Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Agi Rubin - December 19, 1984

Family and Religious Life

When you spoke earlier about the Jewish traditions, tell me what it was like in your house on Friday nights.

Friday night, in the household the father was the king of the household. I don't know if I said that correctly, of the household... he was the king of the Shabbat... it was peaceful, it was serene, it was fun. We had just a routine dinner that my mother was busy for two days prior to the Friday because that was a very important thing for a housewife to see that the family is well-fed and well-kept. That was the mother's department. They weren't women's libbers, they upheld to the tradition. On Saturday morning, my father and my little brother would go to synagogue, my mother stood at the door with all the joy in her face seeing her man off to Shul, to synagogue, and that was her pleasure. And it was rewarding, too. And she was 100% house manager, I would call it today, because she saw to it that things ran just, uh to that day. And on holidays, on Rosh Hashanah and Pesach, the whole family would get together, it was at somebody else's house, with all the children and it was just a carefree, wonderful life. My father wasn't the richest person, but I always thought I was the dream of Munkacs, because it wasn't discussed with children as to what or how much your father earns, that was not our value system, how much money do you make... what are you doing, what are you accomplishing. Children were not aware of social things. I don't know whether this is right or wrong, you had your department. I was a child I had to go to school. I had to turn to my side of the business. As far as my father was concerned, he had to take care of the family, because that was his responsibility. But as a family, we were a complete unit.

Was your father involved in any politics that you know of?

Not that I know of. I remember he was a member of the Mizracha organization. But as a politician, I couldn't tell you.

Do you remember any discussions in the house, in the late 30's, '38, '39?

Yes, that I recall listening with one ear that some Polish people went over the border and a man came to the city and was telling horror stories that people are being killed, and he escaped from under the earth, and people didn't believe this. We thought the man either was crazy or he was to have pity, people would help him, they fed him, maybe they helped him moneywise and sent him on his way again. So, we are just as guilty as anybody else as far as believing. We didn't believe, because we weren't there yet. It didn't hit us directly. Yes, of course, I'm sure the elders and the people in politics knew that it was obvious that things were changing, but personally, you weren't involved yet. At that point, it was only a story and an unbelievable story. Just like we wouldn't talk about it after liberation. We wouldn't refer to our stories. I guess myself, because hearing the story that they didn't believe. I didn't believe it myself, how could I make you understand something that I don't believe? Only after so many years, I am able to really open up, partially open up, and talk about it being that we know that our generation is dying out and if we don't forward our experiences, nobody else will, and I think that particular story left me with this feeling that, this not believing, you should listen to people and there must be some foundation to it if people tell you stories.

This was a Polish Jew who came?


Do you recall any anti-Semitism before the Hungarians came?

I didn't feel it. First, I went to private school, Hebrew school, but I associated with our neighbors who were non-Jewish people and we were very close friends, except Christmas time... I was always jealous because I couldn't go to their house because it wasn't kosher. Yet, my mother never told me that you are not allowed to eat non-kosher food. But, I felt that God would just strike me if I entered the house and I would eat something... but, as far as being Jewish, no, I didn't know there was any difference. Until one day, I uh, my brother was five years old and he had a very good friend, [pause] a drunken man who roamed the streets and the story went about him was that he was shot and lost one of his legs because he was stealing, and we called him in our area one of the beggars that lived in trenches, and but people helping him here and there. My brother was his real friend. He would help him out of the trench; he would take food out of the house without telling my mother; he would say I am hungry, I want a sandwich; and he would stick it in his pocket and take it to Lotzi, that was his name. And, he was forever guiding this poor man. When the Germans came, things started changing and my brother came in one day crying. He said, "Mother, smell me." She said, "yes, Mika what's your problem?" He said, "do I stink?" "Of course not." "Well, how come Lot called me a dirty Jew? My friend." He was drunk and he wanted to help him up. He said, he shoved him, "Go away you dirty Jew." Little did he know then that that was his destiny, being a Jew at the age of six he would be cremated. That was the first sign from my personal point of view and of course it left [pause] eh, aside from that I couldn't feel it really, it existed, because we knew who was Jewish, who wasn't Jewish, even though we were neighbors. We lived differently. Our traditions were different.

Do you remember the Munkacs Rebbe?

No. That was a normal for me. I only remember the crowds gathering. I remember him vaguely, I couldn't describe his face. He was a very stately looking man, a beard, of course. And he was always surrounded with his guards, bodyguards. And uh, I remember his daughter got married and uh the president of the Czechoslovakia, Masaryk, was invited. It was a big event.

Did he come?

Of course. Everybody came, I wasn't invited so, but I could see the crowd. [laughter] He was a very wise man. And a lot of statesmen came to, for his advice, in an unofficial capacity. He was known as one of the wisest Rabbis and very religious. [pause] He has a grandchild that just got married in New York or somebody from the family and also upheld the very traditional Jewishness.

You think then, that Jews came to study with him at the Yeshiva?

Oh, yes.

So it was a cultural center?

Definitely, yes.

How large was the City in population?

We had 20,000 all together in 1944.

And over half were Jews?

I would say, uh, 60 some, as far as I know, it was 60 some, some people would say it was 70...

Percent were Jews?

But I would settle for 60. [laughter]

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