'None has suffered more cruelly than the Jew the unspeakable evils wrought upon the bodies and spirits of men by Hitler and his vile regime. The Jew bore the brunt of the Nazi's first onslaught upon the citadels of freedom and human dignity. He has borne and continued to bear a burden that might have seen beyond endurance. He has not allowed it to break his spirit; he has never lost the will to resist. Assuredly in the day of victory the Jew's suffering and his part in the struggle will not be forgotten.'
Sir Winston Churchill, Prime Minister, United Kingdom (November 1941)
Every year the number of survivors of the Holocaust declines and the ability to gather new testimonies also declines. We are fortunate that many individuals have committed their experiences to paper, audio and video. In this part of our website we are gathering together testimonies (or links to testimonies) from survivors who are connected in some way with Oradea.
Pictured above are extermination camp survivors returning to Oradea in 1944.
Problems of returning survivors
Over time we will be developing this section on the website covering the particular problems experienced by returning survivors.
The Romanian Section of the World Jewish Congress conducted a national survey among the Jewish survivors of the Holocaust in 1946. The objective of the survey was to assess the human and material losses and record the grievances suffered by the surviving Jewish population. In addition to this the statistical data gathered was intended to serve as a basis during the negotiations of the Peace conference ending World War II and for compensation claims.
In 2010 the Institutul Pentru Studierea Problemelor Minoritatilor Nationale analysed the results of this national survey for Cluj, Carei and Oradea. There is much interesting information about the ages, physical health and material losses of the survivors.
Hedy Bohm (formerly Hedwig Klein)
Hedy Bohm was born in Oradea and survived the ghetto in Oradea, Auschwitz and forced labour. Today she lives in Canada.
In the video below Hedy describes all her experiences and shows artwork and other memorabilia involving other pupils in her school in Oradea who unfortunately did not survive.
We are extremely grateful to Hedy for allowing us to share her story. We are also very grateful to Scott Masters, the Head of Crestwood Social Studies Department at Crestwood School in Ontario, Canada who has given us not only permission to use the video created by him and his pupils, but also has provided Asociatia Tikvah with direct help and assistance. It is a wonderfully produced video with a very rich pictorial history interwoven with an extremely moving testimony. More information about the Crestwood Oral History Project can be found on their website.
1.Being a Survivor...Prewar Memories
2.Before the war
We have already published under our Oradea in 1944 section, Terez Moses's graphic account of life in the Oradea ghetto.
Abraham Sonnenfeld came from one of the best-known families of Oradea. Generations of the Sonnenfeld family grew up in Oradea and built one of the most respected, high-quality, printing firms in Europe.
What is less well-known is that the Sonnenfelds were part of a truly remarkable episode whereby three members of the family were recruited from within Auschwitz to become part of a highly-secret counterfeiting team formed by the Nazis to try to destabilise the currencies of the Allied countries. The events were made into an Award-winning international film "the Counterfeiters".
Abraham paid a last visit to Oradea in May 2012 and he provided Asociatia Tikvah with many memories and pictures which we are privileged to display together with the detail of his remarkable story. Abraham died in July 2012 in Israel.
Click on the image above for the story
Lazar Laszlo was only 14 when he was moved from his home in former Varady Zsigmond Street, Oradea to the ghetto (on Liliom Street, now Crinului) and then deported to Auschwitz on 31 May 1944.
He survived the selection process and added two more years to his age to help the deception that he was adult enough to work. He was sent from Auschwitz to Buchenwald and the Rehmsdorf labour camp.
Lazar Laszlo arrived on 18 June 1944 at the Rehmsdorf site where it is estimated that 5,800 of the 8,600 inmates perished between June 1944 and April 1945 due to the harsh forced labour conditions and frequent air raids.
He was sent back to Buchenwald as a "Musulman" at the end of January 1945 (after a selection in Rehmsdorf).
His father, Jenö Shlomo Jochanan died in Rehmsdorf on February 25, 1945 and his mother, Rozalia Shoshana, and his brother, Aharon Tibor, died in Auschwitz on June 3, 1944.
But Lazar Laszlo survived and was liberated in Buchenwald by the USA army on April 11, 1945. He returned to Oradea in August 1945, where he trained as a garage mechanic until he left Oradea in 1951 for Israel.
Lazar Laszlo has now retired from the Israeli army and has 4 children and 4 grandchildren.
