Stories of Survival
AG: With your mother. What was her name?
EK: My mother, my mother… was a model in one of the biggest fur salons. She was a beauty, people would turn their head on the street as she would be walking, I remember that. Not as bright as my grandma but she was very beautiful – [laughs] usually the two don’t go very well together unfortunately, you know – we are in the middle. So she got married and that was it; I don’t know what year she got married, I don’t remember that but I don’t think that’s too crucial… it has to be before I was born so probably ’32 or ’31. She was very young – wait a minute- she was just past 20 so she was born in 1913… how’s your mathematics?
AG: Maybe she would have been 20 years old in 1933.
EK: So something like that, 19 or 20, right. So then until my father was taken away she was staying with us at home and then my father had to go for forced labour, then she went and worked in the franchise business for my uncle, I mean my father had some shares. So that was that, and my grandma, I mean her mother, my mother’s mother, stayed with us to run the household so she could go to work and then comes 1944 March 15th – that’s the crucial date - from that date we already were ordered to wear the Mogen Dovid, you know the yellow star, and I was still going to school with that yellow star sewn on my coat, and it was horrible, you never forget that. I think it was the end of June when we had to move into designated houses, which was in the ghetto area but it wasn’t enclosed yet but that building was, the name of the street was called Vas Utca and that was in the real Jewish quarter of Budapest.
AG: Had you lived near there before? Had you lived in the Jewish area before?
EK: No, no, no… we lived in the Eight District where my grandmother and the business was and where lived all the family. No, no, where we lived this was the Jewish district. We lived where most of the assimilated Jews lived; there is a distinction you see.
AG: As a child did you speak any languages other than Hungarian?
EK: Not before the war, no. I had some instructions, I remember, in a synagogue, but there is such a vague recollection I have. All the other memories are so much stronger, which I am sure is not unusual with people, I am not an exception. No, I did not read Hebrew; I did not do any of this. We had some lessons, I remember, but that was just before the war and was lots of trouble, you know, the last part of it. So then, we were moved in there, there were curfews; limited access to going to the other part of town, but it wasn’t really closed like later on. Then came the Nazis, and the Hungarian Nazis you know, the whole Horthy regime, you probably heard of it. Goering collapsed and it was getting more and more vicious, the whole situation, and then the Germans were really clamping down and making the ghetto fight. Just before that, because my father and my uncle had the Swedish ball-bearing SKF, that’s the famous company the Swedish ball-bearing company franchise; Wallenberg at that time was starting to issue those letters of protection, my mother and myself and my sister had them. My uncle got them, because he was married to a Gentile, and he was not, because he served in the First World War, for one reason or another he was not taken. I don’t know why or how he managed it, but anyway we got this letter of protection, then we had to be removed at night under secrecy to another part, close to the shores of the Danube in another district, Fifth district of Budapest, and then we were in December already, that was horrendous, that was just awful, very bad memories. Anyway we had not enough food; ten of us were sleeping in one room. I remember I slept on two armchairs, their legs were tied on the bottom so I wouldn’t fall or push it away This was a very select group, needless to say, and I, without a Mogen Dovid, I would go out because I was very responsible and very mature for my age. You see when we went with these letters of protection also both of my grandmothers came with us but they did not have a letter of protection and my mother and my uncle felt that it’s possible that they can slip aside. I would go to one of the markets there and I would go and buy some food and of course walk on the street; they didn’t know that I was a Jew; I didn’t look like too much of a Jewish kid so I got away with it. And the last couple of weeks in December they came and examined everybody, they lined up everybody and who didn’t have the letter of protection they just put them in the lineup and they were going to take them to the ghetto. And my sister goes with my grandma so I had to go and rescue her from the lineup; but anyway both of my grandmothers survived in a ghetto. Amazing. Anyhow I have seen people being shot in the dining room, we were not very far, those who were not taken were just put up, line up, and shot. Horrible, I never forget those things. So, it’s enough for the past, isn’t it?