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Helena Schonfeld

Helena Schonfeld
Nationality: Hungarian
Location: Auschwitz Concentration Camp • Barkaszó • Czechoslovakia • Danzig • Hungary • Missouri • Mukachevo • Munkács Ghetto • Nagyléta • Nová Ves Pod Pleší • Poland • Praust Concentration Camp • St. Louis • Stutthof Concentration Camp • Ukraine • United States of America • USSR
Experience During Holocaust: Concealed Jewish Identity • Family Died During the Holocaust • Family Died in Gas Chambers • Forced on a Death March • Had Contact with Dr. Josef Mengele • Lived in Multiple Concentration Camps • Lived in Munkács Ghetto • Posed as a Non-Jewish Person • Sent to Concentration Camp • Sent to Ghetto • Suffered from Disease • Was a Forced Laborer

Mapping Helena's Life

Click on the location markers to learn more about Helena. Use the timeline below the map or the left and right keys on your keyboard to explore chronologically. In some cases the dates below were estimated based on the oral histories.

“I gave my baby to my mother, and my mother went to the gas with him. And that’s how I lived. Otherwise, I would have been put with them together... in the gas.” - Helena Schonfeld

Read Helena's Oral History Transcripts

Read the transcripts by clicking the red plus signs below.

Tape 1 - Side 1

B: First of all, we’re going to talk about pre-war. Do you have a Jewish name? Do you know if you had a Jewish name?
S: Oh, sure I had a Jewish name.
B: What’s your Jewish name?
S: My Jewish name is… my Jewish name is Hannah, Chai Hannah. I was given here the name Chai also, because I was sick one day and the rabbi asked and gave me the Chai, that’s life, and that’s why. They gave me Chai Hannah.
B: Oh…Chai Hannah, like H A N N A H. Okay, where were you born?
S: In Nagyleta, you have it down there, don’t you?
B: I know, but they want it on the tape. Let me just tell you, I may ask you things that I already know…
S: Okay, fine.
B: To put it on the tape.
S: Very good. Nagyleta. That’s N A G Y L E T A. It’s hard to spell.
B: And that was Hungary?
S: That was Hungary.
B: And was that 1913?
S: 1913.
B: And, do you know where your parents were born?
S: Oh, the town was also Hungary, but it’s way back. My father was also born in Hungary. It was in, in… I don’t even know. It was Beregszasz, some place also in Hungary. And my mother was born in Nagyvarad, which is Romania, was Romania ‘till the First World War. Oradea, Oradea is the name of it now.
B: How would you spell it?
S: Oradea, O R A D E A.
B: O R A D E A, Romania. And your dad was where in Hungary?
S: In Beregszasz.
B: How would you spell that?
S: B E R E G S Z A S Z.
B: Okay, now, what did your dad do as you were growing up?
S: My father had a lumberyard.
B: And… their political affiliation was what?
S: Was no political affiliation in Hungary or we were Hungarian Jew.
B: And the religious affiliation was?
S: Orthodox.
B: Was Orthodox. Okay. And what languages were spoken at home?
S: At home, Hungarian.
B: Now, what kind of an education did your parents have, can you recall?
S: Well… (PAUSE)
My father was an ordained rabbi actually. He never practiced. As a rabbi he was a merchant.
B: Oh really… a merchant.
S: A merchant.
B: Now, how many brothers and sisters did you have?
S: I had a sister and a brother that are still with us, thank God. My sister’s in Hungary and lives in Hungary, and my brother live here—you may have met him, you met him.
B: Oh no, I didn’t meet him, but “Sister” met him.
S: Oh, “Sister” met him. Oh, that’s right.
B: Okay.
S: Yes, “Sister” Prince met him.
B: Oh, so it’s your brother, that was your brother. Okay.
S: My brother.
B: All right, now what kind of an education did you have?
S: I had, like high school.
B: A high school education, and what was your secular education like? Your religious education?
S: My religious education? Oh, that was rather private. We didn’t have it because this was a small Jewish community we lived in there and we just had private, private tutors to, to learn how to read, you know, Hebrew and just the prayers. Actually the history, you know, in schools… In the school, pardon me, but in the school there were religious hours. The school in Hungary was actually, it’s not a parochial school but it was a public school, but each religion had their religious hours. And also we had Jewish tutors come in the school.
B: In the school.
S: And the Jewish children were separated and they had their Jewish hour, their religious hour.
B: Now where are you with the brother and sister? Are you the youngest, the middle, or…?
S: No. My brother is the oldest. I’m in the middle.
B: I’m in the middle of three, too.
S: Really, that’s not bad. (Laughter) I never really believed in that the middle child sort of had some kind of a stigmatism in this. I don’t think so. I had just as much love.
B: I agree.
S: And as much, as much – how they call it – correction as the rest of them.
B: Okay. Your source of information about the world, was it from radio…?
S: It was radio already.
B: Radios. What about newspapers?
S: The newspapers, too.
B: Radio and newspapers. Okay. As you were growing up, were your social contacts mainly with Jews or with Gentiles also?
S: With Gentiles also, sure. Not on a friendly (STUTTERS) – how they call it – like a close, friendly friendship, but we had contact with them, sure. We lived in a non-Jewish world.
B: How about the neighborhood you lived in, was that a Jewish neighborhood or…?
S: No.
B: It was not a Jewish neighborhood. What kind of memories do you have about discussions at home about world events?
S: What kind of memories? We didn’t have that many discussions of that, because my parents, my father especially, he always kept his opinion, because it wasn’t very, very healthy to really have your own views about world affairs and stuff like that, you know, as a Jew.
B: It was not healthy?
S: This wasn’t healthy, to voice your opinion about world affairs and stuff like that, you know.
B: Did he discuss them within the family though?
S: Well, yeah. We talked about it and he was very, he sort of foresaw the whole thing was happening, was going to happen. He was very much afraid and he always told us kids, he said, ‘You know, you were born in a very bad century, you will have lots of trouble.’
B: Oh, so he felt…
S: He was a very educated man, a self-educated man. As far as schooling, I mean secular schooling, he didn’t have too much. He could read and write and express himself very well, because he was a self-educated man, you know. He read a lot. And that was his opinion. When we grew up he used to tell us that we’re going to have lots of trouble in the world…
B: Trouble in the world.
S: In your life.
B: How about your mom, was she vocal about…?
S: Oh sure, sure. She read the papers and she had just as much… You know, I told you that conversation… but as I say, it wasn’t out of the… you know…
B: Out of your home situation.
S: Because it wasn’t too healthy to be known that you had any kind of political views.
B: Now, did you have any relatives living abroad?
S: Yeah here, well not, not really. Later on my husband’s side he had a brother here. And I did have an uncle here in San Francisco but we didn’t know about him. After the First World War he was a very young boy, like 17, when he went into the service in the First World War, my father’s youngest brother. And we got, you know, we lost him. After the Second World War, we finally found him here. I thought he really wasn’t alive anymore, but when I came over I went to see him in San Francisco, in Oakland actually.
B: How did you find him?
S: Well, that time already, my brother was here a few years. You know, he came in 1939. My brother came in 1939, and he already knew about him here. And I had cousins here already who came and all that you know who revealed that he was alive.
B: Did your brother or any other relatives serve in the military?
S: My brother served in the military in Hungary.
B: And at that time they took him even thought he was Jewish?
S: Oh yeah, they did take, they took them all. But in the Second World War, now the Jews were taken as in the first labor camp, you know. They weren’t put in uniform or anything like that, and they did, like, oh, mine sweeping or whatever they did with them, you know, I heard.
B: So they accepted them for military service, but it was…
S: It wasn’t called military service, it was like a forced labor… in the Second World War. Now, my husband was also in forced – he was a doctor – he was employed, you know, in the forced labor camp.
B: So was the forced labor considered military?
S: No, I don’t think so.
B: Okay, okay.
S: It was a different kind of concept altogether. It was a forced labor, they had to go.
B: Right. But it wasn’t like they were serving their country. I understand. Okay, how old were you when the war broke out?
S: When the world war (STUTTERS). When the world war broke out in 19..’34?
Was it ’34?
B: Well, let’s see. It really started affecting you in ’44, but the war broke out itself in…
