This story from our Archives was first posted to our website in January 2013.
By Andrew Lenard
It was during the years 1942-43 in the Hungarian city of Debrecen, where I grew up as a teenage boy, that I developed an avocation for playing the piano. My father, himself an amateur cellist, arranged for Rózsi Silberer—a girl some years my senior and an excellent violinist—to come to our home so the three of us could play trios together, some of the classic works of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.
I had even learned to play Beethoven’s ever so lovely “Spring” sonata for piano and violin together with Rózsi. At the very end of 1943—on the eve of the Hungarian holocaust—Rózsi and I began practicing another wonderful Beethoven piece, the “Romance” in F-major.*
In March 1944 Germany occupied Hungary, and in short order Jews were evicted from their homes, concentrated in ghettos, and then transferred to hastily erected Hungarian temporary concentration camps, in Debrecen’s case into the local brickyard. Preceding deportation, ten-thousand people were herded together in terrible conditions of crowding, fear, and filth. I there met Rózsi, who was even then clutching the case of her dear violin. I sat on the ground at a secluded spot, she opened her case, and played for me the violin part of the “Romance.” It was a moving moment of my life I have never forgotten, one that even now can bring tears from my eyes. It was the last time I saw her.
My family and I were lucky. We were “only” deported to Austria for indentured, unpaid, slave labor. Rózsi arrived in Auschwitz, as I later learned. Upon our return at war’s end, we did not see her and assumed she met her fate in the ovens of Auschwitz.
Years and years past the time when I moved to America, I learned of JewishGen and their databases registering holocaust survivors from various regions. On a whim I plugged in the name Silberer, and to my utter astonishment found that Rózsi was listed as having survived the war in a West German munitions factory.
This excited my resolve to track her down. My first step was to contact our local American Red Cross office and was advised to seek out the Red Cross’s Holocaust and War Victims Tracing Center in Baltimore that dealt with refugee and survivor searches. They in turn advertised in Jewish-Hungarian media, and obtained a number of responses from people who saw her still after war’s end. I followed up with telephone calls. The story unfolded that Rózsi returned briefly to Debrecen, but upon finding her own family totally wiped out, she returned to West Germany where, supposedly, she and an American soldier fell in love.
Pushing this information further, and with the kind help of the Baltimore Red Cross office, it was ascertained that Rózsi married her GI sweetheart and, according to one informant, years later they settled in Jacksonville, Florida. That is where the last trail led, with my prayers and hopes to find her there and be reunited.
Alas, it was not to be. From a reliable source I obtained indubitable information that my former music partner, Rózsi Silberer, wife of the Army officer Francis Mokri, died in December 1978. I have in hand her certificate of death. She had no survivor descendants.
So now I am left only with memories, bitter and sweet. Plus one single photograph of Rózsi playing her violin, a photograph that, framed, sits atop my piano and reminds me daily of a past that could not be recaptured. Only heartache remains that I did not—could not—conduct my search during the 1960s. Then I would have found her alive and we could have reconnected to our mutual love and activity of making classical music together.
Bloomington, Indiana, USA
Research Notes and Hints
Andrew Lenard first learned that Rózsi had survived the Holocaust when he entered her name into JewishGen’s Holocaust Database.
Andrew learned more about Rózsi by contacting the Holocaust and War Victims Tracing Center of the American Red Cross.
You can find additional information regarding the town of Debrecen, Hungary, in JewishGen’s Keliha Links.