Eva first describes her experiences as an apprentice photographer. She then goes on to speak about life under the Germans – the yellow star houses, the arrests, the hunger, the curfew, the ghetto and the good luck that saved her life.
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INT: And what age were you then when the Germans came in?
E.S: I was fourteen. I wanted to study of course further but I couldn’t because the Germans came in. And then I think it was the first thing that they brought in the Numerus Clausus laws. I don’t know if you’ve heard about it?
INT: If you want to explain that would be…
E.S: Yes it was the… it meant that between a hundred pupils they took only ten Jewish and this had to be of course the very best and just imagine that in a big school there was much more than a hundred people so how many Jewish they could take…? So I didn’t get in.
INT: Right, right.
E.S: They didn’t accept me, or my brother, no. So this was in 1943 actually, so my father found us some apprenticeship. I went to learn photography.
E.S: I was fourteen.
INT: When you learned about photography.
INT: And so how long did you do that for?
E.S: I stayed there not very long. It was not very proper because actually if you would read my diary you can see that it’s more detailed. You know that when you are an apprentice they don’t teach you, you just have to watch and try to learn something. So what I had to do, every day I had to clean the workshop.
E.S: Sweep up the workshop and dust. And after I had to go down to the cellar and bring up a big coal, a big…how do you call it?
INT: Pail of coal.
E.S: Yes, coal. And I have…- I don’t know if I have a picture to show you. I was a very thin, very tiny little girl. But I had a very nice boss, you know, my boss. He was not Jewish but his wife was Jewish and, but they didn’t live together but he didn’t divorce her because he wanted to shelter her.
E.S: But they didn’t live together anymore. So he was a very decent man and so many times he came and helped me to carry up. He was the boss, you know. And I had to make fire. It was two shops.
E.S: It was a shop where they sold, you know, photograph machines, you know, and papers and other things and another was actually where they made the pictures.
E.S: You know the salon.
INT: More of the studio.
E.S: Photo studio yes. So if I’m thinking back, what they let me do, they let me develop the pictures in the dark room. I could do this sometimes. Because that is how if you are an apprentice, you know.
E.S: So they, you know, you cannot do things. It was three years contract so, you know, it takes three years to learn things. But as I said, I was supposed to go to school as well to study certain subjects, you know, beside and I couldn’t go because we had to wear a yellow star. Maybe I went once and then my boss said that, he was called Joseph, ‘Why don’t you just take off your yellow star and just come?’ he said. So I did a couple of times but my parents said no way, because they could shoot me.
INT: I was going to say was that not very dangerous to do that?
E.S: It was very dangerous, very dangerous. So my parents didn’t like me to do it so I couldn’t go.
E.S: I couldn’t go anymore. We were not allowed to travel, as I said earlier, on public transport or go to the cinema or theatre or library…nothing. Jewish people were not allowed to go anywhere. And as I say, that was my education as a photographer - it was not very long.
INT: So the war [had] started and you said you went, where did you go?
INT: You said that you left?
E.S: Yes and then soon after we had to leave our house where we lived.
INT: Right and was that the whole family?
E.S: Yes my father and my brother and my mother yes. We were four of us. And then we had to leave to go and live in a designated area called ‘yellow star houses’. It was in the old Jewish quarter in Budapest. And the non-Jewish people, they had to go out and then we moved in. And then we couldn’t take furniture or nothing. We had practically just very little things.
That is how it started, you know. Really very bad, a very bad time. And then immediately my father was called up; he had to go to the army at the same time. And my brother also.
INT: This would be the Hungarian Army working for the Germans?
E.S: That’s right. They had to work together with the Germans but the Jewish people couldn’t do that even if they wanted to because they didn’t trust them so they had to go hard labour. You know, dug trenches or however you call and other heavy things. Actually my brother had to go to the airport because cleaning the…
INT: The runway?
E.S: The runways after the bombing.
INT: Oh dear.
E.S: Bombing was very hard, you know.
INT: Very hard.
E.S: Hard bombing. Every day was bombing and this was the most dangerous place because, you know…
INT: Of the bombs.
E.S: And of course they wanted the Jews to do the jobs.
E.S: So my brother had to go every day. They took him in a bus and then at the beginning he came home for the evenings - he was allowed to come, but it just was a very short time.
But actually my brother was very good because he, he was the head of his Scout group, a Jewish Scout group, and he was eighteen, you know with a bit grown-up boys. So they decided they would do something, wanted to do to save people so they managed to make false documents with them and took off their yellow star in the evenings and they went on the road looking for people where they stayed.
Because people were arrested for no reason, you know. Because there was a curfew, I forgot to tell you. We weren’t allowed to go out of the yellow star house. Just two hours a day to buy a little food, just locally you know. So if somebody they caught outside, you know, they just took him, you know. So they went out on the roads and were looking for them and if they saw that some people were arrested they went there and they showed their papers.