S: In ’39. ’38, ’39, something like that. In ’39, I figured it out, I was twenty…what?
B: Twenty-seven.
S: Twenty-six, twenty-seven.
B: Now, at that point you had gotten married.
S: I was married when I was eighteen, going to nineteen.
B: Okay, so when you got out of high school, did you work?
S: No.
B: You got married immediately.
S: Yeah, and I didn’t work at all.
B: And how did you meet your husband?
S: My husband? Oh, through relatives actually.
B: And at that point, now, he lived in Hungary – oh, he lived in Czechoslovakia.
S: He was Czech. Munkacs, you see, was Czechoslovakia at that time.
B: Munkacs was Czechoslovakia at that time. Okay, so then you moved to Munkacs. How far was that from the hometown that you grew up in?
S: (THINKING) How many kilometers? … Maybe…
B: Did you travel by train?
S: No, we usually drove a car.
B: You drove a car.
S: Sometimes we took a train, too.
B: Did it take long, was it a long trip?
S: It wasn’t really a long trip. I don’t know whether it was 200 or 180…
B: Oh, that’s not a short trip though.
S: No, it’s not such a short trip.
B: Okay, okay. How did you find out that the war broke out?
S: (PAUSE) We had radios and we had newspapers.
B: So, I mean, do you have any stirring memory of your, you know, like I remember so clearly when I first heard that Kennedy, you know, was assassinated. Do you have any remembrance of …?
S: Of course. I remember that at that time we were still Czechoslovakia and we heard that was Anschluss with Austria, that Hitler went into Austria. They said everybody, every Jew was trembling because they were very close. I mean, he was already spreading, you know.
B: You said Anschluss?
S: Anschluss, Anschluss.
B: What’s …?
S: That the German speaking people he connected with Germany, that’s Anschluss. You know, putting them together, connected them or whatever.
B: How do you spell that?
S: Anschluss, I think Anschluss is A N S C H L U S S .
B: Is that a German word?
S: That’s a German word, Anschluss.
B: Okay, so that connected Germany with Austria?
S: Austria with Germany. And he, I mean, he occupied it, you know. He said they were all German speaking people.
B: And…?
S: And then, it was, I remember a Saturday morning. We had a neighbor, a very good friend of my husband’s, you know, they went to school together, and it was early morning Saturday. There were balconies on their bedrooms so they both were out there and they were hollering to each other what they heard on the radio. And I remember telling my husband, ‘You know, all smart people are leaving Europe now.’ He said, ‘Where would you go? Hitler won’t have that much strength to go, to come to Czechoslovakia.’ Surely from then on it was very bad.
B: Oh, he said they wouldn’t have the strength to come to Czechoslovakia.
S: Yeah, he was a very big optimist. And you see, a lot of optimists lost their lives, you know, and the pessimists, they ran.
B: Yeah. And you were willing to run.
S: I was so …, I would have. I was, I had two kids then, and I just… and I would have been willing to go. But…
B: He wanted to wait it out?
S: Well, he didn’t really believe it. A lot of them didn’t, the whole Munkacs was there, I told you, 13,000 Jews there, and very few of them, you know, were saved, because they went just like sheeps in the cattle car. Because all of them thought it was impossible what happened.
B: So you were scared. Your husband was optimistic though.
S: He was optimistic. Most of the people were optimistic.
B: Now, you kept following it in the newspaper and on the radio.
S: Oh the radio and everything. You know, everything is went so rapidly that it’s very hard to even remember how fast it went. And then the Hungarians came in, of course, you know. Hitler gave back that part of, you know, to Hungary and we became Hungary again and then we became Hungary and everything went topsy- turvy.
B: When it became Hungary again was Hitler taking over…
S: Hitler took over, yes, yes. It was after Austria, after Austria fell. Austria fell also when Hitler was already in power.
B: What can you remember about the economic conditions? Getting worse, or…?
S: The economic conditions were in Czechoslovakia wonderful, it’s just… they called it ‘a little America’ there, it was wonderful…
B: Little America, I didn’t know that.
S: We always called it a little America. It was a democracy and it was like… like America. Everything was fine, economically and otherwise.
B: Now, when it became Hungary…
S: Well, then in was Hungary. (LAUGHTER)
B: And how was, how was…
S: No, listen, we had to just focus all the time on the Jewish standpoint, then it was terrible, because people, merchants were taken away their license, they couldn’t have their business anymore. You know, it was just awful.
B: Were there discussions about staying or fleeing?
S: There was no place to flee. Poland was already taken…
B: Poland was already taken?
S: That’s right.
B: And…?
S: There was no place to go. There was really no place to go anymore. Somebody wanted to go to China and had the, had the, you know. It was a hard thing to do and everybody was not, as a matter of fact, just a few people wanted to take the tremendous undertaking with a family to go. For single people it was easy.
B: And so you just kept thinking things are going to get better.
S: No.
B: You didn’t think thongs would get better.
S: No. They didn’t. But if you knew it was better, but there was nothing, you couldn’t do anything. We were just hoping that he will be defeated or someplace will be stopped or the rest comes in, you know, sooner. America will come in sooner in the war, and things will get back, you know. We used to listen to the BBC, you know, England and all that, but it just didn’t happen.
B: Were you living in terror then, or fear or …?
S: Of course. We were all afraid.
B: And was that a day to day kind of a, a scare?
S: Yeah, right, right. There was no really rest.
B: Do you have any recollections about like when you started to feel anti-Semitism?
S: As soon as the Hungarians came into Czech…–because in Czechoslovakia it didn’t exist. But I knew it, because I grew up in Hungary. So, for me it wasn’t a big surprise. It was just a sorry thing that it kept happening to me whenever I became a Hungarian again.
B: Do you have any recollections from when you were growing up, any anti-Semitic experiences you can tell us about?
S: Of course, of course. Daily you could hear that ‘The dirty Jew’, there were certain characters, you know, whom they beat up all the time. And it was just… For instance, my father died in 1940…1941. And you see, he had to give up his business over for non-Jewish, Christian people because he couldn’t have it on his name anymore. So he gave it over, his business. He really died, the war killed him, although he died at home, the war killed him, because the men just couldn’t take it. As long as he was alive, you know, we lived in a small community, and all the non-Jewish people, you know, who ran the community, you know, everybody else had great respect for him. So there was nothing, he wasn’t really… He was charged because they took the telephone and the radio away, they took all what the Jews had, you know that?
B: They took away…?
S: From the Jews.
B: Oh, from the Jews.
S: Telephones and radios, because they didn’t want that they could have connection with the world. So it hurt my father very much. But anyway, as long as he was living, my mother and father, they weren’t touched. But as soon as he died…–my mother and I was to having the funeral and we sat shiva for seven days at home in my parents house and everything, and then I went back to Munkacs. Then a couple of weeks later, my mother went to my sister, who lived in a different place in Hungary, and while she was away from her house, they broke open her house and they moved everything out. She had a summer kitchen on the back yard, and they moved all of her furniture out. Somebody, a non-Jewish man, wanted this house what they had, wanted very much this house, and they took it while she was away. So all her belongings was just thrown out. And that’s it.
B: So what did she do when she came back?
S: She telephoned me and I came and then we packed everything up and, and we moved to Munkacs to my house. I had a big house and we wanted her to feel – because my father wasn’t alive anymore – to feel comfortable, so we gave two big rooms for her for a dining room and her bedroom. We moved in, in big things. We put in all her other things, you know, like china and linen and stuff like that, we made from wood or whatever. Anyway, we shipped all that stuff in it with trucks.
B: And in those times it was perfectly okay for that guy to come in and just take over their house.
S: Yeah, you couldn’t do anything about it. So we moved my mother over there to our house, but it would be less than one year only, because then we were taken in … We were taken in ’44, wasn’t it? ’44 and ’45 was the end of the war, that’s right.
B: So it sounds like your dad was considered a kind of an important person that he was sort of left alone.
