Grandma Helen Farkas the Survivor (part 1 of 2)

(Based on video interview May 1996 and oral histories with other family members)

The history of my “Jewish White privilege”

When I was living in Atlanta Georgia, I was accused by minorities from one specific group of having been able to become a surgeon because of my privileged “White” background. Such a statement to me is not only patently false, insulting, but genuinely insensitive and very hurtful.  The reality is that I am the second generation of Holocaust survivors – all four of who were genuine slaves on both my mothers and father’s side.

I never got to meet most of my family, because almost all of them were murdered by the Germans, Poles, and Hungarians, and many of them died as slaves of the Nazis, Hungarians, and Soviets. All of my grandparents are survivors and heroes in their own right.  I am convinced, because of their sacrifice I am privileged to be a Torah observant Jew living in Israel.  The so-called ‘White’ privilege some of my former colleagues in Atlanta accused me of will quickly be shown to be the lie that is perpetuated until today about Jews in the USA and elsewhere.

This year, on the 75th anniversary of the Holocaust, Yom HaShoah I want to honor my maternal grandmother, Henche Chaya bas Chana/Yehoshua by sharing her Holocaust survival and success story.  She is currently living at the Parker Jewish Institute in New York.

My 97 year old Grandma “Helen” (her Hungarian name) , she should live and be well until 120 years old, was born December 11, 1922 in Turt (Romanian spelling) or Turc (or Turcz in Old Hungarian. Her father was 52 and her mother was 39 years old when she was born.  Currently, Turt is located in Romania, approximately 30 km North East of Satu Mare; part of Satu Mare County.

Family Members

Grandma’s mother’s Jewish name is Chana (official name was Hermina). Her father’s name was Yehoshua in Hebrew but officially Sighismund (son of David).  She had seven siblings: six brothers and one sister:

  • Ahron in Hebrew, officially named Armin, who moved to Halmi/Halmeu, had three children and was a teacher. They were all murdered on June 6, 1944 at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Ahron was murdered in1943 in Ukraine near a place called “Bar”. He served in the Munkaszolgalat, which was the Forced (slave) Labor Battalion of the Hungarian Army.
  • Yoel in Hebrew, officially Jeno . Yoel had five children. They were murdered with their mother on June 6, 1944 in the Auschwitz II-Birkanau’s gas chambers. These were specifically built for the murder of Hungarian Jews. Even though he was reported killed around 1943; my grandfather rumored that he spoke with Yoel in Budapest after the War, and that he was never seen again.
  • Zoli or Zisha , officially Zoltan. He survived the Shoah the Mukaszolgalat in Yugoslavia working as a slave digging in a mine . He was married in Turt in 1945 to Goldie, also from Turt. They moved to Bnei Brak in 1950 from their Transit Camp (called a “Ma’abara” in Hebrew). He has three children: Bondi (Baruch), Yudit (Yehudit), and Aharon.Zoli’s youngest son, Aharon or “Ari”, was born in Israel and had an illustrious career in the Israel Navy’s “Yaltam Unit”. He participated in the spanning of the Suez Canal with the famous Snake Bridge, in General Arik Sharon’s brave counter-attack across the Canal during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. He also participated in the famous IDF raid against the PLO in Beirut in 1973.
  • Shlomie or Shlomo, officially Salomon. He served in the Munkaszolgalat Forced (Slave) Labor Battalion also in Ukraine. He was a certified Cantor by his father in- law, Rabbi Gershom Feinberg; the last orthodox Rabbi of Adas Isroel of Berlin, Germany. Rav Feinberg was murdered in 1943, with his wife and ten year old son in a forest, outside of Riga. The Germans murdered Shlomie’s two daughters, Ruth (age 9) and Shoshanna (age 6) and wife Dora, on June 6, 1944, in the gas chambers at Auschwitz II-Birkenau. After the war Shlomie was a Chazan (Cantor) in the Altneuschul in Prague. Prior to that he had served as the cantor for the Jewish Communities of Jemnice and Trebice in what is today the Czech Republic. He was also a certified bar mitzvah teacher. He lead several high profile Holocaust memorials at the Terezin/Thieresenstadt Concentration Camp after WW2, delivering the El Rachamim prayer. After the war Shlomie married his sister in-law, who interestingly assumed the identity of Dora (his first wife) by using her ID-papers. Her life and the life of her older brothers are documented in the book “David: The Testimony of a Holocaust Survivor” by Ezra BenGershom.
  • Rivka, officially named Aranka. When she exited the deportation train, she decided to enter the “selection” line by appearing as the mother of Shlomie’s daughter (Shoshana). Because she was holding her 6 years old niece in her arms, this marked her for death. She was murdered in Auschwitz II-Birkenau on June 6, 1944. Regrettably, back in 1944, Rivka was all packed and ready to flee to “Palestine”. However, her Haredi father forbade her to leave, once he learned about the co-ed lifestyle of her Zionist youth group. She and her brother Ahron are the only murdered siblings of my grandmother, whom the family has an actual photograph.
  • Duvid or David, officially Deszo. He survived the Shoah by slaving in the Munkaszolgalat Hungarian Army’s Forced Labor Battalion. After the war he moved to Pardes Katz in Bnei Brak Israel, together with his brother Zoli. He was named after David Farkas, my grandmother’s (maternal) grandfather. Duvid made Aliyah in 1950 with his wife Goldie and his sons Yehoshua and Chayim; together with his older brother Zoli , because they were Orthodox and Zionists. They had family in Argentina and the USA (Chicago, New York and Cleveland). They chose to move to Israel after selling their parent’s land in Turt. The house was dismantled by the Hungarian Army during the deportation in 1944. He attended the Vizhnitz Yeshiva (today this town is in the Ukraine).He learned Torah every day, regardless how much he worked, until he died in 2005. Duvid put on tefillin daily as required, even during WW2; he stated that the Ukrainians respected him for it. At the moment of his death in 2005, he was praying in Shul. He he sat down during the davening but never got up. My son, Shalom Dovid (age ten) is named after him.
  • Itzu or Yitzchak, officially named Ignacs. He was the youngest sibling. He “survived” the Shoah after being sent to Auschwitz. He is named after his paternal grandfather from Magyar Komjat, which today is called Veliki Komjati in (Zakarpattia Oblast) Ukraine.After the war he moved to Israel and lived in Givat Shmuel. He was active in the “Bricha” or Aliyah Bet, which smuggled Holocaust survivors from Italy to Palestine. He helped many Jews who were Holocaust survivors to make Aliyah. His skills in speaking German and Romanian helped the Aliyah Bet smuggle many refugees across the German border to ports in Italy and then onto ships that sailed for Eretz Yisrael. He wore the disguise of a Jewish Brigade Soldier of the British Army.    Grandma Helen is a holocaust survivor of Auschwitz, Stutthof and a large labor camp (name unknown) on the outskirts of Riga Latvia. This last camp was run by the SS for the Wehrmacht where she repaired damaged German Army uniforms until March 1945. She was liberated in Danzig by the Soviet Army.

