Family Story

The Return

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 Trutnov where 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.

The original piece – Source: Nők Lapja, July 7, 1984

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.

Mother, Gabriella Vágó, Győr, 1943 © György Polgár

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.

Parschnitz (Porici) – Source:

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.

My mother’s and grandmother’s names are on the list of prisoners in Trautenau (#540 and #541). My grandmother managed to falsify her birth year and so that they
would be considered sisters and not separated Source: Arolsen Archives, Bad Arolsen, Germany

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.

Gabriella Vágó

Translated by György and Viktor Polgár

Family Story

Gestetner, the father of the copying machine

From Csorna to world fame – Remembering Dávid Gestetner

David Gestetner on horseback in front of his own house, London, circa 1905, © Wikipedia

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.

P. Krausz

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.

Two copies of the wheeled pen © Magyar Nyomdász

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.

Plaque on the wall of Dávid Geststner’s London home © Wikipedia

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.

French-language advertisement of the Gestetner copier around 1900 © Wikipedia

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.

Gestetner Rotary Cyclostyle duplicating machine, circa 1920, on display at the Technical Museum in Vienna © Wikimedia Commons

By the 1930s, the mass-produced stencil machine had dominated the market for reproduction machinery for 40 years.

Dávid Gestetner around 1930 © Magyar Nyomdász

Modern times

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.

Social effects

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.


Wikipédia és Wikipedia


Magyar Nyomdász

Family Story

Dr István Bakonyi’s Wanderings, Part Four

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 discovered that 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 occasional forced 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.

Taksony – Kőbánya, Google maps

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.

Vác, Google maps

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.

Párkány (Sturovo) és Zebegény, Google maps

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.

A four-engine bomber of the US Air Force bombing the railway bridge in Szob in 1944, Source:

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.

Family Story

We Must Remember

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.

P. Krausz

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.

My Mother and Father, Jolan Sicherman (Adler) and Miksa Sicherman, Budapest 1945-1956 © Les Sichermann

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 and around 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 Maxwell Field, 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.”

Albert and Tanty Cox, my future Father-in-law and Mother-in-law, Montreal, 1942 © Les Sichermann

“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.

My Grandmother, Malvin Stern (Adler) 1880-1944, and my Aunt, Irene Szalay (Adler), both from Győr © Les Sichermann

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.”

Albert and Tanty Cox, 1943 © Les Sichermann

“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.

Albert Cox with his training squadron in front of a Hudson, Debert Nova Scotia 1943 © Les Sichermann

“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.”

1956 Revolution

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.)

Canada, 1955

“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.”          

Canada, 1956-1964

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.

Family Photo (left) Tanty, Albert, Kathy, Les; (right) Les, Kathy and nephew in the middle at our wedding, Saskatoon Saskatchewan, 1975 © Les Sichermann

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.

Les and Kathy Sicherman 2023 © Les Sichermann

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.

By Les Sichermann, Canada

Family Story

My parents met over cigarette rations

The life of a physician-lawyer, Sándor Ullmann – Part Two

This is the continuation of Sándor’s life story, this time written by his daughter, Margie Ullmann-Weil, from the moment when Sándor arrived in Canada. Let us recall the first part of Sándor’s story while he lived still in Hungary in the darkest times of the 20th century published on our website under the title “A classmate had the foresight to provide him with a Nazi hat and Arrow Cross shirt”.

Read this exiting second part on how Sándor built up his personal and professional life overseas from zero.

P. Krausz

Margie’s recollections

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.

Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München today, ©

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.

Irene and Sándor, 1948, © Margie Ullmann-Weil

They quickly fell in love and got married on October 5, 1948. As a side note, Sándor later became a cigarette smoker.

Invitation Irene’s and Sándor’s wedding, 1948, © Margie Ullmann-Weil

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.

A lonely stone that remained from the Jewish cemetery in Fábiánháza, ©

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.

Gross-Rosen concentration camp entrance today, © War Traveller

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.

Irene’s Canadian passport, by mid-1950s, © Margie Ullmann-Weil

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.

Sándor with his son, Stewart Bruce, around 1953, © Margie Ullmann-Weil

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.

Irene, my mother, 1958, © Margie Ullmann-Weil

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.

Sándor, my father, around 1970, © Margie Ullmann-Weil

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.

Crittenton Hospital today, ©

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 at Crittenton Hospital, Michigan, photo with an appraisal note, 1985, © Margie Ullmann-Weil

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.

Sándor with his daughter, Margie, 1993, © Margie Ullmann-Weil

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.

Family Story

Dr István Bakonyi’s Wanderings, Part III

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.

Censorship stamp on a letter, Source: HDKE

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.

Alcsút – Baracska, Google maps

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.

