót Schnabel, József Szaltzer, Tádé Turcsek, Róbert Wottitz.
Relatives can contact the club on its Facebook page (Győri Atlétikai Club – Rowing Department) or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So far, the news from Kisalföld newspaper.
I look at the sad memorial of the Győr Atlétikai Club and the names listed on it.
I am involuntarily reminded of the imposing memorial wall at the entrance to the Győr Synagogue, also erected to remember the First World War, and the list of the names engraved on it of the nearly ninety Jewish soldiers who died in the same war.
Since I think there is a similarity between the names engraved on one monument and the other, I have a more thorough look at the two lists.
My intuition has been confirmed. Many of the names on the memorial of the sports club can also be found on the World War I memorial in the Győr synagogue: Dr. József Kellner, László Szőgyi, Gyula Csillag, Gyula Gold, Antal Gyulai, Lajos Harmat, Nándor Rosenkrantz and Róbert Wottitz. József Szaltzer, another heroic rower, probably corresponds to József Saltzer on the synagogue memorial.
Thus, among the 22 Győr AC soldiers killed, nine were of Jewish origin. Forty percent, almost every second victim.
Seeing this, I wrote to the president of Győri AC, indicating my “discovery” and mentioning the 2024 World Meeting in Győr of descendants of holocaust survivors, which could help to discover the family background of the former rowers, as initiated by the sports club.
I wrote to the club two weeks ago, still waiting for a reply… Should I write again? Or should I not embarrass anyone? I will be back with more news if ever I have the answer.
According to Wikipedia (1), Nof HaGalil (Hebrew: נוֹף הַגָּלִיל, lit. View of Galilee; Arabic: نوف هچليل), formerly called Nazareth Illit is a city in the Northern District of Israel with a population of more than 40 000. Founded in 1957, it was planned as a Jewish town overlooking the Arab city of Nazareth and the Jezreel Valley. Its name was changed to “Nof HaGalil” in 2019.
The establishment of Nazareth Illit was initiated in the early 1950s. There were economic and security reasons for developing a town in this region.
A parcel of 1 200 dunams of land, about half formerly within the municipal boundaries of Nazareth, was allocated to developments for public purposes in 1954, relying on a law permitting such expropriations. Protests against this action reached the Supreme Court of Israel, which in 1955 accepted (HCJ 30/55) the government’s word that the sole purpose of the land was to erect government facilities. However, only 109 dunams were used for that purpose and planning for residential areas continued. The first dwellings were completed in September 1956 and residents moved in later that year.
In 2014, the ethnic and religious composition of the city population was 64.4% Jewish and other non-Arabic, the rest Arabic. In the 1990s, Nazareth Illit was the fastest developing city in the country as to its population. Newcomers included immigrants from the former Soviet Union and South America including young couples.
The city’s population has been dwindling ever since, due to its deteriorating commercial and industrial basis. Thus, a large portion of the younger population has left altering the city’s demographic structure.
In 2010, the city had 12 elementary schools and two high schools, one for religious studies and another one for engineering.
Nof HaGalil municipality strives to maintain the city’s parks and the surrounding Churchill Forest donated by the UK Jewish community in memory of Winston Churchill.
Hapoel Nof HaGalil is the city’s major football club. Basketball and table tennis are also popular local sports.
Nof HaGalil is twinned with San Miguel de Tucumán, Argentina; Leverkusen, Germany; Klagenfurt, Austria; Győr, Hungary; Chernivtsi, Ukraine; Saint-Étienne, France; Alba Iulia, Romania and Kikinda, Serbia.
Meeting in Győr
A delegation from Nof HaGalil visited Győr in September 2022. Mayor Ronen Plot met Győr Mayor Dr. Csaba András Dézsi. (2) The Israeli delegation spent three days in Győr. The two Mayors discussed the functioning of the Győr city administration, the strengthening and development of their relationship as well as the refugee situation.
“We have similar problems and the solutions may also be similar. The aim of the visit was to build and revitalise cultural, sporting and other links” – said Dr. Csaba András Dézsi.
According to Mayor Plot “we can talk seriously about cooperation between the two cities and have agreed to prepare an operational plan for this purpose, that will include the intensification of exchanges in the area of sport and culture”.
The Israeli delegation met Tibor Villányi, President of the Győr Jewish Community.
Indian community in Nof HaGalil
In November this year, a new synagogue was inaugurated in Nof HaGalil, an Indian synagogue, as the Eliayahu-Hanavi shrine was built by a community of Jewish immigrants from the Bnei Menashe tribe in India. This community believes that its members are descendants from one of the ten lost Jewish tribes that were taken as slaves from the northern kingdom of Israel to the Assyrian Empire around 721 BC. However, it is highly likely that they are a group of tribes that adopted Judaism in the 1950s.
This article is a tribute to the photographer József Glück, who with great diligence and skill captured for posterity the many sites of Győr in the first third of the 20th century. His local patriotism has left an invaluable reminder of the rapidly industrialising city of 100 years ago, including the historic and contemporary buildings of the time. For those interested in the city of Győr at that time, the Glück images offer a unique glimpse of what the city looked like a century ago. His pictures are second to none.
The visual representation of the residents of the city of Győr was, however, of outstanding importance for the socially sensitive Glück, beyond the sight and the capture of the buildings: we can see the simple workers of the time, people walking in the streets, children who appear in many places, bathers in the Kis-Duna or the Cziráky open-air swimming pool, the rowing world, which was already inseparable from the cityscape, and so on. Glück has created a veritable pictorial sociography of Győr of a century ago.
The following paragraphs of this post are taken in their entirety and verbatim from the work of Maria Nagy (1).
Glück was born on 11 November 1887 in Székesfehérvár, where he completed his schooling and learned photography. After years of practice he moved to Győr, where he continued his work. In 1898, he opened his studio at 13 Deák Ferenc Street (today Aradi Vértanúk útja).
In Munich he developed and enriched his photographic knowledge, and here he passed his master’s examination in 1909.
With his camera, which was still very rudimentary and heavy at the time, he was constantly wandering around the city, capturing the life of the streets and squares. From the beginning of the century until the outbreak of the Second World War, he photographed almost without exception the construction works and monuments in the city.
It is thanks to chance and the saving efforts of a few enthusiastic citizens of Győr that most of József Glück’s photographs have been preserved for posterity. Today, the Rómer Flóris Museum of Art and History holds his 24×30 cm glass negatives and several positive enlargements, while the Dr. Kovács Pál Library and Community Space houses 145 of his photographs.
He came home with honours from almost all the photography exhibitions of his time. From 1926 he was the chairman of the National Association of Hungarian Photographers, and from 1935 the chairman of the Economic Committee of the Győr Industrial Association, as a member of the board of the photography department.
He was an active and respected participant not only in the photographic profession but also in the public life of the city. He held positions in the Győr Singing and Music Society, the Firemen’s Association and the Ambulance Association, among others. He was also active in the School Committee of the Neolog Israelite Community of Győr.
He considered it particularly important that the students of the Israelite elementary school in Kossuth Street receive a modern education and enlightened upbringing.
For decades, he was a member of the city’s Law Commission. He was expelled in 1939 because of his Jewish origins. In 1940, he was elected to the supervisory board of the city’s Chamber of Industry, and later, as anti-Semitism intensified, he was deprived of his citizen’s rights.
His studio was closed down on 1 May 1942. In May 1944, he was forced into the ghetto with his family, and on 11 or 14 June 1944, he and his wife (Janka Singer) were deported to Auschwitz. He never returned from there and probably died in Auschwitz in June 1944 – the exact date is not known. One of his descendants, his son, is known to have lived in Israel: he visited Győr in 1990 and attended the opening of his father’s exhibition.
The images shown are from the collection of the Dr. Kovács Pál Library and Community Space, Győr, with the permission of the institution. (2)
In August, the tragic story of Hanna Szenes was performed on an open-air stage in the courtyard of the Lajos Vajda Museum in Szentendre, created by Ágnes Réka Tóth and Kristóf Widder using the young poet’s verses, diary and memories, with music by Sándor Födő. The role of Hanna was played in a very convincing way by Eszter Bíró, who resembles her so much. (1)
It was a real experience, despite the fact that the performance took place not on stage planks, which usually set the rhythm, but on the bare ground of the museum courtyard, which absorbed every step, almost without any echo or any noise. Can this be interpreted as meaning that Hanna’s fate and memory will one day be forgotten in such an echoless way?
We hope not. Eszter Bíró and her companions may also have undertaken to stage Hanna for this purpose. We also know that Hanna, who was brutally and senselessly murdered by the Arrow Cross, is revered in Israel as a national hero, which is a real guarantee that her memory will survive. This should be the case in Hungary too, and not only in Jewish circles.
In connection with the performance, I remembered that a public square in Győr bears the name of Hanna’s second cousin. Szenes Iván Park.
How is it possible? For Iván was born in Budapest in 1924 and died there in 2010.
Searching the web, it didn’t take much effort to see how Iván Szenes, a very popular non Győr native, was connected to the city.
Let’s see the artist first. It is almost impossible to list the main spheres of Szenes’ artistic activity.
According to Wikipedia (3), Iván Szenes is a Hungarian writer, songwriter, playwright and composer. According to statistics from 2000, he is the most performed author in Hungary, with more than 400 theatre premieres to his credit. He was honoured with the Distinguished Artist Award.
His father, Andor Szenes (1899-1935), was also a writer.
After WW2, Iván worked as a journalist and as a dramaturg, as well as artistic director of theatres, while writing his songs one after the other.
And here comes the Győr connection: between 1961 and 1979, Iván Szenes was the dramaturg of the Kisfaludy Theatre in Győr.
He has an amazing list of hits. All well-known songs, performed by the most famous Hungarian pop singers and outstanding actors of the 20th century. People of my generation might be heartbroken at the memory of these songs. Just a few examples of the greatest hits, mentioning the original performer of each song:
Nehéz a boldogságtól búcsút venni – Group Apostol
Isten véled édes Piroskám, Nemcsak a húszéveseké a világ – László Aradszky
Jöjjön ki Óbudára – Tivadar Bilicsi
Az a jamaicai trombitás – Gyula Bodrogi with Ági Voith
Melletted nincsenek hétköznapok – Violetta Ferrari
Mindenkinek van egy álma – Teri Harangozó
Próbálj meg lazítani – Géza Hofi
Álltam a hídon – Katalin Karády
Annyi ember él a földön, Kislány a zongoránál, Nem vagyok teljesen őrült – János Koós
Bocsánat, hogyha kérdem – György Korda
Úgy szeretném meghálálni, A régi ház körül, Találkozás egy régi szerelemmel – Kati Kovács
Álltam a hídon – Olivér Lantos
Mások vittek rossz utakra engem – Imre Ráday
Szeretni bolondulásig – Pál Szécsi
Orchideák – Klári Tolnay and Antal Páger
Engem nem lehet elfelejteni – Hédi Váradi Tölcsért csinálok a kezemből – Sarolta Zalatnay
You can get emotional, you can hum the catchy tune and you can complain. Whatever the case, according to Wikipedia, Iván Szenes is the most prolific Hungarian hitmaker of all time. And probably one of the most successful too.
