After the Arrow Cross takeover of power on October 15, 1944, Jewish males in Budapest aged 16-60, and Jewish women aged 16-40, were forcibly conscripted, thousands of whom were marched to the western border to build fortifications, or employed in concentration and labor camps in Germany. Between 50-70,000 people died in the combined forced labor projects.
Story: J. Deme, interviewed in 2004 for the Centropa Archive, on the yellow-star house where she lived at Paulay Ede Street 43 in Budapest's sixth district.
"Late in her life, my grandmother had moved in with my Aunt Aranka on Paulay Ede Street. This later became a yellow-star house. In 1940, my grandmother went into hospital, where she died. I don’t know how old she was. Days in the yellow-star house were boring and pointless. A bunch of people locked up together. Only young boys, ladies and old people remained. All the men had been taken into forced labor service. They squeezed in as many families as they possibly could. What was funny was that this was a house with a double courtyard, and in the front courtyard, which was in better shape, there was a brothel on the first floor.
Every window of the brothel was papered over so that people knew that there were whores in there, not Jews. It was a closed courtyard, and the whores were not the streetwalker type, you couldn’t go downstairs in the evening; even if the women did go downstairs sometimes, the men never did. The brothel was run by a very nice French couple. The woman was called Josephine something or other. They had a bulldog, I remember that well. They were very nice, very liberal, and got on well with the residents, we even got on with the whores too, it wasn’t a problem. One of the whores lived with a Horthy detective. When she came down into the air-raid shelter in the basement, the detective came with her, but nobody minded. He didn’t think it was such a glorious thing to be living in a brothel, but there he lived and kept himself to himself. Generally, the detectives’ job was to track down Jews, and conspirators against the state. I don’t remember this man, but only know that he came down into the basement like anyone else, and never caused any problems, he was that sort of guy, and clearly the woman was also a good sort, you could feel it with them. The women were all just really nice. People in the yellow-star house were quarreling with one another and arguing all the time. Clairvoyants came, and Gypsies also came to swap stuff. My two female cousins swapped the contents of my aunt’s entire trousseau, which nobody ever wore, for a chicken. At some point they had made linen knickers and slips, and put them away in the chest. My generation never wore things like that, not even my aunt, I don’t think. They swapped the whole lot with the Gypsies. We always had delicious fried chicken. They criticized us in the house for giving too much stuff away in exchange for a chicken. People’s lives were ruled by idling, which I got sick of, pulled myself up and went out to work. I got a tip from Laci Vajda, a dentist who lived in the house, that there was work available on construction sites. One we cleared rubble from the gentry casino on the corner of Aréna [then Vilma királynő] Road and Gorkij [today Városligeti] Avenue. I loved working with the roofers. We climbed out of a four-story house, I sat on the joists and handed up the bricks. Nobody forced me to do this, I’m not scared of heights. Even today I still see that house opposite Szondi Street, where I sat on the roof, laying tiles. It was a very good group of people. The boss was a Jewish engineer, Mr. Markovics. I don’t know which engineering company he worked for, and I don’t know how he got a job like that, after the German occupation. They sent us all around the city, but mostly we were at the end of Gorkij Avenue, working with the remains of the gentry casino. My co-workers were very sweet Jewish girls. We all wore the [yellow] star. We had a really good time, lugging stuff about, taking joists, laying bricks, it was so much better than sitting in the yellow-star house conjuring up spirits because there was nothing else to do.
My father was on forced labor service but was allowed leave in Pest from time to time. Once he brought us some goose giblets but my two female cousins were too lazy to cook them, even though they stayed at home all day doing nothing; they stuck them in the refrigerator where they got full of maggots. That’s what crappy refrigerators were like in those days, you had to add the ice yourself. We could only go shopping during designated hours [under the Budapest curfew], but there was a crazy shortage of goods. There was nothing. There was “Sztójay” sausage, the worst liver pâté, and things that tasted even more terrible. [NB: In the wartime vernacular, poor quality foodstuffs were named after politicians blamed for the shortages. Thus the hard block of jam made from mixed fallen fruits was called “Hitler bacon.” Döme Sztójay was the antisemitic Prime Minister of Hungary from March to August 1944.] People took what they could get. Which was very little. There were no Jewish shops, they had been closed. You had to guess where Jews could go to shop. I don’t know where the others went shopping, I bought things at various place on the way home from work. I had to be home by 5 pm, and worked until 4 with the girls, who lived nearby. We went happily along Király Street, nobody bothered us, and on the way, we bought food and ate it. We didn’t have a ration ticket, or even a Jewish ration ticket, we bought what we could [the Public Supply Minister’s decree 108.500 K.M. of May 1, 1944, regulated the provisions Jews were entitled to, e.g. 100 grams of meat per week, 300 grams of sugar and cooking oil per month.]
The yellow-star house was at Paulay Ede Street 43, where my cousins lived. That’s where they grew up, that’s where their apartment was, but in the meantime both their parents died, and the two girls stayed on there. One of them, who is still alive today, was hidden by her prospective husband, who then didn’t become her husband after all. I stayed there with my other cousin. I was in one room with a very sweet old Jewish man, whose wife had been killed in the Vienna ghetto. There was also a couple named Dengler, who had a fish, game and poultry shop at the Buda-side bridgehead of Margit Bridge. They were very sweet, elderly people. It was good for my family that we were nominally together there, since they would have stuck total strangers in there too, however many. From November 1944, we had to go down into the basement air-raid shelter every night. The cannons were already thundering, and the Russians were already in Vecsés [19 km from Budapest], which we didn’t know, because Jews weren’t allowed radios. They had taken them away a long time ago [in April 1944]. There were no newspapers either, apart from the Arrow Cross paper, but we didn’t dare buy it and didn’t want to anyway. We knew nothing. This yellow-star house had an interior walkway around the courtyard, so it wasn’t like someone could listen to English radio [the BBC World Service]. There were house inspections, sometimes twice a night, and once I picked up a leaflet in English, and kept it in my bedside cabinet, but luckily it was never noticed. On November 9, 1944, they closed the gates of the yellow-star house on us. Before that, we weren’t locked in, there was just a curfew, but then they locked us in. They herded us downstairs at dawn, I went down in pajamas and long trousers. And that’s how I came home too, in the same pajamas I’d pulled on earlier. My walk was very unfortunate, since my father had brought me a brand new pair of black high-heeled shoes for all eventualities, and it was those I put on, which made my feet bleed during the march. The ladies noticed that I was limping. I didn’t know any of them. They sat me down, tore the shoes off me—which were by now bloody—and someone gave me a pair of heavy boots, which I tied onto my feet with string, because my feet were size 35. That’s how I walked, and came home in them too. I had a bonnet, a sort of pointed cap which you tied under your chin to wear in winter. I wouldn’t have worn it, because it wasn’t so cold, but I put it on right away. They didn’t give us time to get dressed properly. I threw some cheap jam and liver paste in a backpack. I didn’t meet anyone I knew, which even now I still don’t understand, because the entire street and house was forced onto the street. I just ambled along alone, and then the next thing was the death march [to the Hegyeshalom border crossing with Austria]."
From the Centropa archive.