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[Page 5]

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

 

With the help of God

In memory of the souls of our loved ones who have not been mentioned in the framework of any other Yizkor Book:
My Father R'Shmuel son of Alexander Blas, head cantor in the Holy Community of Erlau,
My Mother Rivka daughter of Rachel,
My sister Rachel and her family,
My brothers Baruch Avraham and Yehezkel,
My father-in-law R'Shimon son of Yitzhak Berger, a merchant in the community of Nadezhd,
His wife Reiza daughter of Rivka,
My brothers-in-law Chaim and Yehezkel Hershl and their families, and my brother-in-law Eliezer Zvi Klein and his wife from Miscolcz.

May God avenge their blood

”REMEMBER THE DAYS OF OLD, CONSIDER THE YEARS OF MANY GENERATIONS, ASK YOUR FATHER AND HE WILL RECOUNT IT TO YOU,
YOUR ELDERS AND THEY WILL TELL YOU!”[1]

Introduction

The last Memorial Service for the Jewish population of Fehergyarmat and the surroundings, attended by a small number of people, brought me to the realization of a plan that I have been thinking about for some time: the thought was “If not now, when?!”[2]

It is our duty to pass to our children and to the future generations the history, which we must not forget to the end of time, so that the lesson be learned today and in the future.

We should honor and remember the names of our martyrs, who are mentioned in the Holy Writings: “They were loved and dear in their lives, and in their death they were not divided.”[3]

I gave a great deal of thought to the problem how I could relate episodes of educational importance, through the memories that became cloudy and unclear during the 21 years that have passed. It seemed impossible, but I did realize my vow and when I returned from the Shoa I began to write a diary about the events that took place in the years 1942-1945.

As a teacher in the governmental school in Nadezhd, I could not publish the diary twenty years ago; here, in our dear homeland Israel I was too busy in my work in the area of teaching and education and I was not able to publish my book “This was my Struggle.” I donated it to Yad Vashem.

My intention is to include here passages from the book that relate to Fehergyarmat, and if I will find time I hope to translate them to Hebrew. Lack of time and of financial means inevitably minimizes the realization and the scope of the book.

Now, after twenty-one years, collecting the holy names from all parts of the country is already a significant problem, but if this project will succeed it will be more valuable than any article.


  1. Deutoronomy [Devarim] 32:7. Koren translation, Jerusalem 1977 Return
  2. The words of Hilel, in Ethics of the Fathers [Pirkei Avot] 1:14 Return
  3. II Samuel, 1:23. Koren translation, Jerusalem 1977 Return


[Page 5]

Our Inheritance is Turned over to Strangers, Our Houses to Aliens
[Lamentations 5:2]

The Town at Times of Pride, of Trials and of Mourning

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

Fehérgyarmat is a central town in the Szatmar region, with 6,000 inhabitants – this is the way it is described in the encyclopedia; a team of Jewish and catholic teachers had jointly written a monograph about the town.

In the thirties of the 20th century I looked through old and dusty documents in the offices of the local church, and quite strange episodes from the past history of the town were revealed: the town was always afflicted by floods, droughts and other natural disasters, and remained for many years in a primitive state, especially during the rainy seasons, when a thick layer of mud covered its roads. It was cut off from the rest of the world, the only means of transportation being little boats that connected it with the “Reszelö” tavern in the near-by village Kissar. The tavern was owned by a Jew named Rosenfeld, but the peasants, who could not pronounce the name, came up with the Hungarian word reszelö, which means grater. Thus the Rosenfeld Tavern became the Reszelö Tavern.

The destitute life in town is reflected in the small number of Jews living there. By the end of the 18th century, the great flow of Jews from Moravia toward Eastern Europe brought some of them to Csenger, a village 7 kilometers from Fehérgyarmat. They settled there, and at the beginning of the 19th century Csenger became an important Jewish center, while the number of Jews in Fehérgyarmat was only seventeen.

Proof to the fact that, in time, the Jews began to move to Fehérgyarmat in greater numbers was the relocation of the Head of the Community [Rosh Hakahal] himself, R'Mates [Matityahu] Degyder, whose child was born in the new place. We know this from a document owned by one of the descendants of rabbi Mates, who lives in Tel Aviv.

R'Yakov [Yankel] Jungreis has given me access to a book of Responsa, written by the great scholar R'Shmuel David Jungreis and published in Brooklyn, in which I found that less than one hundred years ago an independent Rabbinate was established in Fehergyarmat. Before that time, the community was part of the Csenger rabbinate, as were other 42 villages in the area. In the newly established Fehérgyarmat community, R'Yitzhak Israel Blau was the leader of the religious life.

The project for the prevention of flooding that was carried out in the area led to great improvement of the economic situation. Many Jews who came from the neighboring villages contributed to this improvement as well.

It is interesting to notice that the development of the town – roads, water-system – is not connected with the name of the Hungarian nobleman who governed the area, but rather with the rich Jewish land-owner, by the name of Spitz.

An old map of Fehérgyarmat shows the three large estates owned and managed by Spitz. The electric company and the power mill, which were erected much later, were owned by the Frank family.

After the floods were brought under control, agriculture and cattle raising began to flourish. The amount of commerce and industry, mostly managed by Jews who moved to the central town, doubled.

After the First World War, many residents, especially the poor, left for America. However, strong ties were maintained with the emigrants. American aid often helped the local people to open independent businesses, and the Jewish products that went on the market soon became famous throughout the country. Visitors came even from Budapest, 360 kilometers away. All 42 villages were connected with Fehérgyarmat by new and good roads.

In 1935, the Jewish population in Fehérgyarmat numbered 830 souls, and the number kept increasing until 1941. Among the Jewish professionals were three doctors, five lawyers, one public notary, one regional veterinarian, a pharmacist etc. Jews worked in all occupations, from chimney sweeper to street cleaner. Jewish employees were an integral part of the various industries: export of apples, home-made fabrics and wool, grains and plum marmalade. The entire region benefited from this economic development.

The Jewish cultural life evolved as well. Gatherings and parties were held in the hall of our school, erected in 1906, whose first principal was Kalman Meisner, of blessed memory. The synagogue became too small for the flow of people seeking a place of prayer; the Bet Hamidrash and the “Shtibl” were crowded. On the first night of Selihot the space in front of the synagogue was filled with the noise of people and carts coming from the surrounding villages.