S: Yeah, he was a very respected man. He was a big taxpayer in a small community and stuff like that. But besides this, it was not because he had money or whatever. He was a very respected person. And while he was alive, sort of they kept off, you know. As soon as he died, it was over.
B: How long before he passed away did they take away those things, like the telephone and the radio?
S: Oh, I don’t know, about six months or so.
B: Okay, so it was when things were really getting bad.
S: It was very bad, very…
B: How did that affect your mother when she…?
S: She, somehow, she was the kind of person who, — she even, she even could calm me, you know, talk me and she always had hopes, she always talked to me, you know… Because I had a child – in ’44 we were taken and in ’43 I had a child, you know. And it was a six months old baby when I took the baby in ’44… Six months and nine months is fifteen months if we get back to the time after my father died.
B: You had the baby after he passed away.
S: After he passed away.
B: When you were taken from Munkacs, was, had it been made into any kind of a ghetto or…?
S: Yes.
B: It was made into a ghetto.
S: Yeah, we were there, — my husband, as I told you, has the force labor thing. You know, he was taken in one of the villages as a doctor, he worked there. So when the Germans came into Hungary then came to Munkacs, too, and they forced the people in ghettos in certain streets into our house. It was a big house, it fell in the ghetto and there was ten families moved in there.
B: Into your house.
S: Into our house. They had two kitchens. They set up a kitchen in the basement for those who were not kosher, in my kitchen I kept kosher, so that’s how we cooked the kosher meal, in my kitchen and the non kosher kitchen was set up in the basement. And I was then with children and my husband was out in the village. And as soon as they came, you know, he was trying to get us out of the ghetto, so he took us finally out of the ghetto where he was in the village. Barkaszo was the name of it.
B: How do you spell it?
S: B A R K A S Z O.
B: And that was a village that he lived in outside of the ghetto.
S: Outside of Munkacs.
B: Outside of Munkacs. And so he was able to bring you there.
S: Yeah, because he was, they needed him as a doctor, but yet he wasn’t a military doctor. It was like a forced labor. He was ordered out that he should take care of whatever people, whoever, you know. And so we were there, out there. Moved out whatever necessary, you know, baby baths, and, I don’t know, bedrooms and dishes and whatnot. And my mother was with us… but some wasn’t with us.
B: How were you treated in that village?
S: Well, after 1944 then, you know. People were taken, you know. Those who were in Munkacs in a ghetto, they were taken in a, in a, a brickfactory where the trains come in or the freak trains come in. The people were taken in the brickfactory and from there they were shipped to Auschwitz. So we were in there, out there, in the village, in Barkaszo. And one day it was for the non-Jewish people, you know, for the Christians there was… like we had Shavuot…
B: Like what?
S: Shavuot.
B: Oh, Shavuot, yes.
S: Yeah, they have a similar holiday, you know, about the same time. It was about in May, yeah, it was in May, it comes up. In a Sunday they came and they said… — In the villages, they have a, in the counties they have this gendarmerie… Have you ever heard of it?
B: No, gendarmerie?
S: You know, you know why, like they have here – how they call it – the police, not the city police but out in the county some people on the highways. How do you call those police?
B: The safety, the Highway Patrol?
S: Highway Patrol, but these were not highway patrol. But anyway, these were in a, in a, — never heard of the Hungarian with the thing, with the feather, like the rooster feather?
B: I can picture it. I never knew what it was called.
S: Never heard, ever that?
B: No.
S: They were vicious. Anyhow, they came and they had like the bayonet and the thing, and they came in and they said ‘Doctor, we are taking your family now into Munkacs’, you know. So my father, my, my husband he almost went crazy. He said, ‘Take me too, I want to go with them.’ They said, ‘You cannot go. You have here your post, you know, you are military, you know. You are serving here.’ So we were taken there, and so he took a taxi and he followed us. We were taken in with a horse and buggy, you know, my mother and my children and myself.
B: And you had how many kids at that time?
S: I had two kids at that time, because my other bigger kid died just a year before. That also happened that way, you know, the air raid came and I had to take him in the shelter and he was all wet and he got sick on his kidney.
B: So during the war at that time, there were air raids and you had to go to protection and he was soaking wet at the time and that’s how he got sick and died, from an infection of the kidney.
S: Yeah. So, I had two then. This son and that little boy. You know, when we were taken there, in a what do you call it, factory there, and my husband followed, and he was, he knew everybody and everybody knew him. And he came while I was there one night, with my mother and my children, he slept over there.
B: This was in the ghetto?
S: It was not a ghetto. This was already in the, the what do you call it, factory.
B: Oh, the brick factory.
S: The brick factory, when – where they put the people already transferred into Auschwitz. They were out of the ghetto. They took everything out of the, everybody out of the houses.
B: Everybody was staying in the brick factory.
S: In the brick factory. And so he came, next morning he came, my husband, over there, and, and the police came over and he said, ‘Well, you go with your husband.’ I said, ‘How about my mother?’ He said ‘You can’t take your mother. Your mother has to stay here.’ So, I get, you can’t imagine now what an anxiety it was, my mother I had to leave there. They let me out for one night with my children. My mother, the next morning, about twelve of fifteen hours later, they come and they say I can go but my mother cannot go. So my mother was telling me, ‘You go,’ and I said, ‘No, I can’t, I cannot leave my mother here,’ and my husband was there. So can you imagine what I went through there? And my mother was begging me, ‘Look, I am here with good people,’ because of the whole family was there, cousins, aunts and uncles and stuff like that, you know…
B: Your husband’s family.
S: Yeah. And my mother said, ‘I’m with good people here. And don’t worry. Your place is with your children and with your husband. You go. You can go out from here, just go and save yourself.’ So I went back to the same place, Barkaszo. And we slept, my husband had to give me a shot because I had such crying there. How do you call it – I got a, I just couldn’t stop crying. And… the next morning we got up and we were eating breakfast, and comes again this… with a feather, this gendarme, you know. And he says, ‘Well, you could be happy now, because you too doctor you go with your family.’ So now on the whole way back I said is my mother there or did they take her way already, you know. So finally I found my mother there and we all went to Auschwitz. In another day, we all went to Auschwitz. All of us. We didn’t know we were going to Auschwitz. We were about eighty people, the whole family, in one cattle car. And we traveled in that. My baby was with me, the son of mine was with me, my mother was with me, the whole family was together. Yeah, sister in laws, children… (PAUSE)
B: What can you remember about that trip?
S: It was a horrible trip, you know. Can you imagine eighty people in a cattle car? Everybody had to go to the toilet, and everybody had some… — There was tea given in the brick factory – I will never forget that – and my son was ten years old – this son – and I had sugar with me, I had a baby, I had sugar with me, and there was tea, and I wanted to put tea, sugar in his tea, and he said ‘Don’t put sugar in the tea, the baby needs the sugar. Who knows how long this is going to be. Just give me one piece and I’ll put it in my mouth and I’ll drink the tea that way.’
B: And you’ll what? You’ll drink the tea…?
S: Tea that way, because if you put sugar in it, you use more sugar then when you just put it in your mouth, you know.
B: So you put the sugar in his mouth.
S: Yeah, he put it, the piece of sugar, in his mouth and that’s how he saved it for the baby, the sugar for the baby. Anyway, we went to Auschwitz where we find out, you know, what’s happening.
B: How long did it take to get to Auschwitz?
S: I don’t remember, you know, how many nights there were, how many days there were, nobody knows them. Anyway, when they opened up the cattle car we saw a horrible sight, you know, but you didn’t know where we were. Because actually we didn’t know about the concentration camps. It was so hushed up, you know, that nobody even knew about it.
B: You didn’t know what was ahead of you.
S: No. So that, they opened up the cattle car…

