The relationships between the Jews and Gentiles until the year 1936
The relationships between the Jews and Gentiles in Porcsalma were the same as in the rest of Hungary. This period in history can be divided into two parts. One part is the time before the Nazis came to power in Germany and the Hungarians joining them, which is until the time of 1936-37. The other time is the period of time between 1936-37 until Hungarian Jewry was annihilated in the year 1944.
For hundreds of years our small community in Porcsalma lived peacefully near the non-Jewish residents of the village. No Jewish person ever got involved with the government. They had no official or public position in the village. They tried not to be too noticeable in order not to arouse the envy of the Gentiles. The Jews didn't work on Shabbos and on Sunday. A Jewish farmer didn't go into the place where the grain was kept on Sunday, and the Jewish merchants kept their stores closed on Sunday. We treated their holidays and customs with respect as if they would be ours.
I heard something very interesting about this from Mendy Weiss, the son of Rav Hirsh Elimelech. When Mendy was about eight or ten years old (1928-30) the bishop of Debrecyn (a big city in Hungary) came to Porcsalma. He hadn't been there for a period of fifty years, and there was a definite reason for his decision to come. The village made preparations for his visit for two months. They set up different gates all along the path to the village in his honor. All the people of the village, including the Jews were invited to the reception. The delegation consisted of the respected people in the kehilla, and it was headed by Dr. Friedgas, the Rabbi of Matesalka. While carrying Sifrei Torah that were decorated with silver crowns they approached the bishop, thereby blessing him. The bishop was very happy with the honor that the Jews gave him, and blessed them in Hebrew. From here you can see how much we wanted to live in peace with our non-Jewish neighbors. So, the life of the kehilla commenced peacefully and the relationships with the Gentile neighbors were decent.
One could hear many times insulting language used against the Jews. The anti
semites used to say Dirty Jew, your place is in Palestine, but
nothing ever dangerous erupted from this, and the Jews were not being
victimized. In our town every Gentile had his own good Jew that he
was always ready to protect. The relations between the Jews and Gentiles were
ordinarily quite friendly. My father's friends in Public School remained his
good friends even after many years. The non-Jewish girls were friendly with
Jewish girls their age. The Jews and Gentiles did not keep distant from each
other. Porcsalma didn't have a street that was built only for Jews. No one
cared if his neighbor was Jewish or not. This is how it was for generations
until the great fire of the Holocaust came and extinguished everything that
stood in its path.
The relationships between the Jews and Gentiles after 1936
The whole situation changed completely after the Nazis came to power in Germany. The newspapers and radio began spreading anti-Semitic poison. Also in Porcsalma there were Gentiles who harnessed their energy in order to torment the Jews with joy and eagerness. At the head of these wicked people there was the priest and the teachers in his school. One that was especially known for his tyranny was Bentze Laslo and the secretary of the Village Council. The activists of the village joined them. They used to spread all kind of lies pertaining to the Jews, and the farmers of Porcsalma believed them.
At that time the relationships between Hungary and Romania were very tense. Our village was situated near the Romanian border, and there were always frightening rumors being spread. One time there was a story about a Jewish spy who was caught trying to cross the border, and he had with him military secrets.
Then there were rumors about Jews smuggling gold out of the country across the border. All these rumors were false. They were never proven to be true, but the damage they caused was great. As time went along even the good Gentiles began to believe them. The situation for the Jews got worse and worse. At first it was forbidden for Jews to slaughter cattle, and then came a whole line of laws that discriminated against them.
The law against slaughtering cattle did not hurt the Jews much. They used to deal with chickens which they kept in the house. However the psychological impact it caused was depressing. The law prohibiting Jews to slaughter cattle was proclaimed loudly, and the whole village spoke about it.
In the year 1938 the Gentiles began to attack the Jews. First they broke the window panes in the shul, and insulting Jews became a habit. Sunday was an especially dangerous time. This was when the Gentiles sat in their taverns and became drunk. On Sundays the Jews were very careful not to be seen near the Gentiles.
The Jewish children attended Public School together with the non-Jewish children. They were greatly humiliated because the teachers were very anti-Semitic. Lilly Markovits relates that two Hungarian teachers Bentze Laslo and Cheka Layosh made the students miserable. One time a Jewish child didn't answer a question right. The teacher Bentze Laslo grabbed a hold of his head, thereby pushing it face down on the table until his glasses broke. He said to him You Jews are either geniuses or completely stupid. These outbursts signaled to the children in school that it was alright to mistreat the Jews.
If a Jewish child didn't do his homework right he suffered horribly. A flood of insults would come down over him. If he answered the questions that were asked of him correctly he still wasn't treated right. The teacher Bentze would scream, saying How come the dirty Jews push themselves everywhere. They know everything better than the Gentile children. Even the poems of Shandor they already know. You Jews are contaminating the exalted Hungarian literature with your lips.