After the artist’s death, his daughter Andrea Szenes established the Iván Szenes Art Prize.
His popularity in Győr is unbroken. The park named after him bears witness to this. This July, the Iván Szenes Memorial Evening and Family Day was organised in Győr for the eighth time.
Even in death, Ivan’s popularity may help to preserve Hanna’s memory.
Compiled by Krausz Péter
(1) HANNA – szabadesés több szólamban, Szentendrei Teátrum The play will be shown in Budapest in the automn.
Gábor T. Szántó approaches the sensitive issues of modern Jewish literature with the need for understanding and self-understanding, whether he analyses domestic or foreign authors. If his subject calls for it, he traces the works back to the tradition of revelation, rabbinic thought, the experience of exile, the desire for identification, the success and the shattered hopes of integration, to the trauma of the Holocaust and the dictatorship, while drawing on the international literature on the subject, he brings together the European, American and Israeli experiences.
Questions of social history and social psychology are raised in relation to the analysed works, as is psychoanalytic thinking.
Szántó, as in his novels, which have been published in many languages, or in his narrative, essays and studies, which are the basis of the world-famous movie 1945, approaches history, literature and the experience of Diaspora Jewry from a new and unique perspective.
T. Gábor Szántó’s writings concern Eliette Abécassis, S. J. Agnon, Isaac Babel, Milán Füst, Allen Grossman, Ágnes Gergely, Franz Kafka, Imre Kertész, Lev Lunc, Károly Pap, Miklós Radnóti, Philip Roth, J. D. Salinger, as well as his own works.
On the author
Gábor T. Szántó was born in Budapest in 1966, graduated from the Faculty of Law and Political Sciences of ELTE in 1990, and studied Aesthetics and Judaesthetics at the Faculty of Humanities.
He began his literary career with poetry and short prose. His volume of short stories entitled Betrayal was published in 1997, his novel East Station, terminus in 2002, and his collection of short stories entitled Santa Claus of the camp in 2004. Her poetry collection The Taste of Freedom was published in 2010, his novel The Three of Eden in 2012, his novel Kafka’s Cats in 2014, his collection of short stories 1945 and Other Stories in 2017, and his novel Symphony of Europe in Autumn 2019.
His writings have been translated into several languages.
Since 1991, he has been editor-in-chief of the Jewish political and cultural magazine Szombat.
In the 2000s, he translated American Jewish and Yiddish poets into Hungarian and taught modern Jewish literature at universities and free universities.
Ferenc Török, film director, shot the feature film 1945 from the screenplay of his short story Homecoming.
The Foundation for the commemoration of the 80th sad anniversary of the Holocaust has launched a student competition to raise interest among local young people in the past of the Jewish community in and around Győr. A deeper understanding of this shared past will ensure a more tolerant, open, united and stronger future for the city.
The contest is open to teams of three students from ten invited high-schools in Győr, Pannonhalma and Csorna. Their work is supported by history teachers of the schools. The project kick-off meeting took place in mid-September 2022 and was attended by teachers from the schools concerned, who were briefed by experts with a high level of knowledge of the subject matter.
According to Péter Krausz, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Jewish Roots in Győr Foundation, “the student contest is one of the most important parts of the preparations for the commemoration of the anniversary. It is closely linked to the World Reunion of the descendants of concentration camp survivors planned in Győrfor July 2024. It is also an example of the multigenerational and inclusive nature of the Reunion. We aim to make the work of the participants as widely known as possible. A good way to do this will be to present all the results of the contest to all the students and, of course, to the jury. In addition, the winning team will present their research results at a commemorative conference in the framework of the World Reunion. The best artworks will be exhibited. We will also ensure the online publication of the research reports and artworks.”
The “Jewish Roots in Győr Foundation” was established in the second half of 2021. It was registered in January 2022. Its main task is the preparation of a dignified commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the Holocaust and the implementation of related projects.
The Budapest Holocaust Memorial Centre (HDKE) is preparing an exhibition on the history of Győr’s Jews, which will open in 2023.
There will be an opportunity, among other things, to process and exhibit family histories from Győr. If you want to take advantage of this opportunity, please contact Tünde Csendes, a PhD student at the Jewish Theological Seminary – University of Jewish Studies (OR-ZSE), Budapest, whose extensive research on the history of Jewish Győr will be used by the HDKE. Please write to: cstundegyor@gyorjews
It is well known that for several years now the former Jewish Menház in Győr has been hosting an exhibition on the history of local Jewry, created by the Győr Jewish Community, which deals equally with Jewish customs and traditions.
The planned Budapest exhibition will also include new elements. For example, it will also touch upon the activities of Jewish landowners in the Győr area before the holocaust and it will present the everyday life of their families.
It is also planned to move the temporary exhibition of the Budapest Memorial Centre to Győr at a later date.
The Holocaust Memorial Centre is a public institution, which opened its doors on 16 April 2004 with its first exhibition, the Auschwitz Album, as a result of the renovation of the Páva Street Synagogue and the construction of a new building complex.
Six columns in the inner courtyard commemorate the more than 500,000 Hungarian and 6 million European victims.
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.
Featured image: With yellow star on the Révfalu bridge (1)
Since our childhood, people of my generation (70+) in Győr have known the story of the fateful swap of trains between Auschwitz and Strasshof, or some of its fragments. Even among friends of my parents, survivors met who had travelled on the trains they considered later ‘lucky’ or ‘unlucky’ as in the story told here.
Yet again, I was shocked by László Zöldi’s recent article on the net entitled “The walking pawns” (3).
I quote from it the excerpt that so seriously affects the Győr deportees:
“In May 1984, the Washington correspondent of Magyar Nemzet, János Avar and I visited Professor Braham in his New York office. The renowned Holocaust scholar made up the name Randolph L. Braham from his Transylvanian name, Adolf Ábrahám, in America. He spent an hour with us. We had been chatting for about half an hour when I mentioned a documentary film made in Hungary, in which the inhabitants of the Győr ghetto are escorted by gendarmes to the cattle cars. I saw smiling faces in the procession and was wondering what they were happy about.
The professor became agitated and apologised for leaving us alone, but he would look into something. He returned an hour later. I summarise the results of the interview in Élet és Irodalom (a Hungarian weekly called Life and Literature) of 15 June 1984. Professor Braham linked the Győr waggon loading scene to the so-called Joel Brand action. He as one of the leaders of Hungarian Jewry visited SS-Obersturmbannführer Eichmann, who supervised the deportations from Budapest with a small unit and offered him 12,000 lorries for the life of the Hungarian Jews.
The German lieutenant-colonel took note of the unusual offer, and while Brand was trying to persuade the anti-Nazi Allied powers to make the exchange, he “blockaded” 30,000 Jews. The nearest ghetto to the Austrian province of the German Reich (where agricultural labour was needed – editor’s note) was the Győr ghetto. So ‘the walking pawns’ from here were meant to go to work in agriculture. The crowded train set off northwards in the direction of Érsekújvár, then turned eastwards instead of westwards. The train commander, SS-Scharführer (sergeant) Kassel, noticed the mistake and called his boss, who told him: `Once you’re there, take them on to Auschwitz, I’ll send other ones to Austria.’ (3)
Almost four decades have passed since the interview was published. Researchers have become more nuanced in their interpretation of the 1944 story, but the essence has hardly changed. As Professor Braham put it in 1984: ’It’s a tragic joke of fate that thousands of Jews from Szeged and Debrecen survived at the cost of the deaths of the Jews of Győr.’” (3)
So far, the quote.
During our exchange of letters, László Zöldi authorised our website to republish his article, but also drew our attention to his last lines, which indicateed that researchers were lately divided on what had actually happened in 1944.
Looking at some of the sources, it seems to me that, despite the contradictions discovered, the story is true, or could very easily have been true, because in those terrible times anything and its contrary could happen, so fateful were the unpredictable, irrationally insane and evil decisions by murderers and oppressors of the time carrying in all circumstances very grave consequences.
Of course, “from a more distant point of view”, considering the total number of victims, it „did not really count” in the tragedy of rural Jewry in Hungary as to deportees from a given gendarmerie district were sent to Auschwitz or to a “more lenient” concentration camp like Strasshof, while, of course, the train destination sealed individual fates.
Perhaps if some of the deportees from Győr had been sent to the Strasshof distribution camp in Austria, near Vienna to the north-east, they would have had a better chance of survival. But who knows: 21,000 Hungarian Jews were transported by Eichmann to Strasshof, often entire families. The ‘idyll’, however, did not last long. After the harvest of 1944, some of the slaves held here were sent to the notorious Bergen-Belsen, others to Mauthausen and Theresienstadt towards the end of the war. A total of 2,000 Hungarian Jews, i.e. 10 % of those deported, were liberated by the Red Army in Strasshof (7).
In the meeting with the Hungarian journalists, Professor Braham linked the Strasshof alternative to Joel Brand‘s action. Brand had indeed played a key role in the chaotic negotiations with Eichmann on the trucks-for-lives deal, and after Eichmann’s apparent approval, he tried unsuccessfully to convince the Allied representatives of this rescue operation. (6)
Nevertheless, in his own work “The Politics of Genocide: the Holocaust in Hungary” (2nd expanded and revised edition – Budapest: Belvárosi Kvk., 1997), the Professor refers to the event, which he calls “‘Setting aside’ for Strasshof”, as a result of the negotiations between Eichmann and Rudolf Kasztner. It was in the framework of this agreement that some of the deportees from the Szeged district were transferred to Austria. Here we quote Professor Braham directly:
“Kasztner expected the first shipment of Jews to come from Győr and Komárom, areas where deportations of Jews were in full swing. Although this plan appears to have been approved by Eichmann, all transports from Gendarmerie District II and III, including of course those from Győr and Komárom, were routinely diverted to Auschwitz, probably due to the clumsiness of one of the SS-Scharführers in charge of the transports. The Scharführer in charge of the Győr transport only noticed that the train number was not in the register when the transport had already arrived at the Slovakian border; he called Eichmann and asked for instructions. Eichmann, who was more concerned with ‘completing the plan’ than with moral duty, apparently instructed the Scharführer that if the transport was already at the Slovakian border, it should go on to Auschwitz. He decided to ‘compensate’ Kasztner with a transport from another part of Hungary”. (10)
Same story, different names.