Tape 1 - Side 2

B: Mengele?
S: Mengele, the doctor.
B: Oh, the doctor. Right. So you had heard about him.
S: Of course, I’ve seen him. He separated me from my baby and everybody. You see, the cattle car was open and they were hollering the doctors should go in a separate, you know, they be separate from the people, they separate themselves. My husband was a doctor and he went away. And that’s when I saw him and then everybody had to in fives…
B: And so they separated your husband…
S: From us.
B: …from you, and then the rest of you split up.
S: Yeah. So my mother, my son and myself…the baby and my mother and other parts of the family. And finally we got over there to… we didn’t get there, but we were standing there. You know, after so many nights and days in the cattle car without air, without food, without anything. Without washing or sleeping. You can’t imagine. We were just dazed. And my baby, I thought it wasn’t there anymore – you know what I mean? I had milk, because I was nursing the baby, but… So, anyway, I see one point. We were standing there, you know, slowly going, going, going and my husband is running. He comes and he takes my son’s hand. And he said, ‘I’m taking Gus with me.’ Of course in Hungarian he said that. He said, ‘I’m taking him with me, but you get over there to that man’ – that was Mengele – , ‘you tell him that you’re a nurse.’ Then he didn’t say good bye, he just took my son with him. What they think, but, you know, people don’t believe in miracles, but this is my miracle, one that I’ll never forget. First of all that he was let to come out. You know how we were surrounded, one SS man and one dog – you know, this German Shepherd dog – and that was like a chain around us. Around those we were just coming in.
B: Your husband came through it.
S: But when he came through it, nobody said a word. They usually, when somebody runs, they send a dog after him. But nobody said anything. And he went back, and I haven’t seen him, I didn’t see him since then. I didn’t hear from him until the end of the war. So, I think it itself was a miracle, otherwise my son wouldn’t be here, because I would not give an infant to anybody. I gave my baby to my mother, and my mother went to the gas with him. And that’s how I lived. Otherwise I would have been put with them together, you know, in the gas. Because when I got to Mengele, he was telling the German very nicely, he said, ‘Who is that lady next to you?’ My mother was 56 years old, you know. And I said, ‘It’s my mother.’ He said, ‘Well, give your baby to the mother, to your mother, because she is going with a truck with the older people and the babies are going with the truck and in about half an hour you’re going to meet with them. And the younger people like you…’ So I went left and she went right with the baby. But I even was telling him, I said, ‘But I cannot be for too long from the baby, he’ll be hungry,’ I said, ‘because I am nursing the baby.’ And he said, ‘Don’t worry, you will get together with the baby in half an hour.’
B: And he seemed nice at that point to you, he wasn’t being…
S: He was nice. He talks nicely.
B: He talked nicely.
S: You see, what he saw in me was a healthy worker.
B: That’s right.
S: And my mother was an older person. He didn’t want me to go in the gas because I could work, so many time, so many months’ work until I die. And that’s what I heard from my baby and my mother. So we went in there – probably people told you what they did. They cut off our hair, but it wasn’t just that simple. And they stripped us. They gave us striped clothes, not striped, but some ruggy clothes. Later on we got the striped clothes. And here I had milk and here I am looking for the baby. And we went in that barrack where there were 1200 women and there were I don’t know how many barracks like that were there. And there was an officer there, they called the kapa, … a kapo.
B: A what?
S: A kapo. Have you ever heard the word?
B: No. What is that?
S: He was, he was over us, you know. He was like a, like in a jail there.
B: Like a corporal?
S: Like a jailer.
B: A jailer, okay. Okay.
S: A jailer or something like that. And that was a Jewish woman too, you know, that’s what they did. That was a Jewish woman too.
B: Over you.
S: Yeah, a Jewish woman. And I went to her when we were already in there, after we were shaved and went through all that hell.
B: Were you with anybody you knew at that time?
S: Yes, one girl friend of mine, who was my neighbor too in Munkacs. I saw her. She had beautiful long hair like this. And she was running around naked. But everybody was naked, you know. There were the SS men, and a whole bunch of them, and we were all naked, you know. And they were laughing and making jokes and stuff like that. It was a very humiliating procedure, that whole thing. And that girl friend of mine was running around and ran into the latrina – they call it, you know, toilet. And I come after her and she had a razor and she wanted to cut her, she was hysterical. And I pulled her out, I said – look it’s funny how I had so much strength – I said, ‘Don’t do that.’ I said, ‘ Look, I just left my baby and I left my other child and my husband and everybody. And here I am, and now I’m curious what would happen from that craziness. What will be the end?’ She didn’t have a baby, she never had a baby, you know. She was married, but she didn’t have a baby. So finally I talked her out of it. She came with me and she was with me five weeks in Auschwitz, in the same bunk we slept, you know, like, like that. She slept with me, next to me. And I met her here a few times, and she always said, ‘You saved my life.’ (PAUSE) So that woman who was in the bunk when I asked her, I said, ‘Where can I get my baby?’ She gave me a thing like this and said, ‘You don’t have no right to talk to me.’ So I was almost crazy for three days, I had the milk.
B: She hit you, or…?
S: Hit you.
B: The Jewish woman.
S: Like here, like here. Give me a punch here and here, like that when it goes in I fall down. Anyhow, so I couldn’t talk to her, I couldn’t talk to anybody. After about two, three days there was next a bunker where there was also a Jewish woman that was a gray-haired woman, an older person. That was a young person, a young girl over there. And they said that her name was Ann, and they called Aunt Ann, you know, in Hungarian “Anna neni”. ‘You go over there,’ – because, you know, the people over there saw that I went crazy, you know. I have the milk and I think the baby is hungry. They said, ‘Go over there and talk to her, she can tell you something.’
B: Now Ann told you to talk to…?
S: No, no. Those living around me.
B: Told you to talk to Ann.
S: They said, ‘Go over there’, because they saw that I was getting sick in my head, you know. They said, ‘Go talk to her,’ because I said, ‘I must find out something about my baby.’ So, you see, these Jewish women who were over us, you know, Hungarians, they were from Slovakia or from Poland. And they were there already for years, and they became very callous, very rough, very callous, anything just to have food, just to survive. And you see, they trusted these people, and that was what Hitler did, they put over Jews over Jew, you know. And they were enjoying that what a Jew can do to the other when just to have a piece of bread or just to survive.
B: That’s why that woman was so rough with you.
S: Yeah. You see. And so I went over there to that “Anna neni”, and she never looked at anybody, but she talked. She said, ‘But look, you see those chimneys over there? Your baby and your mother were burned there the day you came in.’ She told me that just as straight. ‘And if you want to live, don’t think about it.’ She said, ‘I lost here’, she said, ‘sixty from my family three years ago and I’m still here because I want to know what’s going to be the end of this. And if you want to live, don’t think about them, you just try to survive. Think about yourself.’ So that’s how I find out where my mother and my baby went, you know. That’s how I find out about the, the gas chamber and how they burned the people. So she gave it to me straight. So that’s what happened, there we were five weeks there.
B: What did you do when she told you that?
S: Nothing. What could I do? Cried. But it was over, you know. And I was determined because we were very hungry you see. I was nursing the baby and I was used to eat a lot to have milk. And it fell from that time to nothing, the food. And I suffered a lot if hunger there at Auschwitz, you know. But still I shared my piece of bread. She got hers too, that friend who wanted to kill herself there where they shaved, you know, just the first instance when we got in. I shared my bread with her too because she was kind of sickly. Anyway, then I decided I’m going to work because I saw those who worked got a bigger piece of bread. I said I’m going if there’s an opportunity to work, I’ll go work. So five weeks I didn’t work.
B: You didn’t work for five weeks?
S: No.
B: So what did you do during the day?
S: You see, that’s what they do with the thousands and thousands and ten thousands, they, in the morning it was dark, we got up and we stood there in line. And then they selected out the people. They took the fat people, the sick people out from us, and they were the first ones who were gassed. And then they selected people for work. You see, the later on we find out how it worked. You see, that was an SS, that was – you know what SS is. And you know the Wehrmacht. Wehrmacht was the fighting soldiers, you know, the military. When they needed people for work, they referred to the SS and the SS gave them workers. Those were us Jews, you know. So they selected out the people, those who could work, and they shipped them to different places. So that’s what they did for five weeks. There was no place if we had to wash, if we had to go to the toilet, we had to wait in line. The conditions were inhumane, just inhumane.
B: Did you make friends or any closeness during that time, that you stuck with a couple of people during that time?
S: Just this we were slept like that. They were sleeping twelve people in a bunk maybe twice as big as the couch, maybe twelve people.
B: How did you know that that was Mengele?
S: Later I knew that it was Mengele.
B: It was later.
S: They didn’t introduce themselves.
B: No, that’s why I wondered how you knew.
S: No, I just knew later that it was Mengele.
B: Here’s a diagram of Auschwitz.
S: Yeah, and that’s where it is.
B: And the barracks.
S: Barracks, yeah. (PAUSE) There was five children in this barracks.
B: Five children.
S: They were older. (PAUSE) That’s how the… (PAUSE)
You see, in Auschwitz I didn’t really go out from there.
B: So you didn’t work at all at Auschwitz.
S: No. I didn’t work anything. But one day it came. (PAUSE)
B: Is that how you remember?
S: Sure. In the barracks there were 1200 people in one of these things. I was in the B lager.
B: In the B what?
S: B, B block. B, the name of B — A, B, C. Mine was B.
B: So after your five weeks at Auschwitz?
S: Then the whole block, the whole building, you know, it was as it was, was taken to Stutthof. Stutthof…
B: Okay now, you were fed very little. You got bread at Auschwitz. You got bread when you were at Auschwitz? What other kinds of things?
S: A piece of bread, like this, and then some kind of soup that was full of sand and stuff like that. But then, you know when we got there that day from another, you know, in the other, there were wires. They were…
B: The electric wires.
S: The electric wires, yes. On the other side of the wire were the Czech people, Czech women. Theresienstadt, you know about Theresienstadt. There were there already, those people, they emptied Theresienstadt, they brought them up to Auschwitz. And there was a woman who I knew from Munkacs, and she just to make me feel good, she said, ‘You know I saw your husband.’ You know, she said she saw my husband. She couldn’t have seen my husband, because my husband said they were taken the next day from Auschwitz, they didn’t stay in Auschwitz.
B: But she told you she saw him.
S: She told me. And she said, ‘You know, you’re husband told me,’ – she said – because she was experienced from Theresienstadt, she was a long time in camp, in concentration camp, — she said, ‘He told me that please eat everything. Hold your nose, but pour the food down.’ A lot of people, you know, starved because they just couldn’t…