Most of the questions that were asked of the Jewish students were just for the purpose of causing them difficulty. The marks we received the year's end did not reflect our capabilities. I remember one time when I was tested by heart at the end of my sixth year in school. This was a type of test that was intended to test the caliber of the school much more than the level of the students. Only the best students were tested, and they were told the questions before they came to the test. As usual the test was given with the participation of the students' parents, the teachers, and the priest of the village.
My mother, of blessed memory, was also present in the audience. The students that were tested each went up to the blackboard and answered the questions which they had already known prior to the test. After the non-Jewish students were tested the priest announced Let the Master Hirshfeld come up to the blackboard. This calling me Master was an expression of derision and hatred! He asked me a question about a man called Itzik (a name that was used to mock the Jews) who goes to buy a goose on Shabbos from a poor Gentile woman. Please figure out he said to me how much does the Jew have to pay? The embarrassing question and the way in which it was asked shocked me and my mother tremendously. From afar I could see her face turn red, and I trembled. I got very confused, and answered something that would be to the disadvantage of the Gentile woman. How great was the joy of the priest who took this opportunity to explain to the audience how much this young Jew is being trained to cheat the Christians. You see he called out to the audience Not only did they kill our G-d, but they also are born swindlers.
Here is another episode that took place with that priest. As a child I used to raise Angora rabbits. They are not fit to eat, but their fur is white as snow and warm. My sister embroidered and knitted from these rabbits' fur clothing for the winter. Every day I would go to collect food for the rabbits. Their favorite food was Acacia leaves. These leaves grew in abundance on the lands of the farmers. One day I stopped by the gardens that were owned by the priest in order to pick these leaves. I only touched the first branch, and behold the priest hurried over to me while riding in his chariot. He stopped near me and I greeted him. He recognized me because I was a student in his school. He angrily jumped out of his chariot, and grabbed my knapsack from me. He cursed me and also cursed the G-d of the Christians, and then said he was really in doubt about the status of the mother of their G-d. Then he yelled at me Jew, go to Palestine.
The newspapers continued their incitement against the Jews with the greatest cruelty, and did everything in their power to make the Gentiles think that it was fine to harass the Jews. They did all they could to influence the farmers to think that the Jews are strangers in Hungary. A whole series of articles were written in one of the newspapers entitled He came from Tarnopol (a city in Galicia). That meant that the Jews are not really natives of Hungary, but strangers who are living off the bounty of the Hungarian nation. These articles contained monstrous cartoons of Jews with long noses, and fingers dripping with blood. For the farmers of Porcsalma this was good spiritual food (or poison).
The anti-Semites in the village always spread rumors about the treason of the Jews . At that time the Hungarian army invaded Transylvania in Romania. The Hungarian infantry passed by our village. It was customary to bring water to the soldiers who would stop by to rest in the village. The Jewish children would also stand by the roadside with pitchers of water for the soldiers. One time one of the soldiers fainted during the lunch break. Immediately, a rumor spread that the Jews poisoned the pitchers with water.
All these lies and all the venom that was spread by the radio and newspapers contributed to the deterioration of relationships between the Jews and non-Jews.
The government kept harassing the Jews, and always coming out with new edicts against them. They especially plotted against the Jewish merchants and store-keepers. Lilly Markovits relates that in those days the most necessary food supplies like coffee, tea, sugar, tobacco and oil were rationed. The Jews were forbidden to deal with these commodities. Every few weeks there was another item that was forbidden for the Jews to deal with. These edicts were disastrous for us and for the other store-keepers in the village. The amount of customers that came dwindled from day to day. Even the non-Jewish neighbors preferred to go to the Gentile stores. There was nothing to buy in our stores. The harassment got worse from day to day. Old people who lived in Porcsalma for seventy or eighty years were afraid to venture out in the street, since they didn't want to be attacked by the young Christian hoodlums.
The cruelest irony of all this is that we felt that Hungarian Jewry would not be attacked. Even now there were people among us that claimed that we have nothing to fear. We are also Hungarians, but we believe in the Jewish religion.
It still surprises me even today, after twenty five years, how we didn't realize what was going to happen. How did we close our eyes and refuse to see and close our ears and refuse to hear? We heard about the Crystal Night in Germany a long time ago. We also were informed about the slaughter of the Jews that took place in Kamenetz Podolsk. Every day new decrees were issued against us, and we in our naïveté, still trusted in the Hungary of Horty Mikolsz. We couldn't all escape. No one would let us in. But maybe some of us could have escaped? In the Carpathian mountains there is no lack of forests and hiding places. There are a lot of crops growing in the rivers and fields. The battlefield was not far from us, but we preferred to hope and to believe that we had nothing to fear. We trusted the kindness of the Hungarians. We believed that the free world wouldn't allow Hitler to carry out his plans. Above all, we believed that Hashem would help us. My mother begged my father in the year 1940 to allow my two older brothers to emigrate to Israel. My father believed that our redemption would come soon, and told my mother that she should wait for the Final Redemption to come, and then my brothers will go to Eretz Yisroel with everyone else.
