The Allies continued their bombing campaign of Hungary until the end of the Soviet liberation of Budapest from January 16-18, 1945.
Story: G. Kovács, March 19, 2014, on the yellow-star house where he lived at Bartók Béla Road 20 in Budapest's 11th district.
"The selection of stories concerning the yellow-star houses brings up painful feelings for me. Between June 24 and October 17, 1944, I lived with my parents in the yellow-star house at Bártok Béla (then Horthy Miklós) Road 20. Our apartment was on Bártok Béla Road and so we wanted to stay in the area. We moved on Saturday evening, hours before the deadline on June 24, after the air-raid commander and house supervisor took an inventory of the things we were forced to leave behind.
We moved into a two-room staffed apartment facing the courtyard on the second floor at Bartók Béla Road 20. There were three families, seven people locked up here together. The room facing the street was occupied by the original tenants, two middle-aged teachers, who were very distrustful of the new residents. The biggest arguments were always over who could use the kitchen and bathroom when. Having to go through the kitchen into the next rooms was also unpleasant for the others.
Weeks and days passed in fear and uncertainty. We learned that our relatives in the countryside had been deported, and of various ominous events that could change our fate. The authorities limited the number of hours we could leave the house to three, which greatly restricted our movements and ability to shop. We were not allowed a radio but my father regularly brought the newspaper. The papers were full of Fascist and antisemitic propaganda, but you could follow events on the front. Another aspect of the discrimination was that we could only travel in the last supplementary carriage on the trams.
In early June, we received the harrowing news that my aunt and cousin Tamás, escaping Budapest to Slovakia, had been handed over at the border by their “escort” to the gendarmes, who took them to the Sárvár internment camp. From there they ended up on the last transport to Auschwitz, which happened after the deportations had “officially” been halted. My uncle Emil, who had escaped Košice, sent a “reassuring” letter saying that he was in Waldsee with his four-year-old daughter Zsuzsika and an elderly relative. At the time, we didn’t know that this meant the gas chamber.
I was twelve years old in 1944, and soon made friends with the other children living in the house. But our noise-making and apparently careless games did not go down well with our parents and the other residents living in that tense atmosphere. I spent a lot of time with Pál Takács, the young rabbi from Lágymányos, who was my religion teacher at the Petőfi (Werbőczy) Street grammar school. Apart from the concierge, only a few Christian residents remained in the house, including our next-door neighbor, Adorján Losádi Fekete, who was one of the leading Arrow Cross Party organizers in the 11th district. We met the non-Jewish residents mostly in the basement air-raid shelter during the bombings. There was no communication between us. Some of them didn’t even return greetings. Despite the curfew, a Christian friend of mine visited us regularly, and often brought with him illegal Hungarian Front flyers, reproduced on typewriters. One evening, we escaped from the house and distributed the call for peace on the street.
Later, the news spread that the Budapest Jews would be gathered up in rural camps. Following the Romanians’ departure from the war on August 23, the formation of the Lakatos government in Hungary somewhat eased our tense situation. The curfew was relaxed a little, and for the fall holidays, the authorities allowed us to pray in the Jewish elementary school building on Váli Street. Although the front was moving closer, a call was issued for school enrollment. On the morning of October 15, my mother and I went to an office on Erzsébet Boulevard, where I was accepted for the third class at the Jewish Grammar School. After we got home, around midday, the concierge switched the radio on, which was broadcasting Miklós Horthy’s ceasefire proclamation. We listened to the program in the courtyard. We breathed out in relief and hope. A friend of mine, Gyuri Schwartz, removed the yellow star from the entrance to our building. Some hours later, an officer came over from the neighboring Hadik barracks and who, with a gun, ordered that the emblem of discrimination be replaced immediately on the house. The Arrow Cross leader and his family were not at home at the time, but earlier, it had been “rush hour” at their place. The striking presence of so many “guests” may have been connected to the Nazi-assisted putsch. We saw everything, because the visitors passed under our window.
October 16 passed in an atmosphere of panic and fear. Two or three people who snuck out onto the street were snatched away by the Arrow Cross. Losádi Fekete’s wife returned, and her husband, the concierge, greeted her by shouting, “Perseverance, long live Szálasi!” On October 17, the house was occupied by Arrow Cross and police. Everyone was frisked and valuables were confiscated. We had to leave the house immediately. We could take undergarments and a little food with us in a small package. We waited, terrified, for what would happen next. The armed men took us and a few other families on foot to the yellow-star house at Budafoki Road 26/b. The building was mostly empty, because the residents had been taken away earlier. We didn’t know the area at all. The Arrow Cross and police regularly carried out raids in the house. They took my father away on October 23, and that is the last time I saw him. We were liberated on November 8, when the Jews had to leave Buda immediately. We set off for Pest, but my mother had to hurry back for her coat which she’d left behind. The Arrow Cross caught her and wanted to take her away. It is thanks to the concierge’s wife who opposed these armed striplings that my mother could finally leave the house in one piece.
We had only one chance left, to go to the yellow-star house at Vörösmarty Street 69/71, where my grandmother lived in a small room. They took us in. My mother was taken to the Óbuda brick factory on November 15, and escaped from there five days later. You could only go out onto the street between 1.30 and 3.30 pm. Our situation became even more bleak and hopeless. My father was deported at the end of November from Józsefváros railway station to Germany, even though he had a Swedish protection letter on him. Our ordeal continued on December 12 when we were “escorted” to the ghetto, and ended up at Dob Street 12. Of the hunger, fear of death and constant threats from the Arrow Cross, the most tragic was the fact that my dead grandmother’s body lay on the bed next to mine for days, as we could not bury her right away. The only hope during the weeks spent in the ghetto, and the immeasurable suffering, was that the Soviets would arrive and liberate us.
(I’ve been able to mention the precise dates because I have preserved my 1944 diary with me to this day.)"