Memories of terrible days


Eva Quittner lives and works as an accomplished painter in Sydney Australia. She published her recollection in English in 1993 under the title” Pebbles of Remembrance” The author was born in Gyor Hungary as Eva Klein in 1931.Her father was a well liked veteranian in the town, the 13 year old little girl lived peacefully in a well-to-do Jewish family, when in 1944 at the order of the Hungarian fascist governement she was dragged with her loved ones to Auschwitz. Only she survived the horrible killing field of the Holocaust. As adult she emigrated with her Hungarian husband John Quittner to Australia.They are still living there with their children and grandchildren. Her memoires were first of all devoted to them and others who grew up in a luckier peaceful world, to tell them about the years of Eden she lived in the middle of her family and then about the horrible hell which Eva Klein lived through. The book was printed in Hungarian by Eva’s friends for the schoolchildren of Gyor , a few hundred copies only. The wider public still does not know anything about this book. We are introducing here the last section of the Pebbles of Remembrance, where Eva tells about her lucky survival and the tragic days of homecoming, marking the 60th anniversary of the Holocaust.

Pebbles of Remembrance (section)

Fourteenth  birthday and first airraids

 THOUGH IT crept slowly, time passed as the weeks and months went by. I turned fourteen on 17 February.As bad luck would have it my birthday feli in the week we worked. nightshift. I ruminated on the fact bitterly: at least this  chance could have favoured me. And yet the night turned out unexpectedly touching and beautiful.

  At the midnight break, all the women prisoners in the factory gathered around me in the corner where I worked. They stood there, turning their emaciated faces towards me and presented me with a birthday cake made from portions of theír margarine and bread rations: they gave up their food to celebrate my birthday. Their eyes shone with happiness to see how deeply I was touched. Everybody wished me a happy ~birthday. But that was not all: they had bartered some bread tor a potato from the men and made potato soup with it. When they asked me to hang the container into the hot water during the evening, I had no idea it was intended for me. Then I had to eat my soup while they all watched me, following every spoonful with hungry eyes, but I was aware that it brought them happiness to be able to give something. Csicsi's present was a small notebook and a pencil which she had pilfered from the office for me, and they became my treasured possessions.
Never before or after have I had a more touching and special birthday celebration than on that midnight in the Siling factory in Reichenbach.


TOWARDS THE end of February or at the beginning of March, Reichenbach came under air attack for the first time. We were on our way to work when it happened. Low-flying planes opened fire on us as we marched along. I am sure they were not aware that we were prisoners. We dispersed in all directions and lay flat on the ground, pulling our heads in, only now and then risking a quick look. I heard the crack of shots and bombs exploding, mixed with the whistling sounds of shells flying by. I saw Ibi, a girl from Győr, suddenly jump up and race ahead, bleeding from her head. I doni know how seriously she was wounded or what happened to her, all I know is that she did not return to Hungary after the war. When the sounds of explosions ceased we assembled in our ranks agaín and continued on our way to the factory.
Siling had been hit directly by a bomb, and some of the factory walls had collapsed. We were put to work immediately to clear the rubble. From then on our situation in Reichenbach deteriorated steadily. The Germans in the factory turned their wrath on us, as if we prisoners had been responsible for the bombing. Even those who until now had shown some humanity towards us had a change of heart and became harsh and unpredictable. It was a rude awakening for the Germans to realise that the course of the war had changed and they had to contemplate the fact that they might lose it.
At every opportunity the political prisoners passed informa­tion on to us. They tried to give moral encouragement to the fast deteriorating women for whom life became more difficulr every day in the factory as well as in the lager, teliing them to hold on for the war could not last much longer.
Our food supply was cut back drastically. Work in the factory went on as usual after the rubble was cleared. Air raids became more frequent, and the Germans grew more frantic. The tension of their furious resentment coupled with their fear hung heavily in the air. The only nice thing I can report of these days was that a male prisoner in the factory made a comb for me out of nails - this present made me incredibly happy; I loved the sensation of running the comb through my short hair.
The political prisoners passed on the news that the Russians were approaching. This, though it was a most welcome piece of information, also created a measure of anxiety in us: we were afraid we would be driven out of Reichenbach before the Russians could get here, which filled us with terror, for we knew that our poor depleted bodies could not possibly stand up to a long march in the cold.
Alas, this proved to be untrue. Around the middle of March our fears materialised. One bleak, miserable morning the women prisoners were ordered to march not on our usual route towards the Siling factory but in the other direction, leading out of Reichenbach. The way we walked and our sad posture betrayed our despair - our legs moved heavily, our heads were hunched up between our shoulders, for we were fully aware thai the relatively safe days of Reichenbach were over, and we dreaded what lay ahead. The SS guards on both sides of the column of marchers urged us on - `los, los' - get going - as the mountain chain in front of us stood out more and more clearly and the industrial town of Reichenbach disappeared behind us.
It became clear that we would be taken over the mountain pass after all  I cannot tell how many of us started out on this trek, or how long the columns of marchers stretched ahead, I only knew that as we made our way over that treacherous pass our numbers continuously dwindled.