Another twist: some researchers say the story is false, or even untrue, though in the upside-down world of 1944 it could have even been true.
Tímea Berkes, in her 1995 thesis (supervisor: László Karsai, a well-known historian), writes: “Braham adopts the story of the ‘train swap’ from Kasztner’s report; this is not tenable, since on the day of the agreement with the Germans the second deportation train had already left Győr.” (11)
So the train change never happened?
It did or it didn’t, as I said, it didn’t reduce the actual suffering, the number of victims and those subjected to persecution.
At this point, let me remind you of the Franco-Belgian-Dutch-Romanian film ‘The Life Train’, written and directed by Radu Mihaileanu from Romania.
“One night in 1941, Shlomo, the village fool, returns home with earth-shattering news: the Nazis are deporting all the Jews of the neighbouring villages to an unknown destination. Their village is next on the list. The council of elders, led by the rabbi, meets that evening to discuss how to save the community. After endless bickering, the best idea only pops out of Shlomo’s head at dawn: organise their own mock deportation. They pretend to be victims, train mechanics, Nazi officers and soldiers. The enthusiastic inhabitants tailor Nazi uniforms, buy a scrapped rusty locomotive, call their Swiss relative home to learn German from him, fabricate false documents and cobble together the train wagon by wagon. And one fine day, like Noah’s Ark, the train sets off with all the villagers on board.” (12)
And what is the end of the smile-inducing and yet terribly upsetting story told in the movie?
“… and there we see Shlomo in his striped cap and prison garb, standing behind barbed wire telling a story. How? What we have seen and heard of the miraculous rescue, could it be just a fairy tale?” (13)
In fact, to quote relevant words of János Arany, Hungarian poet of the 19th century, “no fairy tale is this, child”.
He was born in Tét near Győr on 11 July 1901 and died in Budapest on 7 October 1985. He was a mechanical engineer.
His butcher father died early, leaving his mother alone with their three children. At the age of ten, he was already working in the machine factory in Győr to supplement the family budget. It was then that he decided to become an engineer. However, because of the numerus clausus, he went to the technical university in Brno, where he studied in German. After his studies, he returned to Győr and made a name for himself in the 1930s as a designer of several excellent commercial vehicles. He was involved in the design of the Rába tractor under licence from Krupp and the Austro Super bus, which was of Fiat origin, and later helped to launch MAN diesel engine production.
His most famous creation was the four-wheel drive off-road vehicle Botond, which proved to be more reliable than other German vehicles of similar function. It was powered by two rear axles, and thousands were produced in both right- and left-hand drive series.
He was lucky to be able to create something like that, because it made him indispensable. Imre Pattantyús-Ábrahám, director of the Rába wagon and machine factory in Győr, tried to save the factory’s technical intellectuals of Jewish origin, including many of his closest colleagues, after the German occupation.
Winkler and his wife as well as their infant son were already being herded into the wagons when the partial escape came. Dezső Winkler continued to work at the factory until February 1945, during which time he was deported by the Arrow Cross in 1944 to Sopronkőhida, where he escaped and was later arrested again. He managed to escape again in the vicinity of Munich.
The Botond all-terrain vehicle
Winkler designed the most successful Hungarian all-terrain vehicle ever built, the Botond, designed for the Royal Hungarian Army, which also took an active part in war action.
The three-axle off-roader had independent double wishbone suspension on all wheels, a pair of wheel-rollers mounted on the front bumper and a winch, and spare wheels with bearings on both sides to aid off-road driving.
Dezső Winkler recalled the development: ‘I myself took part in the test drive of the prototypes. The car worked flawlessly in all respects… After the Berlin Motor Show, looking over my notes and sketches I had made so far, it seemed that the pending issues could be clarified. Thus, in order to increase traction power, a high ratio rear axle drive should be designed and the vehicle should be configured for a low unladen weight. And to increase off-road capabilities, it is necessary to maximise the deflection of the driven wheels with independent suspension and, if necessary, to provide a short-term rolling support for the front of the carriage or on the chassis between the axles. …”
His life after the war
After the war he played a major role in the re-launch of the Hungarian Wagon and Machine Works. He headed its automotive department until 1948, and then was in charge of the Central Vehicle Design Office of the Heavy Industry Centre (NIK) until 1950.
In 1951 he received the Kossuth Prize for the development of buses, trucks, tractors and engines. He became head of department at the Vehicle Development Institute (JÁFI), which he founded, and finally, before his retirement in 1968, director and CEO of the successor, the Automotive Research Institute (AUTÓKUT).
He represented the Hungarian automotive industry as a member of the respective UN Group of Experts.
So, who was Botond?
According to a Hungarian legend, Botond fell with Lehel in 955 at the battle of Augsburg against the German king Otto I. Another Hungarian legend, reminiscent of the biblical story of David, tells of Botond breaking down the gates of Byzantium with his mace and defeating the Greek giant with his bare hands in 958. The name of the military vehicle built in Győr certainly refers not to the loser, but to the victorious Botond.
On the initiative of Dezső Winkler’s son, István, a memorial plaque in honour of his father was placed on 14 September 2022 on the wall of the house at 26c Városmajor Street in Buda, where the family spent many happy years.
Dr. József Csillag, the founder and chief physician of the former Csillag Sanatorium, which has been almost forgotten, was born in Győr on 28 October 1887. His father was Géza Csillag (1850?-1944?) and his mother Gizella Goldberger (1859-1927). He attended the Jewish elementary school and graduated from the Hungarian Royal State High School in Győr in 1907.
He graduated from the Royal Hungarian University of Budapest in 1912 then gained experience abroad, in Berlin and Vienna between 1913 and 1914.
In the First World War he served as a military doctor with the 10th Artillery Regiment for 39 months and was discharged with the rank of colonel. He was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Franz Joseph, the Gold Cross of the Crown, two Signum Laudis and the Charles Cross of the Order of the Garter.
From 1917 he worked in the surgical department of the Rókus Hospital in Budapest as a surgeon, gynaecologist, laryngologist and urologist.
From the beginning of 1920 he lived again in Győr where he married Józsa Korein (Jozefin) (1901-1944). They had four children.
Dr. József Csillag opened his Csillag Sanatorium in Győr, at 20 Árpád út, which he then run as the Director-General Chief Physician. The Sanatorium made it possible for patients from the counties and towns of Upper Transdanubia not to have to be taken to Budapest for continuous medical and nursing care, and to have access to complex health care in Győr more quickly and cheaply.
At the time of opening, the sanatorium could accommodate 14 inpatients and had single and double rooms for accompanying persons. The operating theatre was equipped with roof lighting for surgical and gynaecological procedures and was equipped with the most sophisticated equipment and instruments of the time. The X-ray department and laboratory were also equipped to European standards. Even the doctors who visited the institute were surprised by the mechanical marvels of the body straightening room. Patients with all but contagious diseases were treated.
Initially, patients were cared for by Red Cross nurses led by a head nurse, later joined by Lutheran deaconesses. The working relationship between the Chief Physician and the deaconesses was characterised by mutual respect.
Dr. József Csillag’s wife was in charge of catering in the Sanatorium. Their son Antal, who himself became a surgeon, also took part in the work (after the war he worked for decades at the János Hospital in Budapest).
The Csillag family lived in the Sanatorium. When treating a serious patient during the night required the expertise of the Chief Physician, deaconess Lenke Zsohár was obliged to wake the doctor.
The Sanatorium employed excellent doctors. One of the medical staff was József Csillag’s brother-in-law, Dr. Sándor Korein (1899-1989), Senior Physician in internal medicine, who also served as the general consultant. He also acted as a volunteer doctor at the Home for the Poor and the Elderly Singles.
According to recollections, Dr Gyula Corradi (1905-1980), a specialist in infant and paediatrics, was also involved in the work of the Sanatorium.
Dr. Csillag’s statement, made at the opening of the Sanatorium, that his institution was not only available to a narrow group of people, but to the whole of Győr society, is confirmed by newspaper cuts of the time.
Dr. József Csillag also worked as a doctor for the rowing team of the Győr Gymnastics Club. He was a member of the German Surgical Society and was invited to their events until 1942.
He was a member of the School Board of the Győr Jewish Community in the 1930s, and of the Győr Committee of Judicial Affairs as a virilist until 8 January 1942. His membership ended by order of the Minister of the Interior.
The work of the Sanatorium continued, and in 1943 the cellar was declared an air-raid shelter. During the first bombing raid on Győr, the doctors and nurses of the Sanatorium worked almost non-stop.
At the end of May 1944, the Csillag Sanatorium closed its doors and Dr. Csillag together with his family was forced to the ghetto of Győrsziget. On Sunday, 11 June, they were herded into a cattle car with the first group of Győr Jews (except for his eldest son, who was then serving as a forced labourer). After a few days the train arrived with them at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
The closed Sanatorium was officially declared “Jew-free” by the Councillor of the Mayor’s Office, István Horváth.
The building of the Csillag Sanatorium has also been claimed by the Evangelical Diaconal Motherhouse for further health work, and a petition for this purpose has been submitted to the Ministry of the Interior. The Government Commissioner for Medical Workers allocated the Sanatorium’s medical equipment and facilities to the Motherhouse.
The Sanatorium was hit by a bomb (first damaged on 2 July 1944), the roof was smashed and the windows were broken. The building now attracted the attention of thieves. After a while, the loss of equipment was noticed by the Treasury, which sold off the remaining items without delay. In two days, everything was dismantled.
A few months later, at the end of March 1945, the city of Győr was liberated, and the first Jewish forced labourers and some of the Auschwitz deportees returned in April. Former Sanatorium owner , Dr. József Csillag, also survived the concentration camp and returned to his hometown. He found refuge in Győrsziget (!).
Three of the older children in his family survived the Holocaust, his youngest son and his wife were however killed in Auschwitz.
Dr. József Csillag’s weakened body was unable to overcome the lung disease he developed in the concentration camp, and he died a year after deportation on 11 June 1945, aged 58.
The former Csillag Sanatorium is now an apartment building.
A marble plaque is the only reminder of the legendary institute.
Our website (www.jewishgyor.org) invites readers to write to us if they know any descendants of Dr. József Csillag who are probably living in Budapest today (email, phone number requested), because we would like to contact them.