With the arrival of the famous rabbi from Salgotarián, R'Wolf Gonsler, to replace the Jungreis rabbinical dynasty at the Great Yeshiva, and the establishment of the Great Bet Hamidrash, our town finally fulfilled the Talmud saying “a town that has everything.”

In the Talmud Torah school we had four teachers. When I worked as a clerk in the census office, I was told of many examples of friendship and good relations between Jews and Gentiles. During the many years of my working there, I had the opportunity to find out for myself the reality of these examples. However, there came a time when politics changed, and the call went out “to dance with the devil”: the friendly peasants soon became enemies…. As the Hungarian saying goes: “It is easy to take the girl to the dance floor.”

We were soon sent to the Ukraine and then to the infamous ghetto in Mateszalka, which for us was the gate to Auschwitz. Not even one Jew was saved, from the entire region of Fehérgyarmat and its 42 villages. From the school where I was principal, not one of the 120 pupils of the 1943-1944 class came back. All perished, together with their beloved teacher, Yalonka – who was my wife – and our two children. May God revenge their blood.

After the liberation, 84 Jews returned to Fehérgyarmat, the town that, as was now very clear, we should not have trusted. “All her friends had betrayed her, they have become her enemies” [Lamentations 1:2]. We searched everywhere for family and relatives. We did not want to build a new life upon the ruins of our former lives.

Of the few survivors only one Jew remained in Fehérgyarmat. Most of the former residents of the town live in Brooklyn, with their respected and beloved leader R'Yakov (Yankele) Jungreis.

The Jews of Fehérgyarmat are dispersed on the entire globe. We know of 74 Jews, in addition to the 84 mentioned above, who survived. We do not know whether any Jew from the surrounding 42 villages survived.

One day not long ago, an American tourist, an elderly lady accompanied by her relatives, paid me a visit. She had heard about me, and as she was traveling to Fehérgyarmat to visit the graves of her ancestors she thought that it was her duty to ask me whether I have any message for the former Jewish town. She had seen her father being buried in Fehérgyarmat, and her sister, the wife of Frank Herman, being taken to the gas chambers. After the war she immigrated to the United States. I asked her to get in touch with the caretaker of the Jewish cemetery and ask him to take good care of the cemetery [lit. The Eternal Home], since this was the only place that connected us to the town, after the Great Synagogue had been demolished.

By the end of July 1965, of the 84 survivors 23 had arrived to our homeland Israel, with a new song etched on our hearts: “In our home every pain and sorrow shall be healed. The Jewish People shall live.”


[Page 10]

The Rabbinate and the Community in Fehérgyarmat

The Rav and Great Scholar R'Zev Wolf Gintzler, of blessed memory,
Rabbi of the Fehérgyarmat Community

by his student, Rav Nathan Zvi Friedman, Benei Brak

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

The Great Scholar Rav Zev Wolf Gintzler, the Rabbi of the Fehérgyarmat community, was a rising star among the rabbis of Hungary. Although he was young in years, he has become one of the most respected teachers of Torah during the period before the Holocaust. As a young man, neither a son nor a son-in-law of a rabbi, who had not studied in one of the famous Yeshivas, he was ordained as rabbi. This was a rare event at that time in Hungary, where most of the communities were led by known and famous rabbinic families connected with the great Schools of Learning.

Rabbi Zev Wolf Gintzler came from a poor family in Ujhely. He was the son of a Hasidic Jew, R'Israel, and the son-in-law of a leather merchant, R'Asher Lemel Schwartz. He studied diligently at the school [Bet Midrash] of the scholar and Hasid Rabbi David Dov Meisels, the rabbi of the Hasidic community and the author of the book of Responsa Binyan David.

In 1928 he founded a Yeshiva in Salgotarián, where the officiating rabbi was the elderly scholar Rav Moshe Deutch, of blessed memory. A Yeshiva had not existed there before. Soon the new Yeshiva expanded and students from all over the country and from beyond the borders began to gather to learn Torah. The number of students was close to three hundred.

His talents, diligence, energy and good humor soon placed him in the first line of Torah teachers of his generation and the Yeshiva became the most important in Hungary. The name of the young and talented rabbi became known, and after the death of the old rabbi R'Moshe Deutch it was only natural that R'Zev Wolf Gintzler replaces him. Several other communities offered him the post as well, but since he was so gentle and sensitive and many communities were troubled by disagreements and disputes, he had a hard time choosing a place. Finally, in 1934, he accepted the post of rabbi in Fehérgyarmat.

Rabi Gintzler brought a breath of fresh air to the Fehérgyarmat community. His students were so attached to him that all the students from the Salgotarián Yeshiva followed him to the new place. The Fehérgyarmat people were proud of their new rabbi and loved and respected him. They made every effort to fill all the needs of their great Yeshiva, even though it entailed a great deal of financial support, a challenge that was almost beyond the means of this not so rich community. They opened at the Yeshiva a students' restaurant, but the most worthy students would eat their meals at the homes of the notable members of the community, who considered it a privilege to have the students in their homes. The Torah study and good manners that the students would bring to the house had a good spiritual influence on the members of the family, and the host family would do anything in their power to make their stay pleasant, whether on weekdays or on Shabat. Romance was not absent either, and often the Yeshiva student would marry the daughter of the family.

The rabbi had a very impressive appearance as well. His face radiated goodness and beauty of the soul, he was always in a good mood and his speech was calm and pleasant. His Hasidic rabbi and mentor had been the great scholar, Rabbi Chaim Elazar Shapira from Munkács and he visited him often. But his way was special and independent.

His soul was fashioned from kindness and love. All his acquaintances loved him deeply, even those who had departed from the ways of religion and observance of the commandments [mitzvot]. We witnessed many instances when people returned to Judaism following their connection with the rabbi.

However, his greatest love was his Yeshiva. Young men from all corners of the Jewish world came to study Torah with him. He was a Hasid, but not one of the “stormy” Hasidim; he was gentle and kind. The long list of students who came to him from many places to seek knowledge and wisdom is witness to his reputation.