Her Hebrew name was changed from Hencheh to Hencheh Chaya, because at the age of eight she was severely ill for weeks with a high fever. The local Rabbi, Rav Avraham Yerucham Friedman, Av Beis Din and Rosh HaYeshiva of Turt, gave her a bracha and added to her name “Chaya” . The name “Chaya” means “life”. This additional name was given as s segula to give her the blessing of health and a long life.

Grandma Helen was the second youngest of all her siblings. Her full name is Hencha Chaya, officially Ileana.   Later on called herself Elena in Romanian and finally changed to Helen in Hungarian in 1940, with the Hungarian occupation of Turt. She taught us to call her “Grandma Helen”.

In Eretz Yisrael, he worked in the Israeli Merkava Tank factory located in the Tel HaShomer ordnance depot. When I served in the IDF in 1992, he was able to get me several brand new uniforms (from the Tank factory) and a used pair to army boots. Itzu died in 2010 leaving behind a wife (Erzike) and a step-daughter.

He moved to Canada in 1948 instead of to Romania because he had extensive debilitating medical problems from Auschwitz that plagued him for the rest of his life. Israel was a very poor country at that time without the resources to help him get the extensive medical care that he needed. In Canada, he received good medical care; plus a generous stipend with job training as a book-keeper. He returned from Canada to Romania in 1958 and made Aliyah in 1966.

Historical Background – Northern Transylvania

The presence of Jews in Transylvania is first mentioned in the late 16th century. In the 17th century, Prince Gabriel Bethlen permitted some Sephardi Jews from Turkey to settle in the Transylvanian capital Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia) in 1623. In the early 18th century, Jews were allowed to settle in Sathmar (now called Satu Mare) by the Hungarian noble who owned the area. In 1715, when Sathmar became a royal town of the Austrian Hapsburg Empire, the Jews were expelled. In 1841, several Jews obtained the permission to settle permanently in Sathmar. The first Jewish community was formally established in 1849, and in 1857, a synagogue was built. By the late 1800s, Sathmar was called Satmarnemti and had a shul for each of the distinct parts of the Jewish Community: Orthodox (with many shteibels), Neolog (similar to conservative), Sephardi, and Reform.