THE MOUNTAIN was covered with a thick layer of snow on which our wooden-soled shoes slipped. My feet and fingers lost all feeling, completely numb with the bitter cold. When we asked the guards how long and how far we had to go, they just prodded us along with the command 'los, los'. As we progressed, not only my extremities turned numb but my whole being became too exhausted ro think or feel. When we stopped occasionally to rest, I let myself fall to the ground and lay there stretched out in the snow, tempted to remain thus forever. But at the order, get going, I got up on my toothpick legs and walked on. Many of our number were unwilling or unable to get up: I remember once Csicsi refused to move and stayed down in the snow. Only Marika's frantic appeal and desperate urging got back on her feet. The sound of shots from the guards' rifles told us that the ones who stayed behind found their final resting place...
          Although our numbers were drastically reduced, we finally arrived at our destination - we had made it across the mountain to a low-lying area in the Sudetenland, a troup of women all skin and bone, tattered and famished. Our first sight of another barren lager surrounded by high wire fences prompted feelings of gloom and promised nothing good for the newcom­ers. The gates opened wide to admit us, the ex-inmates of Reichenbach and we joined the Jewish women who were already there. From then on I was one of the vast number of women held in the lager of Parschnitz.
In our state of deadly exhaustion we were herded into a building, ordered to undress and hand over all our clothes to be disinfected. It was very cold, and in our debilitated condition that was all we needed. We shivered in our nakedness, our teeth chattered incessantly, while we waited for what seemed like an eternity, to have our clothes returned. I grew appre­hensive that I might not get back my own garment - in spite of its ugliness and tattered state, I had become used to it, it was mine, my second skin. But I need not have worried, I got it back alright, disinfected but full of lice as before. By the time we reached Parschnitz I was entirely lice-ridden - my head and my clothes swarmed with them. At last we dressed and were taken to the building where I would live out the remainder of my lager days.

THE ROOM we entered was narrow but very long. Rows of bunks lined the walls on both sides, stretching away into the distance, with a walkway in the middle. Skeleton-like figures, similar to us, perched on
the bunks, their eyes in the deep hollows of their sockcts following us inquisitively, examining the newcomers. Some of the skull-like faces pulled their fea­tures into a smile, their thin lips adhering to their gums, for they discovered that there were women from Győr among the newcomers - many among themselves were from Győr too. I recognised Olga Tauszig, my piano teacher, on one of the bunks. These old inmates of Parschnitz were keen to greet us, they eagerly enquired where we came from and whether we knew anything about their friends and relatives.
 I was too tired to talk. All I wanted was to lie down, so I climbed up onto the bunk that was assigned to me. It pleased me to have the upper bunk where I could breathe freely; the lower bed always gave me a bad feeling of being hemmed in. My bunk had a sack filled with straw and a grey army blanket to snuggle under. I made myself comfortable, my body grateful to be at rest. I gave the room I was in a last glance from my high perch, scanning the long rows of bunks and trying to guess how many women slept there. I gave up, there were far too many bunks, the room was too long. There was no doubt this place would be much worse than Reichenbach, but for the moment I could speculate no further, I sank into the deep sleep of exhaustion.
The next morning I was introduced to my new habitat and the kind of work we were to do. Early in the morning we marched to the outskirts of Parschnitz, half to three-quarters of an hour from the lager, to dig trenches. These had already been laid out, running into the distance in lines that twisted and turned like a snake. The job of the women prisoners was to make them even deeper and wider with entrenching tools, picks and spades.
On my first day of trenching I observed quite clearly ehat the women wielding spades had no chance of stopping to rest, they had to keep on shovelling continuously. On the other hand, those who worked with a pick could take a break after loosening enough soil to keep the shovellers busy. Accordingly I chose a pick from the pile of entrenching tools before starting work the following morning. It was something of an unwritten law that everybody stuck to the tool they selected at the beginning and stayed with the same work the whole time we dug trenches in Parschnitz. So from then on I worked with the pick every day. I lifted the pick in my tiny hands, keeping a measured tempo, working it back and forth to make the soil crumble from the sides of the trench and fall to the bottom…

