Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Emanuel Tanay - March 16, 1987


Now how did you end up in Sighet?

I was, when the Germans came in, there was... and Rumania was safe still, you see, so sometime un in, it was June, in June of 1944, uh, a group of us were going through the border to Rumania and from Rumania you could go to Constance and there were ship, you could go to Israel. I mean not, Palestine at that time obviously, and that's what, that's how we got arrested crossing the border.

Then how did you escape from this?

It's a long story, uh, we escaped really through, through an effort of mine, in a sense. You know there was a, one of the Gestapo men one time came to me and talked to me that he's a Serb that he's really involved with the underground etc., etc., And I believed him; which seems foolish, but I believed him and turned out it was right. And I gave him the address and contact with people in Budapest, my mother and he and she.... and it's a long story and I can't describe it all to you, but he, he rescued us. A long complicated story. And I rescued him later on. Because one day he escaped in his underwear, he was to be shot and I hid him. And you know, after the wars in Munich, he was being pursued by other Yugoslavs because they, and I hid him there in Munich. And through other contacts, sent him to Belgium because he was in danger after the war, cause you see, even though he was indeed helpful, there were other Yugoslavs who viewed him as a Gestapo man and I helped him.

So again, you were helped, by a non-Jew?

Oh clearly, I was helped, you know, it was the way the relationship between this man, Nicholas, Nicholas was his name, developed is that he would every so often give me a cigarette. I didn't smoke, but others did, and then, I was the youngest in the group, remember at that time what, we talking about, I'm 16, okay? So I was the youngest, and he was uh, we developed a contact, he talked to me and I talked to him and uh, then when he told me what he told me, I believed him. Which is, you know, again, there was a kind of a sixth sense that you develop. You had to on those situations sometimes go to somebody and reveal your identity and your predicament and you had to guess who would be helpful. Right? There have been many occasions when I would go to somebody and I would say, look, I am a Jew in hiding, I need your help. Okay? And, you know, I have never missed. Part is luck, but part is some kind of an ability to recognize that that person would be helpful, or recognition that someone is suspicious of you. Someone looked at you some way and you knew that person is thinking that I am a Jew. The next move that he's gonna make will be something dangerous and I better get out of here.

Did you spend the rest of the time, the rest of the war in Hungary?

Yes, I was liberated in Budapest. That was a strange experience, too. You see in the last days Budapest was surrounded and there was fighting house to house, everybody went into cellars. You know, because houses were being destroyed. But, they would be searching even those days, the Sztójay people would be searching for Jews. So we couldn't go there. Our house, it was a villa, didn't have a basement. We remained on the first floor out of fear of going into one of those anti-aircraft... uh, because Budapest was heavily bombarded and that's where we were liberated and there was fighting house to house and we heard Russians and we expected to be liberated by Russians and I remember when the Germans retreated from our house, I ran to the door, opened the door to have the advancing Russian come in and who walked in? but it was some guy who spoke a language I didn't understand and put a gun to my head was about to shoot me. It turned out it was a Rumanian troop, which I was totally unaware of, and on the spot I began to say to him something, Polenay, Polenay, and he understood that I was not a German or a Hungarian, and I wasn't shot.

So there were Germans in the house with you?

Oh, yeah, in from our, you see there was the German military that were shooting, they had a machine gun embankment. They were, it was house to house fighting.

As far as you know, those people thought you were Hungarians.

Oh sure, sure, the Germans were there, they were advising us how we could escape from the advancing Russians and we were asking them how we can escape and how, and they said it wouldn't be so safe. [laughs] We had no, we had no intention of going with them, but we were pretending and then they were apologizing when they were abandoning us to the advancing Russians. [laughs]

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