– Aunty Blanka’s story –
Four days passed since I had the opportunity to visit the Budapest Holocaust memorial and we had the chance to talk face to face and feel the life story of one of the survivors of those atrocities.
We’re sitting in a small ground floor room, probably twenty. A kind and smiling old lady sits in front of us. Silence and an indescribable tension fill the small chamber. Aunty Blanka commences….
I was born in Transcarpathia, not far way from Ungvár, in Aknaszlatina, sometime in the year 1929. I come from a poor Jewish family with six children. We didn’t have a lot. Six of us lived in a small room, but our tiny home had love and faith among its walls.
I didn’t even start my elementary school properly when my father found a new home for us in the Slovakian Leva. Our small home stood in a narrow and short alley. My childhood wasn’t easy, my dad was constantly looking for a job to sustain his family and just as we arrived the Hungarian Army took over the region in 1938. Because we were newcomers they sent us back to Aknaszlatina where a provisional Ukranian autonomous state had been set up. I had to learn everything in Ukranian at school although I didn’t understand a word. All the other languages were banned. I just learned my lessons by heart and answered in front of my teachers not knowing what I was saying.
A year later Hungary annexed Trancarpathia and now we could legally move back to Leva where I studied in a German school. Meantime the war broke out and we were forced to wear David’s star. People looked at us indifferently, some of them ignored us, others just turned their heads the other way…I remember feeling humiliated and I always hold my backpack in a way that I could cover the yellow star with my arm. The day came when I finished my secondary-school studies. My class-master ordered us to get off our yellow stars, because in her class no one was to be stigmatized. This day remained a joyful one for all of us. We even got a small silver ring and promised each other that we’ll meet again in 5 years… We never met each other again…
It was the summer of ’44. The Hungarian Holocaust started. In only 56 days the Hungarian government deported half a million Jews two the German concentration camps. More than ninety percent of them ended up in Auschwitz-Birkenau.
It was a quiet afternoon when SS soldiers and Hungarian provosts burst into our home. They were yelling at us like animals to pack our belongings because we had to go. To go? Where, when, why? We had only a couple of minutes to pack our most precious items and afterwards they moved us out on the street. My father ran back. He forgot his tallit (praying shawl)… They threw him on the ground and like beasts started kicking and hitting him, that he almost lost his conscience. She stops for a minute, wipes her tears and looks around. We feel the pressure of this moment on ourselves…She continues…
They took us to the railway station where cattle hauling wagons were waiting for us. The stench of animal remains still filled the air when they shoved us into the carriages like a heard of animals. Eighty, eighty-five people had to fit in them. We were given two buckets. In one of them was our drinking water, the other served as our WC. In minutes the little water that we had was gone… This was how much we were given for a day…a bucket of water for each wagon.
The horrendous journey lasted for three days. During the day we were hauled on different rail tracks and only travelled during the nigh time. Probably it was so others couldn’t see the human shipment. A horrible stench and heat filled up these tight spaces. People started fighting and yelling at each other. We didn’t even have room to put our small bags. And somehow these terrifying three days passed.
…The doors opened. Workers speaking a Slav language got us of the wagons. We had to leave our belongings behind. Where are we? Why are we here? Who are these people all around us? In minutes we were separated into groups of five. The Polish workers pulled the babies out of the hands of their mothers and shoved them into the hands of old women shouting Grossmutter! Grossmutter! (Grandmother!). This is how they wanted to save at least the mothers, because the mothers with babies were taken straight to the crematorium. They took me and separated me from my mother. She wipes her tears… That was the last time I saw my mommy. My father and brother were put in another group.
Auschwitz-Birkenau… This is the place where we had arrived, not knowing why or what the following day would bring with it. In groups like this we had to pass under a gate to get into the camp. We passed a finely dressed German gentleman who in a soft voice was saying he stays, he can go. As I later found out he was dr. Mengele.