The town of Turt, was associated with Satu Mare only since 1920 when it was incorporated into Romania. Our family settled there from Galicia because they wanted to settle where they would undisturbed by the non-Jewish authorities. In this manner, they could live as Orthodox Jews without being burdened with the obligation of military service, high taxes, and other discriminatory restrictions common in Europe.

This area is located in the picturesque and arable foothills at the base of the Carpathian Mountains, called Sub-Carpathia (i.e. below the Carpathians). In Romanian it is called the “Black Hills”, or Avassag in Hungarian.  They were poor for the most part and worked very hard just to achieve a middle-class income, which included my grandmother’s father (from Csepe) who also worked his way up from laborer to farmer and then to renting out his land to peasants to cultivate.  Her father’s family was originally from Magyar Komjat (before moving to Csepe), today Veliki Komjati located in Zakarpattia, Ukraine.  Her father’s family originally descended from Sephardic Jews who settled in what was then the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

The Weisz family lived in the most northern section of what is today referred to as Zakarpattia Oblast in Ukraine, District of Vinogradov. The Farkas (Father in-law)  also descended from Sephardic Jews.  Her husband (Grandpa Miki) resided in the what is today called Northern Transylvania, which today is in Southwest Ukraine.

The region that they lived in was formerly Upper Hungary and then it became Rumania in 1920 following the Trianon Treaty that broke up Austria-Hungary among the victors of the Allies of World War One. Germany, later on in 1940, gave this area back to Hungary, which occupied it (and my grandparent’s village of Turt) until 1944.

Grandma’s father, was Yehoshua Weisz (aka Sighismund in Hungarian and Romanian). He had a business renting out land, and worked as a farmer. He often rode to shul during the week on his horse. Her future father in law, Samuel Farkas, was also her mother’s first cousin.  He was the wealthiest man in the village and owned most of the land around it, which meant that he employed most of the villagers in Turt.   He employed most of the Romanian peasants and some of the Jews.  He owned the only water-mill on the river in Turt.  It was later destroyed by the Communist Government of Romania after WW2.  He also owned one of the few large distilleries for making plum brandy (slivovitz) in the village.  Most of the plum orchards belonged to him, but he also grew walnuts, grains, and other produce, raised fowl, had cattle.  He had a strong relationship with the local Romanian villagers. Some of our family’s history was memorialized by my grandfather’s first cousin, Gabor Lazar, MD, located at: .

Her Mother, Chana (Hermina) was a homemaker and a graduate of the last class of Bais Yakov in Turts, before the Jewish Community closed it down. It was this education that enabled her to run an Orthodox (frum) Jewish home.  She was well-known in the Jewish community because she was kind to Jews and non-Jews alike.  When non-Jews and Jews alike had no food to eat, she gave them food as charity.  She followed the Jewish Halacha (Law) that a married woman should always have her hair covered.  She wore a wig and cut her hair very short according to Orthodox/Haredi Jewish custom.  Grandma used to cut her mother’s hair.   My grandmother and her sister were raised to become a homemakers and to marry an Orthodox Jewish man.

There were around one-hundred Jewish families in Turt (300 people) by the time it was transferred to Hungary in 1940. There was one shul and a main yeshiva established by Rabbi Avraham Yerucham Freidman.  He was murdered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz II-Birkenau, with most of the Jews of Turt, on June 6, 1944.

The Weisz family had a five room house. All the food was cooked at home in an iron oven that doubled as the heater for the home. Per local custom, the girls lived at home until they were married.  Our great-grandmother, Chana (Hermina) Weisz (nee Farkas) always made sure that other Jewish families, who could not afford an oven, also cooked their Shabbis cholent in her oven.

Grandma Helen was in secular state-mandated school until the seventh grade; she had no formal Jewish education. She was taught by her brother Duvid, to read Hebrew and learned from him the basic principles of Judaism.  Because Yiddish was her first language, she learned the Parsha on Shabbis from the Tsenah Urenah sefer with Duvid.  There was a Bais Yakov school built before she was born; however, it was closed down by the Haredi Jewish community, who did not approve of this type of education.  On Pesach, they made their own matzos at home, meticulously cleaned and repainted the house and both sisters each got a new dress made by my great-grandmother, Chana.