He recently celebrated his 82nd birthday with his daughter Vered.
Mr.Lazar, with the kind help of Vered, has provided Tikvah with an interesting array of documents accompanied by his memories of what it was like growing up in Oradea and then the trauma of the ghetto and deportation.
Click on the image below to see a selection of the identity documents retained from the various camps in which Mr.Lazar was detained.
Mr. Lazar also kindly completed a questionnaire for Asociatia Tikvah to set out many of his memories and this is reproduced in the following file.
We are also grateful to have received family pictures and other information which supplements the questionnaire in the following two files.
The terrible deportation from Rhedey Park in the early summer of 1944 has also been covered in Marton Istvan's moving account in our Oradea in 1944 section.
Agnes Zsolt (Heyman)
The complex story of the mother of Eva Heyman will be told here in due course.
The testimony of Magdalena Klein is to be found in her beautiful poetry, examples of which are provided in our Arts section.
Miriam Neuberger (Rubb)
I was born on 15 March 1930 in Romania, Transylvania, in the city Oradea-Mare to a Hasidic family of the Viznitz sect. We were six children (four sisters and two brothers).
In the beginning of the year 1940 my city became part of Hungary. In the beginning of the year 1944 we were forced to wear yellow stars. In April of 1944 we were led to a ghetto in Nagyvarad (the name Oradea-Mare was changed to a Hungarian name andcalled Nagyvarad), the ghetto was situated in the Jewish quarters, in the center of the city. In the same month my father, one of my sisters (who was pregnant) and her husband were taken in a transport to , none of them survived. My elder brother was taken to a labor camp
My mother, younger brother, two sisters and I hid in an underground bunker, I was 14 years old at the time. After two and a half weeks we were found by uniformed men and were taken to a ghetto outside of town which used to be a brick factory where the Jews of the area were concentrated.
Shortly after, the ghetto was emptied and all the Jews were transported to Auschwitz. My mother and one of my sisters were taken in one of those transports and were exterminated.
One of my sisters, my younger brother and I hid while the ghetto was emptied. We found for ourselves a small and cramped hiding place, there we sat folded up for a day. In the night we went out, walked until we reach to a high fence and jumped over it. My brother managed to cross the border to Romania and saved his life.
My sister and I returned to the town to get some money and to join our brother soon after, but a policeman recognized us as Jews and brought us to the local detention house.
After a number of days we were moved to the concentration camp in Sarvar, in face of the last transportation of the Jews from Sarvar to Auschwitz, the Jews were concentrated into a shack close to the camp's gate. Before the transport I hid under a low bench, crawled to the furthest corner, and couldn't be found.
My sister was taken to Auschwitz in this transport, but survived. Now I was left by myself.
The next day, when they found me I was taken to the camp's commander, the commander was very angry with me and beat me until he drew blood.
After a few days I was brought to Budapest and was jailed in a prison for dangerous criminals. One day, during roll call when my name was called, I was very scared and from such fear I fainted. When I awoke I found myself in an orphanage in Budapest. I don't know how or who brought me there, I was fourteen and a half at the time.
After a certain time we were given christian IDs and were told to forget our old names, my new name was Halas Agnes, we were told to take the trolley and ride to the train station (I don't remember why). One evening, at dark, I left the orphanage with two other girls heading to the train station, at the middle of the way they decided to go back but I continued.
From the train station a woman took me to work as a housekeeper for her widower uncle. I worked in his home until after the end of the war.
At the same time I worked also in the Philips factory because all the refugees in Budapest we forced to contribute to the "war efforts". When the Russians got closer to Budapest the factory began preparing to move to Germany. One day we were told thattomorrow we are to appear at work and from there we will move with the factory to Germany.
I decided that I don't want to go to Germany, so I did not show at work the next day. During the following days I would go out and walk around the streets, and at night I would return to the widower's house as if just finished my work at the factory. I lived like that until the cannon blasts and the aerial bombings intensified so much that it was too dangerous to leave the house.
Later in March 1945 a sudden silence fell. We were told that the Russians had conquered the city. I was fifteen years old by then. I was very confused so I remained at the widower's home after the war was over until I had gathered enough courage to leave the place and try to reconnect with the Jews.
