The Last Chance to Remember
Chapter 4. LABOUR CAMPS
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
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
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.
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.
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.
we arrived at the blacksmiths 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.