The situation of the Jews in the cities was better than ours. They lived in separate neighborhoods and did not meet the non-Jews every day. But we, the Jews of the small town of Porcsalma who were spread out among the Gentiles, had to constantly fight for our honor and our lives. We were held responsible for the deeds of Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, and even the finest among the Gentiles believed that we were the cause of all their troubles. We were guilty for the fact that their army suffered losses at the River Donnay, and it was our fault that it snowed in Russia, and the Hungarian soldiers were freezing.
This was the background for the decree that the Jews have to wear a yellow
patch, and for the fact that hundreds and thousands of Jews were banished from
Erev Pesach 1944
The atmosphere was very tense and nerve-wrecking. The German army was marching in the main street of the village for the last few days. The Jews tried very hard not to be seen outside. But they had to prepare for Pesach. We always baked matzos Erev Pesach called Matzos Mitzvah to use for the Seder night. The men baked the matzos as they sang Hallel. Every family received six matzos, which meant three for each Seder.
However, it wasn't possible to get to the bakery, since the streets were packed with German soldiers. Will the Jews risk their lives? No one wants to do away with this custom of baking Matzos Mitzvah. In the end, everyone went to bake the matzos. Even those who in previous years didn't went now too.
I also went with my father. In one hand he held the sack with flour and he held me with his other hand. We took a crooked path, in back of yards and fields. It was a beautiful Spring day and the trees were in full bloom. The multi-colored flowers formed beautiful rows on the sides of the roads. However, our minds were not occupied with the beauty of the Spring. I held on tight to my father, because I was terrified. Yesterday I had travelled to Mátészalka to bring wine for Pesach for the four cups which are drunk at the Seder. My non-Jewish friends hid me in their wagon and travelled with me to the city. My heart was beating louder from one minute to the next, and it sounded like the banging of a hammer on an anvil.
We walked together in great fright. We were afraid that maybe the birds or the rabbits would hear us, or maybe the branches. Now I understood the possuk in Vayikrah (26:36) And the sound of a banging leaf will scare them. Soon we got to the bakery of Weiss Mozi. A few Jews were waiting. Every one sat in his corner. No one spoke to anyone. They waited in silence. We kneaded the dough, and sang Hallel. We sang (Tehillim 118:25) Please Hashem help us, as we were begging for mercy. At night the davening in shul was in whispered tones. The window panes were shattered to bits the night before by the Gentiles. We sat in the dark and didn't have the lights on in order not to attract attention. With a voice full of pain and sorrow Rav Hersh Elimelech said the words From the narrowness of distress I cried out to Hashem and he answered me with the breadth of Divine Relief (Tehillim ll8:5). We quickly finished davening and went home to make the Seder. This was the last Seder that my father conducted, and also the last Seder that the Jews of Porcsalma made.
We sat down to the Seder. After the first cup of wine my younger brother asked
the four questions. He asked In what way is this night different than all
other nights? Every year this was a very usual question, and everyone
knew the answer. Now my father choked as he was about to speak, but the words
didn't come out of his mouth. He looked at us speechless. Our dear mother
wanted to alleviate the bitterness that we all felt and calmed us telling us
that Hashem will help us. My sister asked if there will be anyone left to help.
My father told her that even when a sharp sword is on a prrson's neck he
shouldn't give up hope for the Mercy of Hashem.
Pesach is the festival of liberation, but for the Jews of Porcsalma the slavery had already begun. This Pesach remains in the memories of the survivors as the one that had the most suffering. There was not one day during Pesach that a new edict wasn't issued to harm the Jews. One day we were forbidden to travel by train, and the next day we were not allowed to leave the confines of the village. In my grandfather's house the windows were broken to bits. One of the elders of the village who was a Talmid Chochom and successful merchant was beaten in the street when people were passing by. (Of course no one came to save him). Jews stopped working in the fields and stopped doing business because they were afraid to leave their houses. The small Jewish girls went out to do the shopping because the adults were afraid to go out in the street. We heard that in Mátészalka the streets were being enclosed in fences in order to confine the Jews there. Thus passed the holiday of Pesach, with our being always afraid of what the next day would bring. After Pesach the worst thing happened to us. We were ordered to pack our belongings, and were only allowed a limited weight per person. Within twenty four hours we had to be prepared to leave our homes.
Even the meanest among the Gentiles were shocked at this decree. They didn't imagine that the Hungarian government would go so far as to banish the Jews from their homes! There were good neighbors who appeared in the homes of the Jews and who honestly offered to be of help. They could mainly offer to hide our belongings until we returned (How naïve!). They offered to bake bread for us, since Pesach was already over. One policeman went to the house of Rav Hersh Elimelech, and with tears in his eyes apologized for not being able to help him. He said that the banishment of the Jews was something he couldn't prevent.
Very few of the Gentiles really felt sorry for us. Most of them were hoping to profit from all the Jewish property that they could seize from the houses and stores and land which the Jews owned. Everything would be in their hands.
