Home Holocaust Survivors' testimonies

Survivors' testimonies

'None has suffered more cruelly than the Jew the unspeakable evils wrought upon the

bodies and spirits of men by Hitler and his vile regime. The Jew bore the brunt of the

Nazi's first onslaught upon the citadels of freedom and human dignity. He has borne and

continued to bear a burden that might have seen beyond endurance. He has not allowed

it to break his spirit; he has never lost the will to resist. Assuredly in the day of victory

the Jew's suffering and his part in the struggle will not be forgotten.'


Sir Winston Churchill, Prime Minister, United Kingdom (November 1941)


Every year the number of survivors of the Holocaust declines and the ability to gather

new testimonies also declines. We are fortunate that many individuals have

committed their experiences to paper, audio and video. In this part of our website we

are gathering together testimonies (or links to testimonies) from survivors who are

connected in some way with Oradea.


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Pictured above are extermination camp survivors returning to Oradea in 1944.


Problems of returning survivors


Over time we will be developing this section on the website covering the particular

problems experienced by returning survivors. 


The Romanian Section of the World Jewish Congress conducted a national survey 

among the Jewish survivors of the Holocaust in 1946. The objective of the survey was

to assess the human and material losses and record the grievances suffered by the

surviving Jewish population. In addition to this the statistical data gathered was

intended to serve as a basis during the negotiations of the Peace conference ending

World War II and for compensation claims.


In 2010 the Institutul Pentru Studierea Problemelor Minoritatilor Nationale analysed the

results of this national survey for Cluj, Carei and Oradea. There is much interesting

information about the ages, physical health and material losses of the survivors.


Individual testimonies


Hedy Bohm (formerly Hedwig Klein)

        

Hedy Bohm was born in Oradea and survived the ghetto in Oradea, Auschwitz and

forced labour. Today she lives in Canada.


 In the video below Hedy describes all her experiences and shows artwork and other

memorabilia involving other pupils in her school in Oradea who unfortunately did not

survive.

 

We are extremely grateful to Hedy for allowing us to share her story. We are also very

grateful to Scott Masters, the Head of Crestwood Social Studies Department at

Crestwood School in Ontario, Canada who has given us not only permission to use the

video created by him and his pupils, but also has provided Asociatia Tikvah with direct

help and assistance. It is a wonderfully produced video with a very rich pictorial

history interwoven with an extremely moving testimony. More information about the

Crestwood Oral History Project can be found on their website.

       

1.Being a Survivor...Prewar Memories
2.Before the war
3.Anti-Semitism; Relationships
4.The War Begins
5.Forced Labour and New Laws
6.Deportation to the Ghetto and the Camps
7.Arrival in Auschwitz
8.Selection
9.C Camp in Auschwitz
10.The Barracks
11.Roll Call
12.Food
13.Departure from Auschwitz
14.The Volkswagen Factory
15.Liberation; The American Soldiers
16.Hedy's return to Auschwitz Birkenau
17.Freedom
18.Bergen Belsen
19.Return to Oradea
20.Starting off in a New Country
21.Hedy's Husband
22.Success in Canada

 

Terez Mozes


We have already published under our Oradea in 1944 section, Terez Moses graphic 

account of life in the Oradea ghetto.

 

Abraham Sonnenfeld


Abraham Sonnenfeld came from one of the best-known families of Oradea. Generations

of the Sonnenfeld family grew up in Oradea and built one of the most respected, high-

quality, printing firms in Europe.


What is less well-known is that the Sonnenfelds were part of a truly remarkable

episode whereby three members of the family were recruited from within Auschwitz to

become part of a highly-secret counterfeiting team formed by the Nazis to try to

destabilise the currencies of the Allied countries. The events were made into an Award-

winning international film "the Counterfeiters".


Abraham paid a last visit to Oradea in May 2012 and he provided Asociatia Tikvah with

many memories and pictures which we are privileged to display together with the detail

of his remarkable story. Abraham died in July 2012 in Israel.