He was an extraordinary speaker. His lectures and sermons attracted a large audience on any regular Shabat. On a special Shabat, as the Shabat before Pesah and the Shabat before Yom Kipur, or on holidays, as well as on the opening of the school year at the Yeshiva, not only local people came to hear his addresses, but many persons from the surroundings, near and far. These days were regarded as very special events in the life of the community. His speeches, profound but seasoned with humor, would penetrate to the very souls of his listeners and fill them with enthusiasm and inspiration.

His moral qualities were exceptional. He honored every person, and addressed even his youngest students politely and respectfully.

His teaching was always clear and understandable to all listeners. He would compose his sermon around a verse or a topic from the weekly reading portion of the Torah, and his sharp and at the same time profound explanations were taken from the topics studied at the time in the Yeshiva. As with an artist's brush, he would blend law and history, morals and legend, into a lecture that was understood by all his listeners, even those who came from the simplest families of the Jewish society. All would wait with impatience for his talks.

A small part of his lectures and teachings can be found in his book Toldot Israel, about the book of Genesis, printed in Kleinwardein [Kissvárda] in 1937 (53 pages). However, this little book does not reflect the entire spectrum of his personality and talents, because it was written not by him but by his students, and not all of them were blessed with the necessary literary talents to be able to compose and publish such an important book.

The Holocaust came when he was at the prime of his life and at the peak of his extensive and versatile activity in all areas of Torah teaching, rabbinic work and community endeavors. Together with the finest members of the European Jewry our great rabbi was taken away, first to the Mátéjszalka ghetto where he went through great suffering, then to Auschwitz, where he perished, together with his wife Lea and his sons and daughters: Yosl, Sheindl, Chaia, Chava, Ben-Zion, Chaim and Zvi, as well as the members of his community and his students whom he loved so much. He died on 15 Sivan 5704 [1944]. May God avenge their blood.

Those of his students who survived the terrible times are now dispersed in many countries and occupy important positions in the rabbinate, in business, finance and other areas. They are preserving the great spiritual treasure that they had received from their beloved rabbi – to pass on to the future generations.

  Rav Nathan Zvi Friedman
Benei Brak


[Page 15]

From Generation to Generation

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

My former students, you who are my pride and my gratification, approach and we shall tell the story to our children and to the future generations!

This is how it happened…

This is how it happened! These were wonderful springtime days, but days that were more frightening than the sound of the Shofar on the High Holidays.

Every Jewish family in our little town was making the preparations for the Pesach [Passover] holiday, quietly and almost secretly. Cleaning and all other necessary housework was done silently, and even during the “beating of the carpets,” which was hard work, we tried to avoid any noise.

The 'Ma Nishtana' [the four questions that the children learn before Pesach, to be asked at the festive Pesach meal, the 'Seder'] was studied and repeated by the children with sealed lips. Perhaps this way – we thought – we will not attract too much attention and will be able to overcome the hard times that had befallen us.

“Do not sing, my child!” my dear mother said to me, “we Jews cannot keep high spirits when so many of our people are sacrificed day by day!” Terrified, I fell silent and in my imagination I saw again the huge posters that contained those terrible orders and regulations, most of which my mind could not even grasp. The soldiers in their well-ironed uniforms “helped” the people understand the orders, by shouting on the top of their voices: “A Jew is no allowed on the street, unless he is wearing the yellow patch!”

I never realized that yellow was our national color. It was afforded to us by evil strangers. At the time we thought that it would be the only limitation imposed on us, so we began to wear the yellow patch with pride. However, this was only the beginning. The night of the Seder was over, the other days of Pesach passed as well, and one day it was announced that all Jews who lived in the far end of the town were ordered to assemble in the Great Synagogue. My aunt and her family lived in that neighborhood, and they, too, left their beautiful house and were allowed to take with them only some underwear to change and a small amount of food. But they, as our entire family, had devoted their life raising their children to be true and God-fearing Jews, and they preferred to take empty bags rather than bake bread on Pesach.

However, we have been able to provide them with some food, because in our part of town we were still in our homes.

On the last day of Pesach, the entire group of Jews was transported to the Ghetto.

We, who at that time were still sleeping in our own beds, were allowed to take a little food to the Jews, who passed through the main street of the town, on their way to the ghetto. The only Jewish baker in town, Waltman Zhiga, who lived in the courtyard that belonged to Shimon Farkas, opened his bakery and did not stop working until he

[Page 16]

was forced to do so. When the long line of Jews walked past the bakery, we would run – especially the younger ones among us – from cart to cart and hand out bread to our dear fellow Jews. We had to hurry and work fast, before the policemen would lose their patience.

A short run, a few words of encouragement here and there – and suddenly, silence. They were all gone …

We took a deep breath and, as fast as we could, we started for home – but we knew too well that it was not our home anymore. We did not even cry. What would we be crying for? We began waiting for our sentence, like all the others.

It has been two thousand years that we were oppressed and persecuted. Why should there be an exception now? We have probably committed unforgivable sins against the Ruler of the world and now we are receiving our punishment…. this was the general line of discussion among us. But it didn't take long and it was our turn to go.

Officials came to our modest home and began to register all our valuables. One of the clerks, our long-time acquaintance, said to my mother: “Mrs. Weiss, don't worry and don't be afraid, you will get back everything that we are registering, this is the law. You will be taken only to work and nothing will happen to you!”

In a soft voice, that could barely be heard, I asked “what kind of work can they have for old people and young children?”

Meanwhile, the registering of our possessions continued: a watch, a ring that I had received for my birthday, a chain, my mother's wedding ring, some jewelry that we had inherited from our grandmother, and my father's pride – the Bible, but this was valuable in our eyes only, and the sergeant said with scorn “You want me to put this garbage on the list of valuables?”

This was the last day we spent in our home. Our little suitcase was ready, waiting by the door – and then came one of the most terrifying moments of my life. My father, whose beard was never touched by a razor, said to my mother: “Dear Bluma, please, I don't want to see the hands of those soldiers touching my beard.” He washed his hands and said the blessing and a short prayer, then he sat down on a chair holding a gemara [a volume of the Talmud] in his lap. Between its pages he placed the hair that once was his beard. Only my mother's holy hands had touched it.

I tried to find a word of comfort, but when I looked at my father he was crying… I could not utter a word, and I cried together with him.

