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Helen Rodak-Izso

The Last Chance to Remember




The same week Friday evening, we were trying to continue the customary Friday nights, although our younger brother Leslie (Laci) was not at home yet. He was not allowed to attend high school anymore, but this afternoon he had to participate in the Levente exercises. Our Parents were very solemn, they tried to show how calm they were. The truth was, that we were all covering up, something was building up in our hearts. Something terribly frightening was in the air. We didn't have to wait too long!

Somebody rang the door bell from the main entrance and shouted nervously the terrible news: The plant is on fire!! To add to the panic, there were huge posters warning us that after seven o'clock Jews were not allowed to be seen on the street. The fire was visible from the back porch of our home, so after a little impatient waiting and helpless watching, my father decided against the Gestapo's order that he had to go there.

Uncle Martin, my father’s partner came as well and the two of them were standing there, watching how the fruit of their tireless work of many, many years was destroyed. The fire blazed out of control all night. It started on all four corners, so it was clear that this was not accidental. The cork itself is very flammable, but there were other flammable materials, which were needed for various operations. The Gestapo arrived soon and started the interrogation and strict investigation: Who are the owners?! If Jews, it must be Sabotage! With this ice cold announcement they took my father and uncle away, to the unknown. The hell that started a few days ago was building up. We tried to seek help, running from place to place to lawyers, if they were found at all. Unfortunately nobody could help. We didn't even know, if they were still alive. The next whole day went by trying to find them. The fire finally stopped in the morning, but the damage was done. Either from the fire or from the rescue operation; from the water everything became rusted and lost.

Next day, late in the afternoon as we were waiting in despair a voice came through from somewhere. The man was unknown to us but he had a message from our father. They all were together at the main police station. Later we found out that our father and uncle were taken straight from the fire to the Gestapo headquarters which was in the largest and nicest hotel (Schalkhaz) in our town and there they were interrogated the whole night, facing the wall standing in the corner!

They were detained at the police station. From there they were taken in a truck, first attempting to confuse them by travelling all over. First to the south part of the city and then suddenly changing speed in another direction until they arrived at an abandoned boarding school, which is in the north, in the suburbs. These trucks were too high for these elderly gentlemen and it was difficult for them to get on or off. To get out, they had to jump and my father injured himself.

The place was totally empty with a cement floor and we (the next of kin) were ordered to furnish the ice cold building with the most important materials for day-to-day living. There were about 100 hostages. They placed a table in the middle of the room with four machine guns in four directions with the strictest orders to follow the regulations. We sent a collapsible bed, the most important clothing, bedding, etc. They were there for three weeks.

Unfortunately there was no way to help them. There were no visiting privileges or other possibilities for help. But we had to do something, couldn't just wait with folded hands. So this was the time when the public kitchen was established, only for the hostages. In simple words there was sheer panic.

When we came back one year later, we found David, the older machinist, in the burned building, trying to save anything from the ruins.

In the meantime the inquiry went on about the fire. Neither my father nor his partner, brother-in-law, were questioned at all, but on the basis of the statements of the witnesses, the prosecutor’s office acquitted them from the charge of sabotage. This was only the Gestapo's charge. All the workers and witnesses tried to help us.

Many people committed suicide, unfortunately among the hostages too. We didn't know if we can hope to see our father again. After three weeks of very difficult days and nights, they finally were allowed to come home.

The big happiness was short lived!

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