Baracska – Velence Lake, Google maps

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.

Hungarian soldiers on the front, Source:

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.

Velence Lake – Székesfehérvár, Google maps

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.

Forced labourers in Hungary, Source: – Braham

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.

Székesfehérvár 1945, Source:

… 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. …

Székesfehérvár – Pákozd – Velence – Adony, Google maps

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.

Adony – Dömsöd, Google maps

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.

Dömsöd – Taksony, Google maps

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.

Family Story

Uncle Gyula

Remembering Gyula Perl

Early years

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.

The graves of Berta and David Perl at the Jewish Cemetery in Győr-Sziget, 2000s, received from Esther Bánki

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).

Horse-driven wagon of the Perl Dávid és Társa Co., official carrier of the Hungarian State Railways in Győr – ©

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.

Benedictine church and Grammar School on Széchenyi square in Győr, 1920-30, Photo: Glück József, © Dr. Kovács Pál Könyvtár, Győr

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.

Skt. Jørgens Gymnasium, around 1990, © Frederiksberg Stadsarkiv

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.

Postcard from Gyula Perl to his nephew, Ödön Bánki, 30 June 1926; Ödön Bánki (1903-1978) was a medical student in Munich between 1925-1927, received from Esther Bánki

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.

Polyteknisk Læreanstalt, date unknown, ©

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.  

Telegram from Copenhagen from Gyula, Alma and Birgit Pal to Ödön Bánki to congratulate him on his doctor’s degree, received from Esther Bánki

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.

Gyula Pal at the teacher’s desk, Wikipedia

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.)

From left to right Olga Bánki (my grandmother), Gyula Perl, Frida Polgár (standing), unknown and Viktor Polgár, 1930s (?), received from Esther Bánki

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).

Kind regards,

Esther Bánki (born in 1964)

August 2021”

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

Gyula Pál – Wikipedia
Pál Gyula – Julius Pal (1881-1946), the Hungarian – EuDML

Julius Pal (1881-1946), the Hungarian – Danish mathematician

Julius Pal (1881-1946), the Hungarian – Danish mathematician

Julius Pal (1881-1946), the Hungarian – Danish mathematician

With the exception of the photos from Esther Bánki and the image of Gyula Perl, all images are simple illustrations.

Family Story

A classmate had the foresight to provide him with a Nazi hat and Arrow Cross shirt

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.

Peter Krausz

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.

Pécs Cathedral in 1943, © Fortepan

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.

City view of Salgótarján in the 1930s, ©

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.

University of Pécs, 1920-30, ©

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.

Last mine cart in Úrkút, ©

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.

Example of a Swedish passport provided by Raoul Wallenberg in 1944-45, which may have meant life, ©

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.

Holocaust memorial in Mosonmagyaróvár, ©

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.

Sándor working with the microscope in Budapest, 1947, © Ullmann Family

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.

Entrance to Auschwitz, © Wikimedia Commons (German Federal Archives)
US Personnel caring for ill patients in a typhus ward, Dachau, 1945, © US Holocaust Memorial Museum,

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 still in Hungary, 1947 © Ullmann Family

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.

Savannah, Sándor’s granddaughter, the author of the present notes, and her mother, Margie, Sándor’s daughter

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 Weil

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.

Family Story Uncategorized

Dr István Bakonyi’s Wanderings, Part II

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

Óbarok, Mohos, Google maps

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.

Red Army units in action, Source: Origo

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.

Óbarok – Felcsút – Alcsút, Google maps

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!

Featured image: In a forced labour camp, Fortepan

Family Story Uncategorized

Dr István Bakonyi’s Wanderings, Part I

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’.

Péter Krausz

So, the diary:

The first page of the diary, Source:

“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.

Postcard from the labour camp, Source: HDKE

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.

Muszosok at rest, Surce: HDKE

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.

Muszosok and Hungarian Watchdogs, Source:

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. …

Óbarok, Vázsony puszta, Google maps

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.

SS in Transdanubia, Source:

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.

Family Story

Not a Real Enemy

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.

The cover page of the book to be launched on 12 October 2022, Amazon

Excerpt One

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.

Dr. Joseph and Kamilla Wolf, photo taken during WWI, © Robert J Wolf

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…

Excerpt Two

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….

Excerpt Three


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.

Dr. Ervin and Judit Wolf, January 15, 1953, at their wedding © Robert J Wolf

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.

Robert J. Wolf, MD, Neuroradiologist, Author

Link to book presale:

Family Story Győr and Jewry

Survival or certain death

The train swap: Strasshof – Auschwitz

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.

People forced into the ghetto on the “Double” Bridge (Kettős híd) over the Rába, (2)

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.

Randolph L. Braham (1922-2018) (4)

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.