At night we heard that in the nearby villages all the Jews were gathered in the yard of the shul of Porcsalma. They were told that the next day they would be taken to a Ghetto. Will the same thing happen to us? Will we have to leave our property and belongings? For generations we toiled in different trades, and in cultivating the land, and now we will be bereft of all this. What about our lives? Will we be treated like the Polish Jews? These questions bothered us. Yet we had no one to turn to. The young people could have still fled to the big cities where it was easier to hide. They didn't want to leave their parents, and the old people and small children would probably also need help. My brother and sister who were thinking of escaping decided quickly against it.
The chief of the Police told us that we were being taken for agricultural work to the surrounding farms. Every promise we received enchanted us like a magic wand. It's comforting for a person to believe good things in times of trouble. It frees him of all his sad forebodings.
How good it is for one to hold on to hope, thereby freeing people from trying
to do things (in this case escape). This also severed our dear ones from life.
The Day of Expulsion
The main street of Porcsalma was noisy like a beehive. Horse drawn carriages came riding from all directions. From the square in front of the Reform Church till the Police building, the wagons were standing in order as they faced the direction of Mátészalka. Hundreds of children and Christian youth were running around between the wagons as they eagerly awaited enjoying the spectacle of how the Jews were being driven from their homes.
Where were the adult Gentiles? We didn't see them at all. Will they come to take leave of the Jews who were their neighbors for generations? Are they ashamed of all these crimes that are taking place, and don't want to face us? Or maybe they are already looting our houses? Last night one of our Gentile neighbors came in to our house, thereby saying : Mrs. Hershfeld, we always were so fond of you. Our lives will be so hard without you. By the way, tomorrow, I will come to take away the big table of yours before I go out to work in the fields. It's a pity it should fall into the hands of anti-semites. Also my classmates had pity on my Angora rabbits. The day before the expulsion they offered their help.
My father, as usual, made peace with everything that was happening. My mother encouraged us. My older sister Soroh was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. She was always the most courageous among us. Now, however, she didn't stop crying. She was heartbroken mainly because of her small room with a large window that was near the garden, that she was so proud of. Early in the morning the rounding up of the Jews began. Some Jews even saw the wagons in front of their houses. Some Jews were forced to take their belongings to the shul from where they were taken to the wagons.
Lilly Markowitz relates that early in the morning two policemen came to their house. They started to yell at us and brutally ordered us to immediately leave the house and go to the shul. They gave us only five minutes to put together whatever we wanted to take with us. Whatever we didn't take within five minutes would have to be left in the house. One policeman stood looking at his watch, timing us, and the other one found for himself a long braided candle with which he started hitting my father. This candle served as our Havdalah candle. My younger brother would stand on a chair and hold the candle with his little hands during Havdalah. He was so beautiful when he held the candle. The whole house was dark and only the flame coming out of the candle illuminated his face. His light colored hair turned even lighter from the light of the candle. Now that candle was being used so cruelly! My mother of blessed memory took down the bedspreads in order to collect in them whatever she possibly could manage. We were pushed out of the house, at the time that most of the necessary items we needed were still left inside. The police bolted the door, and we couldn't go back in. While the few bundles we had were on our shoulders, we were chased to the shul. During the whole time we were walking they kept hitting my father in front of the family. Thus, we crossed the length of the village, while our bodies and souls were being attacked and wounded.
One wagon arrived at our house to take us. We loaded our belongings and the
small children sat in the wagon. I hurried back to the place where I kept the
rabbits to take one last look at them. I was hoping I would yet return to my
little white rabbits, and pick the leaves that I fed them with. I waved to
them, and ran to the wagon that made its way to the center of the village. We
went over to the caravan in a place that was already arranged for us ahead of
time. We waited for everything to move. I kept thinking that we lived in
Porcsalma for hundreds of years, and now when the Chief of Police will blow
with his whistle, the caravan will move and everything will be over and done
with. I was wondering if all this was really happening or maybe it was just a
scary dream? Is it possible that one command from the police could banish all
of us from here? Yet, this was all taking place. We were all travelling with
such speed! We didn't even have time to think. We quickly passed our
grandfather's house. I didn't even have a chance to look in the yard. From far
I could see the top of the pear tree. How many childhood memories did I have
from this tree! We could see the red bricks of the house of the Kapetz family,
and their peach tree which was blooming already. Soon we will arrive at the end
of the village, and everything is left behind us. From all our childhood years,
all that is left is a cloud of dust that comes at us from the wagons.
The Ghetto of Mátészalka
Thousands of Jews were brought here from the nearby villages and surrounding towns with horse-drawn wagons. From the places that were further away they were brought with freight trains. A whole section of the Jewish area in the city was set aside for these Jews. The few Gentiles that lived there were taken away. The Ghetto was surrounded with wooden boards and planks that were three meters in height. Within a few days all the houses were inhabited by new dwellers. At first one room was allotted for each family. After more people were brought to the Ghetto and it became extremely crowded, four or five families were placed in one room.