A multi-talented man from Győr, Chief Fire Brigade Commander
My grandfather, Ernő Erdély was born in Győr in 1881. My great-grandfather, Ede Pollák, was a butcher in Újváros, and his later wife, my great-grandmother, Rozália Fleischmann, was born the daughter of a spice and chemicals merchant in the town. In 1896, the family changed its name from Pollák to Erdély.
One of my greatest sorrows was not knowing my grandfather. He was an extraordinary personality, a true multi-talented man.
He completed his primary education in the town’s Israelite school. He graduated from the Révai High School (then known as the Royal Hungarian High School). In 1900 he applied to join the Voluntary Firemen’s Association of Győr. Huge fires ravaged the town, affecting the Back Mill, the Royal Hotel and the public warehouse on the Danube. All this made it necessary to reform and reorganise the fire brigade. Thus, in November 1908, the Győr Professional Fire Brigade was founded, headed by my grandfather, appointed by the mayor. He completed the fire brigade officer course in Budapest and passed the officer’s exam with distinction. His leadership activities always included regular theoretical and practical training both for himself and his staff.
Starting in 1911, my grandfather organized firefighting courses in all the major cities of the country.
He maintained a close friendship with Count Ödön Széchenyi Pasha (the younger son of Count István Széchenyi), who was also known as “Fire Pasha” in recognition of his outstanding achievements in the field of fire-fighting. Széchenyi was the organizer and manager of the state fire brigade in Hungary and the Ottoman Empire, having settled in Constantinople just after the great fire there in 1870. For organising the fire brigade in Istanbul, the Sultan gave him the title of de facto pasha.
On 3 October 1912, Ödön Széchenyi visited Győr, where 300 firemen from Győr and Győr County lined up in front of the railway station to receive him. A few years later, my grandfather and Ferenc Papp, the Commander of the Szeged fire brigade, were invited by the Minister of the Interior to study the fire protection preparedness in Istanbul and to advise on the modernisation of the Turkish fire brigade. My grandfather published a related photograph of him and Ödön Széchenyi in the journal „Érdekes Újság”.
Ernő Erdély, as Commander of the fire-fighting brigade, risked his own life along with his men to put out fires. On 26 May 1916, he and five of his servicemen were injured in a fire at a rail freight station. In 1919, he was appointed Commander in Chief of the Győr Fire Brigade.
My grandfather developed extensive international contacts. He visited Dresden, Munich, Salzburg, Paris and St Petersburg. He was delegated by the Hungarian Firefighters’ Association to the World Congress in Vienna in 1930. He represented the same Association at the 1931 Dresden and the 1935 Paris Firefighters’ Congresses where he delivered several lectures. He became a well-known expert throughout Europe, as is shown by the fact that he was asked to take charge of the fire brigades of Hamburg and Constantinople. He refused the offers, wanting to serve his hometown.
He published several articles in the National Fire Brigades Association’s Bulletin, of which he was the editor-in-charge for ten years (1920-1930). He gave a series of lectures and wrote a several textbooks. For example, but not limited to “Investigation of fires”, “Rules of firefighting”, “Testing, maintenance and technical malfunctions of fire extinguishers”, “How to extinguish a fire”, etc. In the latter, 165 questions are answered in a professional yet accessible way.
He had a very wide range of interests. In 1932, as a result of his studies, he was awarded a doctorate in philosophy at the Royal Belgian University in Brussels. In 1936, at the age of 55, he was awarded a doctorate in humanities in Pécs (Hungary).
He has written several books of fiction and lectured on literature. I know of one book, “On the Roads”, which contains short stories and poems. He appeared regularly in the daily “Győri Hírlap”. The other day, I saw his poem “The Fireman” on the Internet. He was passionate about his profession and literature, but he also worked as a stenography teacher at the Győr Boys’ Commercial School and was a member of the National Stenography Examination Committee.
In his spare time, he regularly rowed, played tennis, skated and cycled. In addition to his love of sport, he was elected president of the West Hungarian Football Association, the Hungária Rowing Club and the Győr Skating Association. He was the editor-in-charge of the Dunántúli Sport Újság. He passed the football referee exam and became co-president of the Hungarian Football Association. In this capacity he led the Hungarian national team to Portugal in 1937. The Sport Newspaper wrote at the time: “…The team did not burn down because their leader was a Fire Brigade Commander!” The only family photo I have of his sporting life is one single photograph.
My mother often spoke of his kind, direct style. He proved to be a key figure in social life.
His fellow Israelites honoured him with their trust for the first time in 1919, when he became President of the Győr Jewish Community, and later President of the Board of the Jewish school. In 1930 he became Vice-President, and in 1940 President of the XII Jewish Community District. After the adoption of the first Jewish law in Hungary, he was also discriminated against.
The story that the Commander of the Weimar (Germany) Fire Brigade spent his holidays in Győr, comes from the Győr Jewish community. My grandfather’s colleagues showed him around the fire station, presented the equipment and the German guest was very appreciative of everything. He was also informed that Dr. Ernő Erdély, Chief Fire Brigade Commander, had been awarded a medal by the German government for his achievements in the field of firefighting. They also informed the guest that my grandfather was Jewish, who thought this was impossible and exclaimed “Ausgeschlossen!” (excluded!). When he also learned that Dr Erdély was the Vice-President of the Győr Jewish Community and President of the School Board, he left immediately and cut off his holidays.
The second law on Jews was already explicitly aimed at “… restricting the public and economic space occupied by Jews”. My grandfather applied for retirement in 1940 after 40 years of service. His request was immediately granted by the city authorities. On 19 March 1944, the German fascists invaded Hungary, and then on 8 April, my grandfather was arrested by the Gestapo because of his Jewish origin. He was taken from the town jail straight to the ghetto and deported with my grandmother to Auschwitz, where they were both murdered.
Two of their sons, my father Miklós and my uncle Jenő, survived the war after having had to serve in the labour service. I was born in 1946, my sister Anikó in 1954. My parents did not practice their religion after 1945 and we were not brought up religiously, nor were my own children.
A marble plaque in the corridor of the Győr Fire Brigade (now the Győr-Moson-Sopron County Fire Brigade) and a statue since 1990 commemorate him. In the Győr Menház, he is commemorated in a dignified manner among the presidents of the religious community.
In 2003, my father, Miklós, established the “Foundation in Memory of the Fire Brigade Commander Ernő Erdély”, which aims, among other things, to reward firefighters who have achieved outstanding results in disaster prevention and firefighting, and to preserve the fire protection traditions of the city.
I hope that posterity will not forget him.
Published by Dr Margit Erdély Kristófné, one of Ernő Erdély’s granddaughters
Among the many planned events of and preparations for the World Reunion in 2024, the Student Project “Their Fate – Our History, a Student Project on Jewish Memories of Győr and its Surroundings”, developed by the Jewish Roots of Győr Foundation, will be one of the highlights.
Students from ten secondary schools in and around Győr will participate in the competition on an invitation basis. Let’s list these schools, as all of them have confirmed their participation in this prestigious competition at headmaster level in preliminary discussions. With two exceptions, these are institutions based in Győr. These are: Apor Vilmos High School, Baksa Kálmán High School, Czuczor Gergely Benedictine High School, Győr SZC Pattantyús-Ábrahám Géza Technical College, Hunyadi János Technical College (Csorna), Kazinczy Ferenc High School, Lukács Sándor Technical College, Benedictine High School of Pannonhalma Abbey (Pannonhalma), Péterfy Sándor Evangelical High School, Révai Miklós High School.
What is the purpose?
The main target is to arouse the interest of local young people of non-Jewish origin in the history of the Jewish community in and around Győr.
In this spirit, the activities of the competing student groups are essentially aimed at acquiring and disseminating knowledge and increasing social openness and sensitivity to the topic. It is not about basic scientific-academic research, which cannot be a realistic expectation, but about the exploration of additional information and insights, and, in particular, a specific creative work.
Ideally, we would like the competing young people to meet young or even older members of the Jewish communities in Győr and elsewhere in the course of their work.
What do we expect from students?
Part of the students’ activities would focus on the process leading up to the Holocaust and the genocide that took place. This embodies a ‘classic’ research project, which consists of two parts: a broad theme and a specific theme.
Some examples of the so-called broad themes to be examined are given here:
Details and extracts from the list of names of Jewish children murdered in Győr and the surrounding area in 1944, their composition (young children/elementary-secondary school pupils), their daily life before deportation, the schools they attended, the functioning of the Jewish community’s own primary school, the relationship between Jewish and other religious children/students in Győr in schools and beyond the walls of schools
The personalities, activities and institutional background of the “Righteous among the Nations” in and around Győr, with particular reference to persecuted Jewish children and young people
The results of this research will be delivered in a projected presentation (PPT), which will be shared with the jury at the final session of the student competition.
Let us show you one or two topics from a special subject area on which the students will produce a very short written report:
The socio-economic exclusion of Jewish citizens in Győr and the surrounding area before deportation; 2-3 concrete examples
The Jewish population of Győr in the local press (1935-1945) – trends and examples; critical presentation of 2-3 specific cases
The other part of the student competition consists of a creative work of art or other independent work, the theme of which is defined only by the subtitle of the student project: Jewish monuments of Győr and its surroundings. The form of the work is freely chosen by the participating teams. They can be literary works, works of art, short films, photojournalism, electronic works, or any other creation that the teams dream up.
The students will start their work during the 2022-23 academic year, with final completion expected by 31 December 2023.
The personal involvement of the students will be on a voluntary basis. Competing teams will consist of 3 students. A school may enter more than one team, as there has already been a demand. The deadline for entries is planned for 1 November 2022.
There is a significant role for an adviser/support teacher to accompany the nominated teams and assist their students in methodological, resource research, work organisation and other areas.
A kick-off meeting will be organised in autumn 2022 for the counselling teachers, where experts (e.g. from the Holocaust Memorial Centre) will give a presentation and provide ongoing professional support.
The submissions will be reviewed and evaluated by a Jury, including the presentation of the students’ papers.
We are currently considering a suitable and worthy set of rewards for the best entries, which will depend largely on the level of external financial support received by our Foundation.
The winning team will present its entry at the World Reunion’s memorial conference. The winners will also be awarded on this occasion and the participating teams will be saluted. The best creative works will be exhibited here, as far as possible. A summary of all entries and the students as well as the teachers involved will be presented on the World Reunion’s website.
In 1930, József Kemény wrote his book “Sketches from the History of the Jews of Győr”, which is a kind of a chronicle of the Győr Jewish citizens’ philantrophy in favour of their city and the local Jewish community. In his work, he also covers the history of the Menház (Home for children and elderly). The following is based on Kemény’s description up to the date of publication of his book.