Click on the image above for the story


Lazar Laszlo

 

Lazar Laszlo was only 14 when he was moved from his home in former Varady Zsigmond

Street, Oradea to the ghetto (on Liliom Street, now Crinului) and then deported to

Auschwitz on 31 May 1944.


 
He survived the selection process and added two more years to his age to help the

deception that he was adult enough to work. He was sent from Auschwitz to

Buchenwald and the Rehmsdorf labour camp.

Lazar Laszlo arrived on 18 June 1944 at the Rehmsdorf site where it is estimated that 5,800

of the 8,600 inmates perished between June 1944 and April 1945 due to the harsh forced

labour conditions and frequent air raids.

 

He was sent back to Buchenwald as a "Musulman" at the end of January 1945 (after a

selection in Rehmsdorf).


His father, Jenö Shlomo Jochanan died in Rehmsdorf on February 25, 1945 and his mother,

Rozalia Shoshana, and his brother, Aharon Tibor, died in Auschwitz on June 3, 1944.

 

But Lazar Laszlo survived and was liberated in Buchenwald by the USA army on April 11,

1945. He returned to Oradea in August 1945, where he trained as a garage mechanic until

he left Oradea in 1951 for Israel.

 

Lazar Laszlo has now retired from the Israeli army and has 4 children and 4 grandchildren.

 

He recently celebrated his 82nd birthday with his daughter Vered.

Laszlo and Vered

 

Mr.Lazar, with the kind help of Vered, has provided Tikvah with an interesting array of

documents accompanied by his memories of what it was like growing up in Oradea and

then the trauma of the ghetto and deportation.

 

Click on the image below to see selection of the identity documents retained from

the various camps in which Mr.Lazar was detained.


Mr. Lazar also kindly completed a questionnaire for Asociatia Tikvah to set out many of

his memories and this is reproduced in the following file.


We are also grateful to have received family pictures and other information which

supplements the questionnaire in the following two files.




Marton Istvan


The terrible deportation from Rhedey Park in the early summer of 1944 has also been

covered in Marton Istvan's moving account in our Oradea in 1944 section.


Agnes Zsolt (Heyman)


The complex story of the mother of Eva Heyman will be told here in due course.


Magdalena Klein


The testimony of Magdalena Klein is to be found in her beautiful poetry, examples of

which are provided in our Arts section.


Miriam Neuberger (Rubb)


I was born on 15 March 1930 in Romania, Transylvania, in the city Oradea-Mare to a Hasidic

family of the Viznitz sect.  We were six children (four sisters and two brothers).

 
In the beginning of the year 1940 my city became part of Hungary. In the beginning of

the year 1944 we were forced to wear yellow stars. In April of 1944 we were led to a

ghetto in Nagyvarad (the name Oradea-Mare was changed to a Hungarian name and

called Nagyvarad), the ghetto was situated in the Jewish quarters, in the center of the

city. In the same month my father, one of my sisters (who was pregnant) and her

husband were taken in a transport to Auschwitz, none of them survived. My elder brother

was taken to a labor camp


My mother, younger brother, two sisters and I hid in an underground bunker, I was 14

years old at the time. After two and a half weeks we were found by uniformed men and

were taken to a ghetto outside of town which used to be a brick factory where the

Jews of the area were concentrated.


Shortly after, the ghetto was emptied and all the Jews were transported to Auschwitz.

My mother and one of my sisters were taken in one of those transports and were

exterminated. 


One of my sisters, my younger brother and I hid while the ghetto was emptied.  We

found for ourselves a small and cramped hiding place, there we sat folded up for a

day.  In the night we went out, walked until we reach to a high fence and jumped over

it.  My brother managed to cross the border to Romania and saved his life. 


My sister and I returned to the town to get some money and to join our brother soon

after, but a policeman recognized us as Jews and brought us to the local detention

house. 


After a number of days we were moved to the concentration camp in Sarvar, in face of

the last transportation of the Jews from Sarvar to Auschwitz, the Jews were

concentrated into a shack close to the camp's gate.  Before the transport I hid under a

low bench, crawled to the furthest corner, and couldn't be found. 