When these horrible moments passed, we waited, almost impatiently, for the time they would come to take us away.

[Page 17]

Soon that time came. We were taken, under the guard of soldiers, to the near-by Jewish elementary school. Here, in the familiar rooms and corridors, we relaxed a little, especially the children. We were suddenly together with our schoolmates, and we even tried to joke and imagine that we were again with our teachers, only that “the bell” did not monitor our time and we were free.

But this relaxing atmosphere did not last long. We soon remembered that the men – our fathers and older brothers – were away, at the forced labor camp. Among them was also our beloved teacher, who had worked hard to educate us, right here inside these walls. We missed him, but we found comfort in the fact that our other dear teacher, Yolanka and her two children Vera and Perry were with us. Apparently it was very important to clear the building and cleanse it of Jews: very soon we were transferred to the ghetto. The young children and the older people were loaded on carts and all the others went on foot. On our way we passed the Jewish cemetery and silently said our farewells to the departed, with tears in our eyes. Perhaps some of us envied their beloved who were buried there.

The ghetto in Mastalka was surrounded by a wall. Here our real suffering began: the struggle for life. Nothing was more important for us than this struggle.

Three weeks passed. Sometimes they would wake us in the middle of the night and try to extort from us information that we did not have; at daytime they would beat us, with no reason at all, until blood was spilled. Finally it was time to load people into the infamous trains. My family was included in the third group.

Armed soldiers “helped” us board the train, beating us with their rifle butts. So much has already been written about the cruelties and the horrible experiences that we went through – I shall not repeat it here. There is no way that we can put in writing the moaning and crying that was heard everywhere.

The existence of Auschwitz was not new to the world. We tried, as much as we could, to stay together. However we did not succeed. In 1945, when this part of our life was over, we realized that so few of us remained. Desolately we counted again and again the small number of those who had overcome the great storm.

Most of us – the surviving remainder –intended to leave forever our former homeland, where we had been hounded and unwelcome. We tried to find a true homeland that would not drive us out, where our children could live proudly, with their head held high.

Fortunately, thanks to our beloved teacher, we realized our wishes and now we are able to put in writing all those sad reminiscences, which could never be erased from our memory.

Our teacher is still continuing to educate his students and his children. In the name of all of them I wish him happiness and contentment, and a long life with his family, his friends and his students.

  Lea Sade
She'ar Yashuv, The Upper Gallilee


[Page 18]

Past and Present

By the only survivor of Malka and Avraham Grossman z”l, Petah-Tikva

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

 

1

The time of my Childhood

In this book, which is of great importance for our sons and for the future generations, I wish to put in writing, perhaps for the first time, something that we always preferred not to mention. Like all my friends, at the age of nine I was sent from my parents' home to the little town of Fehergyarmat to learn at the Heder [Torah school for young children, lit. room]. The Heder in Fehergyarmat was known as superior, and at the Jewish elementary school that we went to we did not have to take off our caps or yarmulkes. However, please do not think of luxurious dormitories and other commodities. We would eat “days” – each day of the week with another family. I was never too choosy. At 5.00 in the morning we would go to the Heder and at 8.00 to school. In the afternoon we went to the Heder again, until late in the evening.

Looking out of the window, we could see the main road. How I was waiting for Tuesday to come! Tuesday was market day – the farmers would come in their horse driven carts to sell their ware, and following them, on foot, were the village women carrying heavy baskets. Among them was my mother, who would often carry in her bag a cake or other baked sweets for her son.

My Bar Mitzvah did not cause any problems in the family: we did not have to spend time and effort choosing the right place for the big party; our two rooms at home had been enough. The expenses of my Bar Mitzvah did not exceed the expenses of a regular Sabbath. I have never heard of a “Bar Mitzvah ceremony.”

Fixing the date of a wedding, as well, did not depend on whether the bride had already managed to buy her jewels, or whether the young couple were the owners of an apartment in a luxurious condominium or not.

To this day I cannot understand how my mother the tzadeket [righteous and charitable] – as all the mothers in our town – could manage to do all her hard work and fulfill the many household chores without an electric refrigerator, washing machine and oven.

I was especially touched when I understood the way the gemilat hesed was carried out in our community – how the members of the community helped each other with long or short loans. There were many poor families in our town, but none of them would accept charity, only a loan.

Nowadays it is not “correct” to speak about these depressing things. In all that has been written about the Jewish communities in Eastern Europe there is a great deal of exaggeration concerning the past glory of the Jewish town, the “shtetl,” as if all of us in the Diaspora were rich and enjoying a wonderful life. So, just for fun, I shall make use of that erroneous practice, as well: do you know that we owned a hotel? I wouldn't say it was like the Sheraton, for example; our hotel was different in that it was free of charge and it had a staff of only 3 people: my father, my mother and my sister z”l. When there were not enough beds we would add a mattress filled with straw, on the floor. In a regular hotel the guest is asked to fill a form with many questions; our mother would ask just one question: are you after a meal of meat or a dairy meal? She would need to know that in order to decide what kind of meal to prepare for the guest.

[Page 19]

In one respect, however, our hotel was indeed similar to the Sheraton: its name began with the same letter: “Sleeping room for needy people.”

While telling the story of my childhood, I cannot leave out the many instances of anti-Semitism that we, the children, had to endure. Anti-Semitism was everywhere, against children and adults alike. On our way to the Heder or the Yeshiva we would often be beaten cruelly, sometimes we came home bleeding.

In Hungary, young boys of 13 years were required to enlist in a semi-military unit called “Levente.” Within this framework there were separate Jewish units, but we would pass our training periods together with the non-Jewish groups, in the same training fields. We had common competitions, but when our group won and received a medal, the gentile boys would attack us and beat us up. The beating would sometimes continue on our way home, a distance of about 3 kilometers. Most of the Jewish boys would run trying to escape, because the number of the “goyim” was much greater, but there were always a few of us who remained and fought back, by the motto “an eye for an eye.”

 

2

Impressions from my Trip to Hungary as an Israeli Citizen

I would like to devote a few words to the former Jewish residents of Hungary in Israel, who travel to the treacherous “homeland” either to visit family or out of “homesickness,” enjoy spending time there and then, upon returning to Israel they do not cease praising Hungary and stressing the good and easy life there.