News about the establishment of the Győr Ghetto in a local publication, May 1944, (5)

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. 

Joel Brand (1906-1964) (6)

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).

Memorial plaques in the pyramid of the Győr-Sziget cemetery © P. Krausz

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)

Braham, Randolph L.: The Politics of Genocide, cover page of the Hungarain edition (8)

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.

Rudolf Kasztner (1906-1957) during a radio broadcast in Israel (9)

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.

Poster of the film “Life Train” (12)

“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”.

Peter Krausz

The gate of the Holocaust pyramid in the Győr-Sziget cemetery © P. Krausz


(1) Régi Győr a); (2) Régi Győr b); (3) Újnépszabadság, Médianapló, Zöldi László has been teaching media history in various higher education institutions for 30 years; 4) Mazsihisz; (5) Baross (6) Neokohn; (7) Wikipedia a); (8) Braham, Randolph L.: A népirtás politikája …; (9) Wikipedia b); (10) Braham, Randolph L; (11) The “Final Solution” in Győr-Sopron-Pozsony County, Diploma thesis by Tímea Berkes, supervisor: László Karsai, Szeged, 1995 (pdf); (12) Életvonat a); (13) Életvonat b)

Family Story

The Jewish Botond of Győr: Dezső Winkler

Legendary vehicle designer at the Rába factory

Who was Dezső Winkler?

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.

The handover of Rába LHo buses destined for the capital in Győr, on Szent István út; Dunántúli Hírlap, 11 February 1928; Source: (1)

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.

Dezső Winkler, 1901-1985

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.

Dezső Winkler behind the wheel of Botond, Source: (3)

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.

Botond in action; Source: (2)

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.

Tableau at the Dreamers of Dreams Exhibition, Millenáris, Budapest, July 2022; © Péter Krausz

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.

The Byzantine myth of Botond in the Képes Krónika (1358); Source: (6)

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.

István Winkler delivering his inaugural speech
© P. Krausz
The plaque © P. Krausz
Family photo beneath the memorial plaque © Krausz P.


  2.; 21st March 2013, szerző: pera
Family Story

The famous mathematical geniuses of Győr – the Riesz brothers

Soccer player Öcsi Puskás’ adventure with Professor Frigyes Riesz

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.

The house where the famous mathematician Riesz brothers, Frigyes and Marcell, were born. (Győr, corner of Kazinczy u. and Jedlik Ányos út) © kozterkep/mapublic

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.

Frigyes Riesz in university regalia

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.

Memorial plaque on the parental home © kozterkep/mapublic

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.

Puskás and Lóránt rejoice together

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”.

Ferenc Puskás, the world-famous football player who did not know Frigyes Riesz
Frigyes Riesz, the world-famous mathematician who did not know Lajos 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.)

Riesz Marcell

Marcell (Győr, 16 November 1886 – Lund (Sweden), 4 September 1969), university professor, younger brother of Frigyes, also a mathematician.

Riesz Marcell professzor, Fejér Lipót tanítványa

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.

Sources ; ; ;

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

Family Story Uncategorized

Story of the Egri-Angel Family

From Győrsövényháza to California

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 (r) with siblings, Miklós, Gyöngyi and Sári (their half-sister), around 1926-27

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.

Mom and Pop in 1946

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.

Pop’s (2nd from r.) parents and sister

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.

Pop’s little daughters, Éva and Marika, murdered in Auschwitz

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!

Newspaper cuts, 1956 and later

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.

Mom and Pop dancing their 25th wedding anniversary, 1974

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.

My brother, Misi, the “cowboy”, around 2010

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 and grandchildren, around 1990

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!

Mom’s last birthday with Michael and me, 1995

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…

Zoe’s (my eldest granddaughter) Bat Mitzvah, August 2021

Story noted and communicated in April, 2022, © photos by Eva Monastersky

Featured image © Pexels

Family Story Uncategorized

Memoirs of Alex Hacker

Győr related excerpt

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.

Uncle Mihály

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.

The family house

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.

In the garden: me,my Father Laci, Uncle Imre, Uncle Emil, Cousin Pali Varga and sitting Aunt Margit

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.

Uncle Imre

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:

Excerpt of my family tree

Finally, let me remember my Cousin Vica and his little son, Péterke, both killed in Auschwitz:

Cousin Fodor Vica and son Péterke

Images: © Alex Hacker, incl. featured image (those on this picture: Aunt Jolán, Uncle Mihály, Uncle Imre, Aunt Flóra, my Father Laci, Aunt Margit

Family Story

My Győr story

Recollection of Gábor Farkas

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.

The chronicler, Gábor Farkas, b. 1942 © Gábor Farkas

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, master shoemaker, 1852-1936 © Gábor Farkas

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.

