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1. Index Number : P.III.h. (Budapest Ghetto) No. 600.

2. Title of Document : A Tragedy in the Ghetto of Budapest.

3. Date : December 1944 - January 1955.

4. Number of pages : 3.

Language : German.

5. Author or Source : Mrs Magda Szanto.

6. Recorded by : as above.

7. Received from : as above, May 1957.

8. Form and Contents : A report by a Jewish Hungarian woman who survived the last weeks of the war illegally in a Budapest hospital. She describes the terrible conditions in the Budapest Ghetto, into which most surviving Jews, including her parents, were crowded after a round-up of all Jews in November 1944. Her mother died of starvation on 18 January 1945, a few hours before the Russians liberated the Ghetto.

See related reports for further information :

     P.III.i (Hungary) No. 578

     P.III.i (Hungary) No. 598

     P.III.i (Hungary) No. 599

     P.III.c (Hungary) No. 483

A Tragedy in the Ghetto of Budapest

It was towards the end of December 1944. I was living “underground” with my husband in a Budapest hospital. The Hungarian fascists’ reign of terror was at its height. Posters had been put up in the streets threatening “immediate execution“ of any Jew found outside the ghetto walls, whether wearing a yellow star or disguised. News reached us that the Pfeilkreuzler (Hungarian fascist Arrow Party) had been shooting Jews dead in the street, their corpses lying unburied. These were Jews who had gone “underground” in order to save their skins, but had then been picked up before being able to reach a place of safety.

I knew that both my elderly parents were in the ghetto. One morning, a patient in the bed opposite me on the hospital ward told me that the fascists had been laying mines under the houses in the ghetto, and these would soon be blown up. I went white as a sheet on hearing this and had to gather every ounce of strength I had left not to betray the despair I felt. I wrote to a former family doctor of ours, a non-Jew, who lived in an apartment not far away. In my letter, which I was able to send via a reliable messenger from the hospital, I begged the doctor to do everything in his power to get my parents moved to a Red Cross hospital. I had heard rumours that it was possible to get old and sick Jews moved out of the ghetto and into hospitals run by the International Red Cross. This information later turned out to be incorrect, and the doctor never did manage to secure a place for my parents in one of these hospitals.

A few days later, another non-Jewish friend of mine, a journalist, managed to enter the ghetto and find the house where my parents were living. He delivered a letter from me; he was able to tell them that we had both gone “underground” and were in hiding. He returned with a letter for me from my mother. At the end of it she had written “Auf Wiedersehen” – till I see you again. But things turned out differently. I was never to see my poor mother again.

On 27 November, my husband and I, and both my parents, were picked up from one of the protected houses (known as “Schutzhäuser”). We all had Swiss letters of protection (“Schutzpässe“). The Pfeilkreuzler raided these houses

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and took us initially to the nearby St.Istvan Park on the pretext that our papers were suspected to be forgeries and needed to be checked. When we arrived, there was no longer any talk of checking anything. We were simply marched off in long columns, the younger ones to Pfeilkreuz houses, the older ones into the ghetto. Each of us carried a small bundle, but we had no food with us. It was a rare commodity in the Schutzhaus.

And so my parents arrived in the ghetto without any food supplies. They were accommodated in a house in Akácfa utca. Twelve people were crammed together in one small room. There was no room to lie down or stretch out, you had to either sit on a chair or crouch on the floor.

The occupation of Budapest was well underway, with fierce fighting for every district and every street. Often there was hand-to-hand combat that went on for days for possession of a single building. The front was moving only very slowly closer to the ghetto. Air attacks alternated with artillery fire. When the bombing reached its height and the ghetto was being hit constantly at all times of the day and night, everyone in the house moved down into the cellar. There was no properly constructed air-raid shelter, just an ordinary cold, damp cellar. Several hundred people were crammed together head to head, side by side, in the cellar of this house in Akácfa utca. Of course, there was no way anyone could lie down; each chair was right up against the next, so close together that you couldn’t even stretch out your legs.

It was in this dark, damp and airless hole of a cellar that my parents, along with several hundred other people, were confined for many weeks. A bucket of soup was brought every day and everyone was given a dishful. That was their ration for the whole day. Nothing else.

Before they were taken down to the cellar from their room my parents had tried to escape from the ghetto. They had got as far as the gate that separated the ghetto from the outside world, when a guard spotted them. He pointed his gun at them and threatened to shoot. They had no choice but to run straight back.

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So my poor mother was forced to sit for weeks on end on a rickety wooden chair in a dark, stuffy cellar, crammed in amongst hundreds of people and so squashed, so tightly confined that she couldn’t even stretch out her legs. Her legs began to swell up. This symptom of oedema, so rife in the ghetto, was a common effect of starvation, breathing in poor air, and lack of exercise.

My poor mother grew weaker every day, and as dawn broke on the 18th January, just a few hours before the Russians liberated the ghetto, she sadly breathed her last – still sat on that miserable little wooden chair. My father was sitting next to her. He spoke to her, but got no answer. She had died of sheer exhaustion, wasted away in the truest sense of the word. She was 69 years old.

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