I would like to relate a few facts – things that I saw and heard during my visit to Hungary two years ago. I had decided to move the remains of my father z”l to a grave in Israel and I went to Hungary to take care of that matter.

What I saw and felt there was quite upsetting and it is not easy to write about it, but it was much more painful living through it. Although the beauty of the countryside cannot be denied, and I must mention as well that all the due respect was given to the remains of my father on his journey from our village Jenek to Israel, Hungary seemed to me, during my short visit there – nine days –pure hell on earth. In the entire country I have seen only a very small number of synagogues, ruined and desolate. A Talmud Torah I found only in Budapest, and the number of pupils? less than ten…. The number of Jews in Hungary is assumed to be about 100 thousand, but only about 1,000 of them eat kosher food and keep some kind of tradition. Most of them are married to non-Jews, and the children are not circumcised. The results of such marriages are often tragic. After years of suffering because of incompatibility the family often falls apart, the couple separates, and more than once the marriage ends in suicide or murder.

[Page 20]

I shall relate here one case, which really shocked me: On the first day of my stay in our village Jenek, where I visited the grave of my father z”l, I asked one of my acquaintances whether, apart from the only Jew who lived in the village and was married to a gentile woman, any other Jews could be found in the surrounding villages. The answer was that after the Holocaust another Jew returned to the neighboring village Kisnomin, married a Christian woman and a daughter was born, but I couldn't see him because he was dead. This information made me wonder, since I remembered the man as a young and healthy person. When I tried to find out how he died, my host kept avoiding the question and changing the subject of the conversation…. The same Friday I went to spend the Sabbath in the big city, Debrecen, the only town in the neighborhood that had a Minyan [ten Jews, the quorum necessary for conducting a community prayer]. I stayed with friends and told them that I was from Israel. There I found out that the Jew who had married the Christian woman had not died a natural death – he was murdered by his brothers-in-law. He lived his last years as a Christian and was given a Christian funeral. However, we must give him credit for one thing: during the Hungarian revolution of 1956, he did try to escape and go to Israel, but without success, and he had to return to his Christian family. This episode cost him his life: it was the cause of his murder.

I would like to conclude my article with a request: In our homeland Israel, may we all act with patience and forgiveness towards one another, at least with the same measure of forgiveness we show for our former homeland, the country that had so cruelly betrayed us.


[Page 21]

It is difficult to choose…

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

I could have been proud and claim that I belonged to the highest class of Jews! How? I was invited for a very special treatment at the main prison in Budapest….

I had no idea why I was invited there. No one talked to me, until at last one man, tall and muscular, approached me and said: - You finally arrived! I was waiting just for you! Then he began to beat me so hard that I fainted. During an entire month I enjoyed the hospitality of the prison, together with the late Chaim Meir Farkas and Yaku Leibowitz, who was brought to the prison from Hotel Berlin in Budapest.

When my father z”l managed, with the help of a large sum of money, to arrange my release, I realized that money was indeed a crucial factor.

However, as time passed, even money would not help. When the Jews were herded into the ghetto, an official announcement appeared, ordering all Jews of my age to report to a labor camp. Naturally we wanted to remain in the ghetto with our parents, but they strongly opposed that, intuitively feeling that it would be very wrong. How could we, simple people, have known what was right and what was wrong, when even the most intelligent man among us, Dr. Sternberg, who was a friend of the Christians, did not know? The day he was supposed to show up at the camp he committed suicide.

Since we could not decide what to do, we went to the rabbi of Szatmar to seek his advice. He said: Not only are you, in this case, absolved from the duty of “honoring your father and your mother” – I am commanding you to leave your parents and report to the labor camp!

All six of us, who went to the camp, are today, thank God, alive and well.

  Grandas Dov
Tel Aviv-Yafo


The Flight

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

 

1

How I escaped from the train

In March 1945 we were taken, with many other Jews, to the train, in every car about 110 people. The train went from station to station through Germany and Bohemia and nobody was ready to take us in. Our only food was bread. After three days of continuous traveling, people began to die from hunger and thirst.

My neighbor, a middle-aged Jew from the Carpathian Mountains, felt that his end was near, and suggested that we jump from the train and flee, because, he said, this was the only way to remain alive. In the First World War, he was a prisoner of the Russians and escaped from the prisoners' camp, and this way he saved his soul. I agreed to join him, and we decided to do it that night.

[Page 22]

In the evening I tried to wake him, but he did not move. He was cold – he had died. I decided to escape on my own.

I climbed over the heads of the people, reached the iron bars of the little window, broke them and I was out! – I am again surrounded by fresh air and I felt the taste of freedom!

The snow was half a meter high and I was dressed in the “national dress” – striped clothing and wooden shoes. But the cold did not reach me through my clothes, and my feeling was good. I began searching my way. I found it with the help of good Czech people, who helped me all along the way until the end of the war and even on my aliya to Eretz Israel.

 

2

Home

To tell the truth, in my youth I was not a very enthusiastic Zionist. Even our rabbi z”l and our community leaders had not supported this idea. Only very few, like Zsigmund Klein and some other good Jews, may God avenge their blood, have tried to plant in our hearts a little of the Zionist spirit and love for Eretz Israel.

At the end of the war, I fled from the Nazi prison and when I began my journey home I did not know what my path to the future would be. I searched for my people and my family, and I arrived to Hungary, alone, in June 1945.

My first steps were, naturally, on the road to my village, to look for any traces of my parents and siblings. Material things were not my goal, since I knew very well that nothing remained – only the hope of finding people alive drove me to distant roads and places.

I was lucky: on the train from Budapest to Debrecen I met some young people from Transylvania, who were organized in a group with the aim to go to Eretz Israel. They told me about the situation of the Yishuv [The Jewish settlement in Eretz Israel] during the war and about the efforts they made to absorb refugees who returned from the Holocaust. That night, as I saw those young people, full of hope and self confidence in their determination to fulfill their goal, an unexpected feeling arose in my heart, telling me to join them. I didn't know yet the details of what had happened to my parents and the other Jews of my town, and I still had in my heart some faint hope of finding them. The train would stop from time to time and Russian soldiers would check our papers and take with them packages that they thought were of value. At noon I arrived to Mateszalka. That was the end stop of the train, and from there I could only walk, or get a ride in the occasional passing carts.