The Satmar Rav

Before the war, she heard of the now famous Satmar Rav (Yoel Teitelbaum). She is adamant that he was not well known before WW2.  Unknown to most, he was a peripheral figure (according to Grandma) since he was really from Sighet and not Satu mare.  There were many prominent rabbis among the Jews of Northern Transylvania.  She insisted that he was neither well known nor respected until after the war.  Her brother Itzu, his wife Erszike, and others tell the following story.  They claim that they heard complaints from the many Satmar Hasidim who lived and worked among them at Auschwitz. These Hasidim were very upset that their “Holy” Rebbe did not accompany them to Auschwitz, as other Rabbonim did. They claimed that the Satmar Hassidim who they met in the camps and survived, did not want to return to the Satmar community after the war.  Although many remained Orthodox, some became secular Jews, losing all faith in G-d, because of what they witnessed and having felt abandoned to the Germans.

The Satmar Rav fled Satmar with the help of Rudolf Kastner, Joel Brand, the Budapest Judenrat, and the Zionist Sochnut in June 1944. He was part of group of 1,670 Jews who escaped to safety.  Kastner negotiated with Adolf  Eichmann (German SS officer in charge of deporting Hungary’s Jews to Auschwitz).  In exchange for the Jews, Eichmann received trucks, gold, diamonds and cash.  Some of the passengers paid around $1,500 each, in order to get on this train (equivalent to about $20,000 today).  Included on the train were some of Kastner’s and Brand’s own families and friends.  My grandmother and the Weisz family did not escape, they were rather sent to Auschwitz having no idea whatsoever what faced them, as will be described later on.


Her brother Duvid, was five years older than her. He taught her how to read basic Hebrew, Yiddish, and the prayers with minimal comprehension.  She did not know how to write any Hebrew.  However, she could read Yiddish fluently and was very familiar with the Tzena Urena Yiddish Sefer. Duvid was very adamant that she “benched” after eating bread and that she say the Shema prayer daily.  She was not educated by her father. However, she has fond memories of her father reviewing the weekly parsha out loud, “Ma’avir es HaSedra” is what she called it.

In the Romanian schools, all Jewish children were forced to get on their knees, while their non-Jewish classmates prayed to Jesus. The local Jews were completely powerless to change this.  This information is not common knowledge.  History books exaggerate the “tolerance” towards the Jews by the Romanian Government.  This practice started in 1920 and ended in 1940 with the area returning to Hungary with the various anti-Semitic laws that were imposed by the evil Regent of Hungary, Admiral Miklos Horthy. In present day Hungary, Regent Horthy is honored as a Hungarian patriot. Horthy has been quoted as saying, “the Jews enjoyed too much success…that needed to be curtailed…I have been an anti-Semite my entire life…”

All of my Grandma’s brothers were sent to study in a yeshiva school system; first in Turt and later in different towns and cities. They awoke every morning at 5am for yeshiva and then attended secular public school in the afternoon. Her Brother Duvid learned in the Vizhnitz Yeshiva, which was then in Romania.  They did not get an education past elementary school level.

All of her brothers, except Itzu, served in the Royal Rumanian army for two years prior to World War II (1937-39). My grandfather being a son a wealthy family in Turt, was sent to the cavalry.  My Grandma remembers my grandfather leaving for basic training in the cavalry and coming home with his horse.  But her brothers were not able to afford such special treatment and served much longer in the army, which was required of all males from the age of twenty-one.

During the war her brothers Duvid and Aharon were placed in forced slave labor battalions of the Hungarian Army (Munkaszolgalat) and sent to Ukraine; whereas Zoli was sent to Yugoslavia.  Our Grandpa Miki was sent to Austria, ending up in a place called Siegendorf.  The Austrian and German governments denied these facts; therefore, my grandfather gave up asking for reparations for serving as a slave for four years in Hungary’s Forced Labor Battalions.

Brother Shlomie was a Cantor “Chazan” in the Jewish Communities of Jemince and Trebice before 1940.  His wife, Dora, her two daughters Ruti and Shoshanna, Rabbi Feinberg his father in-law, were murdered by the Germans. After WW2, Shlomie then married his sister in-law, Hindaleh, and she assumed the identity of Dora (his dead wife) for reasons no one can explain. After the war he became known as the Chazan of the Altneuschul in Prague until the late 1960s. For some reason, this information does not appear in any historical information about the Altneushul on the web.   He then moved to Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany with his wife and made Aliyah to Israel in 1987, after his second wife died.  In Israel, he lived with his brother Duvid and sister in law Golda in Pardes Katz, Bnei Brak  He died in 1993.

(WW II) – The Last Pesach of 1944 in Turts

In 1940, Hungary occupied part of Rumania, i.e. Northern Transylvania. The Jews of Satu-Mare “Szatmar”, coped with the various anti-Jewish measures passed by the Hungarians. They suffered increasingly harsh economic and other difficulties, but life went on. Very few Jews believed that their lives were actually in danger because of how well off they were when the area was part of Hungary before 1920.