We had to take of our clothes. They shaved of all our body hair and afterwards took us into a showering chamber where they poured cold water on us…Frightened and naked we were lined up in the courtyard. We were not the same persons anymore…Suddenly someone addressed me from the behind. It was my brother. We hardly recognized each other, bare and naked as we were… I jumped into his arms and started crying. He reassured me that he will be by my side. They took us apart…The clothes were handed out, if we can call those rags clothes. We weren’t even worthy of the striped clothes made out of former sacks. They threw peaces of cloths, eaten by maggots, towards us. We didn’t even know how to get them on us, because they were torn apart…No underwear was given …I was sent to Birkenau in a makeshift barrack. Beyond the fence a huge chimney darkened the sky…We didn’t know what it was… Not even a hay sack was given to us. We had to sleep on the cold ground like animals. During the night when we went to the WC the others started pinching our feet as we were walking across them. Horrendous nights, I don’t know if you can imagine all of this…
The other day we wondered what will happen to us. A huge German lady officer came into our barracks…All of you who are not sixteen stand up, because we will take you to your mothers… I got up happily that finally I would see my mother. Upon seeing this a Polish woman jumped up and slapped my face. Why are you lying? You’ve already passed sixteen. I stood there frightened and not knowing what to do but I realized that I will have to lie. The next time the officer asked me how old was I, I answered that over sixteen. This Polish woman saved my life. As we later found out, those who weren’t sixteen were sent to the crematorium.
We never knew what they would do to us. In lines of five we would stand in the scorching Sun all day. We were given a piece of dry bread and a plate of some kind of a brew of which we could take three sips and ha to pass it to the one behind us. They didn’t do anything with us. We just had to stay there all day and if someone collapsed he was bitten. First we vomited from the bread; slices of soaked and moulded bran. The others knew we wouldn’t eat it, so we gave it to them. But later on, seeing that this was our only source of food we were forced to eat it.
Once a day we got water. It was a horrible sight. A dirty water truck came and let out the water in the riffle at the edge of the courtyard. Like animals we ran to it. Every part of our body was craving for water. A snap!! The driver of the truck, a huge German soldier, started beating with his belt all those, who dared touch the riffle. With a satanic laugh he got a rag and started washing his truck with our water. Calmly, taking his time… Every day he would wash his truck for an hour. The remaining filthy water was left for us. This was how we could get water…She wipes her tears again.
I was lucky with my brother. He was the one who supported me every day and we would plan what to do when will be free again. This is the only way you can escape from a place like this, by thinking that this will end too one day.
Everyday the same hideous smell rose from the chimneys until we found out that those were the crematoriums. We thought they burned our cloths and hair there. It was our fellowman. We learned to cope with everything, ‘cause we knew if we fell ill the furnaces awaited us.
The seventh week passed when orders came that a thousand workers were needed in the war factories from the Essen region. We were put on trains again.
Huge factories waited for us where we had to produce ammunition for the German Army. It was heaven compared to Auschwitz. Everyone got a hay sack and two slices of bread. We shared the plant with French, Dutch, Polish and Russian prisoners. The French were the kindest, they would help us with everything. The Dutch were more distant and only communicated among themselves and in the eyes of those who came from the Russian front we were just “filthy Jews”.
Hard work waited for us. We worked in the factory’s furnaces where we had to mix chemicals unknown to me. The fumes saturated with toxic waste suffocated our lungs and the splashing drops burnt our hands. I look at her arms. The former blisters are still visible.
I was lucky because of a volunteer girl who worked there. She taught me childish songs and she took the blame on herself that I didn’t have enough to eat. She would always smuggle a small amount of food into the plant. I wasn’t used to such kindness. Someone treated me as a human being and not a maggot. I’ve been searching for this girl ever since, but I never met her again.
Later on I had to assemble the ammunition rounds. With my skinny arms I had to throw the 25-30 kilo shells from one place to the other. I was exhausted, tired. The French workers stood as a protective wall so the guards wouldn’t see me and laid me on the shells to rest. I fell asleep. In the same time they showed us how to drill the projectiles so they would become useless on the battlefield.
The year turned to ’45. We were once again on a train. Only a quarter of those who originally came to the industrial plants survived. They got us to Leipzig in the other end of the country. The Anglo-American troops were closing in, the Germans were fleeing. A ghetto waited for us. I once again met up with my brother.
We barely went to sleep when our shelter came under attack. Projectiles broke the barrack’s windows. One of them exploded between my brother and I. Many died in an instance. Our skin was badly burnt and once again they forced us to move. Three weeks of walking to the Elba River. The drops of rain were beating us every step of the way and the snowflakes froze on our shoulders. We had to walk for three weeks; living skeletons. Many fell on the ground and were instantly shot. Our clothes became part of our skin and rotted on our bodies. You cannot imagine how it felt living through all of this. The horse that pulled the officer’s carriage died so they replaced it with two of these skeletons. They had to pull the cart. We reached the Elba but on the news that the Soviet troops were advancing they turned us back and left us there. We got rid of our rotten cloths and like the snake that sheds it skin, a lair of skin left our bodies. We took a battered and beaten body of our shoulders.