ANOTHER SADNESS lay in wait for me when Csicsi and Marika were taken away from Parschnitz. They were included in a group of women who were moved to another lager. Their absence left a void and a painful feeling. With their departure the last thread connecting me to my mother was severed.
My condition deteriorated further, if that was possible. I was glad I never saw my own face - not being confronted with my image I did not know what kind of creature I had become. I had not seen a mirror since I left Hungary. I saw the skull­like faces of the women around me, but I did not associate that image with myself. I knew very well what my body was like - lying on my bunk I regularly assessed the unbelievable collection of bones that made up my figure. My skin was wrinkled and adhered to them. My legs developed numerous sores around the skinbones, patches of 1/2 cm diameter due to vitamin deficiencies. I could see the white bone through those sores. However, my extremities were not frostbitten, I escaped that scourge by a miracle. Most of the women who had crossed over the mountain pass from Reichenbach suffered from frostbite - one of them so severely that her leg had to be amputated.
 In the meantime, as the weeks passed, spring arrived and balmy breezes made our work outdoors more bearable. Luck was once again on my side when the sight of my frail figure softened the heart of one of the guards. I suppose he had never seen such a small hand as mine grab6ing the handle of a pick. Now and then he stopped beside me and took the pick out of my hand, telling me to have a rest until he came back and returned the tool to me. If one of the other guards questioned me, I was to say he needed my pick and I had to wait until he brought it back. With that he walked away, his gun on one shoulder and my pick on the other. I watched him walk along the trenches quite a long way, still carrying my pick while supervising the women at work.
On one such occasion I climbed out of the trench and squatted behind it in the lovely fresh grass, out of sight in the dip of the mound beside the diggings. It was so pleasant just to rest, to feel the blades of grass between my fingers. Suddenly my gaze fell upon the velvety purple blossom of a violet amid the grass. My heart leapt with joy: gingerly I picked the violet and held it to my nose - it smelt exquisitely sweet. I then searched in the grass on all fours to see if I could find more. I became so engrossed in the delight of this pursuit that I forgot the world and did not notice that in my eagerness I ventured higher and higher up the slope of the mound to where I became fully visi6le to everybody below. A stern German voice yelling at me and the gunshot that followed brought me back to reality. Fortunately for me the guard had kept his head and fired into the air, not at me directly, but as I turned back, I saw he was aiming at me. Naturally I descended like a crazed rabbit, holding the few violets up high in front of me. The guard trained his gun on me all the while. Finally I stood in front of him, breathless. He snarled 'Where on earth did you think you were going?', and stared at me menacingly. I held up the violets for him to see and explained apologetically in a tiny voice. My answer was unexpected. The SS man, rough and gruff as he was, belly laughed heartily. `Who would have imagined that you were picking flowers - hahaha!' The tiny skeleton with the tlowers in her hand looked hilarious to him.