Around December 1943, some of the peasants came home from the army and they shared information with the Jews of Turt about the mass murder of Jews by the Germans in Ukraine and Poland. The local Jews were completely ignorant of the murder of the Jews going on in Germany, Poland, and Hungary.  Grandma Helen had no idea about the mass murder in Poland and Ukraine. The Jews thought that his information was lies and propaganda.  Grandma stated that she and many other Jews laughed when they heard these unbelievable stories about mass murder, from their Romanian friends.  They even called them “crazy” for telling them about these things.  The Jews in Turt simply did not believe this could happen; despite the fact that we now know that murder on a massive scale did indeed occur.

Similarly, they were not aware of the mass murder of Jews, after the German Nazis invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. They heard rumors including what happened in Jassy, Romania, but did not believe them. Jassy was a series of pogroms launched by governmental forces under Marshal Antonescu in the Romanian city of lasi.  It lasted from June 26 to July 6 1941.  One third of the Jewish population was massacred by the Rumanians (over 13,266 people).

She was aware that her sister in law, Dora Weisz from Czechoslovakia came to live in her home with her two daughters, in order to escape the Nazis. She noticed groups of Polish Jews who traveled through their town, trying to find passage to Israel.

By 1944, life for most of the Jews was unbearable. For example, Jews were not allowed to even travel by train anywhere, even for medical care.  This impacted the life of my great-grandfather, Samuel Farkas.  Despite being relatively wealthy, on May 13, 1944 he died from a seemingly curable ailment.

As stated, my Great-grandmother Chana was a kind person who fed the poor. They had excellent relationships with the gentile neighbors, even with the Hungarian and Romanian ones. Her parents were known for giving charity to the poor Romanian peasants who would gather outside of her home to sing Christmas carols to them. This continued until the Hungarians invaded and took control of the county in 1940.

They experienced anti-Semitism, such as for having to walk in the gutter when passing a Hungarian on the street. Jews were subject to strict food rations.  There was a tense relationship with some of the Hungarians in the village.  Most of them assisted and collaborated with the Hungarian Arrow Cross regime in deporting the Jews to Nagyszollos.  This was the transport to certain death at Auschwitz II-Birkenau.  They deported the Jews and stole all of their possessions. The Hungarians initiated various anti-Semitic laws, such as forcing Jews to wear the yellow star on their clothing, imposing food rations, prohibiting the travel, purchase of medicine and medical care. Once the yellow star was implemented, everything changed for the worse. With the help of the Hungarian Arrow Cross (1944-1945), most of the Jews of Grandma’s region were murdered.

In March 1944, Germany invaded Hungary. The local Romanian peasants offered to hide her entire family in the countryside around Turt prior to the evacuation; she and her parents refused. Only one Jewish family in the Community, that she was aware of, accepted this offer, and they survived the war.

On the last night of Pesach 1944, at about 3am all of the Jews of Turts were arrested by the Royal Hungarian Gendarmerie, called the Csendorseg with the assistance of the police and Arrow Cross volunteers (the latter wore black uniforms). The Jews were only allowed to take some items and clothing from their home.  They were then confined in the local Shul, for a week, where there were no bathroom facilities, running water or food.  Some of the Romanian villagers snuck some water and food, but it was far from enough and most of the adults were starving and suffering from severe dehydration by the end of the week. It was made clear to them, that anyone who left the Shul would be killed.  The air in the Shul was stifling because people had to relieve themselves there, as the Hungarians wanted.

They entire Weisz and Farkas families along with the rest of the Jews of Turt were forcibly deported North to the Selish Ghetto by the Hungarian authorities.

“Life” in the Ghetto

Life in the ghetto was harsh. There was very little food and almost no water.  There were no facilities to shower or even soap.  Grandma slept on the floor of an apartment with several other families all squeezed into one room of a home that had belonged to a Jewish family that for reasons Grandma and her family did not understand was no longer there.  Later Grandma and her family realized that this family had been previously been deported to Auschwitz-Birkanau, before they arrived.  They spent a total of seven weeks in the ghetto.

They were living in buildings adjacent to the local cemetery. At this point the reality of death started to set in.  There was no way to exit the Ghetto, it felt very confined.  Jews from several local cities were all forcibly squeezed into this ghetto.  Everyone was hungry.  Food packages were received occasionally from an unknown source.  The Jewish youth having nothing to do and remaining idle started to speak about running away, but there was nowhere to really go. Grandma Helen would never abandon her mother, sister, nephews and nieces under any circumstances whatsoever.

