By early September 1944, the Red Army crossed the Hungarian border. After the defection of Italy, Finland, Romania and Bulgaria, Hungary remained the only ally to Hitler other than two puppet states: Slovakia and Croatia.
Admiral Horthy was scared. He sent two of his generals to Moscow to negotiate an armistice. He thought he still had control of his army and could outfox the Germans. When he made his radio announcement about the ceasefire on October 15, the Germans had already abducted his only surviving son and forced him to abdicate. In his place the Germans installed the far-right rabid fascist, anti-Jewish government of the Arrow Cross party. This party was a collection of misfits, the dregs of society, and what was even worse, misguided youths 15-18 years old, totally intoxicated with power.
Of course, the Jews were first to feel their power. On October 17, a gang of heavily armed youth with an armband of their movement burst into our yellow-starred building and ordered all “dirty stinky Jews” to get down to the courtyard. We came as we were in light overcoats. I remembered my resolution to not be a sheep. But down there in the courtyard facing the wall with raised hands, I expected the gunfire to start any moment, the resolution was useless. We just stood there and waited.
After an interminable waiting which could have been minutes or hours – we had lost sense of time – we heard the command: “ Jews, line up four abreast and march.” We walked in the middle of the street and our Hungarian neighbors and other onlookers lined up on the sidewalks.
Most of them were cheering and leering. The owner of newsstand nearby was spitting on her customers and tried to hit somebody with her cane. After a long walk across the Danube to the Old-Buda brick factory, about 5 miles away, we arrived in the darkness totally exhausted. We sat down and used our light overcoats as cover.
Some of the bricks fresh out of the kiln provided some heat. The Arrow Cross guard taunted us but otherwise left us alone. There were a few thousand Jews there. There was no food whatsoever. In the morning we woke still tired, cold and hungry. There was no accommodation at all. Not even a latrine. Everybody was looking for a quiet corner, without success.
Around 10 am there was some commotion and then came an announcement. Jews, who live at 59 Acacia Street come forward. This was our address, but what kind of trick was it? But what can we lose? We moved forward together with our neighbors.
My mother, Klara, and I stepped slowly forward to the gate in the company of our equally puzzled neighbors. A small group of uniformed Hungarian soldiers was showing papers to the Arrow Cross guys, who had probably difficulty reading them. Something wasn’t right. These soldiers looked familiar. Coming closer, yes, something was out of place. One of these soldiers looked like the brother of my friend who lived in the same building. He started shouting: “Jews, I have some work for you, let’s get started”. Four abreast, about a hundred of us, formed a column and marched through the gate. It soon became clear that the “soldiers” were Jews in stolen uniforms.
After we rounded a few corners, they told us: “get rid of your yellow stars and go wherever you can, just not back to your home”. Slowly, people dispersed. The three of us were left, in an unfamiliar part of Budapest, hungry, dirty, without money and most importantly without any documents. We were afraid to get into a streetcar. The “soldiers” warned us: they check ID’s on streetcars.
“I am so tired; it is so hopeless. We will die.” said my mother.
“I don’t want to die, I want to live, grow up,” I answered.
“OK, it’s granted, we all want to live, but how? You heard that we cannot return to Acacia
Street. This would be certain death” she replied.
“This city is full of refugees from the East, let us be like them” was my retort.
“The Russians are near the suburbs, it cannot take too long before this nightmare ends” said Klara.
Zoltan has shared his extended memoirs with the TBE community, and you can read more here.