INT: And they said that they were…?
E.S: Yes and they said that ‘We have to take this person. We got the order to take this person somewhere else’.
INT: Your brother was doing the hard labour
E.S: And my father as well. (** The last time Eva saw her father. **26th October 1944)
INT: Your father as well. So…
E.S: Yeah. We didn’t know where they were but one day my father came home because his stepmother died and they got 24 hours. He came back for the funeral but we didn’t see him, we didn’t see him.
INT: And what happened after that?
E.S: We were in the yellow star house and then the life was not very good there because they just came in every day practically and then shouted up the order, you know, it’s different houses there. They got this, how can I say, this is the floors and it was open ground. Did you see houses like that? And then we had like a balcony, you know?
INT: Like a courtyard?
E.S: Courtyard, yes, yes, sorry.
INT: With flats all around it?
E.S: Yes. So they…everybody, they shouted up or I can’t remember, if they wanted something. They ring the bell and we had to go out and they said the orders - every day something new, you know. And then every day they came up with something new. And then, but the general thing was that everybody had to go for, for labour or deportation, we didn’t know. From eighteen to forty, women, and men I think it was, that’s right, men was up to/under sixty. That is why they took my father away; he was fifty-nine. And then I remember we were so sad because other people were to be taken at the same time and they said that they are younger.
E.S: I mean older, sorry. They came home, he didn’t.
INT: Your father didn’t.
E.S: He didn’t lie. He didn’t lie. I don’t know why. He should have said because people had no papers, not everybody had, you know.
E.S: Not everybody had their papers at that time already.
INT: So was your mother older than forty then?
E.S: My mother was older and I was younger so that is how we managed to get to the ghetto.
E.S: But I think that, but it doesn’t mean anything. It just really was pure luck.
INT: A lot of…
E.S: God looked after me, I’ve always said that because all my school friends got worse situation than me. They were deported, same age, and they died. They didn’t come back from Budapest, you know. So it just was pure luck. There was no reason. If you were unlucky they got you, you know. There is no explanation, you know, but this was the general rule, you know. As I say that if they caught you, if you were out after the curfew and then they took you for any reason, you didn’t know. Any minute they, you know, you didn’t know what the other minute brings.
So we were just alone, my mother and me and then, after a while, my mother saw that people started to disappear from the yellow star house. But we didn’t know what was happening in the world - we didn’t know what was happening in the country, because unfortunately my, most of my family lived in the country and I don’t know, you have probably heard about that, that they all took them to Auschwitz, but we didn’t know.
They took them first, the little villages or towns, to bigger towns in ghettos and then stayed there, I don’t know. It was not at the same time, you know, they took them at different times and they took them to the wagons and took them to Auschwitz. And then most of my family died except my two uncles came back.
INT: So eventually you were taken to the ghetto?
E.S: Before that there were a lot of things that happened. You know, because we found out that there were various people disappearing and probably you heard about Raoul Wallenberg?
INT: Oh yeah.
E.S: So he was in the Swedish Embassy. He was there and he tried to save people and he…people went and they got a document. My original is still in this book. I will show you. And then…my mother found out that people moving in so-called safe houses.
E.S: That meant if you went they accepted you as a Swedish citizen, example. But really you was not but as a collective, you got like under…you know.
INT: As a group.
E.S: And that mean they had safe houses in Budapest. They bought up actually houses, the embassies.
E.S: Switzerland, I think Rome, Rome, yes. It was very good but very few people. I think mostly who was… became Catholics, you know, they had them. And Sweden and Switzerland.
And then they bought houses and then you were able to move in, out from the yellow star house, you know, at that time. And then my mother heard that and she didn’t tell me, I just heard afterwards, she didn’t tell me. One day she got up and dressed up in her best clothes, nice hat I remember and a nice blue coat and without the yellow star she went out.
INT: Without the yellow star?
E.S: Without. And she said to me that ‘I have to go somewhere but I’m coming back soon’. And then she went away and I was waiting and waiting and she didn’t come back.
Because she went to a place where she had been told, you know, from somebody that you can buy a Shutzpass it’s called, if you’ve heard this name? This was a document called a Shutzpass and let me show you. And then for all other money that we had, little money, that give it to a place. She went on the tram. She went on the tram and it’s interesting because after a while she found out everybody was like her.
They were all Jewish, because they were all arrested on the way back, you know.
E.S: So she went there - she gave her money - she got this document and then when they came out back to the tram, they were all arrested.
They took them away in a brick factory that was outside Budapest and she spent a day and night sitting on the bricks outside in winter, wintertime. It was already October or something. It was very cold. No food, no water; nothing. But she managed to find somebody who was willing to take a note for me and she gave, she had nothing else, she had her wedding ring because you were able to keep your wedding ring. You had to give in all your jewellery but you were allowed to keep your wedding ring. So she gave her last possession to send me a note. And I was alone at home and my mother didn’t come home.