My sister was taken to Auschwitz in this transport, but survived. Now I was left by

myself. 


The next day, when they found me I was taken to the camp's commander, the

commander was very angry with me and beat me until he drew blood.

 
After a few days I was brought to Budapest and was jailed in a prison for dangerous

criminals.  One day, during roll call when my name was called, I was very scared and

from such fear I fainted.  When I awoke I found myself in an orphanage in Budapest, I

don't know how or who brought me there, I was fourteen and a half at the time.

After a certain time we were given christian IDs and were told to forget our old names,

my new name was Halas Agnes, we were told to take the trolley and ride to the train

station (I don't remember why). One evening, at dark, I left the orphanage with two

other girls heading to the train station, at the middle of the way they decided to go

back but I continued. 


From the train station a woman took me to work as a housekeeper for her widower

uncle.  I worked in his home until after the end of the war.

 
At the same time I worked also in the Philips factory because all the refugees in

Budapest we forced to contribute to the "war efforts". When the Russians got closer to

Budapest the factory began preparing to move to Germany. One day we were told that

tomorrow we are to appear at work and from there we will move with the factory to

Germany. 


I decided that I don't want to go to Germany, so I did not show at work the next day. 

During the following days I would go out and walk around the streets, and at night I

would return to the widower's house as if just finished my work at the factory.  I lived l

ike that until the cannon blasts and the aerial bombings intensified so much that it was

too dangerous to leave the house. 


Later in March 1945 a sudden silence fell. We were told that the Russians had

conquered the city.  I was fifteen years old by then. I was very confused so I remained

at the widower's home after the war was over until I had gathered enough courage to

leave the place and try to reconnect with the Jews. 


Reuven Tsur


Flying from the Ghetto

When my sister Marta and I recorded the story of our flight from the ghetto

in separate interviews for The Holocaust Remembrance Authority, my sister asked

the interviewer whether my story was similar to hers. "The stories were

essentially identical", he said "but you foregrounded your mother's part in the story,

whereas your brother foregrounded your father's". Our mother, my sister, and I told the

story of our flight numberless times; during the years the story became a collective

creation, part of the family myth. But, it would appear, each of us adds his or her own

tint to the story.


The story I am going to tell here is, then, our collective family saga, through my

individual prism. Perhaps it happened differently. Perhaps it was our mother who set the

canonic version; and only decades later I re-evaluated some of the episodes. In course

of writing this, I am surprised to note that I don't remember having ever heard our

father tell the story. But one thing must be emphasized from the very beginning: in

spite of the different focus of my sister's and my story, the flight from the ghetto was

a joint creation of both our parents. Had we not have the luck to have the particular

combination of precisely these parents, there would have been no story to tell, nor

someone to tell it.


My mother was the prophetess of Doom, kind of Cassandra, who with her

dark prophecies perturbed the peace of mind of their audience. Our good neighbours

in the ghetto used to tell her: "You demoralize the whole ghetto; who wants to

flee, flees without talking too much". She incessantly bothered my father saying that

we must run away. When my father lost his patience, he said: "look how lean I

became owing to your molestations; look how large is now the shirt on my neck". When

my mother or sister recount this episode, they pull the collar of their shirt to increase

the distance between it and their neck, indicating as it were our father's gesture.


The ghetto was hermetically closed. I know only of three persons who succeeded to escape

before the beginning of the mass deportations. Perhaps there were three more, or even

ten.


In those days I was convinced that my father must know how to fly from a ghetto, 

and it didn't appear to me odd that my mother charged him with this responsibility. Only

when I myself was the head of a family, many years later, I began to ask myself

questions.


No school instructs you how to flee from a ghetto. How does one get outside the walls

with wife and two children when the ghetto is hermetically closed? But let us suppose

we are already outside the ghetto. What is the next step? Where does one go? Where

can one find a hideout for one or two nights? Where can one find refuge for a longer

period? How does one get, for instance, to the Roumanian border without being

caught? Where does one find a guide to smuggle you to the other side of the border?