In Turt, they drank clean well water. If one wanted to take a bath, then they would go to the local mikva. Running tap water and electricity technology did not yet exist in this part of the world. In the ghetto, water was also obtained from a local well.

After about two weeks in the ghetto, Grandma’s future mother-in-law, Laura (Leah Lazar) Farkas, told Grandma:

“… cut off all of my hair”.

Laura Lazar was the only married Jewish woman in Turt who did not wear a wig or cover her hair, according to Jewish law. Grandma cut her hair. As she was getting her hair cut off, she told Grandma,

 “I am doing this to prepare for where I am going, because I know that I will not survive.  Please make sure to take care of my son, Miki [My grandfather]”.

In short, Grandma agreed to take care of Grandpa Miki, for Great-Grandma Laura.

Laura’s husband, my great-grandfather, died previously on May 13, 1943.   This is the only conversation that she remembers having with my Great Grandmother before arriving in Auschwitz.  She was called “Laura Neni”, which is a respectful way of addressing an adult woman in Hungarian culture.  Laura was proud to be “a Hungarian” first and a Jew second.  Her three children were named: Ibolya “Ibi”, Miklos “Miki” (my grandfather) and Laszlo “Laci”. Laci was murdered with his mother in Birkenau.

Grandma Helen, after the war in 1946, married Aharon (aka Miklos “Miki” Nicholas) Farkas. He was her second cousin and thirteen years her senior.

It is important to note that the ghetto was run by the Hungarian police, not by the Germans. The daily routine was very boring; there was literally nothing to do. It felt like Shabbis every day.  The main activity imposed was making the Jews clean parts of the ghetto and register many times with the police.

As the days passed by, the fear of death started to grow among the Jews. Her brother Itzu, age seventeen, ran away from the ghetto with some friends who were part of a Zionist Youth Group.  It became known after the war, that those who stayed with family, usually did not survive the war. He wanted to survive, and this was his only chance.  He never said “good-bye” to his mother or father for practical reasons.  He asked my grandma to not tell their parents where he went.

My great grandma, Chana, cried a lot every day after that, since she had no idea where her youngest child had disappeared to. My grandma still did not tell her that Itzu ran away with friends, and always regretted keeping that secret and allowing her mother to die with that pain in her heart.  This was something my grandma never forgave herself for doing.

Grandma always felt very lucky having survived, but felt very guilty because she felt that she did not deserve to live any more than anyone else in her family. She told us that she wished that she had not survived; because the pain of surviving was simply too much to bear.  She was not being dramatic.  She meant it.  Following her separation from her mother, she could never remember what she looked like.

Her mother was so distraught by Itzu’s absence that she developed a chronic diarrhea from this stress that did not let up all the way to Auschwitz in the cramped cattle car.

Most of the Jews who escaped the ghetto were eventually caught by the Hungarian police. Many were beaten. Itzu and his friends escaped the ghetto and ended up in a forest outside of town.  They had no idea where to go and ended up going in circles for a few days and were eventually caught by the police.  They were identified as circumcised Jews after being forced to take off their underwear by the Hungarian police.

After the war, Grandma learned that Itzu was captured and then sent to Auschwitz. He survived a death march and firing squad from Dachau into the interior of Germany.  Along the way of his forced march, a German woman tried to give him and the other Jewish boys, who looked like skeletons, bread.  These women were shot to death by Ukrainian SS guards.  Itzu was apparently shot at the end of the death march and somehow survived.  He was liberated by British soldiers.  He recalled the British arriving in a Sherman tank by crashing through the wall of the  barn that they were locked up in, after the forced march from Dachau.  While they were “asleep”, the guards had fled.

There were three transports evacuating these Jews to death camps. Grandma Helen was eventually deported after Shavuos on June 3, 1944 with the last transport. It was a three day train trip to Auschwitz.  The cattle-cars were packed with people and they had no privacy.  The corner of the car was the designated public toilet with two buckets, one with water and the other was empty.  The stench and smell in the car was awful!

The Hungarians guarded the trains the entire way to Kassa (Czech Republic).  Then the Germans took over the rest of the way to Auschwitz to ensure that no Jew escaped.  One person in the family did escape from the cattle car: Dora’s younger brother “Paul” Feinberg.  He later on worked for the CIA as a translator. This teenage boy gathered intelligence for the Allies and relayed information via a transmitter that he hid in a wall in the house in the ghetto.

Grandma’s entire family was deported from Selish in the last transport from the Ghetto on June 3, 1944.

