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Memoir: Courage and Despair


























Volume 9b

Irene Romer

Courage and Despair

published by the
Concordia University Chair in Canadian Jewish Studies

Copyright © Irene Romer, 2000

Key Words

Arrow Cross, Auschwitz-Birkenau (father in), Budapest, Catholic seminary, Debrecen, false papers, Germans, ghetto, hiding, MiklŪs Horthy, Hungary, liberation, lice, nightmares, Nyiregyhaza (town in Hungary), post-war volunteer work, Russian soldiers, Seder, Szalasi, Yad Vashem, yellow star armbands


Irene Romer, born in 1928 in Nyiregyhaza, Hungary, a town with a sizeable Jewish community. She attended Protestant school and felt very integrated in Hungarian culture, although her parents were very religious Jews. After the German occupation of Hungary, she was forced to wear the yellow star and she and her family were sent into a ghetto. Romer, her sister and her mother escaped the ghetto the day before the Germans liquidated it. Her father did not want to risk being caught trying to escape and remained in the ghetto. They remained in hiding for the rest of the war, posing as Christians. Romer hid in a seminary for a short time, but she returned to hide with her mother and sister in an apartment building in the outskirts of Budapest. She described the fear of being raided by members of the arrow cross gang, and living in constant fear of being exposed. Her cousin and a Christian neighbour helped keep her and her mother alive, as well as saving the lives of approximately 30 Jews, by stealing, lying and bribing people. They were liberated by Russian soldiers.

She describes having to disguise herself as a boy to avoid being attacked by Russians. Her mother hid her sister and then disguised herself as an old woman during the first phase of the Russian occupation. Romer, her mother and her sister went back on top of the train to Nnyiregyhaza after they were liberated, thanks to a Russian Jewish officer who helped them leave Budapest. She describes the arrival of the survivors from her town, the return of her father from Auschwitz, and the psychological effects she and some members of her family experienced because of the Holocaust. Romer met her husband in Nyiregyhaza after liberation; none of her husband’s relatives survived the Holocaust. Part of this memoir consists of a letter to her child, Agi. The memoir is also translated into French.

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