Excerpt from the 1988 Hungarian documentary Fényképek gyermekeinknek (Pictures For Our Children).
At 2 pm on October 15, 1944, Governor Horthy announced on the radio that Hungary was requesting a ceasefire. His representatives had already signed a ceasefire agreement in secret in Moscow on October 11. Against the wishes of the army officer corps, and because of the armed intervention by the Arrow Cross and their German occupying supporters, the poorly-prepared attempt to leave the war ended in failure. That afternoon, armed Arrow Cross men had occupied strategic points in the capital. Horthy, whose son had been kidnapped by the Nazis and Arrow Cross, withdrew his proclamation in another radio address that same evening, named Arrow Cross leader Ferenc Szálasi as Prime Minister, and announced he was stepping down from his post as Governor.
Story: Mrs. Gy. Uhrman, February 18, 2014, on the yellow-star house where she lived at Dohány Street 47 in Budapest's 7th district:
"My name is Mrs. György Urhman, born Katalin Zinger. In 1944, I was 12 when the Germans entered Hungary and the order was issued to establish the yellow-star houses. My parents and older brother had been living in a small apartment in the house overlooking Teleki Square. The story begins while my father was on forced labor service, and we heard nothing from him for months. So the three of us had to move. Via the husband of my maternal aunt, Mrs. Árpád Wellisch, we ended up with other relatives at a four-room apartment owned by an American citizen, Mr. Dreisen, at Dohány Street 47, where he lived with his wife and their daughter Éva.
The compulsory yellow star was placed on the front of the house, the front gate had to be kept closed, and we could only go out for a short period of time, as far as I recall between 11 a.m. and 2-3 p.m. In order to make sure the regulations were being observed, a register of all residents had to be compiled and posted next to the entrance. Officials (one police, one civilian) would arrive unannounced at various times. They held a roll-call of the register, and if anyone was not present, then they (and the others?) were in trouble. Once, when they reached Éva Dreisen’s name, there was no answer. We were terrified: what will happen now? It was either the officials or the other residents who finally found her in the air shaft next to the bathroom. She had been asked on the street to show her ID on the day the Germans entered Hungary, March 19, and taken away. I don’t remember when how long they kept her for. From then on, she was petrified of all official inspections, and that’s why she’d crawled through the bathroom window into the air shaft.
Apart from these unexpected checks, life was initially bearable. We children soon made friends and played together. Among the adults, there were very old men and women of various ages. When we were allowed to go outside, the women went shopping, as long as they had money. They mostly bought food for cooking, baking or keeping in reserve. They spent the rest of their time conjuring up spirits. They wrote the alphabet on a piece of drawing paper which they divided in two with a perpendicular line with “yes” on one side and “no” on the other. They drew a circle in the middle of the line. At the beginning of the séance, they placed a glass upside-down which the medium moved with her second and middle finger. The participants suggested a spirit to contact, usually someone’s deceased relation. The medium asked, “Dear spirit, are you there?” and the glass would wander towards yes or no. When the séance went well, participants could ask about deceased relatives, and the glass spelled out the answer. Children were not allowed in, so I only know about this from what I was told, and also because one of my aunts was so receptive to the séances that if she was alone, she conjured up spirits by herself. She made herself a smaller sheet and substituted the glass with a coin, but got rid of that later because as she said, “the spirits are speaking from within me.” After the ghetto was liberated, she said she’d dreamed of the numbers 10 and 18 a few days earlier, that the Russians were coming. But that’s a later story.
As I said before, this relatively bearable existence did not last long. Everything took a turn for the worse after the Arrow Cross takeover of power. I will never forget October 15, 1944. After Horthy’s radio proclamation, everyone dashed out onto the corridors and rejoiced. One of my maternal uncles who had escaped from forced labor service said: “Crazy Jews, stop celebrating! Now comes the hardest part.” Then he left, saying he was going to find his wife and three young children. We never saw him again, nor any of the 11 of my mother’s relatives who were deported from the countryside.
On December 2, 1944, an Arrow Cross man and a policeman appeared. All the residents had to go downstairs into the courtyard, and we were given instructions on what we could take with us, etc. We took with us a small suitcase containing papers, a small basket of food, and some bedding. We had to go up one by one to the apartment and then back down to the courtyard. There was no exemption for the old people. This is one of my tragicomic memories. The residents realized that they would be taking us away, although we didn’t know where to. Then someone shouted that they had a protection letter, a Swiss one. The Arrow Cross man took it, read it, then tore it up and said “according to Interior Minister Gábor Vajna’s instructions, this protection letter is invalid.” The bearer of the letter was not upset, but just produced another one, which met the same fate. Once all the rejections had been heard, and all the protection letters torn up, they left us standing in the courtyard, and the Arrow Cross man and the policeman went from apartment to apartment checking whether anyone had been left behind, while at the same time collecting all the valuables and getting completely drunk. We finally set off towards evening. We ended up at the nearby Klauzál Square where we waited around for hours. We didn’t know at the time that we were on the territory of the designated ghetto.
Another humorous memory: a Jewish lady from our group went up to an Arrow Cross man and asked him: “Brother! What will happen to us?” He was so drunk he wasn’t even offended by the “brother,” and replied: “What else? The Russians will come and you will go home.” Sadly, not everyone went home. Lots died there from hunger, or shot in groups by armed groups who broke into the houses. 25 people from my extended family lived in a two-room, third-floor apartment at Akácfa Street 54, which contained empty wardrobes, a table and chairs and, in one room, two beds covered only with wires.
All non-Jewish residents and traders had to move out of the territory of the ghetto, and I watched this mass migration from the window. That’s when I had the idea of removing the yellow star from my coat and just standing behind one of the moving carts: nobody would notice a child. And this is how it happened. I have to recall the concierge’s family from Dohány Street 47, the Halász family. They were good people, and helped us as much as they could. Auntie Halász was particularly fond of me, and when they rounded up the first group destined for the ghetto, she said I could stay with them. Of course I didn’t want to leave my family. Although someone denounced them for hiding Jews, luckily, nobody was found in their apartment. So as someone “moving house,” I went to see Auntie Halász, who had been given the keys to all the apartments by the Arrow Cross. I let myself into the flat with the keys and started packing. I took mostly bedding and food, but underwear too. Then I went down to the street and “took” an empty moving cart, which I loaded with my things and went to the ghetto. Since this went so well, I repeated the whole thing every day until every entrance to the ghetto was sealed up with 5-meter-tall boards.
I also remember another good person, a Christian man named Rudolf Szekér, who worked as a waiter with one of my paternal uncles. Mr. Szekér often visited our family in the ghetto. When he learned we had ended up there, he did not rest until he had walked the entire length of the ghetto and finally he found us. From that point on, he came every day with a few loaves of bread. Stacked up two or three loaves across, we had a good meter-and-a-half pile of bread. Of course, it ran out by January 18 and was as hard as stone, but this is how we managed not to die of hunger. Otherwise, conditions were terrible, with 360 people together in a shelter built for 120. The smell was so bad there that while we were in there we didn’t notice it, but if someone went out and came back in again, they almost fainted from the stench. Even babies were born there, and how their mothers managed to keep them clean is a mystery. But on January 18, the ghetto was liberated. My brother told me in the morning that he was going to go out onto the street, because he was waiting for our Father, about whom we knew nothing. In response, our mother slapped him hard, twice. Of course, he still went onto the street, and wonder of wonders, our Father returned home. Of all the miracles which helped us survive, that was maybe the greatest.
And at that point, we still believed that the Horthy period was over for us forever—the same Horthy period that is being glorified in full force today. But that’s another tale."