Auschwitz concentration camp, Konzentrationslager

Upon entering the camp, there was smoke coming from chimneys and a distinct, acrid, unrecognizable smell, permeated the air. The Jews were ordered to organize and wait in lines of five people per row.  Jewish prisoners in striped uniforms whispered to my grandma and the others in Yiddish to “give the children to the older women”.  They ignored them and thought this was strange.  Grandma was holding her nine year old niece, Ruti’s hand and refused to let go.  She was together with her parents and the rest of her family from Turt, (her mother and father, future mother in-law, brother in-law, cousins, and sister held her six year old niece, Shoshanna).

At the head of her selection line stood a Nazi officer whom she claims was Josef Mengele, the murderer doctor of Auschwitz. This evil man supposedly was a German Medical Doctor. He was known for performing senseless, cruel, human, live experimentation. After the war, he lived a comfortable life, protected by the country of Brazil until the 1960s.

This evil man, made selections of who went to the left (death by gas chamber) or want sent to the right (kept alive for slave labor).

When he saw grandma, he said,

Dos ist ein hubsches Madchen”

“This is a pretty girl [with Aryan features]”

Then he continued in German,

Was fur Schande ware es, jemanden mit so schonen Augen zu verschwenden

What a shame it would be to waste someone with such beautiful eyes!”

Grandma Helen has blue eyes.

He then had an SS soldier grab her and push her to the right side of the line; she tried unsuccessfully to run back to the rest of her family she was with. However, the SS soldier would not let her get past him.

Her cousin David Farkas, who was with her that day, survived the war with his wife Miru, and eventually made Aliyah to Kiryat Gat, Israel in 1962. David died in 2018. They have two children Volvie (Zev) and Suri and great-grandchildren. The rest of the people from Turt, present that day, were murdered in the gas chambers.

This is a very similar experience documented in the book “Incredible!” (pg.183) by Rabbi Yossi Wallis about this mother. She too was selected by Mengele for life, because of her Aryan features of blond hair and blue eyes.

As she was walking to her next station with her food, a local starving Jewish lady screamed towards her to give over some of her bread. She threw the bread to her and was immediately hit in the face with the butt of a rifle of the SS Guard. This was her “welcome” to Auschwitz. She was processed into the camp at around twelve-noon.

She was given a quick disinfection. Everyone surprisingly did what they were told, like sheep going to the slaughter. Later on an SS lady forcibly removed and stole her shoes. She was able to find a replacement pair of shoes in the corner of a room. Two weeks passed by in the Auschwitz death camp.

They were given a wooden plate and a wooden spoon as utensils to eat their food. Food was a bad tasting soup and bread rations. She was herded together with about six-hundred other women.  At this point their clothing was removed and they were given the infamous striped pajama style clothing to wear. For some unexplainable reason, she never got a tattooed with an ID number on her arm.  She did not know that a few days later, her brother Itzu was to arrive in Auschwitz.  He, like others did get the tattoo, in order to be humiliated like an animal.  Eventually, he was placed in a factory at the complex making hand grenades.

Stutthoff concentration camp

From Auschwitz she was sent by train to Stutthoff. Stutthof was a Nazi concentration camp established in a secluded, wet and wooded area near the small town of Sztutowo (German: Stutthof). It is located east of the city of Gdańsk, in the former territory of the Free City of Danzig.

The camp was set up around existing structures after the invasion of Poland in World War II and used for the imprisonment of Polish intelligentsia. The actual barracks were built by hundreds of prisoners enslaved in labor.

Stutthoff was the first Nazi camp set up outside German borders in World War II. It was in operation from September 2, 1939. It was also the last camp liberated by the Allies (Soviet Army) on May 9, 1945. It is estimated that 65,000 prisoners of Stutthof concentration camp and its sub-camps died as a result of murder (hanging, beating, shooting, etc.), epidemics, extreme labor conditions, evacuations, and lack of medical care. At least 28,000 of them were Jews. In total, as many as 110,000 people were deported there in the course of the camp’s existence.

At Stutthoff there was a daily morning selection. The camp was surrounded with electric wire and gates.  Those people who were selected for extermination and around fifty people were place on each truck, and were then taken to be killed and burned in the crematorium.

While in the camp they encountered some Norwegian soldier POWs who had their own food rations. These soldiers, at times, would throw food to the Grandma. One day in the camp, a non-Jewish soldier POW, and was hanged publically. Grandma noted that the German’s dressed him in red clothes  for the occasion. This was his punishment for trying to escape. Everyone was forced to watch his murder. This image haunted her for the rest of her life. (For a visual demonstration, refer to the film from 1999 Ralph Fiennes “Sunshine” ).