B: Get the food down.
S: Stomach, you know, get the food down. And it was what she told me, you know, how people were.
B: Was she Jewish?
S: Sure.
B: Oh, she was Jewish. Okay.
S: She was from Munkacs.
B: But she had been in…
S: She didn’t survive…
B: She did not survive.
B: So at Auschwitz during the day, could you move around? Could you walk around or did you have to stay in the barracks all day?
S: Sometimes. Sometimes you could move around, you know. But what’s there to do? It was, — the sun was beating down a terrible heat, and no food, no water and no bathing, it’s just… The whole thing looked like, you looked at each other, and we had bare, you know with the clipped, the clipped-cut hair, and we looked at each other like, you know, like real prisoners, you know, all crazies. We didn’t even recognize each other really.
B: At that point, you know, you mentioned that at one time before you were taken you got hysterical, but it sounds like you had yourself together when you were at Auschwitz.
S: Yeah. That’s right and when I was told that I can not reach my baby, then I just like this older lady told me, she said, ‘Put yourself together. If you will survive, don’t think of anything, just try to survive.’ So we helped each other, you know, the girls, you know, we tried to help each other in some way, you know, with food, or, or just to console each other, you know.
B: All right. Now, you were originally, you were taken from Munkacs. It was what month of 1944? Was it May of ’44?
S: The month of May.
B: I was thinking that it was May. And then you spent five weeks in Auschwitz.
S: Auschwitz, and from there I went to Stutthof. Stutthof was like a camp where they send the people different directions also, but there was chimney there too, you know, they exterminated people there too. (PAUSE)
B: Okay. Here we have first of all Auschwitz and then it shows Stutthof. Now how did you get from Auschwitz to Stutthof?
S: With train.
B: By train.
S: Cattle car.
B: And that was a selection process?
S: Yes. And only those who were able to, you know, work.
B: And how long, was that like the same ride from Munkacs to Auschwitz, or was that different in some way? Was the ride in the cattle car from…?
S: The same, the same thing.
B: The same thing.
S: The same thing. They didn’t give you food and they had buckets over there which were the toilets. And then we road with the SS people, we were in their… care.
B: And were there SS people inside the car with you or just outside?
S: Outside, sure. They opened it up and they closed it. And, you know, when there was a station, they stopped to check or whatever.
B: Okay, so when you got to Stutthof, did you stay at Stutthof?
S: In Stutthof I stayed about a couple of weeks or later until they send me over there to the small camp I told you.
B: That was Danzig or Praust?
S: Praust. That was close to Danzig.
B: Here it is right here.
S: Praust, that was sixteen kilometers from Praust. It was a village, outside the village…
B: What did you do when you were at Stutthof for those two weeks?
S: Also just they counted us, told us that we come out and come in and come out. And at first I was standing there and they were going to give me numbers and then they decided they were not going to give us numbers. They were registering us in Stutthof. They registered like and they did it like it was very important, they put down names and this and that and all kind of…
B: Did you ever get a number?
S: No. The numbers got the people who went to work in factories which was inside like a city, or a, a factory where they were among people, but we were out, you know, where they could have escaped or something but they had the number on them, you know. And they could mingle with the people if they wanted to escape or something, and so they gave them numbers. But first they didn’t give them numbers.
B: So Stutthof was somewhere…?
S: They gave a number on the…
B: On the uniform.
S: On the uniform. There where we got the striped thing.
B: Was at Stutthof.
S: In Stutthof. (PAUSE)
B: The two weeks at Stutthof, was that like the two, like the five weeks at Auschwitz had been?
S: No. It was, — the barracks was more decent there. And the food was somewhat better, not good, but better. But there was terrible over there, the officers were the Polish from the jail. They let them out and they were watching us. Oh, I got a beating there too.
B: The Poles were watching you?
S: Oh, the Polish women and Polish men.
B: And so, what kind of a beating? Did you have a beating anywhere else? I mean, prior to that time?
S: I have already told you, Auschwitz, from that woman.
B: From that Jewish woman.
S: And this, I don’t really recall what was the reason why I got it, but I just got it. But it was nothing to get beaten up. I almost got beaten up here in, in… Praust…, but then they needed people to work.
B: The thing is, you were still strong and healthy at that, compared to the people that they had been seeing.
S: Well, there were plenty. And you know, my camp in Praust, where I was, in Praust there was 800 women. They were from 16 up to 35. A couple of older, like my mother’s age, like 55, you know, a couple of them. And they worked in the kitchens and stuff like that. But this all the, oh, 800, they were bending down, airstrip there, you know, for airplanes to go up and down.
B: And you were working on that.
S: No, I was in the kitchen also. I was selected. You see, in the year I arrived it was a brand new camp. That was a good thing about it too, it was clean.
B: Praust.
S: Praust. It was a brand new buildings, you know, the barracks and we, — so it was clean. And they were all working people, and when we got out there they selected me that I should be cooking for the SS in the kitchen.
B: How lucky!
S: Lucky, so I could help people. I helped quite a few people with food and it was very lucky. Otherwise I would have had to go out rain or shine and would have worked out in the field then.
B: So what in the kitchen? I mean, was it lots of water and little food that they put in the soups, or what kinds of…?
S: There was a, a kitchen chef of the SS man who provided really good for all that 800 people.
B: He provided what?
S: Good. Yeah, he dug ahead them, he always dug up the whole yard around the barracks and made them grow those little cabbages – how do they call them – you know, looks like cabbage, that little green stuff.
B: Brussels sprouts.
S: Brussels sprouts! It’s green, it grows very fast. And carrots. As I told you, these people were lend to people for work and the SS got paid for, got paid for us, for our work, from factories and from building aero… whatever.
B: Okay, now wait. The SS got paid for the work that you did, but not your work in the kitchen, but, but the work that…?
S: Everybody, everybody, for the whole crew. The one who oversees the whole thing and runs the camp had to see to it get food for the, for the people. And those who were smart enough to keep the people in working condition, they got food for them. Good food.
B: He, you’re saying, he got food for the people in the camp.
S: Um huh..
B: And you’re saying he was smart to do that because it kept the people working.
S: That’s right. Get the people, — in the meantime it was good for us, because, you see, periodically, every two, three weeks, there came a group from Stutthof, a group of SS. And we had to stand in line, and those who looked sickly, they took them out. And they took him in the, in a gas chamber. They didn’t take him to the, to the hospitals.
B: During that time, did you stay close with anybody? Did you try to stick with someone that you…?
S: Oh yeah, we were seven women all from Munkacs and two of them was my nieces, my husband’s brother’s daughters. They are here. One is in Israel and one is in America. So I didn’t see them all this time, but I fed them. I could feed them, you know, I had food, and other people, you know, who was close by. So, yeah, sure. We were together in a barrack, I don’t know how many rooms were there, how many beds there were, you know, bunk beds, like three in a row. So we knew each other.
B: Now, how long were you at Stutthof?
S: Until the end.
B: So, now, you said something about that you, that they had you go on like this death march in February?
S: You see, February, yeah. February, already the Russians were coming close, you know, close by. The Russians were like bombing Stutthof.
B: So, the work that you did was always in the kitchen, you did not get any other assignment?
S: Oh, yeah, I had to bring in water from outside, because we didn’t have running water. It has to be taken in, water from outside. I didn’t just stood there as a cook. If anything had to be done, it had to be done. We all worked together.
B: And how were you physically holding up?
S: Fine. Physically I am okay. I was strong.
B: Did you lose a lot of weight?
S: No.
B: You did not.
S: I was very heavy, not very heavy, but I was in very strong condition. And since I was in the kitchen, I had a chance to eat too and help the others who were out.
B: And did you sneak food back to people in the barracks?
S: That’s what I’m saying.
B: You were able to.
S: You see, the food in the barracks, they were working, and they had their food and they ate it in the barracks, and the bowls and everything was gathered from them and it was washed in the kitchen. Our camp was a good, — washed in the kitchen. And so from the kitchen, workers, they run in people over there to gather the dirty dishes. So when they did that, then I packed them up with food from the kitchen and they took it in the barrack and they supplemented those food.
B: When they went to get the dirty dishes, you’d send food back with them so that they could give it…
S: Yeah, for my two nieces and some others, you know, who, who were – let’s see, an old neighbor was there and she had I don’t know how many nieces and sister-in-laws and whatever, for her too. So I gave her plenty food, you know. I had a chance to cook up potatoes. That’s all it needed, just a little potato.
B: Were you scared about getting caught?
S: Oh yeah. Sure. That was a risk, always was a risk but who cared, nobody cared. We were not so much afraid for ourselves. Everybody did it. My husband did in his camp. He was together with a brother-in-law and how many brothers, there was seven together. (PAUSE) Six of them, six men together of the family, brothers, you know, a nephew, and my son. And he worked as a doctor over there and they worked in an underground airplane factory, so he had a chance to get food down to them in the buckets, buckets full.
B: Buckets full of food. So they were not using his medical, they were not using his medical background at all.
S: They, yeah. He, he helped over there, you know, like a – how would you call here – a doctor’s assistant and stuff like, not as a doctor. He had a doctor over him. But still, he had a chance…
B: To get food.
S: To get food to them. So it helped.
B: All right, you then they took you out on this death march. Where did you think you were going?
S: I didn’t know where we were going. At that time I was very sick, I had typhoid fever. You seen, in January they started to bring in our small camp, people from other places, you know, because the Russians were coming and they were pushing, pushing the people, the military and the SS, and they took the people with them on those marches. And they came in our camp and they brought a lot of lice with them, so we all got full of lice, and from the lice I got typhoid fever. And then they were close enough to our camp and I was in fever and I was deadly sick. I was going and going and then finally we got to this – how of they call it, it doesn’t show here… (PAUSE)
B: That’s what I was trying, to find that.
S: Hel.
B: Hel, yeah. Now, here is Danzig again. Do you know if it was to the west or to the east?
B: So they took you out, they took you all together. You’re surrounded by SS men at this time?
S: Yeah. They were… And finally we went, we didn’t go straight to Hel, we went some place else and at night they put us in those thing, you know, where you go in around like in the water like this.
B: You were on foot though.