Eszter (Ernesztin) Feit, my grandmother 1882-1939 © Gábor Farkas

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.

House at 11 Híd utca today © Gábor Farkas

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 Buchenwald identity card of Mária Láng, issued on 17 June 1944 © Gábor Farkas

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.

With yellow star, before being deported to the ghetto, me and my mother, Mendelné Farkas, b. Lívia Weisz (Vértes), 1915-1973 © Gábor Farkas

Finally, here is our family tree.

Our family tree © Gábor Farkas

Published by Gábor Farkas

Featured image © Farkas Gábor

Family Story Uncategorized

The 20th century story of the Spitzer family

Before World War II

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.

Vilma Kellner and Károly Spitzer, 1910 © Olga Spitzer

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.

Olga Spitzer and Ferenc, 1930 © Olga Spitzer

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 industry, so he learned the trade of a butcher alongside his father.

Károlyné Spitzer b. Vilma Kellner, Hermanné Kellner b. Cecília Berger, Lacika Kohn, Lajosné Kohn b. Olga Spitzer (from left to right), around 1935; all Holocaust victims © Spitzer Olga

In 1933, Olga married Lajos Kohn, born in Bezi, who was engaged in cattle trade. He sold the cattle in Vienna and Italy. He was a good citizen. They had two sons, Lacika (1934) and Ferike (1938).

Lilla Lovas, 1941 © Olga Spitzer

In 1942, Ferenc Spitzer married Lilla Lovas, who was born in Bátorkeszi in the Felvidék. His father was Sándor Lovas (Lőwinger) from Galanta. His mother, Sarolta Wetzler from Komarno. His maternal grandfather, Mór Wetzler, was a wine merchant in Komarno.

Lilla Lovas és Ferenc Spitzer,  1942 © Olga Spitzer

Lilla Lovas and her mother were expelled from Bratislava by the Slovak authorities because of Slovak Jewish laws. So in 1939, they came to Győr, where they were declared stateless. Lilla did not get a work permit, but fortunately, thanks to her language skills, she was able to work as a governess for the family of the then master tailor Nándor Lőwi, who was working on Baross út. After her marriage, her husband was called up for forced labour service. The young married couple kept in touch through frequent correspondence. In these letters, Lilla gave a detailed account of the increasingly difficult daily life for the Jews. Ferenc managed to preserve the letters, which are now considered historic documents.

The family, along with their relatives near and far, were forced into a ghetto in 1944 and deported to Auschwitz. Lajos Kohn, a forced labourer, froze to death in the Don Bend.

Lajos Kohn’s death certificate from the Russian front, where he died in a forced labour camp © Spitzer Olga

Ferenc Spitzer was liberated in Mauthausen. First, Lilla was held prisoner for six weeks in Auschwitz, then for ten months in Lippstadt, where she worked as a slave in a war factory, twelve hours a day, on a grinding machine, without protective goggles. He was freed by American soldiers on 1 April 1945 and moved to a place called Kaunitz.

Of the narrow family, only Lilla and Ferenc survived the Holocaust, the others fell all victims of Nazi madness.

Life after World War II

Miraculously, my later parents, Lilla Lovas and Ferenc Spitzer, having lost parents and siblings, in failing health but surviving the horrors, tried to start life together again. The family house in Báthory Street survived, where a foreign family had moved in. My father managed to get the house back, so at least they had somewhere to live. Yes, many people of return did not have that.

My father tried to continue the independent animal trade business, but he was not allowed to do so for long. After that he had several jobs. He remained true to his social democratic political principles and refused to join the communist party. According to him, when he entered the recruitment centre, he was greeted by former Arrow Cross members, so he thanked them for the invitation but did not seek membership. He could therefore not expect any promotion. Until his retirement, he remained a junior officer on a modest salary.

Lilla Lovas and Ferenc  Spitzer, 1983 © Olga Spitzer

My parents died at the age of 79 and 88 respectively. They are buried in the Jewish cemetery in Győr.

In 2016, in memory of my grandparents, I placed stumbling stones in front of the entrance of their former residence.

To help you find your way around my family, here is a fragment of our family tree.

Our family tree © Olga Spitzer

I will tell the story of my own family in another chapter.

Contribution by Olga Spitzer

Family Story

Veronka’s drawing book and the yearbook

Non omnis moriar…  (Horatius)

For seventy-five years, at the bottom of the cupboard, lay notebooks and a letter, the last memories of our father’s first family, the innocent and senselessly destroyed, sweet little girl Veronka and her equally sweet little sister Mártika and their mother Natalka.

In 1944, human evil and hatred destroyed the Hungarian Jewish community in our home town Győr, which had raised with loving care, honest, educated, hard-working and successful generations, whose members considered Hungary their homeland. Between the First and the Second World War, however, they were gradually marginalised in the most despicable way and eventually even deprived of their bare lives. 