I SPENT Sunday afternoons in the lager delousing myself. It became my regular practice, one might almost call it an entertainment. I undressed on the top of my bunk and turned my clothes inside out to fight a futile battle against the armies of crawling, obnoxious vermin. I became expert at snapping the tiny white lice eggs with my fingernails but the problem was worse with my head which was too densely inhabited by lice. Unfortunately the comb that a prisoner in Reichenbach had made for me, and which delighted me so, scratched my­ scalp and caused infections. Under my short hair the skin became one big, oozing sore, the weeping wound gummed my hair together in tufts. This created a happy breeding ground for the lice and trying to get rid of them was a frustrating and impossible task. This head sore was a major irritation and unpleasantness with which I had to live.
Our evening meal was dispensed at the front section of the donnitory in our barrack. We queued up, bowl in hand, on the walkway between the bunks. Many of the women worked out with scientific precision when was the best time to approach the cauldron, to take their turn when the soup was thickest. With eagle-eyes, they watched the dispenser's hand as she stirred the soup with a long-handled ladle. When we had been dealt our ration, everybody returned to their bunks to consume the soup in silent devotion.
From my high perch I observed the special ritual of food management. If anything was left over in the bottom of the cauldron after everybody had obtained their share, the dis­penser called upon the younger prisoners to come forward and receíve a second helping. I never bothered to get down from my bunk to queue up again. The women from Gyür scolded me for that, urging me to go down; they said I was in terrible condition, I must go and claim my share of the leftovers. I gave in, though unwillingly, and joined the queue. When I reached the cauldron I stretched out my thin arm and presented my bowl, but instead of a portion of soup I receíved a whack on my head from the dispenser's ladle! She shouted at me angrily, `what a hide for an old woman to come for a second helping, laking it away from the young ones!' I realised with dismay thai my face must have shrunk up into a thousand wrinkles if I, as fourteen-year-old girl, could be mistaken for an old woman. I deserved this, I muttered to myself, why did I listen to other people. That was the last time I presented myself for an extra helping.
As time went on, I became even thinner and terribly weak. It was a struggle getting out of bed in the morning and to drag myself to work with the others. Finally one moming I opened my eyes and said to myself that no matter what happened, I was not getting out of bed. I pulled my blanket over my head after the wake-up whistle sounded and I stayed put. When the women were counted before setting out, one was missing. The Aufseherin came back into the dormitory and spotted me on my bunk. She whipped off the grey army blanket and pulled me right down from the bunk. Her eyes flashed angrily as she called me a saboteur, announcing that I would be punished as I deserved. She was a magnificent specimen, big, healthy, blond and well-rounded, and she pushed me, the saboteur, in front of her with great ease, obviously relishing the action.
We stopped at the cellar which was used as the lager's morgue. She opened the door with a key and thrust me inside. The stiff bodies of the dead did not disturb me, what I needed above all else was a rest and quiet around me, and the morgue provided that. I sat around for a while, then I stretched out on the bodies. I was glad I had not gone to work. I must have nodded off, for when the door opened, the midafternoon sun poured in. The Aufseherin appeared as a sharp silhouette against the light. She ordered me to come out. My eyes squinted in the sudden brightness. I heard her say sarcastically, `I have a surprise for you, now you will see wonders.' With that she marched me over to the other side of the open square where the dashing figure of an SS man stood. In military fashion, the Aufseherin stood at attention before him, lifting her arm in the Heil Hitler salute. He responded with a perfunctory Heil Hitler and a small gesture, executed with an air of obvious superiority. She pushed me forward to bring to his attention that I was the one who had refused to go to work. With utmost conviction she told him of my crime of sabotage.
The SS man looked down on me. My heart missed a beat: I recognised him, it was none other than Josef Mengele, the Angel of Death in person. Mengele in Parschnitz! So that was why the Aufseherin told me she had a surprise for me. It was certainly an unexpected second encounter. Mengele looked at me, then snapped angrily at the Aufseherin, `How can anyone work in this condition? She is in a shocking state.' The Aufseherin was taken aback.
That was not what she expected to hear. Mengele ordered to have me taken to the `Revier' to be admitted. There I was to be given special food to fatten me up.
Who can figure out the workings of the German mind? Mengele, the Angel of Death who sent tens of thousands of men, women and children to their death, arranged for me to receíve extra food. For a few days I rested in the Revier and regained a little of my strength. Then I was sent out again with the others to work with the pick.