Tape 2 - Side 1

B: I couldn’t, that’s what I was having trouble with. I could not find Hel anywhere. So, you were on foot, you were walking, how long did you walk and what did you eat during this time?
S: What we eat, I don’t even remember what we ate. In Praust in the camp where we were, you know, at one point we stopped down, stepped down, we, seven women, we separated ourselves from the… You know, we took a risk, but we separated ourselves, because the SS started to kind of disperse, because they were so close, the Russians, you know, they started to disperse. And then we separated ourselves in, in there was in among the seven women, we stuck together, you know, we lived together all the time in the camp. Two of us were sick, myself and another woman. We had a high fever and we just couldn’t go. So we went in a bombed out house, and there we were for two weeks. I was in delirium, I don’t even know what happened. I just didn’t know. And the two nieces of mine took care of me at that time. So, five of them, they were on foot and they, they, you know, so they tried to take, get, they got some connections with the SS, not, the Wehrmacht, the soldiers Wehrmacht. You know Wehrmacht?
B: Um huh.
S: You know those fighting soldiers?
B: Um huh.
S: They told them that we are Hungarians, since luckily we didn’t have any numbers, you know, they said we are Christians and we are not Jewish and we are coming from Praust – not Praust, that camp, the Praust camp – and we were overseers and we, we watched those girls, you know. Because we did have over there five Polish women who used to beat us up. They were the ones who took care of the girls. They were SS women. So, anyway, that was, the, we were those girls, you know, while we were sick we had to stay there. So they told them we just can not go, we are Hungarian women and we all gave false names.
B: And they believed you?
S: They had to. What else could they do? What else could they do?
B: These are Hungarian soldiers then? No?
S: German, not SS. Fighting soldiers.
B: Fighting soldiers but not SS.
S: Not SS. As I told you, SS started to run every direction. And after the two weeks I, — we had to go because some kind of a dam they opened up and it should flood that the Russians shouldn’t come through, can’t come through there or whatever, and they emptied that house where we were, and since we were a friendly nation, Hungarian nationalities, they put us on a wagon and took us to the peninsula, Hel. That was Hel, a peninsula that was actually like a fishing village. There was a village on it, you know. And they say it was a fishing village, and they put us down there because we were very sick.
B: The fighting soldiers did that?
S: Yeah.
B: They helped you.
S: Yeah, because we are not the only ones, it was not just us there. There was lots of them, women and men, women. These were Polish people, because they’re from the Polish side, you know, over there, near Danzig. And all the civilians, so we were handled like civilians, you know, like the rest of them. So we went to Heala. They also bombed our house while we were there, and we lived through until May 8th until they wanted to take us. Once they put us in a ship, they wanted to take us to Denmark, and in the ship I was terribly sick. It was a freight ship, and a freight doesn’t have… it has a deck and then a bottom. And there were thousands and thousands of people there, you know, sitting on the floor. I was there with my two nieces. And we were there to go to wherever they wanted to take us. And they started to bomb the ship, and they couldn’t go, so they took us off. You should have seen that ladder that was made from the bottom up to go up. Everybody wanted to go up, they were afraid the ship was going to sink and everybody gets… you know, because it was bombed.
B: Yeah, right.
S: It was daytime and I remember how they had to come to get me, because I couldn’t go. I was so sick, you know.
B: They had to help you get out.
S: And then my two nieces, they turned back from the ladder, they came down and just took me up there.
B: So you got off the boat then.
S: And there were the Germans. There were the Germans. So we were among the civilians then, you know, so we weren’t handled anymore like, — they didn’t know. If they would have known, they would have just shot us, if they had known we were Jewish.
B: So the Germans were helping you…?
S: Not helping me, helping the civilians.
B: Helping, and you were a civilian at that point.
S: A civilian at that point. And then we, we really got…. Then the Russians came in the seven of us, women, seven of us, we went up to the Russians, because, you know, all the Germans were… That was a glorious time to see all those Germans, throwing their weapons down. They didn’t know we were Jewish, except that we had our, — how do you call it in English? Anyway, we saw their downfall, that’s all too…
B: You got off the boat because you were afraid it was going to sink?
S: Not afraid, everybody was taken out. You see, these are all civilians. They didn’t want them to drown.
B: Right, so what happened when you got off the boat?
S: Well, we were in a bombed out house.
B: And how long was that?
S: They wanted to take us again and again, and again and again, but we were sick and couldn’t travel. So we stayed there because we didn’t want to go. We were there until May 8th, that’s my son’s birthday.
B: Is that right?
S: Then the war ends, ended.
B: Was that like for a period of days or weeks that you were in that house?
S: Well, we started out February.
B: Right.
S: Isn’t that right?
B: You started out in February…
S: Started out in February and then we were going and stopped between — because I was, — we were sick.
B: In a farmhouse…
S: In a farm house. And, you know, there was no window, no nothing, and it was raining and it was snowing and everything and we were there. But there was no choice, that’s all. And I had such a high fever, I was in delirium for two weeks.
B: Did you ever get any medication?
S: No.
B: You just got better on your own.
S: I had to. (LAUGH) It looks like it. There was no medication, they just, you know, I was just lying there, that’s all. The other woman, she was also, she had a high fever also.
B: Now you then went up to one of the Russians and told them you were Jewish?
S: No, no. We went up there and they had their official quarters there, you know, and we went up there. They wanted to know civilians who and what they are, you know, and there were thousands of them, not just us. And we went up and said we were Jewish women and that we wanted to go to a railroad to get home. And they finally, after they said we should wait and they posted out two soldiers, the Russians really, so that we shouldn’t be molested. Did you know that?
B: Um huh.
S: And then after a few days they, you know, had other more important things to do. They gave us a fishing boat with a soldier, and we told him that we wanted to go someplace where there was a railroad so that we can go home. So they took us, you know, we had to go to the harbor, you know, to Krakow, to Krakow, a city, you know, and it was all bombed out. It was terrible. So the station, they took us, the men, over to the station finally. And there we met these people. You see, they were coming in from Hungary on coal trains to pick up the women, because they heard about it, that the Russians are picking up these women who were coming from concentration camps, picking them up and taking them places to work for them. So they all tried to save them from that, so they came. So on that train I had someone there who recognized me. There was a whole group of men. They were lawyers, doctors, all kinds of good Jewish people who had that whole train, also cattle cars, not the luxurious first class seats, but they had food and everything. And one recognized me. We were lying on the floor over there, there were thousands of people. You cannot visualize, my dear, what it is. And they were walking around and he who recognized me said ‘Aren’t you Dr. Mysner’s sister-in-law from…?’ You know, that was my sister’s husband. And I told him, ‘Yeah,’ I said, ‘I know you.’ So he told me who they are and what they are, and I said, ‘I cannot go with you because there are seven of us.’ I wouldn’t leave without them, if you can take us on the train, all seven of us, I would go home badly. So they took us. They took us halfway home to Csop, not far from our…
B: This was, you were trying to get to Munkacs at this point? And they got you pretty close?
S: Pretty close.
B: Did you walk the rest of the way then, or …?
S: From then we tried to catch another train, it wasn’t a train but an open car, you know, one of those straight cars. So we all seven of us went home like that.
B: What happened when you got back to Munkacs?
S: Everybody was telling me they saw my son, they saw my husband in October. I said, ‘Don’t tell me about it,’ about October, because it was May. – Do you know what happened in October? There were marches, they rounded up all the Jews in Budapest and took them to Auschwitz. And they said they were sure they saw him in Budapest, they saw him here and there, and then finally I was there for two weeks and I used to go to the station every day to find out, you know. But there was no train actually; there was no mail. You couldn’t get from anybody, just by verbal something. So, after two weeks, one day, and I lived with some young women. You know, they had an apartment, I don’t know how, and they also came back, you know, there were about twelve women in an apartment. I was good and they gave me a couch and I lived with them. I ate in Munkacs on the what do you call it, kitchen, what was put up by the Joint Committee, you know, from America.
B: The Distribution Committee.
S: The Distribution Committee, they had a kitchen, a free kitchen, for people who came home and wanted daily breakfast.
B: You went there to eat?
S: Soup, to get soup. And someone was calling, ‘Schonfeld, Mrs. Schonfeld, you want to go over there and stand in line?’ I said, ‘Listen, I didn’t create this situation.’ You know?
B: They were telling you to go stand in line, or were they asking you why you went there?
S: They said, ‘Are you going to stand in line, too?’ You know, my husband was a permitted doctor in Munkacs, and then in Munkacs you would stand in line for food… I said,’What, I didn’t create it, I’m not ashamed to go, I’m hungry.’ So I went there too and stand in the stupid line and I got some soup. I think that was my first and last experience to get any kind of public help, because then, you know, I met my husband there. It was later on, two weeks I was home, and then I was so disgusted that I hadn’t heard anything here, concrete: he’s alive or he’s not alive, or whatever. I didn’t plan to see my son at all. I just blocked out from my mind, because the child was 10 years old, and all the kids up to 16 were gassed. So, huh, one day a Russian soldier comes into the apartment and says that he is looking for Mrs. Schonfeld. So they, the girls, called, ‘Mrs. Schonfeld…’ – I was the oldest, I was 32 and I was the oldest, — and the Russian soldier, they said a Russian soldier was looking for me, and then he comes to me and introduces himself and he said that he was coming from Prague and it took him two weeks to get here and that’s how, otherwise it’s a 44-hour trip by train, you know, in two weeks he got here.
B: How was he traveling?
S: By train.
B: By train at that point.
S: Two weeks it took him. So he came in and he told me, ‘I saw your husband.’ He was standing there and talking to me and said, ‘I saw your husband and I saw your son,’ but it didn’t even phase me that he said, ‘I saw your son,’ because I thought that was impossible. That was the nerve, you see, it was terribly taxed, my nerve and everybody else’s nerve, you know.
B: So did you believe him or…?
S: No.
B: You didn’t believe him.
S: I didn’t believe him. He was talking and talking. Then he was asking me, — the reason he wanted to see me really that if I saw his family, his sisters who were also from Munkacs, had I seen them during the years someplace. You know, that’s how people tried to get connection or know about each other and each other’s family. So he was talking and talking and I was sitting there listening, and finally he gets up and pulls out a newspaper from his pocket, and he said, ‘Look the doctor gave me this address, that I should look him up. I met him at this station in Prague and I should look him up here.’ It was the medical society’s address; he knew it by heart. So I looked at it, and it was his handwriting, and I said, ‘Do you know that all this time that you were talking to me I didn’t believe a word of what you said. Now,’ I said, ‘I get to see his handwriting.’ I said, ‘He’s alive.’ That’s how I found out he’s alive. Then he started to tell me again, he said, ‘Your son, you won’t recognize, he’s almost as tall as his father.’ You can’t imagine. It took me another four weeks until finally I got to Prague.