The Jews who lived in the Carpathian Mountains were also banished from their homes to the Ghetto in Mátészalka. Tents were set up on the hills that were near the Jewish cemetery, which was near the Ghetto, for the purpose of housing them there.
Even though we didn't have much food, there was no serious shortage of food. We had taken along a lot of food from our homes. We had potatoes, oil, beans and other commodities. The governing bodies of the Ghetto also handed out food. The food that they gave us was taken from the Jewish stores and warehouses in the surrounding areas.
The men worked a few hours in the day, doing the type of work that was required for the Ghetto's upkeep, such as cleaning and bringing food to the warehouses. The women, especially the young ones swept the streets for a few hours a day.
Everyone in the Ghetto was terrified of the interrogations that were conducted in the big shul. This was the place where the Gestapo set up its headquarters. They took the rich people of Mátészalka and its surroundings there and started questioning them as to their hiding places of their gold and silver vessels, and to the location of their bank accounts in foreign countries etc. The torture that the unfortunate victims underwent surpassed anyone's imagination. They would burn their fingernails, and whip them, and these were just some of the cruelties that they suffered.
The news that we heard from one day to the next had a shattering effect on us. It was enough that one man in one corner of the Ghetto should tell his friend some rumor that he heard, and in a few hours time it would be the topic of conversation. Many times false rumors were spread by the police or the Germans themselves in order to suppress all hopes of opposition, or rebellion.
People were extremely depressed because of not knowing what disaster would be arriving next. More and more people tried to commit suicide every day. A husband and wife who were both doctors took their life by drinking poison.
No man escaped from the Ghetto even though there were many opportunities to do
it. Even though the Ghetto was surrounded by a high fence, there were no guards
stationed there. There was no daily census conducted to see whether anyone
escaped. Hundreds of young boys and girls could have rescued their lives if
they would have had the courage to leave their families and escape. However, no
one had this courage. Now, after so many years, when it is clear to us that we
couldn't help our families, we are viewing everything differently. But even now
it's hard for us to know if our assumptions while being in the Ghetto were
correct or not. There was not much time left to the life in the Ghetto. After
seven weeks, during the holiday of Shavuous, on the day that the Torah was
given, we were taken on the long ride to the final solution.
The Trip to Auschwitz
Two dim rays of light come in through narrow windows. They are shedding their light on a pile of poor souls who were crowded into this freight train which used to be for the purpose of transporting goods, and was now housing half of all the Jews of Porcsalma. It is hot and there is no air to breathe. Maybe we can open a window? We wouldn't dare do this. Yesterday two of the young boys from the village tried to open up another opening to help us breathe. The Germans dealt them twenty five blows with straps which they took from tefillin. For the last three weeks the Germans were busy liquidating the Ghetto. We were already one of the last transports.
Where are we headed for? No one knew. We were told that we would be taken to work on the farms near the Danube River. We did believe this story until now, but after being on this train for a period of two days, we began to doubt it. The scenery and the mountains that we saw through the windows didn't resemble the Hungarian flatlands. Now we knew that we will not return to our village quickly. None of us already cared where our destination was. We only wanted to be able to leave the train and stretch out our legs, and to breathe the fresh air again.
In a far corner of the train a little girl cried. She wanted cereal with milk. An old grandmother was lamenting the fact that she had to leave her footstool in the Ghetto. Now she won't have anything to rest her feet on. We had been through four days of torture, which were as long as the Jewish exile.
Finally we reached the last stop which was Auschwitz. We were quickly chased out of the trains. We were told that the only way out of this place is via the chimneys. This was the reception we were given! They started to shout orders at us, from all directions, telling us that the men and women should separate. The confusion was great. The wailing of the children and the cries of the mothers were swallowed by the shouting of the soldiers. Some people made an effort to stay with their families, but they were brutally separated.
My mother held my little sister and my little brother held on to her. I already
lost track of the other members of my family. My mother told me to run to my
father since I am already big and can work. I gave her hand one last kiss and
ran to find my father. I looked for you, my father whispered.
You are my last hope. Let's go together. I held on to him tightly
as we walked toward the unknown. A terrifying finger directed us to the right.
My mother and the children were directed to the left.
Ebensee, January 1945
A strong wind blew in the yard of the concentration camp. Piles of snow were blown by the wind into everyone's eyes. A group of men dressed in rags were pulling their feet toward the latrine. They were clinging to each other to protect themselves from the cold. The ice on their beards made them look like corpses that came from another world. You could see the load of the generations of suffering Jewry which they bore on their shoulders. They were taking the stroll of the morning as part of a terrifying dream. They were not allowed to go to the latrines when they had to. The master race would never permit this. They were only permitted to do this four o'clock in the morning.
Slowly, they returned to their bunks. They remained for one hour until daybreak. This was the usual meeting place for people where they could hear the news and exchange different items. A cigarette was exchanged for a half of a potato. Here friends and family also met.