Our father, having survived the loss of his daughters and wife, returned home from labour service and a Russian camp of prisoners of war and, after a few years, remarried. We were born into his second family, so his first children, Veronka and Mártika, who were killed in Auschwitz, became our older siblings. What a dramatic twist.

The cover page of the sketchbook of the 2nd grade, 1942

The three miraculously preserved family documents, following their print publication, is made public also in this way to preserve the memory of our murdered sisters.

Flower garden, 1942
My room, 1942

Eight-year-old Veronka’s sketchbook faithfully reflects the high quality of education and upbringing in the Israelite People’s School of the time and confirms the statements made in the school’s 1942-43 yearbook.

Mom, Natal, 1942
It’s me, Veronka, 1942
My little sister, Márti, 1942

The yearbook is not only a simple annual report, but also a summary monograph on the local patriotism of the Jewish community of Győr, the history, functioning and significance of the school. 

The yearbook, 1943

The book also tells about the teachers, the prestigious school board consisting of notables of the Jewish community, and the geographical and natural features of the city of Győr. However, in the lines of the headmaster’s report, the ominous shadows of an impending tragedy are already looming.

Veronka (no. 15) among the best, 1943

Natalka’s last letter, sent to her husband, our future father, the day before she was forced into the Győr ghetto with Veronka, Mártika and five thousand of their fellow citizens of Győr, already indicates the imminent arrival of the deadly threat.  The letter radiates endless loyalty, love and still hope, but in vain.

Natalka’s last letter to her labour camp conscript husband Berci (later our father), 28 May 1944

Transcript of the letter:

Sunday, 28 May 1944

My dear Berci!

I was going to write an exhaustive letter today, but fate has arranged it differently.

We had a terrible awakening this morning, there will be a ghetto in Győr too. We must go to Sziget. For the time being, there is no decree that the Christians there must move out, only existing Jewish flats (which are already fully taken under previous regulations) can be occupied or exchanged for Christian ones. Few people are willing to exchange because everyone insists on staying in their old dwellings. I rushed out to the Horváths at 7 o’clock, fixed an arranged transfer of the apartment whereby they would get Kato Opitz’s apartment with a nice street view. You can imagine how happy I was. Then the woman appears in the afternoon and says that they won’t change because they are afraid of being bombed. In the meantime, I ran to the Elemérs, where I found out that the Horváth family would get Elemér’s flat and that the Horváths’ flat would be taken by the Mérős, Böhms and Rózsi Krausz. I have a feeling that something happened behind my back. Sári came to us in a rush to say that she would do what she can for me to get an apartment.

Is everyone selfish and ruthless now, or is this the right thing to do? I have to move out by 8pm on May 31st, until then the good Lord will just help us find a place to live. Margit’s family is going to Zoli, Aranka to Ilonka, Mama and …. to the old Bakonyi’s, while Böske has no place yet, he may go to Ilonka as a last resort.

My dear Berci, it hurts me so much to write this and to cause you pain, but is it possible to hide it?

I waited until this afternoon to write something more positive, but perhaps I will have better news tomorrow.

I’m in a hurry, because I mustn’t go out after 8 o’clock.

My darling Berci, pray for us. I promise to be strong; I am fighting in the strong faith that one day I will be with my dear husband and our two sweet little girls.

God bless you! (?)

With warm love, hugs and kisses from your faithful wife,


They leave Győr in cattle wagons for their final journey. Among those deported is also our future mother, who later becomes one of the few survivors of Auschwitz.

These written testimonies found in 2018 encourage us to preserve the memory of our loved ones and to do our utmost to ensure that their tragedy is never repeated.

Non omnis moriar … I will not die completely…

Their immortality depends on us.

Girls, parents and children, 1942-1944
Their names with the ones of other murdered adult and child family members on a cemetery memorial plaque today

Published by András and Péter Krausz; all photos © Krausz brothers

Family Story

Stolpersteine in memory of our murdered family members

Stolpersteine, or stumbling stones have been defined by Wikipedia as follows:

“The works of the German sculptor Günter Demnig; 10×10 cm copper plaques in cobblestone, placed as a tribute to the victims of National Socialism in front of their former dwelling homes. These stones will make history visible and tangible in the everyday life of the residents.”

A tribute to Olga Spitzer’s grandparents © Kisalföld daily paper

The inscription on each plaque begins with the words “He lived here”, followed by the name, date of birth and a brief description of the person’s fate.

Günter Demnig is responsible for the complete arrangement of the stone installations throughout Europe, including Hungary.