What does a Jew do when he arrives in a strange town? He looks for other Jews. Together we could plan the future and we could support each other.

So I found my way to the house of the Shochet [the ritual slaughterer], where Jews from the surroundings would gather. There I met an acquaintance: Yosef Balas, who had been my teacher and the principal of the elementary school. It was difficult to recognize him at first – he was very different from the man that I remembered, who had been full of life and happiness. When we recognized each other, we cried bitterly; we both had changed and we looked terrible: our feet were wrapped in rags,

[Page 23]

our clothes were weird, and I was very thin, weighing only 40 kg.

My teacher had been in Fehergyarmat for some time, and he knew the truth. We did not speak, only hugged each other and cried silently; we cried for our bitter fate, and the fate of those who were killed. We did not speak of the future, as the future was shrouded in fog. Fear and doubt began to engulf me: this man, who had been so strong and full of energy, a pillar of support and encouragement, a good example for his pupils in education and knowledge – was now broken and nervous; what would we do? We parted, and each of us went his own way.

On Monday afternoon I arrived to Weinberger's house in Fehergyarmat. Here it has been our custom to gather for Mincha, the afternoon prayer. From the conversation with the others I understood that a small group of the Zionist Youth was being organized in the neighboring village. The Christians in town would stare at us oddly, as if asking: why did you return? At some point I was even arrested, and only thanks to the help of our friend Fargo, the commander, was I released.

Since I am emotional by nature, I felt that I was walking in a valley saturated with the blood of my relatives and friends. I felt that I could not remain in that place any more. After two weeks I fled from Hungary. I joined a group of refugees that departed from Budapest on their way to Graetz, as repatriates going to their homeland. Conversation in Hungarian was forbidden; therefore we talked in the broken Hebrew that was still in our memories from the times of our childhood.

At every border we arrived, our papers were inspected carefully, but we passed without problems. Several Polish young men promised to take us from the Russian zone to the English zone, on the condition that we give them our watches as payment. They explained that the Russians “close their eyes only when they hear the ticking of a clock.”

We began our journey at midnight. When we passed near the guards at the Russian border, they fired a few shots, probably in order to impress us. On the other side of the border, trucks of the “Jewish Brigade” were waiting for us. When we saw the Star of David on the shoulders of the soldiers – real Jewish soldiers! – many of us felt the tears choking us.

My heart felt great pride. I could not take my eyes off the soldier. I wanted to touch his emblem, put on his hat, be in his place. Near the soldiers we felt safer than ever.

It is not easy to describe the hardships of the journey to Eretz Israel. On our way along the length of Italy we saw many “camps for displaced persons.” Finally we boarded the ship – we were 1883 refugees. The journey from Italy to the shores of our homeland lasted 13 days, and all that time our little ship was rolling and tossing on the waves of the Mediterranean Sea. Our food consisted of military biscuits and canned fish. But all our suffering was worthwhile. Saturday evening we arrived at the shore of Kibbutz Shefayim. In the darkness, the PALMAH soldiers carried us on their backs from the little boats to the shore. Surrounded by guards, we were led through dark orange groves. At first we were quite frightened, not knowing who our “captors” were. We calmed down only when we reached the dining room of the kibbutz, where we were met by milk and cookies, and especially by warm and friendly faces.

In the morning, all of us were ready to begin our new life, here in our own country – Eretz Israel.

[Page 24]

I would like to take this opportunity to describe, in a few short lines, the figure of my teacher and school principal, Mr. Yosef Balas.

About his life in the Diaspora I could write endless memories, that would illustrate his personality, but I chose one example only:

The bad times had already spread their dark wings over the entire world, but the teachers' conference at the Christian school convened as planned. Teachers from the town and from the neighboring villages gathered to listen to an important pedagogical lecture. Who was the lecturer? the only Jewish teacher at the conference, the school principal Yosef Balas. After the excellent lecture, one of the leaders of our enemies, Vig Sandor, approached him and said: “Listen Jancsi (that was his nickname), if, God forbid, your people will have the upper hand in this war, you could become an important man – at least inspector.”

“You are mistaken – the teacher replied – I would want a job higher than inspector.”

“Perhaps you would like to become Regional Inspector?!”

“No, a post higher than that!” the teacher replied.

“What, you would like to be the Minister of Education?!” he said, surprised. –“No, even higher!” was the answer.

“Well, tell me, if so, what would you like to be??!”

“I would like to be… a street sweeper in Tel Aviv!”…

After he made aliya, one of his acquaintances asked him why, despite this wish, he continued to work as a teacher. Mr. Balas replied: It appears that in the area of teaching and education I was needed more that in the profession of street sweeping…”

I would like to tell you now some of the things that have been written about our teacher here in Israel.

The Hungarian newspaper Ujkelet wrote, about five years ago:

“In the great hall of the Local Council in Zikhron Yakov, the anniversary of 50 years of teaching of Yosef Balas was celebrated. Before his aliya to Israel Mr. Balas was teacher and school principal in the Hungarian town Fehergyarmat. Appreciation and congratulations were expressed by the head of the Council Yakov Levi and the school principal Nachman Tzik. The thanks and warm feelings of parents and pupils were heart warming.”
[Page 25]

At a teachers' conference in Hadera, where over 100 teachers participated, the head of the Teachers Organization praised the veteran teacher, who was present at the conference. Mr. Balas responded with a beautiful and moving speech.

In the regional educational surveys that were performed each year, Mr. Balas' classes were always first. Often he preferred to teach the most difficult classes in school, and when he took on his new post at the “Ma'alot” school in Benei Brak he asked for the most difficult task – to teach the class of special education.

I am glad that I had the opportunity to relate these things about my former teacher, especially today when many of those who pride themselves in their achievements in the past – at the first hardship they encounter in our own land they return to the Diaspora.

I hope we shall have more and more teachers like my dear teacher Mr. Yakov Balas, may he live long and happy years.