After being here a month's time I walked here every day calling out Porcsalma, Csenger, Hershfeld, Markovits No one answered me. They only eyed me sadly. They pitied me and thought that I had gone mad. I kept asking whether anyone of our villages was present, only to be told that no one could be found. As I looked at the groups of people that were here, I could detect faces that were familiar. For seven months I haven't seen anyone from my family or from Porcsalma. Now I could see all three. The oldest among them was Mortiz Brown. The snow that piled up on his shoulders made him look even shorter. He used to be a successful merchant. He used to ride in the villages with his wagon which he harnessed to large horses, while buying eggs from the farmers. He was very quiet and pleasant. He never spoke an extra word with anyone, but he was very clever. People always accepted his opinions. The second one was Ignatz Markovitz, who was a very honest and fine person. He was very hospitable, and his good reputation spread to all cities of the district, not only because of his riches, but because of his sterling character. This prosperous and honored person now was just a pile of skin and bones.
Are you Ignatz? I asked him. No, my son, he answered. This is not Ignatz Markovitz, only what is left of him. I shook his frozen hands and he stroked my head. The last one I discovered was Yosaif Hirshfeld. He was my uncle, my father's brother, whom the whole family loved. He was a strong and handsome man, and born into agricultural work. My grandfather chose him to continue the successful agricultural work of the Hirshfeld family. Nothing was left of him. His body was frail and withered and his eyes were sunken. His hair was completely white. He told me that in another two days he predicts we will go the way of all the other people of Porcsalma. From all the adults of Porcsalma, only these three that I discovered were left. He told me about the passing of my father and other people in my family. A few days later I no longer saw Moritz Brown. I didn't ask why. Ignatz told me that in a few days from now he also won't be around. He was extremely weak. It was an accepted fact in the camp that any person who lost the will to live died within a few days.
The next day my uncle told me that Ignatz will no longer come. He was taken to
the hospital the night before. The only reason he came previously was to see
me. He sent me his regards, and told me to be strong. My uncle told me to guard
my health. He told me that I will yet take sick, but I should keep up my
courage and not dare to go to the hospital. No one ever leaves that
place. A few days later I accompanied my uncle to the gate of the hospital.
Be strong he said to me as he waved to me behind the fence.
Ebensee, May 1945
The Day of Liberation
A powerful stream burst through the camp. This was a sea of tens of thousands of people that were being pushed toward the gate. Like the powerful waterfalls that come down from the mountains to the rivers, the prisoners came pushing their way out of the camp. They were crying loudly:To freedom. Some people fell down and were trampled. No one came to help them. The square near the gate resembled a battlefield. I was also among those that were liberated. I was also waiting to be freed. Suddenly, an American tank entered the gate of the camp and told us that we were free!
The S.S. murderers had disappeared early in the morning. There were some old
soldiers of the Wehrmacht left to replace them. I was also one of those who
broke through the gate of the camp. Near the pavilion of the camp, there stood
two American soldiers, and near them two German soldiers. One of those Germans
was once a commanding officer in the camp named Volfsberg. I was
there until I came to Ebensee. That German could be used as an example of a
person who could retain the image of a human being during the worst times. Many
of the prisoners owed their lives to him. Upon seeing me he said Young
boy, you are also here? Be healthy. I certainly needed to be healthy. My
weight was down to 37 Kilograms and my body was covered with wounds. I was in
the hospital that the Allies set up for two months. In July I returned to
We were a group of thirty five people that returned from the concentration camps to Porcsalma. Most of us were between the ages of sixteen to thirty. One by one we returned to Porcsalma. Everyone took with him the tales of the horrors that he experienced. These were all tales of sorrow and atrocities. We told each other about our relatives which we had met, but who didn't survive. We tried to recover our property of which we were robbed, but had very little success. Some of us tried to establish themselves in Porcsalma, but this also didn't work out.
We no longer had a common language with our former neighbors. The wounds we suffered were still fresh. The shadows of the days gone by still hovered above us. The Fascists in Hungary during the time of the Nazis, now became sworn Communists. They only changed their flag, but not their nature. They remained the same anti-Semites as before. They once again threatened the Jews and again broke their windows. It became clear to us that we have to leave Porcsalma forever. Little by little the refugees started leaving. After two years not one Jew was left in Porcsalma. Most of us went to Eretz Yisroel and the others spread out in other countries.
by Avigdor Hirshfeld
There are times when death is considered merciful. Rav Shmuel merited a special kind of Heavenly Mercy. He returned his soul to Hashem before the Germans could harm him. We didn't erect a monument on his grave, and who knows where his grave is? No Rabbonim eulogized him, and we didn't cry on his grave. We only stood silent and davened that his merit should shield us.
Rav Shmuel Berger merited to have a Jewish burial, and not to be defiled by the Germans. We laid him to rest in the cemetery of Mátészalka, where he rests in peace. We arranged his funeral quickly with police escort. His memory is forever engraved in our hearts. We know his good deeds and love for people.