Günther Demnig at work © Olga Spitzer

In Győr, the Spitzer family laid the first stones in 2016. MAZSIKE supported the project, covered part of the costs with state funding and organised Mr Demnig’s trip. In 2019, the Spiegel, Winkler, Klein (Quittner) and Adler families also laid stones in the city. Memorial stones for the Neuwirth family are still to be placed.

The old home is marked only by the stumbling stones © Olga Spitzer

As of September 2019, a total of 446 stumbling blocks have been laid in Hungary, 150 of which were in Budapest.

On the occasion of the placement of the memorial stones in the honour of her family, Olga Spitzer said, “It was not an easy decision because I was afraid, but my defiance was greater than my fear of anti-Semitism.”

The memory and the stones remain forever bright © Olga Spitzer

Some practical information:

The following link provides information on the stumbling stones deposited in Hungary: The (not fully up-to-date) map also shows the stones of Győr.

If you want to have a memorial stone placed today, please contact MAZSIKE. You must be able to provide all the information needed for a standardised inscription, including the last freely chosen place of residence of the victim. These should be sent to with any questions for clarification.

Sources: Olga Spitzer; Wikipedia; daily newspaper Kisalföld, 15.08.2016; MAZSIKE 28. 02. 2022; featured image: © Krausz P.

Family Story

Jakab Neuwirth and his children – short story starting in 1844

Family Neuwirth © Szedő M.

Jakab Neuwirth was born in 1844 in Alistal (now Dolny Stal, Slovakia). The family later moved to Győr, where the father, Salamon Neuwirth, and later Jakab, worked as hauliers.

It was in 1920, well before the Holocaust, that Jakab Neuwirth was beaten to death by two men wearing crane-feathered berets, the symbol of antisemitic counter-revolutionary gangs supporting governor Horthy, and his money as well as pocket watch were stolen. The pocket watch and the chain that came with it had been given to him by the Habsburg King Charles because his seven sons had served in the First World War.

Jakab Neuwirth had 16 children who lived to adulthood, the age difference between the oldest and the youngest being almost 42 years. Imre is the eleventh in this line.

Imre Neuwirth was born in 1894 in Győr. After graduating from school, he became a master printer. His printing house, the Kisfaludy Printing House, was named after the Kisfaludy statue, behind which it was located. He worked not only as a printer, but also as a book and newspaper publisher. The newspaper, the magazine and the books he wrote, edited and published all dealt with Jewish social issues. He published his first journal, ‘Somer Yisrael’ (Guardian of Israel), when he was 21. However, the newspaper and the magazine ceased publication after a few issues due to a lack of subscribers. The bound copies of the books were deposited in the stock of the National Széchenyi Library, but in 1944 most of them were crushed.

Imre’s wife, Margit Kóth (Győr, 1894) was a midwife, who had already graduated as an adult. She is said to have been one of the best midwives in Győr. One of his two brothers was killed at Isonzo in World War I, and his sister and her family ended up in Auschwitz.

Imre had five children in his family. Jolán (1916), Jenő (1919), Sándor (1921), Sára (1923) and Miklós (1925). The family lived in modest but secure financial circumstances. They belonged to the Győr Orthodox Community, but the children were also involved in the Zionist movement.

The difficulties began in 1938 after the first law on Jews was passed.

The last photo of the “extended family” © Szedő M.

Jenő, one of the sons, emigrated to what was then Palestine in 1938, started a family there and lived in Israel until his death in 2015. At the same time, a large group also left Győr for Palestine and they have remained in touch even today.

The rest of the family stayed in Hungary. After the outbreak of World War II, the men were called up for forced labour. The women, in 1944, were sent to a ghetto and then to Auschwitz, which neither of them survived. The “extended family” – descendants of Jakab Neuwirth – lost more than 50 men, women and children in the Shoah.

Imre Neuwirth’s family around 1938 (men only surivived the Shoah) © Szedő M.

Imre Neuwirth and his sons, Sándor and Miklós, returned to Győr in 1945, after the liberation of the country, and tried to start a new life there. Soon it became obvious and was made clear to them that there was no need for their printing house and no possibility of keeping it going.

So, Imre Neuwirth left the country in 1946. His ship was sunk by the British and the rescued passengers were deported to Cyprus. From there, he was transferred to Israel and worked in Tel Aviv until his death in 1955.

Sándor moved from Győr to Budapest. He got married and became a mechanical engineer and later an engineer-economist. He had two sons (including the undersigned), three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. He deceased in 2009.

Miklós, the other son of Imre Neuwirth, also moved to Budapest, where he became a paper industry engineer. In 1956, the family left Hungary and started a new life in Sweden. They had one son, three grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Miklós died in 2011.

