The siege of Budapest lasted from December 29, 1944, until February 13, 1945.
In the Budapest ghettos during the final months of the war, people spent much of their time in the basement air-raid shelters.
Story: T. Halász, March 9, 2014, on the yellow-star house where he lived at Hollán Ernő Street 12 in Budapest's 13th district.
"My mother’s 13-year-old nephew spent weeks in the yellow-star house of 12 Hollán Street, first with his grandparents then alone. Later the grandparents (my great-grandparents) were moved to 54 Pozsonyi Road, and afterwards they were liberated in the ghetto. We have postcards sent to and from these addresses describing the situation briefly.
The attached postcard was sent by my great-grandfather, great-grandmother and their grandson, to my Uncle, who was my great-grandparents’ son-in-law, and the father of their son. The postcard was returned; Béla Polatschek, conscripted for forced labor service, was certainly not alive by this time.
I am citing here an excerpt from my conversation with the grandson, my uncle, who talked about his time in Hollán Street.
- Did your grandparents end up in the ghetto from Hollán Ernő Street? Did they have to move in there?
- Yes, they were moved from Hollán Street.
- Was the yellow-star house evacuated?
- No, not completely, a few of us could stay there, there was a roll call, and besides me perhaps ten others were allowed to stay on.
- So few in the whole building?
- Many people were taken away.
- And then you remained there alone?
- With strangers in Hollán Street?
- Yes, there was a room, and all around the wall there were mattresses on the floor. We stayed in there, fifteen to twenty in a room at the beginning, and everybody had their own mattress. And we were sleeping there side by side with Grandma, Grandpa and me. And then they were taken away and I remained there alone.
- And then, alone as a young child, what did you do?
- Now, it was like this: with the [yellow] star on, one could go out for only two hours a day. The building next door on the corner was not a Jewish house, the concierge there was a rotten Arrow Cross man.
It was daytime when they rang and came… When they rang the bell on the gate, I jumped over to the courtyard of the Christian house at a frantic speed. There was a wire fence between the courtyards; it could not be too high as I knew I could get across. I quickly took off the [yellow] star and left through the gate of the Christian house.
I didn’t know how the concierges moved around. I always returned when leaving was allowed, so the gate was open. Thus, I left through the Christian house when our gate was locked and returned through our own gate. Otherwise, I wouldn’t know where the concierge was. This was the way I moved in and out. I regularly went to see my grandparents in the ghetto, I smuggled in bread for them.
I always took the tram and at the corner of the Boulevard and Rákóczi Road, where there was the café…
- Café Emke?
- That one, maybe. There was always a check-point. I took the tram because it went past there, and I got off at the National, the National Theatre was still there. Then I was beyond the identity check area.
- So did they not board the tram?
- No. I always got off there, and went to the ghetto.
- And so there were a few weeks while you were roaming around in the town on your own?
- And what did you do?
- It was impossible to do anything legally, because one had to stay indoors all day.
- Was there anybody in the house whom you knew?
- I know that there was a classmate from secondary school, Jancsi Pataki, together with his mum. I can’t remember if they stayed longer or were also taken to the ghetto.
- Did you have a small suitcase, a bundle with your personal belongings?
- Yeah, I had a small bundle.
- Weren’t you afraid of coming and going on you own? Weren’t you caught?
- Once a really tough thing happened. There was a tram-stop in front of the Víg Theatre. I was going there to board the tram and get downtown. I was standing and waiting, and saw that the tram was at the foot of the Margit Bridge (where there was another stop). Then a Levente patrol [interwar paramilitary scouting organization] came, and asked me to identify myself. I did not want to, as I did not have Levente papers, only an address registration slip on which I had written “r.k.” [Roman Catholic].
So I was chattering away, and waiting for the tram to arrive. I can still remember that it was the no. 66 tram. I know that it was not line 6, as the 66 looked different. The tramcars were different.
I thought that when it arrived, I would board at the last door of the last car, and if these guys wanted to get on after me, I would kick them off. But the tram didn’t come…
Then a man in civilian clothes with an SS armband came close and asked what the matter was… “Heil Hitler”, “Heil Hitler”… The Levente patrol says that I don’t want to identify myself. Then the guy says, leave it, I will take care of him. They left, the man also got on the tram, which had finally arrived. He disclosed he was a Jew too, saying that he is also “on télak.”
- On télak?
- This was kind of slang… that he was a fugitive, in hiding. We talked quietly, so only he and I could hear, how lucky I was…
- The patrol were frightened by him…
- Of course, he had an SS armband on. And so then we went in town and he got off somewhere. Before me, I travelled further. I was so shocked, it lasted for a while. But then one was shocked continuously. As a child, I didn’t really understand these things…
- Did you get news of what was going on outside? For example, that the Russians were drawing closer?
- News was coming all the time: I remember that once I looked down and saw that a child with ginger hair, Pisti Róth, my classmate in primary school, was being ID checked. “My God, this is a Jewish child” – Arrow Cross guys were checking his ID. In front of the house, on Hollán Street, on the other side. Then they left. We met again after the war, I went to see him, I knew where they lived. I said Pisti, I remember… He answered, “I was lucky, I’m not circumcised.”
- Did they get him to pull down his pants?
- Yes. They got him to take his pants off. His red hair had caught their attention. Another morning, I looked out one morning and saw that there were soldiers on the corner. Next to them was a small thing with food in it. But it was not a Hungarian uniform and their guns were different, and all that. Everybody began looking outside… “The Russians are here…”
- And the Russians were there all of a sudden, under the window?
- That’s right, all of a sudden, the Russians were there under the window. In the first few days, nobody dared to show too much joy, because in many places, the Russians had entered and then the Germans drove them back… Everybody kept their mouths shut. But after a couple of days, the gates were opened. I remember going out to the Boulevard, but then I retreated, because there were still shooting coming from [Margit] Island. There were still Germans there. Shooting with machine guns…"