The Russians came

TIME PASSED - it was May. One day, as we worked outside in the trenches as usual, the guard's whistle sounded with an urgency even though it was not yet midday. Work was inter­rupted and the prisoners ordered to assemble. Something out of the ordinary had happened for us to be hustled into lines and taken back to the lager - especially as we were not even counted. The guards hurried us on at double quick pace;the women rushed along and the rows became all higgledy-piggledy. The guards' behaviour was positively strange, their manner distracted and their expressions uneasy. The Aufseherin opened the lager gate wide and herded us in, but she did not enter the compound herself, nor did any of the other guards. They remained in front of the lager until we were all inside, then the Aufseherin locked the gate from the outside.
There were no SS personnel left in the lager, they had all cleared out while we were at work. Within a minute or two, no Germans were in sight; through the wire fence we saw the last of them leaving in a great hurry.
Meanwhile I heard what was to me the sweeeest sound, the water was running in the washroom. In Parschnitz the water was turned off most of the time, so it was a great feast for me to see that the taps were open; fresh water gushed freely. I could wash myself. In great haste I headed for the washroom to find a vacant tap, not wanting to miss the golden opportu­nity. I was lucky - one tap was free among the outlets above the metal trough that went around all four walls of the washroom. I stripped to my waist and held my head under the running water, enjoying the feel of it streaming over my head, shoulders and arms. It was absolutely wonderful - I shut myself off to any other sensation, surrendering to the bliss of refreshing, cleansing water.
 In the meantime the commotion around me grew. Women were running excitedly in and out of the washroom, yelling and shouting, the air was charged with a high-voltage of emotion. I remained detached, for the significance of what had happened had not quite penetrated my consciousness. Even so, I heard everything. I was aware of the excited mood, but nothing could detract me from my enjoyment of the abundance of water. Somebody shook me by the shoulders: `Can't you hear? The Russians are here, we have been liberated, doni you understand?' But now I wanted to wash my underwear: 'The water is running from the tap,' I answered, determined not to be deflected from my purpose. I continued washing until someone shouted a date - `It's the eighth of May'. That shook me out of my total absorption: my mother's birthday was the foureeenth of May! We were free, we had been liberated, I must go home! I had to be home for moeher's birthday.
I left the washroom, not hesitating for a moment. Without saying a word to anyone, I headed straight for the wire fence surrounding the lager. I made myself as fiat as possible on the ground and slid under the wire. Once outside, the path I chose led me to one of the whitewashed farmhouses on a grassy hill at the outskirts of the village. I ventured into the coureyard, then to the open door of the kitchen where the inhabitants were busy with household chores. I asked myself in. There were three people in ehe kitchen, an elderly farmer, a young woman and an older one, simple country folk. They asked me to sit down at the table; the older woman brought a mug of milk and a thick slice of bread and put them down in front of me.
They sat down around me and we talked. They questioned me about life in the lager. When I had drunk the milk and eaten the last morsel of bread, I told them of my great desire to own a toothbrush. The younger woman jumped up and left ehe kitchen but soon returned not only with a toothbrush but a pair of nice-looking shoes as well. I put on the shoes, slipped the toothbrush into my pocket, thanked them for their kindness and went on my way, carrying my old canvas shoes in my hand. The shoes I had been given were too tight, but I had not the heart to say so, and I did not want to leave them behind when I knew my old piano teacher in the lager could use them, for she had smaller feet than me.
That altered my plans - I have not thought initially to return to the lager but make straight for home. Because of the shoes I felt obliged to go back and give them to Olga Tauszig. So once again I slithered under the wire fence on my belly. The shoes were a perfect fit for Olga Tauszig.
In the meantime a column of Russian tanks had appeared on the road in front of the lager, moving slowly. Red flags fluttered in the wind, young soldiers sat or stood on top of the tanks, waving their arms at us. When the women in the lager caught sight of them, they went wild with joy. They danced, they cheered, they laughed and cried. It was an unbelievably intoxicating feeling to watch the Iiberating troops pass by. No words can adequately describe my emotions at the sight. They were giving me back my freedom, they were giving me my life. Blessings upon them - I shall never forget that I was saved by the Russian army. It is thanks to them that I am alive, and I shall be grateful to them to the end of my days.
A Russian commandant opened the lager gates, admitting a truck with a load of bread, and the soldiers passed the loaves to the women. The commandant made a speech, declaring the inmates of the lager free, but he must ask everybody to be patient until transports to their homeland could be organised. At any rate, the prisoners' health and strength had to be built up before they could leave; he promised Ihat everything would be done in their very best interest. For the time being the doors of the lager had to remain closed to keep the women safe. With a reassuring smile, the officer then left.
The women stayed in the open as if mesmerised, just lingering, their state of euphoria did not permit them to simply return to the barracks. They could not get enough of watching the passing parade of the Russian army. But although their spirits soared, hunger made its presence felt and they could not wait trusting in the Russians' promise that food supplies would be taken care of. They íried to help themselves - they ftocked to the food store of the lager and attempted to forte open its doors. They did not succeed: ehe door proved far too strong. There was no other access. The store had no windows, only narrow ventilation holes high up on the side wall. These openings were far too small for any of the women to squeeze through - except me: I was so skinny and tiny, I mighe just make it. The women persuaded me to try. If I managed to get inside, I could open the door for them.