Imre’s eldest son Jenő, mentioned above, died in Israel in 2015, aged 95. He is survived by a daughter, four grandchildren and 18 (!) great-grandchildren.

The whole “extended family”, i.e. the descendants of Jakab Neuwirth, today about 240, are scattered all over the world, most of them living in Israel.

This “extended family” has been holding family reunions every two or three years since 2006. In 2008, around 100 people visited Győr in the framework of such an encounter.

Disclosed by Miklós Szedő

Featured image: The tableau of the Neuwith family in the former home of elderly and poor, Győr © Krausz P.

Family Story

Fortitude paved way to freedom

Interview with Zsuzsanna Lorand (Győr, 1921 – Boston, 2006) in the local paper, Lexington, Massachusetts, USA, 1987

There were times during the Nazi persecution of Hungarian Jews that Zsuzsanna Lorand wanted to give up, commit suicide – anything to escape the horrors she was experiencing. Without her mother’s love and determination, Dr Zsuzsanna Lorand (born in Győr in 1921) admitted that she would not be alive today. 

The scars of those days ran so deep that for 40 years Zsuzsanna suppressed the horror of her experiences during the Holocaust. “Lately I’ve been thinking more and more of the nightmare. Soon there won’t be any survivors left, and the world may forget,” she said. As a result, she felt obligated to come forward, as a way of keeping the memory alive and honoring her mother.  She related some of her memories to about 200 people at the Yom HaShoah Remembrance Day Memorial Service at Temple Emanuel in Lexington (Massachusetts, United States). This was the first time she had ever spoken to a group about those painful memories.

Interview with Zsuzsanna Lorand, Lexington, Massachusetts, USA, 1987

“There were many occasions as a young adult when I was ready to give up,” she said, with a slight Hungarian accent. But her mother, who is now 91 and lives with her was the key to survival. 

Margit Klein, Zsuzsanna’s mother in 1960, passed away at the age of one hundred and one

Zsuzsanna explained that until March 1944, when the Germans began their occupation of Hungary, she, her father, who was a doctor, her mother and her brother had never been physically harmed. However, those conditions would slowly change. It began with new regulations each day, she said. “First any Jew with a weapon should hand it over to German authorities. My father had a rusted gun from World War 1. He threw it into the Danube,” Zsuzsanna said. Then radios were confiscated, then bicycles. “Day-by-day they degraded us more and more,” she said. “Someone once asked me why I didn’t fight. They diminished us gradually,” she replied. “Little by little.”

With her parents and younger brother, László, born in Győr, 1923

Finally, the Nazis transported all the Jews to a “district” centre. They left their homes to live in an overcrowded ghetto where they were forced to wear the yellow Star of David. Then one day, they were herded into barracks where they stayed for several days. During that time, the Nazis shaved figures on the rabbi’s head to mock him. A few days later they were all herded to a railway station heading for Auschwitz. Her brother was headed toward a labor camp. 

“I don’t know if we were naïve or they were just clever, because we thought we were being sent to an orchard in Hungary to pick fruit,” Zsuzsanna said, recalling the moment. “We were crammed in cattle wagons like sardines, penned in. They put a pail in the center which served as a toilet…” she said. There were little windows high up in the railroad car, which she used one day to watch Hungarian soldiers exit the train and German SS soldiers board.

At one point, the family considered a permanent way to escape: suicide. “My father had enough morphine in his bag that the three of us could have committed suicide,” Zsuzsanna said. “I was ready to do it, but my mother intervened. She said if my brother survived, he would never forgive us.” Zsuzsanna paused a moment that in retrospect “it would have been better for my father to commit suicide. He was gassed who months after getting to Auschwitz.”

Upon their arrival at Auschwitz, they were told to get undressed and the men and women were separated. Before he left, Zsuzsanna’s father told her mother not to leave their daughter. Then the Nazis shaved all the hair of each Jew’s body. Zsuzsanna and her mother stood near one another but did not recognize each other until they called out their names.

They were issued ill-fitting clothes that were open in the back. Then they were told to stand in line and were counted all night. Zsuzsanna developed a bad ear infection and a high fever. She was weak when the Nazis made all the Jews kneel in a line, holding their hands up in the air with a brick in each hand. When she was too weak to hold her hands up any longer “I was slapped on the face, and blood trickled from my mouth,” she said.

“My mother knew I wouldn’t survive” in the clothing she had on, Zsuzsanna said. So, her mother stole a man’s jacket from a pile near where an SS officer was standing. “If he had seen her,” Zsuzsanna said, “she would have been shot on the spot.”

They had been in Auschwitz for two months when the women were ordered to march naked “like horses” in front of SS officers. “This was for selection. They were short of laborers,” she said. Zsuzsanna and her mother were separated.