He was once the shochet of the city of Porcsalma, and when he became old he gave up his position for Rav Hersh Elimelech Ztl. Rav Shmuel Berger was born in Porcsalma. As a young child he was known as an Ilui (genius). His father, Rav Boruch Berger, sent his gifted son to learn in a yeshiva. In a short time he became well versed in the Talmud and Poskim (the seforim of those who make decisions regarding Halochos). After he completed his studies in Yeshiva he came back home with Rabbinic ordination which testified to his knowledge of Kashrus and the fact that he could render Halachic decisions in all areas of Kashrus and Shechita. After his children were born he was chosen to be the shochet of the village, and he kept up this position for many years. When he spoke publicly, many people would gather and listen with thirst to every word he spoke. The respect that all the dwellers of the village had for him is beyond imagination. There was no one before him or after him that was so well liked by the people of Porcsalma. His white beard and his warm gaze commanded respect and awe. In his old age he went to live in Fardyormot in order to be near his children. However, his heart remained with Porcsalma. He continued to come to the village for the Yomim Tovim. He continued to daven before the Aron Kodesh together with Rav Hirsh Elimelech. One time when he went to the village to perform a circumcision for a newborn infant, he slipped from the steps of the train, and he fell under the wheels. Unfortunately, he lost one foot, but his spirit remained as strong as it always was. After he recuperated he came every year for vacation to Porcsalma.
My father sent me many times to learn Torah from him, since he hoped that he would influence me.
Rav Shmuel Berger merited that during his lifetime all the people of the
village should respect him. He merited to have a Jewish burial. May his soul be
bound with the bond of Eternal Life.
by A. Brown, Bnai Brak
Rav Hertzka Hirshfeld Ztl didn't merit returning from the concentration camps. He also perished in Ebensee, the same camp where my father of blessed memory died. Since he didn't return, we can't hear him say Hashem will help or Trust in Hashem like he used to. The focus of his life was his faith in Hashem without any doubts. Rav Hertzka's saying that trusting in Hashem comes before everything was not a matter of routine. He meant it wholeheartedly. He always believed that Hashem will help in all situations. He was a very unique person in every way.
He fulfilled the obligation of Torah v'Avoda (learning and serving
Hashem with prayer) day and night. His children told us that their father would
wake them up in the early hours of the morning to learn. He was a Talmid
Chochom, and every Shabbos he would test us on our knowledge of what we
learned. We wanted to avoid being tested by him. He demanded a lot of us. He
worked hard to support his family of eight children. His oldest daughter Soroh
was my sister's friend. His son Nesho was my good friend. He dealt with
produce. He would ride his bicycle every day to the villages of the farmers,
and purchase wheat, barley and the like. He was friendly with the Barons and
Counts and simple farmers at the same time. He knew all the residents of all
the surrounding villages. Many times when it rained he would walk to work, and
he would pass by our house. He saw our horse harnessed to its wagon and asked
my father where we were headed for. He wanted to travel northward and my father
was going southward. He said he'll go with him. He had business connections in
all the villages and in all directions. We will never forget him. May his soul
be bound with the bond of Eternal Life.
by Alexander Brown, Bnai Brak
In March, 1944 the Germans invaded Hungary. The day afterwards we were already forced to wear the yellow patch on our clothing. I and seven of my friends were summoned to go to a forced labor camp beginning the day after Pesach.
On Chol HaMoed Pesach I travelled with my younger sister Magda to the nearby city of Mátészalka. On our way back home, the Hungarian Police came up on the train and inspected our identification papers. The Jews were forced to go down from the train and go home by foot. My sister and I walked from Gortlek to Porcsalma. After Pesach we had to report to the city of Keszü to be taken to the forced labor camp. My friend and I hired a wagon and rode to Mátészalka. From there we hoped to continue on our trip by train. As soon as we reached Mátészalka we were stopped by the Germans. They took us into the shul and searched our belongings to make sure we had no silver or gold. Since they couldn't find anything they vented their fury on us by chasing us out of the shul in the hot summer weather till we reached the train station. This was after beating us cruelly in the shul. We took the train to the city of Tchop. A Hungarian soldier from Porcsalma demanded that my friend give up his watch. My friend, naturally, didn't concede to his request despite his threats.
We resumed travelling to Keszü in a crowded freight train. We stood squeezed
next to one another without any possibility of moving. If I picked up one foot
just to stretch it out, I couldn't find room to put it back. We reached Keszü
at daybreak. Hungarian soldiers took us to a camp named Shtortbor.
When we arrived at Keszü we were taken into a dirty shack which had a floor that was covered with pieces of straw. The commander of the camp was a famous anti-semite by the name of Milkowitz. He would always yell at us as he counted us, saying Dirty Jews, you belong in a barn. (People say that he was executed after the war).