Flying from the Ghetto
When my sister Marta and I recorded the story of our flight from the ghetto in separate interviews for The Holocaust Remembrance Authority, my sister asked the interviewer whether my story was similar to hers. "The stories were essentially identical", he said "but you foregrounded your mother's part in the story, whereas your brother foregrounded your father's". Our mother, my sister, and I told the story of our flight numberless times; during the years the story became a collective creation, part of the family myth. But, it would appear, each of us adds his or her own tint to the story.The story I am going to tell here is, then, our collective family saga, through my
individual prism. Perhaps it happened differently. Perhaps it was our mother who set the canonic version; and only decades later I re-evaluated some of the episodes. In course of writing this, I am surprised to note that I don't remember having ever heard our father tell the story. But one thing must be emphasized from the very beginning: in spite of the different focus of my sister's and my story, the flight from the ghetto was a joint creation of both our parents. Had we not have the luck to have the particular combination of precisely these parents, there would have been no story to tell, nor someone to tell it.
My mother was the prophetess of Doom, kind of Cassandra, who with her dark prophecies perturbed the peace of mind of their audience. Our good neighbours in the ghetto used to tell her: "You demoralize the whole ghetto; who wants to flee, flees without talking too much". She incessantly bothered my father saying that we must run away. When my father lost his patience, he said: "look how lean I became owing to your molestations; look how large is now the shirt on my neck". When my mother or sister recount this episode, they pull the collar of their shirt to increase the distance between it and their neck, indicating as it were our father's gesture.
The ghetto was hermetically closed. I know only of three persons who succeeded to escape before the beginning of the mass deportations. Perhaps there were three more, or even ten.
In those days I was convinced that my father must know how to fly from a ghetto, and it didn't appear to me odd that my mother charged him with this responsibility. Only when I myself was the head of a family, many years later, I began to ask myself questions.
No school instructs you how to flee from a ghetto. How does one get outside the walls with a wife and two children when the ghetto is hermetically closed? But let us suppose we are already outside the ghetto. What is the next step? Where does one go? Where can one find a hideout for one or two nights? Where can one find refuge for a longerperiod? How does one get, for instance, to the Roumanian border without being caught? Where does one find a guide to smuggle you to the other side of the border?
Even the most perfect education provides no answer to these questions. We were thrown into this world lacking even minimal qualification for survival. One cannot practice, there is no second chance, it must succeed on first go.
As the future events proved, my father did have the admirable talent to find answers for all these questions, but not apart from concrete situations. When he was in a situation in which it was possible to find a solution, he found the most brilliant solutions. But in the present conditions, when the ghetto was hermetically closed, he felt helpless and could not stand up to the responsibility which my mother imposed upon him. That's how I interpret his response. But one couldn't shake off all obligation either. If school gives no instruction in the lore of flying from a ghetto, it did provide a model for heroic behaviour. He gathered all the heads of family around, and said to them: "We must put up passive resistance, refuse to enter the wagons. We live in a constitutional (law-governed?) state, they will not massacre us in the middle of the town". One of the participants said that there must be someone who would first declare that he refuses to enter the wagons. My father answered: "I am ready to declare that I, László Steiner and my family refuse to mount the wagon". Then someone remarked: "No go, my dear. You will get two slaps, and we will mount the wagon like good children". This was the end of the gathering.
Apparently, not everybody was determined to go like sheep into the wagon. My parents had a friend who used to say: "It's strictly forbidden to enter the ghetto. But if somebody commits this error, one must not, in any case, go into the wagon". My parents took for sure that we would meet him and his family in Roumania. But they had no remnant or survivor.
It seems to me that this story has an important moral in respect of the story of our flight. Survival required a rare coincidence of factors.
First of all, a sober assessment of reality, without illusions, is required. Then exceptional persistence and talent to find an opportunity and to take advantage of it are required.
This person did have the sober assessment of reality, which so many lacked. But we will never know what else was missing. My parents had to wait for many nerve-racking weeks before they found an opportunity which could be exploited to create an opportunity of which they could take advantage. Apparently, the only way to escape was to stay somehow in the ghetto until after the mass deportations. It was necessary to find or create some loophole in order to drive a wedge into it, so as to hold fast to it.
These are Reuven Tsur's first pages from his book, Flying from the Ghetto, edited by Rez Pal and published by Noran.
Sadly Marta died in 2016, but we will be telling more of her story over the next few months.
The church bells of Oradea
Translated by Susan Geroe
“My love, my only one!
I'm writing this letter in the attic of someone else's house. Somebody promised me to smuggle it out and mail it to the given address.