In 1889, Dr Fülöp Pfeiffer, a physician, citizen of Győr who loved and supported his town being simultaneously the president of the Jewish community, made a foundation of 4,000 crowns with the noble aim of establishing a charity home for poor pupils of the Jewish elementary school located in the two wings of the nearby Synagogue. Several wealthy donors contributed substantial sums to the foundation much later, such as Ignác Schreiber 130 000; Ignác Meller, Jakab Hatschek and Dezső Kürschner 20 000 – 20 000, Károly Wolf 13 600, Márton Fürst 12 400; Samu Winkler, Mór Scheiber and Sándor Hacker 12 000 – 12 000; Lipót Eisenstaedter, Hermann Back and Lipót Redlich 11 000 – 11 000; Albert Fuchs and Miksa Wolf 10 000 – 10 000 crowns, to mention only the most prominent contributors.
Besides the problem of properly feeding the children, the care of the elderly was also unresolved. The funds raised from donations to build a separate children’s institution, a ritual kitchen for public catering and a house for the elderly were insufficient. So, the community leaders combined all the goals.
In 1913, the Menház was completed, based on the plans of architects Károly Mocsányi from Budapest and Dezső Stadler from Győr. The new building became one of the architecturally successful public buildings in Győr-Újváros, its proportions and slightly neo-classical style becoming the ornament of the district in the immediate vicinity of the Synagogue, on the corner of Kossuth Lajos Street and Palatinus (today Erkel Ferenc and Dr. Róth Emil Streets).
“In the basement, there is a large kitchen with a serving area and a pantry, meat and spice room, and the central heating room with a wood and coal fireplace. On the ground floor, to the left, there was the dining room with the servery, and next to it the caretaker’s apartment. To the right there were the old people’s rooms and rooms for the sick and the staff. On the upper floor, the most beautiful part was the prayer hall of about 110 m2, next to which there were also the maternity rooms and rooms for the sick as well as other service space. There was also a laundry in the attic. In keeping with the requirements of the times, the building was designed to provide a pleasant home for the abandoned old people, soothing their old age. But it was also intended to be a focal point for the care provided to our schoolchildren.” (See József Kemény)
The Institute’s operations were shaken to the core by the 1st WW. The rooms were used for housing, and some of them housed soldiers. Food for the children was cut off. Dr Pfeiffer then again donated a substantial sum of 30 000 crowns to the Menház refurbishment, and many other donors followed his example. A change of those responsible took place, the building was renovated and the Menház resumed its old functions, which were even extended (to the Girls Association’s kitchen).
However, history soon intervened once again, and the life of a thriving and growing community was blighted, first by the discriminating laws on Jewish citizens and then by the tragedy of the Holocaust. The Hungarian state abandoned five thousand patriotic citizens of Győr, entire families, including women and children, without whom the city might never have developed as dynamically as it did.
After the 2nd WW, less than nine hundred survivors, who had been through hell and stripped of their possessions, were forced to sell the Menház to the city because they simply could not care for its maintenance. The Menház became a kindergarten, but later it was no longer functioning as such, and the abandoned building deteriorated step-by-step.
2012 saw a positive turnaround. The Jewish Community agreed with the municipality to buy the building back in five annual instalments to prevent it from collapsing and eventual demolition. It was obliged to do so out of respect for tradition and in memory of the builders…
The complete renovation of the building has started, for which the Community has won funds through tenders and it intends to finance further improvements in a similar way. As a first step, the Community has provided space for a kindergarten on the first floor of the building. These premises are now rented by the kindergarten of the Hungarian Pentecostal Church. Later on, the entire building was saved from dilapidation. An exhibition space and a theatre hall were built on the ground floor.
Afterwards, in these spaces, a Jewish religious and local history exhibition was organized by the Community, which gives a broad outline of the history, holidays and customs of Jews in general and in Hungary, as well as the outstanding representatives of the Győr Jews and their contribution to the economic and social development of the city. A number of charts give an account of the life of ‘everyday’ Jewish families, with the help of photographs which are now of historical value. The exhibition aims to inform, remember and recall. History teachers from some of Győr’s secondary schools regularly bring students here to introduce them to the missing chapters in their history textbooks. There are also many visitors from abroad. Entries in the exhibition’s guestbook testify to the positive experiences of visitors.
For several years, the theatre has been home to a successful micro theatre featuring reputable artists. The series of nationally renowned small stage performances has unfortunately been discontinued and the space is now rented out.
The local Jewish Community plans to create an interactive database of Győr’s Jews to be installed on computers in the Menház basement, which also needs to be completely renovated. Once the project is completed, the local City Museum would take over the management of this future, modern section of the existing Jewish local history collection.
The Menház will be one of the venues of the Jewish Roots in Győr World Reunion to be held in 2024 to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Holocaust.
Sources.: “Sketches from the History of the Jews of Győr”, József Kemény, 1930; Győr Jewish Community; www.jewishgyor.org
Soccer player Öcsi Puskás’ adventure with Professor Frigyes Riesz
Frigyes (Győr, 22 January 1880 – Budapest, 28 February 1956) Hungarian mathematician, university professor, member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, brother of mathematician Marcell Riesz. The two sons were born to the Jewish doctor Ignác Riesz and Szidónia Nagel of Győr.
His key insight is that, by defining the operations of addition, multiplication by a number and scalar multiplication between functions in a suitable way, a wide class of functions behave in the same way as vectors. Recognising the importance of this idea, Riesz became, together with Maurice René Fréchet and Stefan Banach, the founder of functional analysis. Functional analysis is a comprehensive theory combining the methods of algebra, analysis and geometry. His best-known result is the Riesz-Fischer theorem, which is well known in real-valued functional theory.
He studied at the University of Zurich (1897-99), the University of Budapest (1899-1901) and the University of Göttingen (1901-02). He taught for a short time at a secondary school, then moved to the Franz Joseph University of Kolozsvár, which moved to Szeged in 1921 following the Treaty of Trianon. Riesz was head professor of the Mathematical Institute at the University of Szeged, and from 1929 to 1946 of the Bolyai Institute.
János Neumann thought it would be good if the world-famous mathematical centre established in Szeged – Riesz, Alfréd Haar, Béla Kerékjártó – stayed together. There is no doubt that around 1930, Szeged was the place in the world where classical functional theory and functional analysis could be studied to the highest standards. It is no coincidence that Marshall Stone, professor at Harvard University and author of the first monograph on functional analysis, sent his colleague to Szeged to study.
Riesz also gave lectures on Functional Operations, followed by The Theory of Hilbert Spaces and Integral Equations. All these were combined into a book by the end of the 1940s, and a comprehensive textbook on functional analysis was born, with unprecedented success. Of particular importance is the journal Acta Scientiarum Mathematicarum, which he launched with Alfred Haar and which is still a world-class journal in mathematics.
When the Franz Joseph University moved back to Kolozsvár on 19 October 1940, Riesz did not go there because of his old age, but asked to be transferred to the newly founded Miklós Horthy University in Budapest and continued to head the Bolyai Institute. From 1946 until his death, he was head of department at the Budapest University of Sciences (then Pázmány Péter University, later Eötvös Loránd University as from 1950).
Even in the most difficult times, Frigyes Riesz received exceptional treatment for his outstanding scientific achievements and his high international profile. In November 1943, for example, he was granted a service passport, permission to leave the country and travel supplies for lectures in Geneva. Frigyes Riesz sewed on the humiliating yellow star, but always wore a top coat … He was forced to retire in July 1944, but in August 1944 (!) he regained his job together with several other professors of Jewish origin.
Marcell’s descendants living in Sweden were present at the unveiling of the brothers’ memorial plaque in Győr. They also visited the office of the Jewish community in Győr, where they looked up the brothers’ birth records in the register of births (according to the office).
Riesz’s life was filled with mathematics. Early spring 1954, Prague, the airport of the Czechoslovak capital. An elderly gentleman settles into one of the armchairs, two young men sit down near him. The older man is reading. In the meantime, because he hears Hungarian words, he turns to the young people with interest, wondering where they are going. We’re going to Amsterdam for a friendly match,” says one of them.
It soon becomes clear: all three are from Pest, there are no direct flights from there, so they fly on from Prague, the old man to Paris for a conference, the boys via Brussels to Amsterdam. The match will be there. “But what match?” asks the old gentleman. “Well, what else, soccer!” replies one of them, self-consciously, in a slightly raised voice, and adds, in case the uninformed questioner does not understand: football, that’ s all! Then he points to his partner: “This is Gyula Lóránt, the many times national team midfielder, you may have heard of him. And I am Puskás”.
The elderly gentleman nods with a smile, introduces himself, ponders a bit, takes a puff on his pipe, and then comes another question for Puskás: “And you are a football player?”
(The story is told by János Varga, a mathematics teacher from Székesfehérvár.)
Marcell (Győr, 16 November 1886 – Lund (Sweden), 4 September 1969), university professor, younger brother of Frigyes, also a mathematician.
He received his doctorate from Lipót Fejér at the University of Budapest. He moved to Sweden in 1911 and taught at Stockholm University from 1911 to 1925. From 1926 to 1952 he was professor at the University of Lund. After his retirement he spent 10 years at American universities. He returned to Lund in 1962 and died there in 1969.
He was elected a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1936.
Marcell Riesz worked on trigonometric series. He introduced the Riesz Function and, together with his brother, proved the theorem known since then as the Riesz Brothers’ Theorem. In the 1940s and 1950s Riesz worked on Clifford Algebras.
Gábor I. Kovács: The fate of Hungarian Jewish university professors and those of Jewish-origin before and during the Holocaust from 1930 to 1945 (article), 2015. Based on the Database of Hungarian university professors I. Jewish university professors and those of Jewish-origin – Historical Elite Research, Budapest, Publishing House Eötvös: 2012. p. 172
As I sit down to write a brief history of my family, I am horrified by the current daily news reports. It has been over 6 weeks since the Russians invaded Ukraine. The destruction and devastation is overwhelming! It brings back so many memories of the Hungarian uprising of 1956. I remember my seven-year-old self, looking out of our second story window on Aradi Vértanuk street in Győr, as the Russian tanks rolled by. My Mom shouting at me to get away from the window because the soldiers had guns.
Until the geopolitical events beginning in the late 1930s, my parents were proud of their Hungarian heritage. Their Jewish ancestry, as far as we can trace it, lived in the land of the Magyars for ages.
