Escapes from the Oradea ghettos, while they existed in May/June 1944, were few and far between. Over the years we have tried to piece together these stories by talking with some of the people who were involved with those escapes. Sadly, several of those people are no longer with us, but they have previously spoken with us and some have had their stories published. We have used these materials to put together this section of our website.
The fake typhus epidemic
One event stands out for its ingenuity, daring and organisation. The extraordinary plan was to generate a call for the quarantine of the entire ghetto (situated in the heart of the town) so that up to 20,000 Jews in that ghetto would not be deported in order to prevent the spreading of a potentially highly contagious disease to the thousands of Christian inhabitants surrounding the ghetto and to whatever places the Jews were due to be taken.
In the event the creation of this “fake” typhus epidemic did not save the 20,000 but it did enable over 30 people who were moved to a derelict building called the “typhus hospital” inside the ghetto to escape, generally into Romania.
The account below is largely the work of Marta Elian (nee Steiner, who was one of those 30+ people) and Daniel Lowy, whose research is referenced at the end of this article. It focuses upon the humanity shown by a number of gentiles who took great risks to help save the lives of those in the ghetto.
Dr Kupfer Miksa, a Jewish Consultant Gynaecologist (and author of several historical novels) was one of those taken to the ghetto with his family and he was made responsible for public health issues inside the ghetto.
Dr Kupfer Miksa
It was he, together with medical colleagues, who had the brilliant idea to establish the existence of an active tyhus epidemic within the ghetto in order for the whole ghetto to be put under quarantine. They tried to do this by taking blood samples from men who had recovered from Typhus Exantematicus (popular name Flecktyphus) which they had contracted while in forced labour camps in the Ukraine. Antibodies in the blood can still be found in these ex-patients after recovery. But they had a battle against time as the deportations from the ghetto had started.
This plan also required the co-operation of a senior medical man outside the ghetto. That man was Dr.Konrád Beöthy.
Dr. Beöthy, a longtime colleague of Dr Kupfer, was Head of Pathology in the Municipal Hospital and he agreed to confirm, falsely, that blood samples from ghetto “patients” contained active typhus. Blood samples were not accepted as "active" by the authorities until the majority of deportations had taken place.
The ghetto authorities decided not to halt the final deportations, but they did agree to establish an “isolation hospital” in a remote corner of the ghetto and initially 7 patients, their families and hospital “staff” were transferred there.
Marta Steiner (aged 15) her younger brother and parents were a day away from deportation when Marta’s father, László Steiner managed to see the ghetto Deputy Commander who was a frequent customer of László’s bakery. László had previously helped him with some personal issues. He was also one of those with typhus immunity and it was agreed that he could become cook for the hospital and was transferred there with his immediate family i.e. wife and two children, but not parents nor sisters, who subsequently were murdered in the death camps.
Further transfers were made to the hospital so that the eventual headcount appears to be:
The Steiner Family
Magda Steiner (his wife)
The Kupfer Family
Dr Miksa Kupfer
Dr Erzsebet Czeisler (his wife)
Rozalia (Kupfer’s mother)
Rafael (younger son)
The Schwarz Family
Jancsi Schwartz (son)
The Zsolt Family
Bela Zsolt (formerly Steiner)
Agnes Zsolt (formerly Heyman (Racz) and mother of Eva Heyman)
The Balint Family
Dr Sandor Balint
His wife (pretending to be a nurse)
Emil Waldman (nephew)
The Leimsieder Family
Husband (assistant Rabbi at Kolomea)
Seven children (according to Zsolt in his subsequent book)
The Katz Family
Cita Seidenfrau (his wife)
The Halberstein Family
Ignac Deutsch, Bubi Pisztiner (teenager), Bobover Rebbe and two Polish and Bukovina refugees.
Once the mass deportations in cattle wagons to Auschwitz had taken place the "isolation hospital" was left under the more relaxed responsibility of the local police.
To escape from the hospital needed assistance from one of those local policemen and, at great personal risk, one offered help to the inmates. Gyula Ladi (“Uncle Gyula” as the children called him) was on duty in the ghetto. He was one of the rare righteous gentiles around who, although aware of the danger, knew that if caught he would be court-martialled with very serious consequences. He offered his messenger services for purely humane, perhaps religious reasons, not accepting a penny in return. Even after the war when he lived in complete destitution in Budapest he continued to refuse any help or reward.
After three weeks Dr Kupfer was alerted by Gyula Ladi that everyone would shortly be deported and a range of escape plans were devised with help from Gyula Ladi and local people.
The Steiner family were smuggled out of the hospital, after bribing the guards, and made their way to a school dormitory which had been made available by Gheorghe Mangra, the Romanian administrative head of the Greek-Catholic school. Mangra did this at extreme personal risk as there were German soldiers also billeted at the same school.