Even the most perfect education provides no answer to these questions. We were

thrown into this world lacking even minimal qualification for survival. One cannot

practice, there is no second chance, it must succeed on first go.


As the future events proved, my father did have the admirable talent to find answers for all

these questions, but not apart from concrete situations. When he was in a situation in

which it was possible to find a solution, he found the most brilliant solutions. But in the

present conditions, when the ghetto was hermetically closed, he felt helpless and could not

stand up to the responsibility which my mother imposed upon him. That's how I interpret his

response. But one couldn't shake off all obligation either. If school gives no instruction in the

lore of flying from a ghetto, it did provide a model for heroic behaviour. He gathered all the

heads of family around, and said to them: "We must put up passive resistance, refuse to

enter the wagons. We live in a constitutional (law-governed?) state, they will not massacre

us in the middle of the town". One of the participants said that there must be someone who

would first declare that he refuses to enter the wagons. My father answered: "I am ready to

declare that I, László Steiner and my family refuse to mount the wagon". Then someone

remarked: "No go, my dear. You will get two slaps, and we will mount the wagon like good

children". This was the end of the gathering.


Apparently, not everybody was determined to go like sheep into the wagon. My parents had

a friend who used to say: "It's strictly forbidden to enter the ghetto. But if somebody

commits this error, one must not, in any case, go into the wagon". My parents took for sure

that we would meet him and his family in Roumania. But they had no remnant or survivor.


It seems to me that this story has an important moral in respect of the story of our

flight. Survival required a rare coincidence of factors.


First of all, a sober assessment of reality, without illusions, is required. Then

exceptional persistence and talent to find an opportunity and to take advantage of it are

required.


This person did have the sober assessment of reality, which so many lacked. But we will

never know what else was missing. My parents had to wait for many nerve-racking weeks

before they found an opportunity which could be exploited to create an opportunity of which

they could take advantage. Apparently, the only way to escape was to stay somehow in the

ghetto until after the mass deportations. It was necessary to find or create some loophole

in order to drive a wedge into it, so as to hold fast to it.


These are Reuven Tsur's first pages from his book, Flying from the Ghetto, edited by Rez Pal

and published by Noran. 

We hope that more extracts will follow.


Marta Elian

Sadly Marta died in 2016, but we will be telling more of her story over the next few

months.



Magda Simon

The church bells of Oradea

Translated by Susan Geroe

“My love, my only one!

I'm writing this letter in the attic of someone else's house. Somebody promised me to

smuggle it out and mail it to the given address.


I'm very disturbed, I don't even know how to start. One of the reasons I came up here

is to gather my thoughts a bit. Downstairs, the house which has been my hell and

shelter for nearly four weeks, now seems like a stirred up beehive. The panic is

complete; the despair is indescribable since we found out that they're shipping us out

tomorrow.


Where? In what direction? Why? And for what? This is what they're trying to guess,

this is what they're discussing in the backyard, all these serious, intelligent, well -

informed men: doctors, lawyers, engineers, journalists. They pretend as if sober

reasoning and strict logic could still serve as a compass. Even though they know only

as well as I do that a compass serves no purpose whatsoever on a sinking ship.

I can't join them; I can no longer ponder the pros and cons. What for? The time for self

-deceit is over. If that could happen, which still a few weeks ago - in spite of the

numerous and ominous precedents - we thought of as unthinkable, that decent citizens

will be chased out of their homes and with a fifty kilo baggage be enclosed in ghettos

reminiscent of the dark middle ages - what else can we expect? The circle has closed,

there is no escape. A few people did try to escape through the sewer system, but they

were discovered. Only one way out presents itself: to step over voluntarily into the

world of the dead. 