“She was 48 years old,” Zsuzsanna said of her mother. She was a nice, “little” woman, she added. But her mother took her father’s mandate “very seriously”, so when the Nazis herded the group, her daughter was in to the barracks. “She climbed through the window of the barracks,” Zsuzsanna said. Since there were no names being recorded, Zsuzsanna’s mother blended in.  This group of women had been selected to go to a small town in Germany to work in a factory for 12 hours a day, six days a week. Although the food and living conditions were “somewhat better”, she became ill with pneumonia. When her mother came to visit her in the infirmary, the Polish doctor recommended that Zsuzsanna return to work the next day. “The next day anyone in the infirmary was brought back to Auschwitz,” Zsuzsanna said.

ID card after liberation, 1945

Then one evening the Nazis lined them all up and told them to start walking. “If you sat down,” Zsuzsanna said, “you would be shot.” 

“We started walking at dusk, and walked 35 kilometers because American troops were approaching. “They wanted to get rid of us,” she continued. “They wanted to machine gun us in a valley.” During the march, Zsuzsanna became so weak that her mother had to drag her along. Another woman also would have stopped if Zsuzsanna’s mother had not dragged her as well. “This 48-year-old woman dragged two people all night,” she said.

What saved the group was that one of the German guards wanted to say goodbye to his family, so they marched a longer route. “This was to our advantage,” Zsuzsanna said, because American troops intercepted the group. “I’ll never forget that Sunday morning,” she said when they marched into a village and saw children with braided hair and people wearing white blouses.

ID card after liberation, 1945

Suddenly an alarm rang, and the Jews were herded onto a hilltop. “We heard a lot of planes and a lot of shooting,” she said. When dawn came, the German guards were gone. As Zsuzsanna and her mother went down, they saw a tall man standing there. The man was wearing a white helmet and a white armband with the letters “MP”. Her first taste of freedom was the chocolate candy bar the soldier gave her. 

Eight years following liberation, with Peter Dallos’ elder brother, George, born in 1953

Quote from one of the messages of Peter Dallos, Zsuzsanna’s second son (born in 1956) to the site editor:

“I wish she were still alive, but she passed away 15 years ago … on June 17, 2006.

Although she was already in a coma for two weeks, my dad was sitting by her bedside every day and continued telling her that “Peter will be coming to see you.” (My parents were living in the Boston area, but I was living in New York). Around noon on June 17, 2006, I finally arrived … and two minutes later my mom breathed her last.

Since she was a passionate fan of opera and, particularly Verdi’s music, I made sure that this excerpt from Verdi’s “Requiem” was played during her funeral service:

Oral history video interview with Zsuzsanna: (34 min)

Information received from Peter Dallos, New York, USA (b. May 1956), January 2022

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Family Story Győr and Jewry

Ágoston Léderer’s extraordinary achievements

Ágoston Léderer, economist, chemist, factory founder and art collector (Böhmisch-Leipa, Czech Republic, 1857 – Vienna, 1936), founder of the Győr Distillery and Refinery Ltd. (early 1890) and the Hungarian Waggon and Machine Factory in Győr (1896), was also the owner of the largest art collection in the Monarchy. He also founded the Austrian Railway Traffic Ltd. and the Hungarian Railway Traffic Ltd.

Ágoston Léderer, by Egon Schiele

He had so many ties to Győr that his wedding to Serena Pulitzer (Budapest, 1867 – Budapest, 1943) took place in Győr in 1892. The ceremony was presided over by the Chief Rabbi of the Dohány Street Synagogue, and in 1911 he moved to Győr with his family and acquired Hungarian citizenship. After the First World War they moved back to Vienna and lived in Vienna at Bartensteingasse 8 and had a castle (Ledererschlössel) in Wien-Weidlingau.

During the World War, Léderer gave large sums of money to refugees, the poor and the institutions set up to help them. In 1915, he himself set up a foundation to help disabled soldiers, with a sum of 200,000 crowns.

He was not only a factory founder and art collector, but also an artist patron. The family were close friends with many of the most famous Viennese artists of the time, including Gustav Klimt. One room in their Vienna apartment was dedicated to Klimt’s paintings. Klimt painted a full-length portrait of Serena, considered a famous beauty of the time, but also of Serena’s mother and daughter, Elisabeth. In 1912, on Klimt’s recommendation, the family also met Egon Schiele, who stayed with them for an extended period in Győr. During this time Schiele painted several pictures of the youngest son, Erik Léderer, but a fine portrait of the master of the house is also known. It was during this time that he painted the then still-standing wooden bridge “Goat’s Feet” in Győr (the painting, thought to have been destroyed, turned up by chance a few years ago).

“Goat’s Feet” bridge, by Egon Schiele

Source for this post: (English translation by this website) © – featured image