The Americans found us first. They didn’t know what to do with us and couldn’t believe what we’ve lived threw. One of the soldiers took us to a warehouse and cut open the sacks of sugar. Rivers of sugar poured like the sea and we just gobbled it up like hungry animals. Many of us realised that our shrunken stomachs wouldn’t cope with the sudden amount of food so we stopped eating. Many died of it.
Soon after, the Russians arrived. They were much better organized thanks to what they encountered at the Polish death camps. Of the original thousand only a few of us were alive, as many as could fit in a small cow shad. And the days in Leipzig passed on. During the night we wondered the city stealing whatever we could. I never forget the time we found some flour in front of a mill. We took it to our shelter and after mixing it with water baked it. It was full of glass chips. It cut open our tongs and mouths but we still ate it… It’s hard for you to believe all of this…She moans deeply.
Unfortunately the Russian soldiers horrifyingly raped some of my companions and I’ve been asking to myself ever since. How could they see anything feminine in these human wrecks? We were living skeletons… I could never understand.
…Near the Czech border I received a small paper that stated that I was a prisoner from Auschwitz and I crossed the border with this into Czechoslovakia. She passed around her safely guarded piece of red paper. By foot and train I got home to Leva but everything that belonged to us was taken and a new family lived in our house… Faith floated me on the shores of Budapest and I started a new life here.
You can ask me whatever question you want my dear friends.
Words became stuck in our throats but slowly we started asking.
– Have you ever seen your parents again?
That was the last time I saw my mother, when we arrived to Auschwitz. She probably was killed the same day. Tears fill her eyes and stops for a moment to wipe them. I later found out that my father had to carry cement filled sacks. He eventually died their suffocated, because the cement powder mixed with sweat on their skin and eventually choked them.
– Have you ever met your siblings again?
They were all alive. My elder sister got to Budapest and outlived the war. My two brothers survived too. We got extremely ill my dears. I weighed 33 kilos when I got to Budapest and it took us years until we could call ourselves humans again. Typhus, TBC and other diseases scourged our bodies. I live on medication to this very day and my ankles never recovered from the three week walk.
– Could you hold on to your faith afterwards?
No, unfortunately not. Because I always asked the question, if there is a God, then how could’ve he let all of this happen, why did we have to go through all of this? What wrong did my poor working and faithful parents ever do that they had to end up this way. None of my brothers believe in God anymore. Even to this day … and tears fill her eyes… I search for God but cannot find him. I hope he will once find me.
– Could you ever forgive the people who’d done this to you?
No my dears. I could never forgive them because I never once saw a sign of humanity in them. They were animals. But the desire for revenge has long died out in me. After I got to Budapest I witnessed 11 executions and every single one of them cried out before they were hung that they wished they could’ve killed more Jews. I could watch all of this back then, but I couldn’t anymore. Revenge is no more. One of my guard’s files got into my hand. He was already passed eighty and I couldn’t take him to Court. Even till this day his files lay in my basement.
– How did you remain sane in those conditions?
We truly believed that one day all of this will turn into good. We sang, planned our futures and what we would do if we got free again. This was the only way. The ones who didn’t believe perished. We tried to be happy with all the small good we could gather in that place. When they took us to Leipzig the German lady officer laughed at us, because we were telling each others future from our palms. Do you still believe that you will ever live through this? – this is how she answered.
– Have you ever seen some sort of human sympathy from the Nazis?
Probably two times. After our three weeks of walk our guards put down their weapons and apologised for what they’ve done. You were the prisoners until now. From tomorrow we’ll be the ones. You are already free. In the same time there were guards who would overlook if people threw potatoes or an apple over the fence. But I haven’t witnessed more than this.
– When did you find the strength to go back to Birkenau?
Almost thirty years passed until I could go back to the death camp. Nothing remained of our barracks, only two stones signalled that once we slept and suffered there. A long time passed until I could talk about this, but it has to be passed one, because there is still hatred among us and we easily forget what they’ve done to us. My work is ever more important because my son-in-law is from Nigeria, my daughter is Jewish and they are already put against difficulties because of this.
And the questions continued for a full hour…I think my dear friends we’ll stop here, because I’m tired. A couple of photos, hugs and we said good bye to aunty Blanka. We slowly walked to the subway station….
Kolozsvár (Cluj-Napoca) 9th of July 2007
Budapest 5th of July 2007