I gave in to their pleading. Someone helped me to stand on the shoulders of a woman, from where I was able to reach the ventilation hole. Making myself as small as I could, I squeezed through the opening. I was so engrossed with executing this manoeuvre that I failed to grab hold of anything on the inside and fell head first into a barrel of jam! My head was submerged while my legs kicked heavenwards. Just then the women outside burst the door, and a crowd rushed in to the store room. Because of their momentum and their numbers, they pushed tight against the barrel, and instead of pulling me out, they toppled over me, submerging me even deeper in the sticky substance. I narrowly escaped drowning - a scurrilous tragi­comedy, but true nonetheless. To survive almost a year in concentration camps, only to very nearly lose my life on the very day of liberation by drowning in a barrel of jam!
Fortunately somebody had enough presence of mind to pull me out by my legs. I must have presented a ridiculous picture covered with gooey jam. I was befuddled but intact, and, though shaken, started to lick the jam off my hand. But I had been held up too long, I was impatient to start my journey back home. I went back to the washroom to wash myself agaín and clean up my clothes as best I could. I did not even wait for my clothes to dry. Without saying goodbye, to avoid giving anybody the chance of talking me out of going back home on my own, I went under the wire once more and started the long journey home.

Back to Hungary

I DONT know how I worked out which direction to walk and which road would take me back to Hungary. Obviously I must have made enquiries. All along the way my mind replayed the homecoming scene which I had rehearsed innumerable times in my imagination, visualising it every night before I went to sleep in the lager. My heart fluttered with excitement when I thought about it - everything was going to happen exactly as I had seen it in my mind's eye. I would be home for my mother's birthday.
I hitched a ride several times by asking soldiers to lift me up on a tank or a lorry in the long line of Russian vehicles. Sitting high up on top of a tank I enjoyed the view and the fact that I was taking part in this parade of the Red Army, happily dangling my funny matchstick legs, as the procession moved along slowly. I felt perfectly safe in the company of the Russian soldiers, no fearful thoughrs perturbed me, for I had become immune to fear during my year in the lager. One of the soldiers on a tank put an open tin in my hand which contained the best sweet cream I had ever tasted. I did not know what I was eating at the time, what that heavenly thick white stuff was, but now I am certain it must have been condensed milk.