I am describing all this with a very heavy heart, as I promised you that for our own

sake and for the hope of a better and more humane world I will carry through to the

end. You told me earlier and when we said our farewell, you reiterated that “one should

not meet death with open arms.” Only five weeks have passed since then. I can hardly

believe that only five weeks ago you were home on leave, that we could have still run,

escape, get even under the Earth, alive - five weeks ago, and now everything came to

an end. Death came to meet us, and it is already standing on the threshold…


We should have known that events could have not followed any other way. Think of

the years that rolled on, of my suspension, the numerous humiliations, constant fright

and finally the yellow star… You did not allow me to sew it on. Every time the doorbell

shrieked, white as the wall, we looked at each other. Who could it be? And why is he

coming? To what catastrophe will opening the door lead?


Now we can admit to ourselves and to one another that this was no life for a long time.

That actually, one could not and should not live at these levels of humiliation.


Consciously, this feeling has been gaining strength in me now for the past two years.

Since I've been sending you the parcels. I have been brooding a great deal every time,

anxiously weighing it, since these parcels could not be over one kilo in weight, including

box, string, wrapping paper and stamp. I've been rebelling and lamenting, why do they

allow only one kilo and even that at such long intervals. Yet, at the post office,

standing in long queues among the soldiers' wives, these small packages felt heavy as

a rock.


Comparatively, gathering the allowable fifty kilos went rather easily. At that time, a

long pondered upon concept took a more solidified shape within me… Yet still, I

believed that I will not be able to do without certain things.


Why were we not brought up that we could not do without only one thing: freedom?

After all, if the weight limit be one kilo or fifty and if it be called package or bundle, it

makes no difference. If terms are fixed, limits imposed, ratified and controlled - it is

irrelevant how many kilos are in question. According to today's orders, we cannot take

anything, except what fits in the fifty by forty centimeter satchel. This was made

known to us by the sergeant when he informed us that we should prepare for

tomorrow's departure.


And all these miserable people, the mad, the good, the smart, the stupid, the naive are

preparing. Down on the patio, there is the endless humming sound of the sewing

machine: they are cutting out and sewing the forty by fifty centimeter bags from

drapes, bedcovers, sheets. There is also great bustle in the kitchen. The women have

made biscuit dough from the gathered remnants of flour and the little bit of oil. Before I

came up here, they have already figured out that the ratio will be five biscuits for each

inhabitant.


The whole thing sounds like a fairy tale, doesn't it? The youngest son, who starts out

on his long journey once upon a time with his satchel and biscuits baked in ashes.

Indeed, it does sound like a fairy tale. With the difference that in this fairy tale, the

biscuits are not baked in ashes and at the end of the story the good will not win, but

rather the evil will come out as the victor. In this fairy tale everything will happen vice-

versa.


“While there is life, there is hope!” That's what you said, my dearest. But there is no

longer any hope, and so life also has ceased. Only the bag and the five biscuits are

real. Oh, how I would take off even with this much, on foot and unclad, if I could go

where I feel like going. And I'd keep walking until my feet wore off to my knees, should

I just know that a place exists where one can live with human dignity.


I wonder if such a place still exists? Even Vorosmarthy would not ask today, in the

book -burning era, “ Has the world advanced by reading?” I have pondered a long while

in front of our beloved books until I chose only one to bring away from our house - the

little parchment Ady book with the black cover. But when the gendarme drove us into

the courtyard of the synagogue with the rest of the crowd, he tossed it out of my

baggage: “The SOBs (strong Hungarian curse), even here they want to read!”

The book flew, the little black Ady volume printed on Bible paper, it flew on the top of

the already high book tower. Its pages opened, then closed, like the wounded wings of

a white seagull. It only took a second, as I watched its path and realized: all was lost…


There is a hook here, in the corner of the attic. A hook, a hooked cross. What could be

more stylish? Although “in the hands of Christ from Bethlehem the cross was not yet

hooked”… (poem by Laszlo Hajnal). You see, poetry haunts me even here.