B: Oh, you went to Prague. Oh, you mean he gave you the address of the medical society in Prague?
S: Not me, to him.
B: And he gave you that address.
S: But the soldier said there was a train, you see, there was no scheduled trains. He was staying there and my husband said, ‘I’m going to this address, to the medical society, with my son, and you come and look me up.’ But he got a train right away to go towards Munkacs.
B: So he never knew that your husband was…
S: You see, he never went back to see him at that address. But he just pulled it out and he gave me and I recognized his handwriting. So from then on it started to come letters from him. He sent with other people letters. But that was the first time I saw his handwriting. You can’t imagine that. So it took me about four weeks before I got up to Prague.
B: Did you leave immediately?
S: No, I couldn’t leave immediately because there was no way up from Munkacs. But then I got letters from him, and he was telling me in the letter that he got in a TB center he had a job.
B: In a what?
S: In a TB center…
B: A TB sanatorium.
S: …not far from Prague. And he was there with Gus and I should come because he’s not coming.
B: How would, who did he send the letters to that they reached you?
S: People who went to Munkacs, he said, ‘Here, take it to my wife.’
B: He thought you would go back to Munkacs.
S: He was the one who said when we left in Auschwitz from the cattle car and we were going down, loudly he was telling the whole family, “Anybody who survives, we meet in Munkacs. We are going to meet in Munkacs, those of us who survive.’ There we were going to meet. Because he was very, very optimistic.
B: He was sure you were going to survive, huh.
S: Not me, just, I mean there were eighty people.
B: But he just thought that, yeah.
S: He said, ‘We’re going to meet in Munkacs.’ And he was the one, you know, who never went back to Munkacs, he didn’t go back to Munkacs.
B: So you finally got to Prague.
S: Finally I got to Prague, and he met me at the… what’s the name of the station… It was, huh, Ples, near Prague, Ples. Nobody spoke Prussian. There was the sanatorium near the station, so he was waiting.
B: Ples was the name of the station?
S: No one knows what Ples is, that’s in Czechoslovakia, not far from Prague. There he met me on the train in the station with Gus. And my son was at least a head taller than when we left.
B: Is that right?
S: He was just a kid and he was 10. And I just – I almost fainted there when I saw him. I didn’t believe that he was all right.
B: How did he make it? I mean, how was your husband able to keep him alive?
S: I wasn’t easy. He kept him all the time – it was a lot of things he had to do, he had to fight for whatever he wanted and there was homosexuals in the camp and he had to shield him from, you know, at night, from them and that he shouldn’t be taken. And they used to stick home whenever they came for the selections, because there were selections and everybody had to strip and they saw the kid was a kid. He was big, you know, a strong, you know, child and that was the thing that helped him to survive. So he just survived.
B: But he was in the selections too, and he made it through the selections.
S: Sure. Yeah, he said, my husband always said, ‘He’s 16 years old.’ And since he was, also he had an inside job, my husband, not outside where they did the, made the airplanes or worked in factories and stuff like that, he had a chance, somehow… Anyway, I just say it was just the luck and fate and people I think were smart about it.
B: Did Gus have jobs too when he was there?
S: Yeah, he peeled potatoes. And he, he was, what do you call it, a houseboy, or whatever it is, and a kid was hungry and ate a piece of bread if his, so he threw him out. So from then on he worked in the kitchen, peeling potatoes, whatever, you know… I wish you would have him tell his experience, you see, because he was 10 years old at camp, and people should know it, children should know it. You know?
B: Um huh….
S: One of the youngest… One of the very youngest…
B: You’re right, I’m sure.
S: From our city, Munkacs, he is the only one who survived this camp, because there were a few of his age, but they were not in the camp.
B: Do you think he will tell his story?
S: Who?
B: Gus.
S: You’ll have to ask him. I wish he would. I don’t know if he would want to or not, but I wish he would. I always tell him that the oldest, future generation, they should know. They should know about it. And to even find anyone like him, you know, who went through it when he was 10 years old.
B: Um huh. How did you come to the United States? So you were in Prague for how long?
S: I had a brother. We were a year in Prague, not in Prague, we were in Nova Plesi in a sanatorium.
B: How do you spell that?
S: Nova, N O V A, I think.
B: Nova Plesi?
S: I don’t know, it was a Czech name. I don’t know how to spell it.
B: Nova something, it was a sanatorium?
S: A TB sanatorium there. There was a wonderful man who were there, 95 years old, a man, a ‘docens’, who was a professor. During the war he sheltered many doctors in there.
B: Oh, at the sanatorium. I see.
S: In the sanatorium. He gave jobs for them. And my husband went out there and he hired him right away, and he gave us a wonderful… it was a wonderful place for us, a very relaxing place. We had two rooms, bedrooms, one for Gus and one for us, and they served three times a day meals. Two rooms, you know, and the doctors had a dining room together. So it was a wonderful place to be, after, it was really a sanatorium for us, you know, after that concentration. And he was, he was a wonderful person…
B: What was his name?
S: Vasaz, V A S A Z. With an umlaut on the Z, I think. Well, I’ll bring in my husband and you’ll meet him, too. I think we’re finished.
B: Let me ask you just a couple of things. I want to know how you came to the United States, what made you decided to come to the States and how did you end up in St. Louis?
S: Because I didn’t want to stay anymore in Europe. But mainly I was very much, I must say I was the pusher to come, because I was just so sick of Europe.
B: So how did you get, how did you…?
S: Well, we were all there a year, my family. Then my brother and my sister-in-law…
B: That’s Glora, right?
S: Glora and Alex. They were instrumental, I mean they did the whole thing. You know, they worked and that’s how we came so fast.
B: They what?
S: That we could come so fast in a year.
B: They were already here?
S: Oh, yeah. My brother came here in 1939.
B: In ’39.
S: In 1939, and he married my husband’s brother’s daughter.
B: So that’s your uncle?
S: Yes, he’s my uncle now. Not my, no, no, I am his aunt.
B: Okay, okay.
S: I am his aunt, because he is a niece of mine, you know, by marriage. That us my husband’s oldest brother’s daughter.
B: All right, all right, she’s your niece and you’re her aunt, and the uncle… So now, your brother’s really… you’re his aunt, I understand (LAUGHS).
S: I am my brother’s aunt.
B: Right.
S: It’s funny, isn’t it? Bu they met in Europe, because after she graduated high school, her parents gave her a trip to come to Europe, and she was my guest at that time, she stayed with me, with us. And we became very good friends. And my brother met her at my house, and then she came, I didn’t even know, but then she came back and married him.
B: But you didn’t even know it then?
S: Oh, sure, I knew, but I didn’t know it developed to that… But anyway, they married. She came and they married and they came out in ’39. It was a hard time and they married over there. And they were, ten months she had to wait there as a married woman until they let him come in, let him get out because he was of military age.
B: All right, what kind of training, re-training, was involved for your husband to be able to practice medicine here?
S: He had to take, he had to be one-year interning. He did that at Jewish Hospital, and then he had to take the State Board, you know, examination, and he took it in Illinois. That’s the reason he practiced in Illinois, because over there they gave him after a year’s internship he could take the State Board. In Missouri, it required five years’ citizenship. He had to be a citizen before he could take the State Board. So he went to Illinois to be close to the family and all, but that’s how I happen to be in St. Louis.
B: Did he know English?
S: No.
B: Oh, so he had to learn the language, too.
S: Oh, sure. The same with all of us.
B: He learned it really quickly then.
S: Oh, yeah. We all had to. Six months in took me until I could open my mouth. (LAUGHS)
B: Okay, you wanted to tell me about how you felt like the effects of that period were much more emotional than physical.
S: I felt, yes. I myself suffered much more emotionally than physically, maybe because I had the good fortune that I had work which wasn’t as taxing as some other one, although girls worked in factories and places like that. But anyway, I just suffered emotionally tremendously, and I know everybody, lots of people did. And I think that the cruelest part of it was really, was people were tortured before they died. Because really we were very at the end, those people who were there, they were at that point, you know, already after six or eight months in a concentration camp, and we saw the wheeling out… You see, it’s all a small camp, it’s a small camp. It’s considered a small camp at 800 people. We had an open grave, because it’s always wired with, what do you call it, wire, in all camps. On the other side of the wire we had an open grave. And people were, and they’d throw over there their dead, and it was always open.
B: It sounded like the most emotional trauma for you was prior to being taken, the anxiety of not knowing what was ahead of you and…
S: That’s right, that’s right, that’s right. And that’s what happened with my mother, and just the whole thing. It was just awful what they did to people. (TEARS)
B: Now in the years now after this has all happened, do you try to just block it all out from your mind?
S: No.
B: No.
S: No, I never did that. I never did, people would say, ‘You have to forget and forgive’, and I don’t forget and I don’t forgive, and it’s not that I dwell on it.
B: Have you been back to Europe?
S: Yeah, it took 16 years. I was here sixteen years in the States before I went back first, I went to my father’s grave, because I don’t have a grave for my mother. She, she stayed at Auschwitz. For a long time, you know, it was really eating on me, that she died for me, because she did die for me, because she took my baby. And maybe she would have survived, because then in the camp with me was a couple of women who were her age, with gray hair and all that, and I saw them all the time and said that my mother could be here with me too, but because of my baby, she went to the gas, to the gas. And just thinking about it, what she went through the last minutes, you know, when she knew that she would be gassed, you know, it’s just terrible. We went through that feeling when from Auschwitz we were taken to Stutthof. We were taken in a big place where all those things were, you know, where the gas comes out, and we thought for sure that’s what it is, now we’re going to die, you know, from the gas. We just didn’t know how hard it would be, how terrible. That was after five weeks we were in Auschwitz. But they didn’t do it to us, they just changed clothes. They gave us different clothes, gave us these striped clothes.
B: So they took you in and you thought they were going to gas you.
S: That’s right.
B: And did water come out or did nothing come out?
S: Nothing, we just stayed overnight and it was a horrible night because we didn’t know what was going to happen. And maybe they just decided they needed people to work or I don’t know. We were just a bunch of…, you know. And I first came to the States, to this country, and I wouldn’t talk about it because people looked at me and everybody… We were one of the firsts to come out in 1946.
B: You got here really quickly.
S: Yeah, because my brother and my sister were worked on it, that we could come as soon as possible. So we came out really fast.