Mom, born Perl Zsuzsanna, in August 1921, was raised in Győrsövényháza. She came from a loving family consisting of her parents, two sisters and two brothers. Her father was an inn-keeper, butcher shop owner, and wheat farmer of 100 acres. He managed dozens of employees. Mom described having had a very happy childhood. Her parents were strict and had high expectations. Her family was one of only two Jewish families in their village. She attended Catholic primary school (the only school in the village) where she liked to tell us she was a top student in Catechism. Mom’s parents had to hire a Hebrew teacher from a nearby town to teach her and her siblings to read Hebrew and learn the prayers and Bible stories. Likewise, the family had to walk to another nearby village to attend High Holiday services and other religious affairs.
Mom and her siblings had to travel even farther, to Győr, to obtain a higher education. This was an expensive project made more-so because they had to take a carriage and then a train daily. The value of education was drilled into the Perl children. But by the time Mom graduated from business college at age 19, she, (like the other 5 Jewish girls in her class) couldn’t find work. She eventually lucked out and was able to work in a laboratory and support herself in Budapest.
When the Nazis invaded Hungary in 1943, Jews were compelled to wear the bright yellow star on their clothing to identify them, harass them, spit on them and loot their businesses. Within months, my mother’s family was rounded up and taken to concentration camps. Mom and her younger sister, Gyöngyi, were rounded up in Budapest and initially marched in near freezing temperatures to Lichtenwörth camp in Austria. They were held there for six miserable months. Mom described the conditions, the inhumanity, the hunger, the cruelty of those months. She also shared that they encountered some kindhearted folks from nearby villages who sneaked bits of food to the captives when they were able.
With luck, determination and spirit, Mom was able survive the Holocaust. The rest of her family was not so fortunate. She, her sister Gyöngyi and her brother, Miklós were the only ones in her family to survive. Both of her parents, her older sister and younger brother-were murdered in the gas chambers in Auschwitz, along with numerous aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. Incidentally, Mom’s Mom was taken to her death on her 46th birthday.
Liberation came to Lichtenwörth on April 2, 1944, Easter Sunday. Russians arrived at the camp with truckloads of bread and canned food. The people cheered and hugged and kissed the soldiers. The soldiers were repulsed by the starving filthy masses. Once fortified, they eventually returned to their childhood home and joyfully reunited with the other family members who survived. Their joy was tempered by their sorrow upon learning how the others had perished.
Little by little they began to rebuild their lives. Mom and her sister eventually rented a small apartment and found jobs in Győr. Some of the belongings of the Perl home were saved for them by friends after their deportation. Among the items were a watch that had become rusty in its moist hiding place. Mom asked around if anyone knew of a Jewish watchmaker who might be able to repair the watch. This is where my personal history begins.
Mom took her watch to be repaired by Egri Jenő, also a Holocaust survivor. At that time, money was scarce, so he asked for a home cooked meal as payment for the repair. He was lonely and started visiting Mom and her sister quite frequently. Their ease with each other resulted in a very short courtship and culminated in a proposal of marriage. At a Christmas gathering with Mom’s brother (who married his high school sweetheart and converted to Catholicism) Jenő (my father to be) reached into his pocket and held forth five wedding bands. “Pick one” he said to Mom, and the rest is history. On December 31, 1945, they wed under a Huppah officiated by a local Rabbi in a simple ceremony attended by very few family members and friends.
My father’s history, of which I know a lot less than Mom’s’, is in some ways even more tragic.
Born in Győr on September 2, 1908, “Pop”, as I used to call him, learned the trade of watchmaking because Jewish boys were prohibited from entering many professions. His father, a furniture craftsman, was the only family member who died a natural death of a heart attack, at the age of 57. The rest of his family—his Mother and his only sister, perished in the concentration camps.
Mom was my father’s second wife. He had been married before and they had two little girls named Eva and Marika. Together with their mother, all three were victims of the gas chambers. When most of the Jews of Hungary were deported to various concentration camps, my future father was sent to Labor camps.
He rarely talked about those times. I can think of no greater horror than to lose one’s entire family so tragically. The ‘conventional wisdom’ at that time was not to talk about painful parts of their lives; that talking about it would only make it worse. Now we know just the opposite is true. By nature, my Pop was very congenial. As a young man, he traveled all over Europe with friends on his motor bike. He was an avid reader, liked to sing and to play cards. He was a hard worker.
After the Russians liberated Hungary at the end of the war, they sent their proxies to occupy seats of government. They urged the Hungarians to join the Party. Shortly after my parents were married, they moved into a lovely large condominium above my dad’s watch store. My father was thought by the Communists to be a wealthy man who hid jewels and gold prior to the war. Since private wealth was not permitted, the Communist Police began to harass them. They banged on our door at all hours of the day and night, searching every inch of our home for their imagined loot.
Other than the political situation, Mom described pleasant social life filled with friends, strolls in parks, birthday celebrations. We lived relatively comfortably for 11 years, but my parents did not want to raise their children under that regime.
By ‘their children’, I mean my brother and me. Misi, who later became Michael, had been born in September 1947, and I arrived 15 months later. I am named Eva, after my father’s first daughter. Mike and I were very much loved, and raised with all the opportunities available.
The only thing my parents lacked was their freedom. When the Hungarian patriots revolted against the Soviets in October 1956, after careful consideration my parents decided to flee. They said goodbye to some friends and relatives, and joined another Jewish family in a rented truck and headed toward the Austrian border. That was on November 10, 1956. When the truck was allowed to go no further, together with the other family, we had to cross the border on foot—in muddy terrain, pocked with holes from excavated landmines. Exhausted, with only two pieces of luggage, having left everything else behind, we crossed into Austria. What a relief!
We were welcomed by local villagers who helped us get to the first refugee camps, where my parents joined others and tried to figure out what to do next. They knew what they were leaving but not where they were going. We eventually got to Vienna, where my father completed applications to go to Australia. As luck would have it, we met an American lady who was Hungarian by birth. The conversation my parents had with her altered their vision and their plans. The following day, my Father obtained the necessary forms to go to America!
A few days later, we were aboard the second military airplane chartered by then president Eisenhower, bound for the United States and were among the first 5,000 refugees who arrived with a permanent permit of residency. What amazing luck!
When we touched down in San Francisco on December 5, 1956, we were the first Hungarian refugees to arrive there. I still recall the amazing reception we received there—newspaper reporters, photographers, radio interviewers. Through an interpreter, our parents told the press how grateful we were to come to this land and my father, showing off his three newly learned English words pronounced “God Bless America” to their applause.
For a while we were front-page news. Thanks to the publicity, both parents found jobs, and an apartment was found for us. Mom was able to work in a children’s clothing factory and Pop was employed (temporarily) by a reputable watch and jewelry company. Michael and I were enrolled in grammar school, and treated like celebrities (mostly). We learned English quickly, and totally lost our accents. Our parents attended night school. Their progress was slower, but they could get by with Mom’s fluency in German. My parents also changed their surname from Engel to Angel, per a friend’s recommendation—more American. After a while, they bought their first car: a 1948 Packard for $50.00 (!). With the help of social workers, they were introduced to other Hungarians who had come to San Francisco years before.
After a couple of years, when Pop was laid off from his job, we moved to Los Angeles. They got new jobs and once again they developed friendships and a new community. We became American citizens in 1962. They worked hard, saving as much as they could so Mom was able to fly to Israel to see her sister for the first time after 14 years of separation.
The job in Los Angeles was a heavy burden for our father. He had to travel to downtown daily. He had heart problems. Then, he saw an ad in a trade newsletter for a Jewelry store for sale in Ontario CA. A suburban town with a population of 50 thousand, offered an opportunity for our family to lead a more relaxed lifestyle. Our parents were able to purchase the store and adjacent home. Michael and I went to High School in Ontario. We all made new friends, but kept the old. We were thriving. Life was good.
Michael and I both went to Universities (UCLA). He got a Law degree and I obtained a Master of Social Work degree. Our parents were proud, they achieved a lot in a short time.
Michael and I both married and each have two children, now adults and parents themselves. I worked as a medical social worker most of my adult life, but only part time when my girls were young. I retired when I was 65 years old. My daughters, now 44 and 46 years old, were wonderful children and are wonderful adults and parents. Parenting them has been my greatest joy.
Now at age 75, Michael still enjoys working. In his spare time, he rides his horses. He claims that his love of horses and riding began in his early childhood years when we spent summers in our uncle’s ‘falu’ (village) Sövényháza.
Sadly, my father died of a heart attack in 1976 at the age of 67. I have no doubt that his life experiences contributed to his early demise. He was able to be a part of both Mike’s and my weddings, but he died just 6 weeks before his first grandchildren were born. It saddens me to this day that he missed out on that joy!
A friend of mine introduced me to my would-be husband, a doctor from Argentina. After we married in Los Angeles, we moved to Laguna Hills CA, and lived in a lovely community called Nellie Gail Ranch—where we raised our daughters, Nicole (1976) and Danielle (1978). Mom moved from Ontario to a retirement community called Casta del Sol in Mission Viejo, a town just a few miles from ours. Recently widowed, Mom was a major part of our lives as our family grew. We had an active family life which included membership in our large Reform Jewish Congregation. Both daughters went on to get their Master’s degrees, both in the San Francisco Bay area.
Mom was always a very important part of our family! As a widow, she made new friends and traveled extensively, often visiting friends and relatives in all corners of the world, including Győr. She loved to cook and entertain. She had a fantastic relationship with our children and they admired her, respected her and loved her very much! At the age of 74, Mom joined our father in death in 1995. She is missed every single day. We have our precious memories and that is a blessing!
My daughters are both married and each of them have blessed me with two wonderful grandchildren. Now I am able to have a close relationship with my 4 grands, just as my Mom had with hers…
My Grandfather “Sándor” or “Sanyi” moved to the west-Hungarian town of Győr at the end of the XIXth century – he was the son of Jacob and Julia – and I do not know whether he moved straight from Burgenland or some other intermediate place. He married a Caroline Unger “Lina” and eventually built or occupied the house at 8 Batthyányi tér (square) in Győr. They had over ten children in the following order approximately:
Mihály (Max), Charlotte (Sari), Armin, Emil, Imre (Emery), Eugen (Jenő), Flóra, Margit, Jolán, Laci, Feri.
Possibly, I am missing some and I think there were some who died young.
They all grew up in the family house in Győr – the same place where I spent many summers as a youngster up to the outbreak of the War when I was about 14. It was an old, old house probably built for a landowner before the city of Győr expanded to that spot – it was one story high and dissected in the middle by a tunnel-looking big entrance way through which in old times you could drive a wagon through. It was more like a “country house”. After you walked through this coach entrance you arrived at a yard and saw that there was a terrace and another smaller entrance to the left where our family lived – while on the other side of the yard the house had a wing rented to tenants.