I'm very disturbed, I don't even know how to start. One of the reasons I came up here is to gather my thoughts a bit. Downstairs, the house which has been my hell and shelter for nearly four weeks, now seems like a stirred up beehive. The panic is complete; the despair is indescribable since we found out that they're shipping us out tomorrow.
Where? In what direction? Why? And for what? This is what they're trying to guess, this is what they're discussing in the backyard, all these serious, intelligent, well -informed men: doctors, lawyers, engineers, journalists. They pretend as if sober reasoning and strict logic could still serve as a compass. Even though they know only as well as I do that a compass serves no purpose whatsoever on a sinking ship.
I can't join them; I can no longer ponder the pros and cons. What for? The time for self-deceit is over. If that could happen, which still a few weeks ago - in spite of the numerous and ominous precedents - we thought of as unthinkable, that decent citizens will be chased out of their homes and with a fifty kilo baggage be enclosed in ghettos reminiscent of the dark middle ages - what else can we expect? The circle has closed, there is no escape. A few people did try to escape through the sewer system, but they were discovered. Only one way out presents itself: to step over voluntarily into the world of the dead.
I am describing all this with a very heavy heart, as I promised you that for our own sake and for the hope of a better and more humane world I will carry through to the end. You told me earlier and when we said our farewell, you reiterated that “one should not meet death with open arms.” Only five weeks have passed since then. I can hardly believe that only five weeks ago you were home on leave, that we could have still run, escape, get even under the Earth, alive - five weeks ago, and now everything came to an end. Death came to meet us, and it is already standing on the threshold…
We should have known that events could have not followed any other way. Think of the years that rolled on, of my suspension, the numerous humiliations, constant fright and finally the yellow star… You did not allow me to sew it on. Every time the doorbell shrieked, white as the wall, we looked at each other. Who could it be? And why is he coming? To what catastrophe will opening the door lead?
Now we can admit to ourselves and to one another that this was no life for a long time.
That actually, one could not and should not live at these levels of humiliation.
Consciously, this feeling has been gaining strength in me now for the past two years. Since I've been sending you the parcels. I have been brooding a great deal every time, anxiously weighing it, since these parcels could not be over one kilo in weight, including box, string, wrapping paper and stamp. I've been rebelling and lamenting, why do they allow only one kilo and even that at such long intervals. Yet, at the post office, standing in long queues among the soldiers' wives, these small packages felt heavy as a rock.
Comparatively, gathering the allowable fifty kilos went rather easily. At that time, a long pondered upon concept took a more solidified shape within me… Yet still, I believed that I will not be able to do without certain things.
Why were we not brought up that we could not do without only one thing: freedom?
After all, if the weight limit be one kilo or fifty and if it be called package or bundle, it makes no difference. If terms are fixed, limits imposed, ratified and controlled - it is irrelevant how many kilos are in question. According to today's orders, we cannot take anything, except what fits in the fifty by forty centimeter satchel. This was made known to us by the sergeant when he informed us that we should prepare for tomorrow's departure.
And all these miserable people, the mad, the good, the smart, the stupid, the naive are preparing. Down on the patio, there is the endless humming sound of the sewing machine: they are cutting out and sewing the forty by fifty centimeter bags from drapes, bedcovers, sheets. There is also great bustle in the kitchen. The women have made biscuit dough from the gathered remnants of flour and the little bit of oil. Before I came up here, they have already figured out that the ratio will be five biscuits for each inhabitant.
The whole thing sounds like a fairy tale, doesn't it? The youngest son, who starts out on his long journey once upon a time with his satchel and biscuits baked in ashes. Indeed, it does sound like a fairy tale. With the difference that in this fairy tale, the biscuits are not baked in ashes and at the end of the story the good will not win, but rather the evil will come out as the victor. In this fairy tale everything will happen vice-versa.
“While there is life, there is hope!” That's what you said, my dearest. But there is no longer any hope, and so life also has ceased. Only the bag and the five biscuits are real. Oh, how I would take off even with this much, on foot and unclad, if I could go where I feel like going. And I'd keep walking until my feet wore off to my knees, should I just know that a place exists where one can live with human dignity.