She and the other girls were forced to wait outside, standing at attention, all day, and night for many hours (called “the Appel” in German by the SS), in order to be counted over and over again. Sometimes they were ordered to run to and fro and then resume standing in formation, to be counted yet again. Other times they were forced to stay indoors and sleep in their bunks with many people on a wooden plank. Grandma was whipped once with twenty-five lashes for the crime of making a bra for a fellow inmate.

One day, after three months in Stutthoff they were rounded up told to leave the camp.  They left in February on a two day forced march.

Vermichtus Death Camp

She then arrived in Vermichtus, which was also known as the “Fenistus Lager”. At this camp she saw humans who looked like walking skeletons who infected full of lice. Once she traded her sweater for thirty potatoes to eat. She was there for two weeks.

She remembers that this camp was located adjacent to a lake. She slept with several people on a plank wood bed. At this point the horror of her surroundings was too much to bear. For this first time, she started contemplating suicide.  She made a mental plan, that if her current nightmare continued; she would need to end it by jumping in the lake.

Riga, Krotkenberg

She was then sent to Riga over a several days trip. She spent several months in a place called Krotkenberg. In that location she was a slave laborer for the Wehrmacht German army. She knew the basics of how to use a sewing machine, which she used to repair German army uniforms that were damaged with bullet holes.  She was supervised by female SS guards who were very cruel.

At that location they had access to cleaning facilities of some sort and prisoner clothing. In the local barracks she slept on a bunk bed; it was not particularly crowded. The food was relatively “not bad” compared to Auschwitz, but there was very little of it. They were fed horse meat. She was not particularly scared and had the attitude that, “whatever happens will happen“.

However, after a few months there was chatter among the girls that their relatives were all murdered and were cremated. This clarified what they saw as the source of the “the smoke from chimneys”.  Many of them broke down crying.  Their German supervisor was a civilian working for the Wehrmacht, not an SS.  He was kind to them and told them not to worry and that after the war they would be reunited with their families.

Danzig Poland – Germany

Around March 1945, she and the rest of the young women at the Camp were transported to Danzig because of the approaching Soviet Red Army, which was not far away. Seemingly, out of nowhere, the female SS abandoned them on the streets of the city.  The actual fighting then surrounded them very quickly.  The Russian army and the German soldiers were shooting right in front of her.  In the end, the Germans ran away.  She saw women who looked like the female SS running away in striped prisoner dresses.  And she saw Soviet soldiers shooting to the left and right of them.  Some of the women who were shot were also Jewish.  Suddenly, a Soviet soldier came out of nowhere, pointed his rifle at Grandma and yelled in Russian.

Ty, nemets!? Ty, nemets!?

“Are you German!? Are you German!?”

She had no idea what he was saying and was just frozen out of fear of seeing a rifle in her face.

Out of nowhere, a female Jewish inmate hugged her and started crying and yelling something in Russian at the soldier. The soldier exchanged a few words with her and went away.  The woman kept crying and Grandma asked her what happened.  She explained to Grandma that he was yelling at her that she was German and he was ready to shoot her, because she did not respond.  Grandma did not understand the Russian language.

She later heard that the SS women of the camp forcibly removed the clothes from the Jewish women and changed into their clothing. The Soviet soldiers could not then tell the difference between the Jewish female inmates and the female SS guards who tried to flee. This resulted in the deaths of many innocent Jewish women in the confusion since they were shot, in error, by Soviet soldiers.

Grandma remembers being very hungry. They ate the food that the Germans left behind. Many Jewish women died because their stomachs could not handle solid food so quickly. Soon thereafter, Grandma came down with a typhus infection and was sick and bedridden for about three weeks.  She was convalescing in a house that was used as a hospital.  She and the other women around her were suffering from very painful stomach cramps and high fever.  One of them begged her to bring her a knife to kill herself.  Grandma said to her,

“What am I, crazy? No!”

The next day, the woman died. Grandma Helen remembers being delirious and having a strange craving for fresh cow’s milk.  In the end, she was the first of the group to recover from this illness.

She was subsequently taken to Munkatch.  A bath was made available in the local mikva and was given food to eat.  She started collecting post-war information on the whereabouts of family members and thus tried to piece her life back together.  Slowly, they found out which family and friends survived the war and which did not.  She eventually found work in the local communal kitchen with the returning survivors, in Turt Rumania.

(End Part 1)

About the Author
Arie E. Pelta, M.D., a Board Certified General and Colorectal Surgeon from the USA , made aliyah with his wife and 7 children in 2013. He is also a active Medical Corps Officer holding the rank of Captain in the IDF Reserves. Currently practicing in Laniado Hospital in Netanya; speciaizing in the surgical care of all problems of the colon, rectum and anus.
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