Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

David Kahan - August 14, 1995

Hungarian Occupation

Do you remember when the Hungarians occupied the...

Yes, I, I do, even though I was young. It was sort of an atmosphere of, of, of a feeling of, of things not being right. Uh, the Hungarians, as soon as they came in, we had heard that they already had some laws against the Jews. As I mentioned earlier, Hungary was uh, under the German influence and they were desperately hoping to recoup some of their lost territory from the First World War. So we knew that already in Hungary they had some laws against the Jews. Uh, Jews could not own uh, tobacco shops and, and, uh, uh, different things like that. So we had a feeling that things are going to be worse. But knowing what's going to happen, we had no idea. I remember one sad situation the first time that I recall that my father was attacked uh, he was going to the Synagogue one day and a Hungarian soldier walked up to him...

Was it Arrow Cross...

and, and, and...

Arrow Cross Party?

No. Uh, he was uh, an army man. The Hungarian army occupied--and for no reason he uh, went over there and he, he hit my father and knocked him down to the ground. I remember we came home and we talked about that. This is the first time that I recall uh, that anybody has ever done that to him. So we realized that things are going to go bad. Uh, but it wasn't long, unfortunately--it, it wasn't really terrible until Germany occupied Hungary. Hungary realized that they were losing the war and we heard rumors that the President, Horthy wants to get out from the German influence and join the Allies. They, they realize that they are going to do the same thing that they have done in the First World War. And, and uh, the Hungarian Nazis, the Arrow Cross, to the best of my recollection found out about that and then I believe it was March the twentieth 1944, when the German army marched into Hungary, with the help of the Hungarian Nazis and they occupied Budapest and, and uh, a few Germans came into our--occupy, occupied the whole Hungary and all the part of Transylvania where we were. Then things started to get much worse. Until then, it wasn't as good when the Hungarians occupied us as it was before, but nothing really terrible happened to us until the Germans occupied Hungary, in a few days we had to wear the yellow stars. They asked the Jews to vacate the downtown areas, where the wealthy Jews resided. The, the, the rabbi and the shochet, the ritual slaughter and our cantor, they had to leave. The Synagogue was downtown. Matter of fact, the, the cantor moved into our house, our meager home, because he couldn't live downtown. So they started this, this kind of uh, procedures against Jews and it wasn't long after that that they uh, they, a policeman came one morning, appeared at our door about five or six o'clock and he said that, "I have orders to ask, ask you and all the Jewish population to pack your suitcase and congregate downtown in the largest public school in our city."

This is a Hungarian policeman?

It was a Hungarian policeman, yeah.

Not Arrow Cross and not army.

Not an Arrow Cross, no. No really, I, I, the Arrow Cross in Budapest or the large cities perhaps they were more prevalent. In our city, if there were any of these Arrow Cross, I didn't know about it and I never saw anybody wearing an Arrow Cross.

And had you heard of the Iron Guard?

Oh yes, yes. Unfortunately I heard that, over the Iasi Pogrom which happened uh, I believe it was in 1940, we heard about it that, that the Iron Guard has slaughtered a lot of Jews in Iasi. They took Jews and they took them to the slaughterhouses and they hanged them on the hooks like, like animals and they called it kosher meat. And we definitely heard about the Iron Guard in Romania and I also heard about the Arrow-Cross, but I did not uh, actually see any of them in my town.

So there were no guardists in your...

If they were, they weren't open and, and we didn't, we didn't, I don't recall ever seeing one.

At what point did your family discover that your oldest brother had died?

Uh, uh, the, the boys who were in the labor camps of course used to write home. And uh, one of our, someone my parents knew who was in the same battalion that my brother was. I remember that was maybe a year--I, I don't remember the date, but it was quite a while before we were deported that my mother found out that, that he's dead from somebody. And, and I remember, see her crying and talking to my father and they were both crying when they found out that he's dead. We didn't know the exact details until after the war, but eyewitnesses told my brother the story. My brother who is in Israel was told by other Hungarians who were in the same group that my oldest brother was. Yeah, we found out that he had died. He was a little bit uh, weak, he was very slim and uh, but in any case he chose not to live.

Did, did your father ever um, was he ever forced to shave his beard?

No, he was not.

So when he went to Auschwitz he still had...

He was not, that's right. Yeah. Yeah, he was uh, la, la, la, just a second please. Uh, I believe that just before we, we, just before they took us uh, to, to the ghetto, a few days before, for some rea...uh, he shaved his beard. He was worried about it and, and he did shave his beard before they took us to the ghetto.

How did that affect you or other people in your family?

I, I guess I was, I was uh, uh, fifteen when they took us and of course, you know, I just didn't understand it. I realized that when my father did that, that, that he did that so he shouldn't, that he wouldn't be attacked on the street, that things are getting worse for the Jews. It was more dangerous. But I, I, I think that we just, we just lived from day to day and accepted it helplessly. We had no--what could we do? I mean, when the, when the family moved in to us, the cantor and his family, so we just shared uh, we slept on the floor and shared our meager food that we had with them, because that was a natural thing to do. It was, it was our duty. So we really--I don't remember how it affected me, but it was part of our struggle. We, we accepted fate because we had to accept it; we had no other choice. We, we, we didn't know what else to do.