  Major Shlomo Weinberg
Beer Sheva


[Page 33]

The Escape from the Mateszalka Ghetto

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

I am glad that in this book, which is written for the future generations, I have been given the opportunity to provide an answer to the question: why did we not have the courage to escape from the infamous ghetto, where we had been driven not only from the close area, but also from the neighboring villages? Thousands of Jews were crowded into this ghetto, and before I try to give a concrete answer to the above question, I would like to put another question: escape – where to?? The Polish found refuge among his Polish neighbors, the Russian among the Russians and so on, but the Jew? Where would he run?

Many criticize the fact that in the ghetto we didn't rebel, didn't oppose the Germans and didn't try to escape. I know about two people who did try, and I would like to relate the sad story of one of them, Rimush Kreisman z”l, one of my relatives.

He was tall and powerful, kind and rich. He had lived in America, but longing and childhood memories had drawn him to his old fatherland, and he left the safety of the United States to return to his village before the war. He brought money and presents, and for a while the restrictions imposed on the local Jews did not affect him. He was certain that at times of trouble the entire village would stand up and help…. and he was stunned when he realized that he was being driven into the crowded ghetto, together with all the other Jews.

However, being accustomed to freedom, he planned his escape: he returned to his native village and found shelter in a bunker. It didn't take long and he was discovered by one of the villagers, who “performed his duty” and informed the police. He was put on a train to the labor camp and managed to jump, but he was soon caught and sent to the concentration camp, where we met him again. The unbearable life in the camp was too much for him, and he died six days before the camp was liberated. May his memory be blessed.

Our dear children! You who are raised in freedom and learned only from history books about the afflictions of your parents and grandparents, at a time when there was no Jewish State where a Jew could find refuge, you will understand why we could not have organized a real uprising.

[Page 34]

There was another factor as well: the Jewish soldiers in the Polish army, who were trained to use weapons, were sent to the Ukraine and other areas in the East at the beginning of the war; without them, any kind of rebellion could not have taken place.

I would be happy if this article is read not only by our Israeli children, but by our brothers and sisters around the world. In the name of the former Fehergyarmat Jewry, I send them all my blessings.

  Sara Kreisman
Benei Brak


Fehergyarmat and I

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

I was born in Vienna but at the age of two my family moved across the border to Fehergyarmat, the birthplace of my parents, my paternal grandfather R'Chaim Zusia Klein and my maternal grandfather R'Asher Antchel, may God avenge their blood. I do not remember anything about that town, since at the age of three and a half years I had the good fortune to move to Eretz Israel. I represent the second generation of the Jews of Fehergyarmat.

A spark of a vague memory, probably blended with imagination, helps me depict the life of the Jews in the village, through the stories my parents would often tell.

I can see small houses located on narrow lanes, and Jews living among the Christians in peace and tranquility. The daily life was well integrated with a vibrant spiritual life. The very young children would walk to the “Cheder” for the first steps in the study of the Torah, the older ones to the Bet Midrash to begin studying Talmud, and the adults would hurry to the synagogue three times a day and go to work to earn their livelihood. On Shabat and holidays everybody would listen to the words of God through the mouth of the rabbi.

On weekdays, the town was full of life. Along the narrow streets, in the little shops and workshops the Jews were going about their work, in honesty and decency. Mutual help was characteristic of the Jewish community everywhere. The joy of the individual was the joy of the community, and so was the sorrow.

This town was destroyed, with many other Jewish towns. The Nazis crushed and razed everything that was in their way. Old and young, women and children, were taken to the death camps. May their souls be bound in the bond of the living.

I would like to conclude by expressing my happiness for the fact that I grew up and was educated among the children in the independent state of Israel. Only here can the lost honor of our people be restored.

  Asher Chaim Ashkelon
Benei Brak


[Page 35]

From an action-packed diary

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

Introduction

Since I cannot erect a gravestone for my parents, may this book be a monument in their memory. I cannot keep the promise to my children, that when I return home I shall tell them about all my experiences – only through this book am I able to reveal what is buried deep in my heart.

In addition to my feelings of respect toward my friends who perished, I would like to pay another debt by writing these lines.

I happened to see Hitler's book Mein Kampf in places that I have never thought I would find it. I was helpless, at the time, to fight this book. Today, however, under the protection of Democracy, I am allowed to fully express my opinion and declare “this is my battle, my war” – in a clear and simple language: episodes written in a diary of a plain, unpretentious Jew, a worker in a concentration camp during the years 1942-1945.

 

1. In the direction of Putnok

At the beginning of 1942 I received an “urgent mobilization notice.” I felt that this was different from the previous notices; my general reaction was very pessimistic.

When I announced in my classroom that the next day would be the last day of school for this year, the joy of the sudden vacation was mixed with choked tears, which soon changed into loud weeping. Many of my students' parents or other relatives had received such “notices” and were taken to unknown destinations and they gave no sign of life, a long time.

The Fehergyarmat train station was full. Tens of pupils with flowers in their hands came to see me off. The train began to rush toward Putnok.

 

2. Kiew

Darkness was beginning to fall, when a loud voice, like a hurricane, was heard suddenly: “Take all your things – nothing should remain in the train except the straw on the floor – and stand in a straight line, you miserable and stinking Jews!”

These “bold and brave” words were heard from the direction of the first regiment. I was in the fourth company. When R'Lipa Grossman, the rabbi of Putnok who stood next to me (lives today in Petach Tikva) used the few moments to say the evening prayer, I remembered that it was the first night of the Shavuot holiday.

Somewhere, at a table beautifully set for the holiday, a woman is covering her face and saying the blessing over the lit candles, and the small child is breaking the silence: “How many more nights do we have to sleep until our father comes back home?”

The sounds of war were approaching. I am hearing cruel voices accompanying blows and moans. “They” are coming – the horrible gendarmes. All military ranks are represented among them.

A sergeant asked me: “What is your profession?” “I am a teacher”, I replied. “Have you taught your students to be communists and cheat the Magyars?” “No,” I said.

[Page 36]

“What did you teach them, then?”

I said: “You can find here one of my former students, also a gendarme, he can tell you what I have taught him!” “You were born in Fehergyarmat?” he whispered. “Yes” was my reply.

From this encounter I escaped with two slaps in the face. I never understood why nothing was taken from me then, and I felt ashamed that my neighbor R'Lipa got six slaps, while I got only two.

