A few weeks ago in a comment I mentioned that the overwhelming majority of my kindergarten class perished in the holocaust. Both Tom and Adam urged me to write about what I remember of those days, and Adam even suggested a day for publication: March 19th. After all, that was the day when the Germans occupied the country.
Hitler’s occupation of Hungary met no real resistance and unfortunately–at least in my opinion–the governor, Miklós Horthy, didn’t resign. Thus he became an accomplice. Although he refused to take an active part in governing, he appointed a new Hungarian government which soon after began the deportation of Hungarians of Jewish origin. The transportation of close to 600,000 people was entirely in the hands of the Hungarian authorities.
Although I was only eight years old at the time, I knew a lot about what was going on around me because my parents were keenly interested in politics and therefore politics was discussed at length in the house. Being an only child, I was always around adults and I picked up a lot from them. As my father later remarked, “Eva was saying such clever things about the outcome of the war, but of course she was just repeating what she heard at home.”
On March 19th I was sick with the measles and my father was in the army. My father was too young to serve in World War I, and Hungary after the war was severely restricted in maintaining a large army based on conscription. Therefore after 1938-39 when my father was almost forty years old he was dragged into basic training. He was a singularly non-military personality, and all that “soldiering” was an awful bother to me. As far as I can figure out today, he was called up every time Hungary decided to expand Trianon Hungary, starting with the occupation of the Bánát-Bácska region, continuing with the Carpatho-Ukraine, and then on to Transylvania.
On March 19th father was off supervising the digging of trenches somewhere; he was in the engineering corps, being a mechnical engineer by training. Before he left, my parents discussed all eventualities and the decision was made that “if anything unusual happens” mother and I were supposed to move to Bálics. Bálics is an area of the Mecsek mountain north of Pécs where my grandparents had purchased a vineyard with a house that was completely renovated and winterized. My mother decided that the occupation of Hungary by Germany was “an unusual thing” and therefore we ought to move. My aunt, whose husband was also in the army, was consulted and the decision was made that although I had the measles and her daughter didn’t, we would all move out to Bálics: the two sisters and the two cousins.
There was the “little problem” of the measles and the quarantine, but mother bundled me up and off we went for the twenty-minute ride in a taxi. Luckily the house was built in such a way that I could be isolated and my cousin never caught the measles.
A couple of months later both my father and my uncle by marriage were released from the army and they returned to run their small business making shoe lasts. The little factory was on a road running parallel to the railroad tracks. The street today is called Street of the Martyrs because it was there that a couple of gendarmes herded Pécs’s Jewish population toward the railway station only a block or so away from our buildings.
Because we were not living in our normal apartment in downtown Pécs I didn’t witness the emptying of our apartment house. We lived in a fairly new apartment building in which the majority of the inhabitants happened to be Jewish. The authorities had to create a “ghetto,” and the decision was made that the Jews would be moved into a block of apartment houses owned by the Hungarian Railways for their own employees. So, the owners of the apartments in our house were moved to the ghetto while the employees of the railroad were moved into their apartments. Thus when in January 1945 we returned, a new world was waiting for me. With the exception of one family everybody was a stranger.
One day during the summer (later I learned that it was July 4) my father phoned: “They emptied the ghetto and about 3-4,000 people accompanied by a couple of gendarmes are going toward the railway station.” My cousin who was only five years old started crying and kept repeating “Doj néni, Doj néni.” When she was very little she abbreviated the word “doktor” to “doj.” Father announced that he and my uncle would immediately go to the railroad station. Later I learned that the station was completely empty. Only my father and my uncle were running from freight car to freight car looking for friends and acquaintances. Almost nobody returned.
And now about my kindergarten class. It was a private Montessori kindergarten where we were also supposed to learn some German. The kindergarten teacher and owner was Márta néni (Aunt Martha) who was Jewish. She was married to a doctor in town; I believe that their family name was Frankel. Both perished. I spent two happy years there although at the beginning I wasn’t too thrilled about going to kindergarten. However, in a couple of weeks I felt at home and when a crying Gyuri Pollák was escorted by his mother I was called out to make him feel at home.
Gyuri on the attached picture is sitting on Márta néni’s left. Gyuri’s father owned a bakery in town. They delivered warm croissants every morning before breakfast to their customers. The Polláks lived in a nice house not very far from us, and they also purchased the apartment right across from our own when the apartment house was built in 1940-41. Behind Gyuri stands Zsuzsi Bürger whose father owned a shoe store. She also vanished. I’m second on the left in the first row and next to me sits a red-headed boy called Miki. He also died. Out of all these children, I believe only Éva, standing behind Miki, survived. She was an adopted child.
I heard that just last year the Jewish community in Pécs erected a memorial specifically for the children who perished in the holocaust. This is my modest memorial for some of them.