And under Hungarian occupation uh, was there rationing? Did people uh...

Yes, there was rationing. But uh, uh, I don't recall being as bad as--we, we, I was hungry many times before the Hungarians came in, for the simple reason that we couldn't afford food.

Were you still going to school after the Hungarians came?


Can you tell me about that?

Uh, yes, I was going to school 'til I was uh, I believe that I finished, I started out under the Romanians and I finished my, my schooling under the Hungarians. I went to both public schools. And when I was fourteen years old, that was a year before the deportation when I finished school. Yes.

And did you continue also to go to cheder?

Yeah. I continued on going to cheder 'til the last. Though I, I beg your pardon. I worked full-time. Uh, when I finished school I worked in a lumber factory at fourteen years old full-time already, so my cheder was interrupted. I, I worked full shift from morning, 'til eight o'clock in the morning 'til five o'clock in the afternoon. That was my last uh, about a year or so after I finished school.

So this was for a Hungarian company that you worked.

It was a Jewish company.

A Jewish company?

Yeah, yeah. The sawmills uh, unfortunately, these are one of the reasons for the historic anti-Semitism in Europe. It was religious of course, the, the--mostly religious, but also economic. Of course Jewish business people uh, were, were rather advanced. I mean, the Hungarians or the Romanians in my city, not many of them were good business people. We had seven sawmills in our city. That was uh, industry of my town, the only industry and they were all owned by Jews. Of course Jews had connections to different countries, they were shipping the lumber to England and to Hungary and to other places and, uh.

Were you Bar Mitzvahed?

Yes, I was, yeah.

During the...

Yeah, it was in the, it was the Hungarian. Uh, yeah, it was already Hungary and of course a Bar Mitzvah in uh, in Europe and particularly for a poor family was entirely different than, than, than what, what we have in this wonderful country. Uh, my mother baked a cake and my father bought a bottle of whiskey and I was called up to the Torah and I said the Haftarah and after that in the Synagogue we had Kiddush and that was it. I think I got a pair of new shoes. My old ones were real bad. And some new clothes. But uh, it was a rather small affair.

Had you heard about the events in Germany in the late thirties and early forties?

Yeah. It, it's sort of tragic when you think back, living in this fantastic country again. Uh, communications were so p--poor. We, we, I never read a newspaper. I, I don't recall, I think my father read once a Jewish newspaper that was brought in from some other city. We had no radio in our house. The richer Jews or the richer of the population in general must have had radios and they must, could have known more than we did, but uh, communication was so poor we heard that things are happening, bad things are happening to the Jews, about camps, we heard that the Germans were bad. If my parents knew more, they didn't tell us. I, I really uh, forgive me I, I missed your, I don't remember your question.

Well uh, uh, I wanted to know if you had heard of anything that was going on Germany. Had you heard of Hitler for example?

Oh, yes, I have heard of Hitler and I knew that Hitler was bad for the Jews. And, and I heard of some bad things happening in Poland to the Jews. Uh, we were scared just when the German troop tanks were going by, in our station they stopped in the Russian front, we were scared of the Germans. We always tried to stay away from them. We knew that they were bad for the Jews. But uh, uh, details of, of Auschwitz and, and uh, other extermination camps, we had no idea. Think, think, to think back now, but, but when they, they took the Hungarian Jews the war was almost over. It was a horrible tragedy that in the last few months of the war they, they killed between five-and six-hundred thousand Hungarian Jews in Auschwitz. But uh, we never heard of any, we never heard of Auschwitz and I never knew anything like that. Absolutely no knowledge.

When the Germans marched in--well, they didn't really march in, the Hungarians marched in. Is that what you said?

No, no. The real problem started when the Germans took over Hungary.

Took over. Um, so there were German troops in your town?

Uh, not too many. There was, there was a German who was, if I remember, he was called the Gauleiter. Like he was in charge of the town, a German officer who was in charge, who gave orders to the Hungarians. And I think they were, during the time that we went to our train I think I saw maybe one or two Germans, but it was all done by the Hungarians. There were a few Germans in, in our town who we knew, we recognized them by their uniform, but there weren't any troops or anything like that. Because uh, the Hungarians were probably eager enough to help them and, and uh, the, the, even if it wasn't Arrow Cross per se and we didn't see them wearing Arrow Crosses, but the Hungarian uh, the Hungarians who were pro-Germans have taken over the town.

Is this the Gendarmes?

Yeah, the Gendarmes were there. The Gendarmes actually were in the smaller towns. Uh, Gheorgheni was 15,000 people, it was a good size. We had little villages surrounding us that had a thousand population, two thousand, fifteen hundred, all those little places, they were the Gendarmes. And we already had a police department. We were already considered a city.

And did the, did the Jews from the surrounding area, the smaller towns, did they come in to Gheorgheni?

Uh, no they did not. No, we didn't see all the Jews until they took us to the ghetto. The Jews in the smaller towns were left--I don't know of their fate, I don't know the details what happened to them, but as far as I know, no horrible things had happened to the Jews uh, until um, until they took us to the ghetto and to Auschwitz.

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