It sounds as if someone is on the way up here. I stop breathing and I hide with the

letter behind the stack of mattresses. All I need is that they find me here, ask me

questions, make a scandal… No, it became silent once again. What would they be

looking for here, among the strewn mattresses, boxes, baskets, luggage and millions of

rags? Nothing really can be taken along from here. At any rate, I must hurry, because

it is probably around noon…


Somewhere we went wrong with our life - that's what is running constantly through my

head. We should have lived differently, we should have done something. But what and

how, I do not know. I torment myself in vain.


Farewell, my goodness, my everything. Think of what I am thinking now: having met

one another is an even greater miracle than having been born. Our life was complete

even as such, because we were happy, as only few people can be…


Slowly, a church bell starts ringing with dignity.


I shudder. The bell sounds so closely, as if it were at arm's length.


It is noontime. The bells are tolling. Obviously, in the church of the Capuchins, which is

the closest to this place. But already another bell started ringing. Then a third, a

fourth, a fifth, all of them. Oradea's bells are ringing, all that exist in this town of many

churches.


Stoned, I stand on feet that took root. It seems unbelievable that all this is so close:

the city, the church bells, the churches, the well known streets, squares - and yet,

this last message seems to come from a world lost for us.


Yes! This is a message! 


In no way can this noisy, lengthy, never ending clamor, with the dignified, deep pain of

mourning be ranked as a common daily noontime church bell ringing. The bells are now

tolling for us…


This is how Oradea, the ancestral town, is bewailing us. Crying for her children about to

start on their journey to death…


And I am just standing, standing in the midst of this clean, grand painful tolling, bathing

my soul in the sadly beautiful sounds of the church bells, mellowed and somehow

numbed.


God be with you, Oradea! Your farewell gives me strength for the big journey.


Live happily, dear city, is my whole- hearted wish for you. And forget us, those who

were loyal to you until death.


Live happily, if you can - and if you can, may God curse you!



Marta Hidvegi (as remembered in 1988)

IMG_1320IMG_1321


Alexander Gertner


Alexander Gertner was aged 19 in 1946 when he was interviewed about his experiences

of being taken to the Oradea ghetto, then to Auschwitz by rail and onwards to other

camps.

His story is on the Voices of the Holocaust website.


The second ghetto of Oradea


The smaller of the two ghettos in Oradea was set up in a lumberyard (now Piata

Cazarmii) to house the Jews who had been rounded up from surrounding villages and

brought by truck to Oradea in April 1944.


These Jews were the first to be taken to Auschwitz and we are collecting together

the stories of survivors from those villages.


Vera Salamon


Vera Salamon lived in Valea-lui-Mihai with her family and she was 13 when she and

her family were taken from their home and brought to the ghetto in Oradea.

 

Her story is told on the Eastern European Gallery of the University of Texas.


Sophie Weisz


Like Vera Salamon, Sophie Weisz came from Valea-lui-Mihai and was 17 years of age

when she was removed to the ghetto in Oradea. 


She recorded her memoirs in a biography published in 1998 called Paper Gauze Ballerina

and in 2010 she gave a summary of her experiences to a local newspaper in the

United States.


The train near Magdeburg


In April 1945 some 2,500 prisoners at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp were loaded

onto cattle trucks which formed a long train that travelled towards Berlin to escape

advancing British troops. It was in transit for several days until its progress was halted

by bombing raids. It had reached Farsleben, near Magdeburg in Germany.


Amongst the prisoners on the train were several Jews who had been born in Oradea.


On April 13 1945 the stationary train was stumbled upon by advancing American tanks

and the prisoners were liberated.


same train pic without document

The American tank crew took a series of remarkable pictures of the liberation.


Those on the train who were born in Oradea included:


Adolf Fischer born in 1889

Menyhert Foeldesi born in 1890

Margit Fried-Szekely born in 1908

Jeno Ganz born in 1903

Simon Heller born in 1901

Miklos Kertesz born in 1900

Dezsoe Klein born in 1897

Aron Muehlbauer in 1896


There is a very detailed project on the Magdeburg train carried out by the Hudson Falls

High School in the United States.