 

3. Wronisz

Finally the day came, awaited by my good friends, the late Dr. Steiner, Erno Birenbaum (living today in Tel Aviv) and Dr. Emanuel Waks (today public notary in Haifa): the holiday of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year 1942. The second day of Rosh Hashana fell on a Sunday.

The Great Theater in Wronisz was full. The cantor was the late Mr. Freiberg, from Ozed. Before the prayers began, the special prayer “for the welfare and protection of the homeland” was recited, and a regiment of our oppressors marched by, headed by Sergeant Major Timor.

After that, I went to the little podium and held a sermon (the full text is in the possession of Mr. Kraemer in Canada).

– Dear friends, today is the day of the Jewish New Year. All over the world, a festive prayer is heard in the synagogues. It is read from little pieces of paper, for lack of proper prayer books: Unetane tokef…

A loud cry is being heard in Heaven. On this festive and awesome day our souls are taking off from strange and distant lands and seeking those who have remained home, as was written by the poet:

When my soul is immersed in grief
Only at home it finds relief.

In our thoughts we are home. We see and hear our beloved: we hear the encouraging – and worried – words of our father. We feel the warm caress of our mother's working hands. We are aware of the trembling hug of our children, whose eyes express sadness, and from our souls, the souls of the forced laborers, a plea and cry for help is erupting: “Master of the Universe, listen to our prayers, which we are conveying to You straight from out hearts and not by the means of a prayer book. Oh, You are like a good mother who understands the needs of her suffering son, even when he speaks with hesitation. In the synagogue, in any prayer house, our prayer rises to Heaven: “On Rosh Hashana it is inscribed, and on Yom Kippur it is signed and sealed: who shall live and who shall die; how many shall pass…”

We shall pause here for a moment and respect the memory of our 26 friends who have perished, including our brothers who were victims of camp 107/20. Let us pray for their souls in heaven, and hope it will give strength to the bodies and comfort to the souls of their bereaved families, who are not yet aware of the disaster.

[Page 37]

“…and how many shall be created.” With great love we are thinking of the babies who have not seen and will perhaps not see their fathers, and only their mothers silently sing to them a lullaby: a song about faraway roads, through lands and mountains. During sleepless nights its melody still echoes in our ears:

My love to you is stronger than ever
My dreams are telling me about you
Somewhere in Russia.

After I finished my speech, Alexander Brachman, who was a member of the choir in Arlo, conducted the local choir in the performance of the Hungarian “Ani Maamin” [“I believe”], which was heard by the oppressors as well.

 

4. Pirocsin

A well-known proverb says: He who has enough to eat does not believe the hungry. At the time of the war, we used a variation of this proverb: The hungry does not believe that it is possible to have enough to eat. We would daydream and talk about all the food we could have eaten, if only we could find it.

Alexander Kaufman (today lives in Petach Tikva) once put us to the test: we were about to go to sleep, when he announced that he had made a deal with the head of the restaurant of the Kolkhoz: for a small piece of soap he bought a full pot of good food….

We jumped up and ran to the restaurant. Our stomach, used to be hungry, did not believe in waiting for tomorrow. Very quickly we emptied the large pot, which contained a thick soup – a dish that we ate the first time in our lives: cat meat…

 

5. Novogrod-Swareski

After we finished loading the weapons and the food, the bored soldiers grew tired of beating and swearing. The wicked corporal took out of his pocket a photo of a little boy with a school bag on his back. “Who is this nice little boy?” I asked. “He is my son” he replied proudly. “What is his name?” I asked, “Like me – Vörös Karoly.” “Maybe one day I will teach this boy, because I am a teacher” I said. “Don't talk nonsense – that a Jew….” And he fixed his eyes on the picture of his first grade son.

After the war, in the school-year 1945-1946, I had in my class three Vörös Karoly. The fathers of two of them were also named Vörös Karoly.

While I was loading the barrels, the corporal ordered me to sit next to him. I felt that he was thinking hard about something. Suddenly a packet of chocolate slid into my pocket: “What did you think, Mr. Teacher, that I feel pleasure in beating you? You see, I had to leave this nice little boy at home, and when I miss him so much don't be surprised if I am becoming an evil man. Everybody is saying that you, the Jews, have caused this war.

[Page 38]

I did not dare ask whom can I beat up, when I am longing to see my children.

It was a pity that the seasonal work, which was a little more bearable, lasted only two days. The voice of the corporal was unusual, this time: “Men, do not work so fast! Since the amount of work I was supposed to deliver was not specified in our 'work contract,' I tried to spend time with the somewhat tamed corporal, telling him jokes and stories. My friends profited from that situation: they managed to prepare a good supply of food, stolen from the cargo we were loading.

 

6. Komarom

When I began thinking about escaping fro the camp, I managed to meet with the estate owner Kristof from Fehergyarmat, with whom I had served in the Hungarian army. He informed me that a meeting of the “intelligentsia” who are planning an escape is about to take place, at the home of the manufacturer Wieser on 11 Hitler Street. Wieser had been in the past a clerk in the Regional Court of Justice.

Our host was apparently under the strong influence of the Nazis; the reception of the guests was not very friendly. I must have received a hint, a sign from Heaven, which told me to disappear and try to return to my camp as soon as possible. On my way I passed near a train that carried wounded German soldiers. I helped with the soldiers and then I continued my journey.

When I arrived at the camp, I told the supervisor that the Germans had engaged me to do some other work. He was very proud, and, patting my back used his meager German vocabulary to say “Gut Deutch kamerad” [good German comrade]. Five times he repeated the phrase.

 

7. Sopron

The ability to forget is one of the Divine blessings to man. I cannot relate what happened to me when we left Sopron. Because of my high fever I was on the list of people who could not stand transportation, but according to what I was told later I kept saying that I did not want to remain there, but wanted to go to Germany with all the others. There, I had hoped, I would have a better chance to find my family. At the train there was a roll call of all the names. Zigler and Diamant, my friends from Miskolc, told me what I had not remembered: one of the officers beat me cruelly and mercilessly, and since I was wounded and bleeding I was separated from the rest and my friends spoke with sadness about my death.

Dr. Miklos Fischer (today working in a hospital in Arlo) thought it was a miracle that I survived. All the other people on the list were dead.

I also do not know how I arrived to a new regiment, whether on my own or with help; and I don't know how and where my toes froze.

 

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