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Helen Rodak-Izso

The Last Chance to Remember



Chapter 8. REFUGEES

When we found a long line of people coming to our town seeking refuge, in small or larger groups, we had to realize the bitter truth. The unwelcome intruders took up residence in Jewish homes, where people were still living. The original owners were given five minutes to get ready and leave just as they were dressed. Leave everything behind, everybody was just plain shocked and distraught.

After this came another and worse catastrophe, the order to wear the yellow star! Students were not allowed to attend schools any more and people were arrested for all kinds of reasons. Wearing the yellow star we felt stigmatized and our destiny was sealed! Hit with blow after blow we didn't have a chance to analyze our bitter feelings.

To our unspeakable horror and heartache, in the group from the neighbouring places,we found even our dear aunt Ella from Abauj-Kér. Once a well to-do family, now she was in a single outfit, that was all that she was wearing, just as she had been found in her home.. This is how she arrived with nothing, absolutely nothing. She had to leave everything behind and share the uncertain future and misery, tragedy, with everybody else.

People who came from villages, grabbed what they were able to carry, or at least they tried. The sign of pure chaos, when people, young and old, sick or able were trying to save in the last minute what is most important: medicine, clothing, toothbrush or hairbrush or what else? With children the situation was always more complicated. People who had kept a clean and comfortable home, suddenly were thrown out among many others. All their treasures were in suitcases, in rucksacks or bags,, packed hurriedly.

There were constant air raids and we had to run to the basement and sometimes tremble for hours. There were rumours that a certain part of the city would be segregated (isolated) for the Jewish population, where we could go on with our life. We were hoping that the end was nearer, so that we could survive, hopefully, in these conditions. Just not to go away, not to separate us!

The alarming rumors started about April of 1944. From one day to the next the situation changed again even for the worse. In the meantime young people were helping, where and whatever was needed and just what we were able to do. We were running from place to place, trying the impossible. I was working at the Jewish Committee part time in the office and in the kitchen too. It was sheer panic, impossible to describe. We didn't know then that far more serious situations were in store for us.

My father was always less and less active at trying to restore the plant which burned down and was not in workable shape at all. Some raw material had been stored in the neighbourhood warehouse and somehow it was not discovered during the war, so when we returned one year later we found it and this helped us to make a new start.

Life can teach us all kinds of interesting things. My father had a habit of making little notes on the incoming letters, so he could dictate his answers accordingly. On our return we found those letters, damaged, burnt, scorched on the corners, but the notes were there. It was like he would have wanted to give us a helping hand, a message, a little advice, which was of course very helpful.

After our miraculous return we experienced some unbelievable things. Overseas connections for the raw material were inquiring what happened with "The Gentlemen" and their families? What happened to the business? These were of course total strangers, but they were overwhelmed to hear the sad news; but they were human beings and took the first opportunity to find out the truth and offered their help. This was very comforting and reassuring.

It happened at home as well, unfortunately not often, that somebody from the old timers, who remembered our parents, were trying in some way to help us. It was always big news for us. One day we had a surprise visit from out of town. A gentleman came to see us who had been our customer before (gentile) and came to our help when he found us alone. He managed a huge mineral water business in Bardejov.

But he did it quietly in the most discrete way. We were all touched very much, but didn't take advantage. We never forgot the noble gesture. We felt so lost, abandoned in this big world!

But during those first terrible months of the war we had a new catastrophe and huge problem in the air. Parents in Slovakia and Poland were trying frantically to save their children in all possible ways. In the false belief and hope that the neighbouring countries would be safer than their own home, they started to send their families over to us (Hungary) and for us it was a must to look for them, to find them and help them.

Those children were left on their own in the woods, inside a tree trunk. Bewildered, frightened, hungry and half frozen. Poor parents. What a difficult and hard decision it must have been, but they tried to save their most precious ones. We had to collect now children’s clothing because those little ones, those tiny refugees were not dressed properly and the winter was nearing.

One couldn't look in those innocent, frightened eyes without a passionate feeling for them and with the urgency to help them.

After their arrival it became obvious that they had to be housed and looked after. There had to be a permanent home and place for them; so this was the "birth" of the Orphanage Home which was established by my aunt Clara Moskovics and her helpers, Mrs. Gotterer and Mrs. Sinai who worked tirelessly together. Clara became the president, but each of them had her own assignment. They fulfilled their pledge thoroughly. To look after those abandoned children was not an easy task. It needed superhuman drive and strength. The children were all of different ages. It was not that simple to open up and maintain such an institution. There had to be some official approval also, and the road to such official places was not easy at all. It was rather lumpy, rough, full with difficulties, but the cause was so urgently important that it simply couldn't be postponed. Clara and her partners were so determined that the closed doors just had to open for them to solve their grave problem. Clara's unselfish efforts eventually paid off when finally the home could provide help and care during this trying period for about 50-60 children who were homeless. The tragedy is that in the end we were all in the same place! Unfortunately the whole effort became a futile attempt.

Everybody neglected his or her own family and home, personal duties, because there was no other way. Everything else was thrust into the background as there were pressing necessities what couldn't wait. There was not a day without some special excitement.

Clara Moskovics acquired a lasting name for herself forever because of her tireless and unselfish work in those tragic times. We didn't find our peace of mind, until everyone in this unfortunate group of children was helped.

My father was working in a secret committee which worked with the greatest discretion. They were out always at night trying to help people who were on the run, who had no papers and were trying to save themselves or some family members. Of course, many times they helped total strangers who were lost in a merciless world . They were ready to help any time, not even mentioning or explaining the hours when they were away from home.

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