I was crying my eyes out. I didn’t talk to anybody, I didn’t tell anybody and I got the message only in the morning because, as happened that the house, where the yellow star house was, it was my great uncle’s, he owned the house - used to own, you know because he was Jewish as well so he didn’t own anymore. Nothing, he didn’t own anything. Actually he was a professor of, a child specialist.
So the house manager (who was there originally, he was not Jewish) he got the message and he immediately went and phoned to my great uncle Professor Armin Flesh.
E.S: That I am alone, my mother wasn’t there. So he made arrangements for me and then this woman and her husband said that just dress up nicely and take with you a change of clothes and somebody will come for you.
And the next morning my cousin, who I didn’t see for I don’t know how many years, he came for me because he was hiding and then he said, ‘No yellow star. Don’t wear a yellow star’. I was so afraid.
And then he took me, not very far, where my auntie was hiding. He took me to this house and then ironically my auntie was hiding in a, a German house where all German officers lived and she was working for a lawyer, who worked for the Germans, as a housekeeper.
But the lawyer knew she was Jewish, you know, he was hiding her. So that is where I was taken.
My auntie Alice, this is what she was called, she had a very tiny flat, so I had been taken there and I had been told that I am not allowed even to pull the toilet even, I had to be just quiet because nobody was allowed to know that anybody was there.
INT: Nobody was there.
E.S: And then my cousin had to go because he was working on the airport as well so he left me alone. So I was so tired I just went and slept, because all night I didn’t sleep. I just was crying, ‘What’s happening? Where is my mother?’ you know. So later on in the morning somebody came to the flat, my auntie, and she said that they had recovered my mother because this lawyer was so…
INT: Did he have influence?
E.S: No he had, you know, influence yes. Sorry about my English.
INT: No it’s fine.
E.S: He had influence. He hired a car and went out to the big factory and was looking for my mother but he didn’t find her. But in the meantime what happened that day - fifty thousand people were arrested.
INT: Fifty thousand people!
E.S: All over the road.
They got them. Everybody was taken to the brick factory as happened because the Germans were losing the war, you know, a lot of other countries were liberated, and then they were running away.
And they wanted, not wanted, they did herd the people, fifty thousand, [on] foot to Austria. They had to walk to Austria. But they took this - who were eighteen, under eighteen or over forty, they didn’t take.
E.S: So…But my mother was released. That is why they didn’t find her. But this man just went on the road and found her. It’s amazing.
INT: It’s fantastic.
E.S: It’s amazing. Yes. So my mother came home, poor thing in the nice hat and the nice clothes, looked terrible you know. But I was so happy and then was very, very disappointed because we had no money left at all.
We couldn’t buy anything, not because you could buy a lot of things by that time, you know. So we just were sitting around and then we heard about them going to take us in the ghetto but we didn’t know when.
E. S. I don’t know anybody else who was in the ghetto my age. I don’t know. I didn’t know anybody. I knew there were two boys who were a bit older than me, that’s all I knew. I didn’t…Also my mother never let me out, you know, because she was worried with me being a girl, you know.
E.S: So she didn’t let me go anywhere, anywhere. And at sometime they came and we had to go to clear the rubble after the bombing and she was hiding me behind the cupboard. Put away the cupboard and I had to go and stand behind the cupboard, you know. Because they knew I was there but when they searched I’m not home, she said. So I never went to clear the rubble, you know. It was dangerous. It was dangerous really.
INT: And how long were you in the ghetto for?
E.S: You see in Hungary the ghetto was not standing very long. I said because the Germans were already retreating and then was very big fighting it was, you know.
And eventually the Russians came first. They arrived first in the country but it was very, very heavy fighting, you know. The Russians lost a tremendous amount of people, you know, in this war as well. And they were the first to approach. And example, in Budapest it was house to house, fight was, you know. It was so severe still because the Hungarians had to still fight and the Germans were still there but, you know, they were packing and took everything and they were going away.
So they put us in the ghetto because they couldn’t do anything else. It was in the Jewish quarter ( of Budapest) and very quickly they, I think it was 3 metre or 4 metre high walls surround and when you get in you couldn’t get out from there. You couldn’t get out.
But in a way it was lucky that, you know, we managed to get in. And as happened that, we were between first people who get into the ghetto and it was a big advantage because we managed to get a room with a single bed and I’d sleep together with my mother. And it was a small room. There also was a double bed where a couple with their, one of the, I think, their father-in-law, the three of them were sleeping in a double bed. But it just was the beginning because when the bombing and you know when sometimes ten, fifteen people were sitting on the floor during the night, because they were bombed out.
