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Helen Rodak-Izso

The Last Chance to Remember




In the meantime the labour camps were full everywhere and our boys had their share. Those who led a sheltered life at home suffered doubly. To get up very early every morning in the dead of winter and go outside to the well to wash themselves, was not easy. In the summer this part was somewhat easier but the guards made sure that their lives should be as miserable as possible.

Ignoring the hints in the letters that we should not dare to come to the camp, we decided with my friends Ella and Magda Young whose husbands were at the same place as Ernie, that we still want to go and see for ourselves, what is the situation there. They never elaborated what kind of troubled life they have there, so we never dreamt what went on during the whole time.

So on a Monday we prepared and packed the most important and practical things for them, warm clothing and some food, and left. On the train we met and befriended an older lady, who was already familiar with the conditions there. She looked like a person with good intentions so we were thankful for her counseling. She tried to warn us to look modest. We shouldn't wear hats, just a kerchief so we can mingle with the rest of the passengers. When the train arrives we should walk separately. We, of course, didn't know anything of what had happened there on the previous Saturday.

The station (Tiszalök) was full of gendarmes; they were known for their cruelty. Sometimes they were trying to outdo their superiors and with the big feather in their hats they were seen everywhere. At this one time I was lucky because when the train stopped, the one who was supposed to be in front of my door to watch the passengers, every single outgoing person, looked somewhere else so he missed the opportunity to see me.

We walked to the nearest restaurant, closest to the station, again separately, carrying the heavy suitcase. We came to the dismay and horror of the owner who was Jewish himself. He didn't cover up his displeasure and anger because we were all in danger and everybody was edgy. Only when we heard the story about the past experiences did we realize that we had come like into a lion’s cage.

We regretted our thoughtless trip but it was too late. There was nothing else to do anymore, than to wait for the next train to go back. Unfortunately this train was leaving only in the afternoon, so this poor man seeing our disappointment tried to help us after all.

He sent a message to the camp and soon enough a young boy came from the blacksmith and we had to follow him. Again we walked separately and luck was once again with us because on the way we met several high ranking officers (SS) busily talking and, thank God, somehow they didn't notice us. We just walked as if this would have been the most natural way. The truth is, of course, that we were trembling and afraid. Our suitcase was heavy enough, but it seems the fear gave us some extra strength.

When we arrived at the blacksmith’s place, Ernie was on guard at the gate in front of the building, saluted me like a total stranger and commandeered me to the nearest village house. I looked inside in the yard where I spotted the familiar faces of the camp mates, many from our home-town. There they made themselves busy with one horse, they were all trying to horseshoe the poor animal, which didn't understand the sudden concern. There were 16 people around him. The minute I stepped into the house all the camp mates guided by Ernie came in to hear some news from home. Just why did we have to come? was the first reaction.

Only when we spotted the huge posters with the large black letters did we understand their bewilderment. The poster said clearly in bold and clear words the serious warning against anybody who would try to help Jews in any way. After reading this cold notice and warning we awoke fast, hurriedly gave over what we brought for everybody and prepared ourselves for the departure. This was only a village with rough roads leading to the barracks and to the railway station. Luckily we reached the train in time and came home safely. We didn't expect such an exciting trip.

We found out only later, from a safe distance, what happened there before our visit. The camp made an announcement loud and clear that relatives from nearby places may come to visit the next Saturday. Of course, many mothers, wives and other family members came. When everybody arrived and was let in, the air and mood abruptly changed. Every inmate of the camp who had visitors was humiliated with the utmost violence and, of course, in front of everybody to see and hear. The victims were tied to a tree with feet up and when the person became unconscious, they were slapped with fresh water in the face. This went on until the guards enjoyed themselves laughing aloud. When this torture was over, they turned to the visitors and ordered them out, and marched them straight to the station with the most obscene, indecent language and shouting.

None of the visitors was able to talk to their husbands or sons and, of course, they had to take back everything they prepared and brought with such loving care.

The terrible thing was that our visit was unnecessary, because two weeks later they all came home for warm clothing and blankets. We had carried the heavy trunk for nothing. We knew only too well what this meant and what would come next. This was in 1942 about October and I never heard from Ernie again. They left Hungary and were sent straight to the battlefield, where the war went on with real fury around Kharkov and Stalingrad. The following year in the middle of January, according to the Red Cross announcement, they were encircled.

There were only rumors which were alive and working at a time like this. They suffered unbearable frostbite and all kinds of hardships, physical and mental trauma, which the normal brain cannot grasp. Somehow I couldn't believe that Ernie would succumb to those inhuman conditions. He left home in his good ski boots, which of course the Hungarian Arrow Cross guard took away from him and was left in rags to march. He was a healthy sportsman and a good athlete but the Siberian cold, ice and snow after all took their toll.

They were on the battlefield, but this was about the time and place when the German army was stopped and had to retreat.

Only one of his closest friends came back and wrote a nice letter to me but was not able give me any reliable information. He was a lawyer from our city and later moved to Prague. The chaos was such that despite the strong friendship among the four of them who gave their hands and their words to each other to stay together no matter what. But they lost each other in no time.

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