The next day our hair was cut, and we were divided into platoons. The number of my platoon was 108/304 and my commanding officer was Salli Gaza. He was a fine person. It was comforting to see that there were some good people left after all the horrors we were put through. In the afternoon he took us to the forest near the camp, and sent away one of his subordinates so that he could address us without anyone hearing. He told us not to be afraid of anybody. He said that he knows of all the troubles that are being heaped on us, but as long as he is in charge no harm will befall anyone. Every day we performed different tasks. One day we dug canals near the football field, and another time we did construction work in the train station. We could manage with our own commanders, but the Hungarian Security Service filled us with fear. One Friday when we returned from work, a curfew was proclaimed, and we were searched. Whoever had more than ten pengoes (Hungarian money) had to surrender it. As my luck had it, I was wearing sandals that were tied to my feet. They thought I was a poor, unfortunate person, and therefore didn't search me. From other people they took their money, and gave them lashes also. A Rov's son that was among us outsmarted the Hungarian Security Service. Instead of waiting in line to give money, he stood in the line that was being hit, but he succeeded in hiding his money.
The Czechoslovakian Communists that were in the city told us the news from London and Moscow. Many times we were able to sneak away during work and go to them to buy food and bread. During that time the Hungarian Jews were being driven to Auschwitz. The transports passed by Keszü. We gave the food that we bought for ourselves to them as we approached the trains they were riding in. One time the commander of the camp met us as we were walking to the train station (to give food to the Jews who passed by on the way to Auschwitz). As soon as he saw the packages we were carrying, we were returned to the camp. The food was confiscated in addition to beating us with severe blows. Every day we saw the Hungarian Jews being transported to their deaths. We lamented our bitter lot, and cried for those who were being so brutally severed from life, as we couldn't help them.
The commander of our regiment continued to come to our aid. One time we weren't given anything to eat after a whole day of heavy labor. We complained to him and he went into the kitchen where he found ham. He ordered that it should be given to the Jews. That was the first time I ever tasted it.
Before Shavuous we were told that we would be sent to Budapest. We were
divided. The older ones among us were grouped together, and the younger ones
went to a different place. The head of our division remained with us. Once
again the Hungarian Secret Service came to us. We were taken to the city of St.
Andre which was inhabited by Germans. We were placed in the local Public School
and put to work making pavements. This was the end of the Spring and the
beginning of the Summer. There was an abundance of fruit in the region. The
local population and the school's caretaker sold us fruits for three times the
price that they were being sold in the market place. This time, also, the head
of our division came to our aid, and he forbade them to raise the prices for
more than the food was worth. I did not lack money. My friend Almar Markovitz
who now lives in Hungary had relatives in Budapest that supplied him with
money. He helped us out generously. We were in St. Andre till August.
We were taken to Újpest and put to work in a factory that produced wool that once belonged to a Jewish man named Herman Pollak. Before we came there another group of Jews had worked there. Their commanders were very anti-Semitic and also tried to torment us. However the head of our division again came to our aid and didn't allow us to be victimized. Our lot became worse, when on October 1944 the Germans removed Horty Miklosz from power and seized the reigns of government. The next day they instructed the Hungarian soldiers in our camp that the Jews were not allowed to leave the camp. If they did the Hungarian soldiers were ordered to shoot them.
A few days later we were ordered to go to the other side of the Danube. Some of
us had already been successful in getting a Shutz Pass (document
that testified that the Jews were under the protection of a certain government.
Raul Wallenberg saved thousands of Hungarian Jews with these passports) from
the embassies of Sweden and Switzerland. The head of our regiment himself
travelled to Budapest to the foreign embassies to obtain these documents for
us. He also freed us from work, and sent along soldiers to guard us as we
travelled to Budapest to get these documents from the embassies. Thus, we came
We were placed in a shul on 55 Oreena Street. We were officially not given food, but the head of our regiment obtained food for us. We were organized into a platoon, under the command of the kind head of our regiment.
One Friday we were told that we would join the Death march that was organized through Eichmann. In the afternoon we were counted. Our commander informed us that he couldn't be with us any more, and therefore he could no longer help us. He told us that the time had come for us to escape. My friend and I hired some soldiers who accompanied us till the Jewish orphanage. There we hid in the cellar. We spent Shabbos in the cold cellar of the orphanage.
On Sunday the Gestapo surrounded the building, but since they were being bombed
from the air, they had to pull back. At night they again surrounded the
building. An alarm sounded during the night, and we ran away and climbed over
the fence that was around the building. We hid in a pit that was caused by the
bombing. In that pit we met someone from our village by the name of Shoonie
Deutsch. Then we went to a building that was under the protection of the Swiss
embassy. We stood there for ten days. At the end of November the Hungarian
Gestapo surrounded the building and we were taken together with other Jews to a
building at four Talki Street. On April 12 we were gathered to be taken to a
factory near the city. There was a young Jewish girl from Mátészalka there, who
succeeded in disguising herself as a non-Jewish girl. She hinted to us not to
divulge this to anyone. At night we were loaded on freight trains and taken to
Bergen Belsen. I was freed in Theresienstadt on May 5, 1945. It was there that
I met my two sisters and aunt.
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