E.S: They had nowhere to go. So it was not very comfortable but we were still very lucky - we had a bed and then we took a pillow and a duvet, and remember I was carrying, on my back, in a rucksack, so it was really not so bad, you know. At least we had a bed that we can put our head down, you know. So the ghetto, you asked me how long it stand, it’s about, I think, nine weeks and three days because we were liberated in 18th of January 1945, we were liberated.
INT: By the Russians.
E.S: By the Russians.
E.S. So after that other people, Hungarian people, they were Arrow people they were called. [**Hungarian Arrow Cross Party was a national socialist party which led a government in Hungary from 15th October 1944 to 28th March 1945]
INT: They were…sorry?
E.S: Arrow people because they were, just made ...It was an arrow in their arm.
INT: Oh right
E.S: You know like the Germans had the…
INT: Oh yes.
E.S: The swastika, and the Jewish we wear the yellow star; they had an arrow.
and they were all Hungarians/Hungarian but they were worse than the SS.
INT: Oh right.
E.S: They were worse. They were horrible - they were terrible people. Example - they went, they didn’t honour the houses, you know the safe houses, the people. They just went there and then took them to the Danube. It’s a big river in…
INT: The Danube yes.
E.S: Budapest. And then would shoot them. Thousands of Jewish people who were supposed to be in a safe house.
E.S: So in a way we were lucky we didn’t get there even.
INT: Yeah, yeah.
E.S: We were luckier to get in the ghetto at the end. We didn’t know, you know, we didn’t know. But that’s later on, you know, we realised that. I think the ghetto, it was not a holiday place, I cannot say that, because we were starving and it was freezing cold. It was about 17/18 minus in the winter.
Winter is very cold in Hungary and big snow, big snow. And I never forget - it’s always before my eyes, that people who died, on the road, after we were liberated… They shifted the snow very high beside the kerbs you know and then when somebody died they just throw there and the snow came over and froze in. It was frozen dead people. It was terrible. It’s always before my eyes, you know.
I never forget that. So it was so cold - it was so cold and there was no heating, was no warm water, was no food and my mother became very weak, very weak because she was older, you know. And I was always hungry, starving. And then…Every time, as I said, the same story. They came for these people - they come for that people.
And then they came for me as well one day.
INT: And did your mother, did she hide you or…?
E.S: No they couldn’t, they couldn’t. I could read you this part [from the book about her life that Eva has written] but I can’t say anything. It’s, you know that it always was somebody that was on the lookout. If anything wrong coming we tried to save ourselves, you know. They would work together the people there. And one day a man rang to ask and they told my mother to immediately put me to bed because they coming for me, two SS men coming for me.
Because later we find out that the housekeeper/house manager was not Jewish, they stayed in this house, and he reported that there is a beautiful young girl hiding in the ghetto. Because I told you that was not my age group, I didn’t meet, not one in my age group. But it was really exaggeration a beautiful young girl because I was a very tiny, very thin little girl and I had two little pleats that my mother put, you know, and I was starving. So everything you can see but I was not a beautiful young girl, luckily, luckily.
So mother immediately put me in bed and they told me that, to say that I got heart condition, that is why I’m staying, all the time I have to be in bed. You know, they told me, this man who brought the news. And I tell you that it was not maybe five minutes, they put me to bed and they put my mother - they hide my mother away, you know. I was alone in the room.
These two men came in. I tell you that they were two beautiful men top to toe in black leather, SS, two SS men, young, I don’t know how old…maybe early/after twenty? Young people. Beautiful, everything beautiful, boots shiny. Beautiful two men came. And they came in and they said to me, ‘Why are you in bed?’ and I just said, ‘I am very ill.’ I said that, ‘I am - I cannot get up. I have to stay in bed’. They ordered me out of the bed, to get up from the bed. So I came out - I didn’t have a very nice nightie, I cannot say I had at that time, you know. Maybe I had one and I had to wash it all the time.
So I come out without shoes or anything, a tiny little girl I was, and they looked at me, looked at me and said that, ‘Would you like to come with us?’ That is what they asked. Looked at me up and down and I just said, I said, ‘I don’t care’ I said, ‘But I don’t think I could walk very far.’
‘I can’t walk’ I said, ‘Because I stay in bed all the time’. Just imagine I had to do that. And I was lucky, I was lucky because they started to talk to each other and they didn’t like me, thank God, they didn’t like me, you know. I was not a young beautiful girl.
E.S: And then they said, ‘Go back to bed - We advise you don’t get out from bed because we are watching you’. And they left. They left.
E.S: And you know that they brought my mother, she was in a state, and we later find out that she had her first heart attack. She got a heart attack. She was so worried about me. And then everybody was so happy and everybody brought me something when they heard. They were really so nice, the people there - that I escaped.
You know I heard a lot of stories about what they did with girls in the concentration camps… I know about it. So that is about it.