Allied bombers over Budapest. Shortly after the German occupation, the Allies started bombing Hungary in early April 1944.
Story: P. Győri and siblings, February 18, 2014, on the yellow-star house where their family lived at Dembinszky Street 48 in Budapest's 7th district.
"When I was a child and 'star-houses' were discussed in the family, at first I thought of something really distinguished, because if something has a star on it, it must be lovely.
With my siblings’ approval, I’m sharing here what was described by our mother, Piroska Fischer, to her grandchildren, about life in the summer and early fall of 1944 in Dembinszky Street 48.
Earlier, my mother had lived in Damjanich Street in a three-room apartment, which they were forced to leave in June 1944. The four of them were moved into a room facing the courtyard in the yellow-star house at Dembinszky 48: my mother, who was 22 at the time, her parents, and maternal grandmother. Of their belongings, they only managed to take with them the parents’ bed and wardrobe, another bed and a mattress for the grandmother, which was placed on the floor for want of anything better. There was also a middle-aged married couple of teachers in one room of the apartment, and in another room, a German family who had Hungarian citizenship: three women (grandmother, the mother and an aunt), and two sons, aged 11 and 15. This forced cohabitation turned out to be a great stroke of luck, as everyone got on very well. They conjured up lunch together out of everyone’s meager rations. The middle-aged couple survived, together with Aunt Józsa and her descendants, and our families have remained friends until this day.
What was life like in a yellow-star house? Residents could leave the house between a fixed time in the morning, maybe 9, until five in the afternoon. Our mother recalled that there were some things Jews were not allowed to buy. At 5 p.m., the front gate was shut and nobody could go in or out. Four years had passed since my mother graduated from high school with top marks, but because of the numerus clausus [restriction on the number of Jews at university], she couldn’t continue her studies. She learned how to sew undergarments and tried to earn some money this way, taking on repairs to support the family, but because they weren’t allowed to move about freely, this became harder and harder. The family shopped from their paltry reserves and sometimes sold items, for instance, they got a relatively good price for the typewriter. They led a humble existence.
There was an enormous number of people living in the yellow-star house. Lots of children and older people. The residents only saw just how many people were living there when there was an air raid, and everyone had to go down into the basement. In situations like these, people don’t behave like they normally would, but my mother remembers that there were also lots of people there who preserved their dignity.
One day it was announced that they had to take in pupils from the Jewish orphans’ home on the neighboring avenue, because for some reason it had no working kitchen. The very next day, every family received an orphan and gave them a warm welcome, doing their best to give them a good lunch. They were very nice to them and the children were also very friendly. In the boiling hot summer, all the orphan boys and girls were wearing thick baize clothes. Seeing this, the girls and young women in the house made up garments and summer clothing out of their own clothes, for the children. They took great care of the children they took in.
Everyone was pleased when forced laborers came to visit. The laborers were already in great danger, and everyone was afraid that they’d be taken to Ukraine, Serbia or a warzone. The front was moving closer and closer, and everyone in the house knew of the Normandy landings. Of course, they hadn’t had radios for a long time, because every Jewish family had had to hand these in much earlier. And then there were the terrible bombings that had already reached Pest. But they hoped that things would somehow turn out okay.
After Horthy’s proclamation in October and the Arrow Cross took over, that was when the destruction of Budapest Jews began. Everyone had to move into the central ghetto, but there were also other places outside the ghetto, different schools and offices where people were moved into, including the offices of the Bureau for the Protection of the Rights of the Jews of Hungary. In the end, everyone they found was taken to the ghetto. Our father, Dezső Gold, who was already engaged to our mother, arrived back in Pest from forced labor service in Transylvania on October 16, and never went back. Everyone else from his group was deported. He acquired what was called a Schutzpass protective passport, which could be issued by name, and was filled out for the family.
Meanwhile, in early October, our grandfather had a punctured stomach from all the stress, and had to be taken into hospital. The oldest boy from the family living with them accompanied him to the hospital. There was a Jewish hospital on Wesselényi Street; today, the building houses a Jewish foundation’s school. They sewed his stomach up there and quickly sent him home. This was when the decree came on October 20 that called up all men under the age of 60 who were not soldiers or forced laborers. This was when they took away our fellow resident, the teacher. A policeman came for our grandfather, but because of his recent stomach operation, he couldn’t get out of bed. Three days later all women under the age of 50 were also called up, including our mother. Our grandmother, who had just turned 50, accompanied her to the front gate and, without crying, watched as her only daughter was taken away. They were assembled together at the KISOK sports field where the terminus of the underground line is today at Mexikói Road. From there, they were force marched under armed Arrow Cross guard towards Pécel, east of Budapest. They slept in all sorts of barns, in the forest, and sometimes rested after digging anti-tank traps and trenches. They could take food with them from home, and were later given bread; our mother told us the bread was thrown at them. She was lucky to be able to stay with the women she knew from the yellow-star house. Later, as the front moved closer, they were marched back once again to Pest, and from Pest over to Budafok. Meanwhile there was an air raid, and one of the policemen reassured them by saying, 'don’t worry girls, Uncle Joe (Stalin) won’t shoot you from the plane'.”