I wonder if such a place still exists? Even Vorosmarthy would not ask today, in the book -burning era, “ Has the world advanced by reading?” I have pondered a long whilein front of our beloved books until I chose only one to bring away from our house - the little parchment Ady book with the black cover. But when the gendarme drove us into the courtyard of the synagogue with the rest of the crowd, he tossed it out of my baggage: “The SOBs (strong Hungarian curse), even here they want to read!”
The book flew, the little black Ady volume printed on Bible paper, it flew on the top of the already high book tower. Its pages opened, then closed, like the wounded wings of a white seagull. It only took a second, as I watched its path and realized: all was lost…
There is a hook here, in the corner of the attic. A hook, a hooked cross. What could be more stylish? Although “in the hands of Christ from Bethlehem the cross was not yet hooked”… (poem by Laszlo Hajnal). You see, poetry haunts me even here.
It sounds as if someone is on the way up here. I stop breathing and I hide with the letter behind the stack of mattresses. All I need is that they find me here, ask me questions, make a scandal… No, it became silent once again. What would they be looking for here, among the strewn mattresses, boxes, baskets, luggage and millions of rags? Nothing really can be taken along from here. At any rate, I must hurry, because it is probably around noon…
Somewhere we went wrong with our life - that's what is running constantly through my head. We should have lived differently, we should have done something. But what and how, I do not know. I torment myself in vain.
Farewell, my goodness, my everything. Think of what I am thinking now: having met one another is an even greater miracle than having been born. Our life was complete even as such, because we were happy, as only few people can be…
Slowly, a church bell starts ringing with dignity.
I shudder. The bell sounds so closely, as if it were at arm's length.
It is noontime. The bells are tolling. Obviously, in the church of the Capuchins, which is the closest to this place. But already another bell started ringing. Then a third, a fourth, a fifth, all of them. Oradea's bells are ringing, all that exist in this town of many churches.
Stoned, I stand on feet that took root. It seems unbelievable that all this is so close: the city, the church bells, the churches, the well known streets, squares - and yet, this last message seems to come from a world lost for us.
Yes! This is a message!
In no way can this noisy, lengthy, never ending clamor, with the dignified, deep pain of mourning be ranked as a common daily noontime church bell ringing. The bells are now tolling for us…
This is how Oradea, the ancestral town, is bewailing us. Crying for her children about to start on their journey to death…
And I am just standing, standing in the midst of this clean, grand painful tolling, bathing my soul in the sadly beautiful sounds of the church bells, mellowed and somehow numbed.
God be with you, Oradea! Your farewell gives me strength for the big journey.
Live happily, dear city, is my whole- hearted wish for you. And forget us, those who were loyal to you until death.
Live happily, if you can - and if you can, may God curse you!
Marta Hidvegi (as remembered in 1988)
Alexander Gertner was aged 19 in 1946 when he was interviewed about his experiences of being taken to the Oradea ghetto, then to Auschwitz by rail and onwards to other camps.
His story is on the Voices of the Holocaust website.
The second ghetto of Oradea
The smaller of the two ghettos in Oradea was set up in a lumberyard (now Piata Cazarmii) to house the Jews who had been rounded up from surrounding villages and brought by truck to Oradea in April 1944.
These Jews were the first to be taken to Auschwitz and we are collecting together the stories of survivors from those villages.
Vera Salamon lived in Valea-lui-Mihai with her family and she was 13 when she and her family were taken from their home and brought to the ghetto in Oradea.
Her story is told on the Eastern European Gallery of the University of Texas.
She recorded her memoirs in a biography published in 1998 called Paper Gauze Ballerina and in 2010 she gave a summary of her experiences to a local newspaper in the United States.
The train near Magdeburg
In April 1945 some 2,500 prisoners at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp were loaded onto cattle trucks which formed a long train that travelled towards Berlin to escape advancing British troops. It was in transit for several days until its progress was halted by bombing raids. It had reached Farsleben, near Magdeburg in Germany.
On April 13 1945 the stationary train was stumbled upon by advancing American tanks and the prisoners were liberated.
The American tank crew took a series of remarkable pictures of the liberation.
Those on the train who were born in Oradea included:
Adolf Fischer born in 1889
Menyhert Foeldesi born in 1890
Margit Fried-Szekely born in 1908
Jeno Ganz born in 1903
Simon Heller born in 1901
Miklos Kertesz born in 1900
Dezsoe Klein born in 1897
Aron Muehlbauer in 1896
There is a very detailed project on the Magdeburg train carried out by the Hudson Falls High School in the United States.