At the back of the yard there was a huge formal garden, about two acres in size, with lovely flowerbeds, walks and a stone paved sitting area under an old chestnut tree. There were several chestnut trees in the garden.
As you entered the house you were immediately aware of the importance of food and cooking in this place as the largest single room right behind the entrance terrace was a huge kitchen from where at all times great aroma of meals in the making emerged. There was always great stuff to nibble on usually laid out on a large wooden table. The kitchen was presided over by the peasant-cook-maid Erzsike – she had been with the family since times immemorial and always appeared to me as another of my many aunts who ran the house.
By the time I arrived at the Győr scene the house was occupied by my father’s favourite older brother: Imre or Emery – a very distinguished looking, quiet nice man, a lawyer and local community leader. He was the vice-president of the Jewish Community in Győr. Aunts Jolán and Margit lived there too, Jolán was a widow and Margit never married. They spoiled me to death, while Uncle Emery would try to instil in me some of his convictions many of which he picked up in schools ran by the “Bencés” (Benedictines), a Catholic order. It did not have anything to do with Christianity – it was more universal about the need of controlling one’s body to let the spirit rule … and he looked at sports as a spiritual exercise to show the body who is the boss… Uncle Imre was an avid rower and we belonged to the local Rowing Club on the Little Danube that is flowing through the city. Győr, an old industrial town was criss-crossed by rivers, the Little Danube, Rába and Rábca, so water sports were on everybody’s mind.
My summers at Győr were great and I looked forward to going there on the train by myself as I was growing to be a bigger boy – it took less than two hours on the fast electric trains. This must have been the beginning of my fascination with trains, locomotives in particular and I remember writing something of a thesis on electric locomotives at a much later time. When in Győr, I usually slept in Uncle Emery’s room, in an old bed with huge soft eiderdowns. It was very cosy…
Let me show you an excerpt of my family tree:
Finally, let me remember my Cousin Vica and his little son, Péterke, both killed in Auschwitz:
The Raoul Wallenberg Association in Hungary has been organising Holocaust-related quizzes for secondary school students in Hungary for several decades. It had run under the title “It was a long time ago, how was it?” some ten years, but about five years ago this was changed to the more specific name “In the footsteps of Wallenberg”.
For a long time, I myself did not know about the existence of this competition, although as a history teacher I always motivated my students to take part in competitions. I once accompanied a team from my school to the regional round in Győr, which I had not been in charge yet, but the teacher who had been coaching the team could not make it and asked me to take his place. Thus began “my story”.
In the mid-2010s, I was teaching history to a very dedicated, hard-working class. Towards the end of Year 10, I told the students that there had been an announcement for a competition called ” In the footsteps of Wallenberg”, which would be exciting and require a lot of creativity. Three students entered: Luca Felhalmi, Norbert Mester and Marcell Pollreisz. They called themselves “Time Travellers”. In June 2017, some preliminary tasks were already known. For example, they had to visit local Jewish memorial sites, take photos, or post about anything related to Jewish culture and events on Facebook popular among the students. My students didn’t delay, they threw themselves into the task with great enthusiasm. They photographed synagogues, memorial plaques and visited Jewish cemeteries, not only in Győr, but also in the city’s surroundings. They also visited Budapest several times, and searched for Jewish memories during their family holidays, although, as far as I know, none of them belonged to the Israelite community.
One of the important tasks was to interview a Holocaust survivor or someone who had been a rescuer. We did all of them. A relative of mine recommended Mrs. Kati Sági Pálné from Celldömölk, who was over 90-years old but had a vivid spirit. We went to her and did the interview. At the same time, we asked for help from Mr. Tibor Villányi, the President of the Jewish Community of Győr. This led to another thread of the story. Mr. Villányi took us to the nearby village Kimle, where we met the Láber family, whose ancestors hid Jewish youth during the Holocaust. Each story made a deep impression on us. The young people were impressed by Mrs. Kati Sági’s will to live and the heroism of the family in Kimle. We produced some excellent interviews, which were presented at the Wallenberg competition and at school commemorations.
The team prepared diligently for the regional round, which it won in November 2017 in Nagymegyer (Slovakia), the first regional final to be held outside our borders. Two months later, there was the national final in Budapest, for which we were given a special task. Our students had to present a concept in collaboration with two other teams. I can’t remember the concept itself, but it was great to work with the team from Vojvodina (Serbia) and the team from Nagyszalonta (Romania). We even did a shadow play; the youngsters were indeed very clever!
In the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building on Bem Square in Budapest, the team took the obstacles one after the other and finally finished in a tie for the third place! We were very happy, especially when we found out that our prize was a trip to the Felvidék (Slovakia). (This trip took place in June 2018).
A year later, the “Time Travellers” team wanted to compete again and I didn’t say no. Now a year more mature and learned, they were up to the task. We confidently won the regional final in Veszprém in autumn 2018. As a preliminary task, we again had to make a film on someone who had rescued lives. This time it was a short film about Bishop Vilmos Apor of Győr. We visited the Saint László Visitor Centre in Győr, where Mr. Renátó Kovács guided us through the exhibition of Vilmos Apor.
As usual, the finals took place at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Before the finals in the afternoon, the organisers made it possible to visit the Dohány Street Synagogue, just as in the previous year. I would like to mention here that my students used the opportunity of the competitions to visit the largest synagogue in Europe (Dohány Street) or the Holocaust Memorial Centre in Páva Street. Our second attempt did not do so well in the competition, this time we came sixth, but it was not about the ranking, but about the participation, the programmes and the team.
In 2019, I had to say goodbye to my “winning” team because its members graduated from school. I had planned to take a year or two off anyway, but due to the coronavirus epidemic, it ended up being a 3-year break. But for the 2021/2022 “In the footsteps of Wallenberg” contest, I managed to get three determined and experienced team members back on stage again. Blanka Erdős, Tünde Pálfi and Virág Vida from class 10.K of our school agreed to participate. They chose the name “Győr Triumvirate”.
Again, we asked Mr Tibor Villányi for help. He recommended visiting the Jewish cemeteries in Győr and its surroundings. He said that there were hardly any Holocaust survivors left. So, on a stormy afternoon in late January, we set out and toured several sites. We visited the memorial to the child victims in the courtyard of the Győr synagogue, the cemetery in Győr-Siget, the synagogue in Pannonhalma, the Jewish cemetery in Győrasszonyfa and the memorial to Miklós Radnóti, the poet, in Abda. The girls made a great film of what they saw, which we presented at the regional round in Veszprém on 21 February 2022. Many other tasks followed that day, and by the evening it turned out that we had come second, which meant qualifying for the final.
The finals took place in Budapest, on the border of Terézváros and Erzsébetváros, in the parish of the church St Teresa the Great of Avila. Ten teams competed against each other, and the competition consisted of several rounds. My students were very much prepared for the “live” production: a dramatised portrayal of a period in the life of Hanna Szenes (one of the heroes of the Holocaust). In addition, there were several worksheets, a walk through the city centre and a visit to the Jewish Historical Museum in Erzsébetváros. All very interesting and thought-provoking, and of course we were most excited about the live performance.
There was not much to be nervous about, the dramatic production was well done, but the performances of the others were also impressive. So, the competition was very tight indeed. In the end, there was only 1-2 points between the top teams. We finished in 4th place. Overall, we were happy, this is a very good result. We missed out on the trip abroad this time, but we won a valuable book prize.
We didn’t really do it for the prizes, and that’s not why I do it. The students got into these contests to gain extra knowledge and experience. Before they knew little about Hungarian Jewry and the Holocaust, now they know a lot more. They have become much more sensitive to the subject and are willing to share their knowledge with their peers and classmates. As a teacher, I am happy that my students are gaining knowledge and experience, as well as life-changing experiences. In the meantime, I meet my fellow teachers and the dedicated organisers of the competition, and we agree that, barring another pandemic, we will meet again next year.
Communicated by Dr. Attila Szilárd Tar, teacher, Baksa Kálmán Bilingual Highschool, Győr
The competition “In the footsteps of Wallenberg”, The short movie “How I survived”, Exhibitions
We were pleased to read in a recent information material we received from the Pattantyús-Ábrahám Géza Technical Highschool in Győr that young people, at least some of them, are striving not to forget.
Tell it to your sons, tell it to everyone’s sons.
Young generations growing up should know the historical traumas, failures and sins of this country and the world, as well as its great deeds and outstanding successes.
Among many other things, they need to remember what happened in 1944, how the terrible tragedy of the Jews, the Holocaust took place, and how, in the midst of inhumanity, some saviours of humanity bravely acted to save lives in Győr, Hungary and the world at large.
This is the theme of an annual, national competition for secondary schools named “In the footsteps of Raul Wallenberg”.
It is gratifying to see that schools from Győr also participate successfully in this contest, in which students from the Pattantyús-Ábrahám Géza Technical Highschool among others, have been active participants for years.
In 2017, the school’s 3-member student team led by history teacher Melinda Kazóné Kardos reached the regional finals in Veszprém. In addition to the Holocaust and examples of rescuing designated victims, the students dealt with issues of anti-Semitism, tolerance, racism and xenophobia. Before the competition, they had to create a profile on a social network site, where they posted pictures and entries about Imre Pattantyús-Ábrahám, one of the leaders of the Győr-based Waggon and Machine Factory who is considered by Yad Vashem to be one of the “Righteous Among the Nations”. The team of Bence Haász, Tamás Horváth, Márk Jakus achieved great success with, among other things, a five-minute film about the 85-year-old Holocaust survivor, Mrs. Joli Stern, entitled “How I survived”.
In 2018, this time the team named after Imre Pattantyús-Ábrahám, the rescuer, reached the final in Budapest with an unchanged line-up. The 86 teams included ones from neighbouring countries such as Slovakia, Romania and Serbia. They had to create a Facebook profile where they had to post pictures and entries until the final of the competition. The team from Győr also solved tasks on the Győr aspects of the Roma Holocaust. The final competition took place at the Holocaust Documentation Centre and Memorial Site in Páva Street, where they completed a test on the centre’s exhibition, followed by a quiz on the Holocaust and the rescue of people. Afterwards, the participants visited the Dohány Street Synagogue.
The Pattantyús-Ábrahám Géza Technical Highschool has also organised a number of exhibitions on the subject.