Tape 2 - Side 2

S: I stayed with them until my husband got through with his internship. It was about a year and a half until he had finally gotten his license and we went to St. Louis. But he had us in his nice home – for a year and a half or so – and then they made our transition smooth, because we didn’t have to go to nobody to ask for anything. They already had a home for us right away which was kind of nice. And my husband, you know, he would right away go to do his job, his work. You know what he got for his internship? $34 a month.
B: Thirty-four a month?
S: Yeah. Thirty-four a month. Well, we just hope memory in the history of what happened to us or to anybody, any nation or any group of people, any ethnic group or whatever you call us…
B: When you went back to Europe and that was really hard for you to make the decision to go…
S: Yeah,
B: …uh.…were you angry or what kind of emotional feelings did you have?
S: When I went to Hungary I was angry because I saw that they lived even better than they lived before. In my view, the Hungarians were worse during this period of time to the Jews, worse than even the Germans.
B: Yeah, they were notorious.
S: You know, they sold us… we later on knew, they sold us for $10 per head to Hitler and they knew that they were taking us to a concentration camp and they were taking us to the gas chamber. So, I was very angry. And my sister still lives there.
B: She does?
S: With her husband.
B: And she just never wanted to leave or what?
S: You see, they never had children. They don’t have children. And my brother-in-law is a lawyer and he made his living, you know. He was born there, with or without the Communists or anything, you know. He was born there, his ancestors all for generations were always Hungarian, and he happened to be a very bad linguist also. He just cannot learn another language. So he didn’t feel like he wanted to start in America. So he said, ‘You have a child, so you go.’ But they wouldn’t go any place. They were here for a visit once, but they went back.
B: But years and years go by and you don’t see them.
S: Oh, I do. When I go to Israel, each time I’m in Israel I go to Hungary to see them, and I go to my father’s grave.
B: Did you ever hear of… it was an Admiral Horvat?
S: Horvat? The name is Hungarian, but I don’t know if I heard of him. What did he did?
B: He was the one. This is really interesting. For years Hitler wanted, I think the Czechs, Hitler wanted to start getting rid of the Jews and he was against it. And finally they came and they took over, took him out of his office – maybe it will come out in this information here – and that was how, that was how it wasn’t until 1944 that you were taken.
S: There is Danzig now.
B: Right here is one of Danzig… Yes, it was Admiral Hor…, Horthy was his name.
S: Horthy, Horthy, not Horvat, sure, sure, he was the Premier of whatever they call it. When was the tale of….
B: He wouldn’t agree to the deportations, and so then, and that went on for like two years.
S: Yeah.
B: And it was really, mainly because of him, that Munkacs and other, you know, areas around there didn’t go until 1944.
S: That’s right.
B: Admiral Horthy.
S: Yeah. But he was a tremendous anti-Semitic but it turns out to be there were worse than him.
B: Oh, much worse than him.
S: That’s right.
B: Did you find it?
S: Well, that must have been some place…
B: When you were in the camps and during that time, were there rumors going around, flying, about what was happening or did people… there weren’t any rumors because people didn’t know anything?
S: When?
B: When you were in the camps, when you were in Auschwitz, when you were in Stutthof, when you went to Praust? Was there, did the people in the camp, were there rumors going around about what was happening outside?
S: Yes, you see this is Danzig here and, you see, we were over there in Praust…. Is this Praust?
B: Uh huh.
S: It must have been…Some place here must have been… Anyway, girls went out with trucks to bring in the food, because there were only girls in the camp, so they had to bring in the food and they had to work, you know, and then….
B: So did they come back with stories from the outside?
S: Yeah, sometimes outside they heard…– And some girls were taken out with, the SS soldiers took them out, you know, some places to work. For instance, they went once to a castle to clean up a castle. Where, I don’t know where, the SS wanted to move it or whatever. While they were cleaning… — Are you sure you don’t want a cold drink?
B: No, thank you.
S: They find candles, for instance, candles, you know. And they brought home candles that they, you know, stuffed some place… because they got 25 beatings if they did something they were not supposed to. But they brought in the camp, cut it into little pieces and Friday night…
B: Friday night…
S: They used to call, ‘Mrs. Schonfeld, come in. It’s time to light the candles.’ With two little candles. And everybody came who wanted to say the braha. It gave us, those of us who believe in it and practice it, you know, it gave us something all week to look forward to be able to do, that one thing.
B: That was important to you.
S: Important, important for us. And so even in the concentration camp, those people… It did sustain us. Every little thing you can hold onto, it was very important, just very important.
B: So it was a camp of all women, — do you have any recollections of any of the women being sexually abused by the SS?
S: Not really.
B: Do you have anything else that you want to add?
S: Nothing. Not really. There’s nothing to add to it. Just my wishes that it should never happen, it should never happen and people should know about it. They really should.
B: Were there any group kind of things, like songs in the camp or anything like that? No?
S: Not in my camp. There wasn’t anything like that. In Auschwitz, you know about it, they had a regular orchestra or band and stuff like that, like they had at Theresienstadt. You haven’t read about it?
B: Yes, no, no, I know. When you were there did they?
S: I wasn’t at Theresienstadt.
B: No, but when you were at Auschwitz?
S: No.
B: There was no culture at all…
S: Nothing, no.
B: It was pretty late by then, I guess.
S: Well, it was late of ’44.
B: What was the winter like as far as the weather?
S: Cold.
B: Cold.
S: The barrack we slept in the snow was coming in through the wood, you know. They were wooden barracks, you know, and it was just cold. And in the summer it was hot.
B: And all you had was the small, the little… the little striped uniforms.
S: The striped uniforms and we had gray underwear, like a, like a long shirt and wooden shoes and no socks.
B: Does it surprise you now sometimes when you look back that you made it?
S: Yes. I was surprised, as I started to tell you, when I first came here, I didn’t tell, I refused to talk about it even for years and years after, because we were approached in East St. Louis by the paper, the newspaper. And they came out and they talked to my husband and my son about the camp experience. But I just refused. I didn’t want to talk about it. When we first came we were such newcomers that people used to come to my brother’s house and look at us like a zoo and animals. You know, who were they, these foreigners who survived the camp. Somehow in a way it made me feel kind of guilty or whatever, I said ‘Who am I? Am I just a misfit? Why did I survive? How did I dare survive that thing? All those died and I’m here. There must be something wrong with me, I didn’t die.’ You know what I mean? A lot of those who survived had that feeling. It took a long time to overcome that, you know. It really took a long time. Because the outside community didn’t help with it either, because they looked at you like, ‘How come you are here? What did you do over there that you survived?’
B: Like there was something wrong with you.
S: They thought the people had to do something that they should survive, you know. And it was just a lock, I should call. Later on then, you know, I took the attitude that I was here, that I survived because my son survived and he needed a mother to raise him, that’s all. Probably that’s the reason I survived. If he wouldn’t have survived I wouldn’t have known, you know. The purpose is to survive anyway. Although there was one of the seven women, there was one among them who had seven children. She left seven children in the concentration camp, and she came back and she married and she had a family with her other husband.
B: Do you keep in touch with any of those women?
S: I don’t even know where they are.
B: At that time there was probably a real closeness.
S: Well, it’s not closeness really, but it’s a necessity. I didn’t know them before and I just got to know them there. And some of them really, one in particular, was a character that I don’t really care to be a friend with before or after or even then. But you don’t choose your friends in places like that, you just live with them. We still tried to help each other as much as we could.
B: It sounded like what that aunt, Aunt Anna, had to say to you in the beginning really was one of the things that stuck with you.
S: That was, yeah, that was stuck with me because I was really the first few days… and that milk I felt, my milk, you know. But she put me in my place. Sometimes it’s a real radical thing what helps.
B: A real what?
S: Radical, you know, you just tell them straight. Tell them straight, you know, and she didn’t hesitate. And she is, you know, I can still see her standing up and looking some place, because the SS was always watched us, they didn’t want people to socialize or be in groups or stuff like that. You know, they didn’t want riots or something like that. And she was standing up and looking backwards and she was hollering and telling me. She never…
B: She never looked at you.
S: …she never talked just normal tone. She hollered constantly. And she was kind, she was so kind.
B: Now the girl from Munkacs who wanted to slice her wrists, she did not make it.
S: No, no, she didn’t slice…
B: No, no, she didn’t slice her wrists, but I mean did she make it?
S: She made it. Oh, yes. She made it, she came to this country and she remarried. Her husband died there also in the war, and she remarried and she lived in first Forest Hills and then she moved to Florida. And I saw her in Florida the past five, six winters. But she died about two, three years ago. She had cancer.
B: After the tape was turned off, Mrs. Schonfeld told me about some of the tortures she saw. One of these was infants being thrown up in the air like birds and shot. This completes my tape with Helena Schonfeld.

Listen to Helena's Story