In 2017, an exhibition entitled “Explorers, Scientists, Magicians – Hungarian Inventions” was presented at the school with the help of the Budapest Holocaust Documentation Centre and Memorial Site as well as private collections of the school’s teachers. The exhibition presented Hungarian inventors and scientists of Jewish origin who made significant contribution to the development of a particular field of science. Visitors were able to learn about Gedeon Richter’s role in the pharmaceutical industry, the important contribution to the development of physics by Leó Szilárd and Ede Teller, and the work of many other renowned scientists, as well as gaining insight into the world of art through the work of the photographer Robert Capa, and even learning about the escape artist Harry Houdini and the magician Rezső Gross (Rodolfo). The exhibition was complemented by archive film footage. Over two weeks, nearly 500 students from Győr visited the exhibition.
In 2018, 600 students took part in a historical journey through time in the framework of an exhibition entitled “The State of Deception: the power of Nazi propaganda”, which was again compiled using materials from the Holocaust Documentation Centre and Memorial Site, also under the guidance of Melinda Kazóné Kardos, history teacher. This time, the pupils were given an unconventional history lesson and looked at former Nazi propaganda posters. Then they filled in worksheets and “experimented with mass manipulation” to “prove” the absurd thesis that people should be afraid of the – non-existent – Martians.
In addition to the Highschool’s own students, the extraordinary history lesson was attended by pupils from the Győr Krúdy Gyula Technical Highschool, the Gárdonyi Géza and Kölcsey Ferenc primary schools, as well as from Győrújbarát and Ikrény. Ten history teachers from schools in and around Győr also visited the exhibition.
How did the students like this special lesson? They told the Győr daily Kisalföld: “It was like turning the pages of a giant history book.”
In 2019, the Pattantyús-Ábrahám Géza Technical Highschool organised an Anne Frank Memorial Exhibition called “If I can be who I am”. The exhibition material was provided by the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. Over a three-week period, nearly 900 students and 27 teachers from Győr and the surrounding area visited the exhibition, which aimed to help young people to better understand the dangers of discrimination and exclusion, to learn more about human rights, to appreciate democracy and the main features of an inclusive, tolerant, multicultural society.
It is heart-warming and encouraging to see enterprising teachers and open-minded students who are receptive to “difficult issues” such as exclusion, racism, rejection of otherness, anti-Semitism, but also responsible action against these phenomena, even self-sacrifice. Only the expansion of historical knowledge, the recognition and acceptance of the historical choices and responsibilities of the individual and the masses, can gradually lead to the peaceful coexistence in society that is so much desired.
Based on a communication by Melinda Kazóné Kardos, history teacher
I was born in the wrong year, 1942, and in the wrong place, Budapest. But by a miracle of luck, we survived the war years, I was released from the Great Ghetto in Pest with my mother and grandfather, and my father survived in Mauthausen.
In the fifties, all I knew about Győr was that an aunt of mine lived there, at 18 Arany János Street, whom we called “Mariska of Győr”. We visited the Éliás family at least once a year: Mariska, her tailor husband and their little boys. I knew nothing more about the Győr relatives. In 1955, they had their daughter was born, and in November 1956 they left the country, stopping in Melbourne, Australia, only, where they could make a good living as tailors. Our relationship was severed.
There was also a rumour in the family that an uncle of mine, surnamed Feit, was involved in the founding of the Győr synagogue, and his name is on a plaque there.
I must have been 65 when, by chance, I found a cousin of mine in Melbourne, who was born there, on the internet. There was a renewed connection with the branch of the family there.
In the meantime, I learned more and more about my family through Jewish search portals on the Internet, even finding a few documents. By that time, I really regretted that as a small child I had not asked my grandparents to tell me at least a little about their parents and grandparents.
To my surprise, I learned that one branch of my family came from the Győr-Nyitra-Komárom triangle, i.e. from the Jewish population there. Many of them settled and lived in the Sziget district of Győr. Sziget was just an intermediary station towards Budapest and, unfortunately, later also towards the concentration camps.
My great-grandfather Jakab Feit was a master shoemaker. According to the documents found, he lived at 4, later 11 Híd Street in Győr, later on at Országút and at Vásártér Street. His wife, Száli (Fáni) Kuttner, gave birth to five children (including my maternal grandmother at 4 Híd utca), one of whom died at the age of three months.
At the age of 31, on 2 July 1886, at 7 o’clock in the morning, Fáni drowned in the Rába river. A strange death – I don’t know if she didn’t knowingly try to escape his difficult fate. She left behind her husband and four children, including a one-year-old girl. The master shoemaker immediately remarried, marrying a young girl from the König family, whom he also called Fáni for simplicity’s sake. The second Fáni gave her husband four more children, while one of the girls died of measles at the age of two.
Cousin marriages were common in the extended family. Therefore, my maternal grandfather and grandmother were related to each other, and other relatives married also within the family. They all lived in the same block, preferably in Győr and later in Budapest.
Part of the family moved to Budapest, but some of the girls stayed in Győr because they got married there. One husband was Lajos Láng. A similar thing happened to him as to my great-grandfather. His first wife, Rózsa Reich, had three children, Maria, Sándor and Irén, and then she died young. Lajos quickly remarried, marrying an aunt of mine, Maria Feit. She and her son József were deported to Auschwitz, where they died in 1944.
The three children of the previous wife, Rózsa, survived the war, although one of them, Mária Láng, was sent to the Buchenwald camp. She survived. After liberation she married Miklós Éliás, a master tailor, and they lived in Győr until 1956. She was the “Mariska of Győr” whom I visited as a child. She died in 2010 surrounded by her loving family in Australia. The other two children were in hiding. One of them, Sándor Láng, eventually died in Canada, the other, Irén Láng, still lives in Melbourne, aged over 90.
The third child, Erzsébet married Sándor Keitner; they moved to Újpest, and from there they were sent to Auschwitz, with their children, on their final journey. The fourth, my aunt Sarolta, married Nándor Friedenstein in Győr, but the young husband was killed in the First World War, and then the widow and her daughter moved to Pest. This little girl, Stefi, born in Győr, was taken from the same ghetto apartment in Dob Street, Budapest, to Dachau, where our family was also housed. She came back safely.
“Award for the Jewish People of Hungary” to Dr. Erzsébet Nagy
On 24 March 2022, the Award for the Jews of Hungary was presented at a formal function in the ceremonial hall of the Association of Jewish Communities in Hungary (Mazsihisz) in Síp Street, Budapest. This year, the prestigious award, founded in 2005, was given to Dr. Erzsébet Nagy, Hungarian history teacher, local historian, among others.
“With this award, the Mazsihisz expresses its appreciation to Dr. Erzsébet Nagy, Hungarian history teacher, local history researcher, for her devoted and humane work, through which she explores and makes known the Hungarian Jewish community – including in the Győr-Moson-Sopron county, Győr and Gyömöre – even beyond the borders of Hungary, making an exemplary contribution to the preservation of the memory of the martyrs who were exterminated during the Holocaust” – reads the decorative diploma awarded to Dr. Erzsébet Nagy as presented in the banquet hall of the Mazsihisz headquarters.
Dr. Erzsébet Nagy’s work was praised by András Heisler, President of the Mazsihisz, who said: the awardee was born in Gyömöre, Győr-Moson-Sopron County, in a simple Christian Hungarian peasant family, which should be emphasized now because her origins have fundamentally determined, and still determine, her way of thinking and her world view.
“Her childhood experiences in the small village, her experience of the humane behaviour of simple peasants, have accompanied her throughout her life: their example of standing up for others has taught her to persevere in her studies, work and profession with hard work and humanity,” said the President.
In the laudation it was said that Dr. Erzsébet Nagy began to research local history of the Jewish community in parallel with her work as a teacher. Her research into the history of the Popper family in Győr, and then into the local history of her home village of Gyömöre, was interwoven from the very beginning with the nearly two hundred-years history of local Jewry.
For years, she collected local memoirs of Jews killed in the Holocaust from elderly people in the village, and regularly visited archives and libraries to gather the necessary material. She published her research in a book entitled “The Memory of the Jews of Gyömöre”, the publication of which was supported by the family of Tibor Villányi of Győr, said András Heisler. “We are happy to present her with this award, because she deserves it, even though we know that she is a selfless woman who works not for rewards, not for prizes, but for humanity, and humanity that she brought with her from her home village.”
Without roots we can become strangers, without roots there is no spiritual or physical freshness. Man is rooted in his past. He who forgets his past becomes rootless. With the past we carry all its good and bad moments, the joy of our wise decisions and happy moments, but we also carry with us our mistakes and the burden of the sins committed against us. Both the guilty and the victim must cherish the memory of the past, so that some of the bad pages of history may not be repeated. Erzsébet Nagy’s local historical writing evokes Jewish people and Jewish families – in a completely objective way.
She wrote a book of remembrance of the Jewish inhabitants of Gyömöre, also known as ‘Little Palestine’, where 25-30% of the souls living there belonged to Judaism, and where not only an Israelite school but also a separate yeshiva, a school of religious studies, operated from 1851 until the end of 1943. Erzsébet Nagy took the trouble to search the archives and talk to the people of Gyömöre who were willing to help with their personal recollections to write her work. (The book’s blurb)
For our compilation we used the websites mazsihisz.hu; antikvarium.hu; wikipedia.org and the book “The memory of the Jews of Gyömöre” by Dr. Erzsébet Nagy. Ed. Péter Krausz
Károly Spitzer was born on 29 September 1882 in the village of Szabadi, near Győr, to Illés Spitzer and Róza Neufeld. The large family moved to Révfalu at the turn of the 20th century. (At that time Révfalu was still an independent village, annexed to Győr in 1905.) They bought a house in the Erzsébet királyné street, today’s Ady Endre street, where they ran a pub.
Károly Spitzer chose another trade and opened a butcher’s shop at 4 Czuczor Gergely u. in Győr.
In 1910 he married Vilma Kellner, born in Ács. Vilma was half an orphan at the time, her father, Hermann Kellner, a master tailor, died prematurely. Her mother, Hermann Kellner, née Antónia Berger, lived a long widowhood until her death in Auschwitz.
Károly Spitzer bought his own house, also in Révfalu, in Báthory Street. They had two children, Ferenc in 1911 and Olga in 1913. They lived the life of an honest, hard-working merchant-industrial family. They prospered financially, employed a helper in the shop, and had a servant in the household. On weekdays, they worked hard in the shop, and on Sundays, as was the custom of the time, Károly went to the café, where he discussed business and the world with his friends.
They had their children educated, Ferenc at the Miklós Révai Grammar School, and Olga at the Count Albert Apponyi (now Ferenc Kazinczy) Girls’ Grammar School. Ferenc was not admitted to the Technical University, where he wanted to study architecture, because of the numerus clausus. So he studied at the textile college in Brünn (now Brno in the Czech Republic). On his return home, he was unable to find a job in the textile indu