I kept moving during the day, but I stopped before it was too late and too dark to look for a place to spend the night. Finding a refuge was no problem - there were plenty of deserted houses on my way, abandoned by their owners as they fled before the Russians. Sometimes I gained access through windows by manipulating the catches but many dwellings were left wide open and I just walked in. The occupants having left in such a hurry that they did not even bother closing the door. Some food was left in the kitchen or in the pantry of nearly all the houses, so I never starved.
A sad spirit which I felt keenly, lingered in the houses, especially in the children's rooms which contained school things and toys. It didn't matter that I knew the people who used to live in the house were Germans, I still felt the individual tragedy of loss. One house in particular left its imprint in my memory, a well-cared-for, typical middle-class family home. In the yard the washing, still wet, hung on the line, certain evidence that the inhabitants' flight was not premeditated and that they had left only a short while before. I could still feel their presence. Two smiling children and their happy-looking mother and father watched me from a photograph on the wall. I made up my bed in one of the children's cots and thought of them as I lay there, looking at their desk and their bookshelves of white-painted wood. In the morning I made myself breakfast in the kitchen. Then, inwardly begging the rightful owner's forgiveness, I chose a large, pale yellow bath towel from the linen cupboard in the corridor and took it down from the shelf. I rolled it up, and tied it with some string I found, making a bundle to sling over my shoulder. That would be my birthday present for Mother, I was sure she would be pleased with it. The thought made me feel warm inside and justified my act of pilfering. To appease my conscience, I told myself that the house was doomed to be ransacked sooner or later anyway. All the horrors I had líved through in the concentration camps had not diminished my sense of moral responsibility. On top of the desk in the children's room I had noticed a 'Marabu' set of water colours in a black metal container just before I went to sleep. On waking in the morning my eyes were once again drawn to that box.
 After I had breakfasted and washed myself, I slung the rolled-up towel across my shoulder and prepared to return to the road. Unable to put the picture of the black `Marabu' set out of my mind, I went back to fetch it, somewhat shame­facedly. The temptation was too great - I slid the box into the hessian bag I had acquired somewhere along the way. With my booty of one towel and a water-colour painting set I plodded on in rhe direcrion of Czechoslovakia, sometimes on foot, sometimes on farmers' horsedrawn carts, perched on the back of bicycles or on Russian military vehicles, until I finally arrived in the town of Brno (Brünn). There I was directed to a sanatorium where it looked likely that I would be welcome to spend the night.
The superintendent of the sanatorium looked at me com­passionately and tried to convince me not to go any further, to stay with them until I could be strengthened physically and only then attempt to complete my journey. But nothing could hold me back, the urge to reach home was hurning in me. Already I could see that I would not be back for mother's birthday. The distance from Parschnitz to my home town was greater rhan I had thought, I could not travel fast enough to make it by May 14.
There were no others like me on the road. The inmates of the various lagers were waiting for transport to be organised; but my fourteen-year-old heart beat impatiently and I could not wait. Happy thoughts of anticipation fuelled me and carried my body forward, 24 kilos of sore-ridden skin and bones.
From Brno I continued to Bratislava. There I learned about an aid establishment set up to help the returning deportees, so I made my way there, and receíved some money at their office. With this in my pocket I went to a square where the weekly market was held. My funds were just sufficient to buy a quarter kilo of red cherries. While I paid for them, somebody pushed a large bag of strawberries inro my hand.
I wandered along, munching the cherries and strawberries, with the rolled-up towel swinging at my side and the water­colour set in my hessian bag. I regarded the array of multi­coloured fruit and vegetables on the market stalls and in the canvas-covered booths. They were a wonderful sight. The visual impression was so intense that I still remember clearly the cobblestone pavement of the market place. I continued on the footpath around the square which was lined with solid,
grey, one- and two-storied buildings. From the open window of one of these houses, somebody leaned out and called me in.
I went upstairs, and found a lady waiting for me in the open door of one of the apartments. She led me into a graciously furnished room with heavy curtains and colourful Persian rugs on the floor. She bade me sit down by a beautifully polished small table where she served breadrolls and an assortment of cheeses and cold cuts on a tray, as well as milk coffee in bone china cups. She sat opposite me, and her companion, a silver­haired lady sat next to me. I was aware of the compassion radiating from their gaze. We talked, and they shed tears, which touched me. I could eat only very little after the feast of cherries and strawberries; my shrunken stomach could not take any more food. I knew I had to be careful - I had been watned in the sanatorium in Brno that many people had died from suddenly overeating after long starvation. My insides needed time to adjust to normal amounts of food. However, sitting in these nice surroundings and feeling the waves of sympathy from the two women was an elixir to my soul.
My hostesses told me that trains were already running between Bratislava and Budapest. I was certain if a train went to Budapest it must stop at Győr. I ehanked the kind ladies for their hospitality and headed to the railway station. My heart could hardly contain my joy and excitement at the thought of being home very soon. The station was crowded with people, most of them soldiers returning from the war. When the train pulled into the station, people scaled it in a frenzy. In no time at all the carriages were crammed ful1. I lacked the strength to push myself forward in the rush, I felt absolutely helpless to make my way among the surging mob. People climbed up on the roof of the train or hung on outside on the steps. I could see I had no hope of getting on and felt stricken with despair. I just stood there beside the train in my worn brown coat, feeling very weak and small. Then somebody leaned out from the window of one of the carriages, stretched out his hand to grab mine, and pulled me in.
Among the bodies crushed together, being as small as I was made it even harder to breathe, but I took no heed of my discomfort - the journey would end in no time, I was going home. It was already the twentieth of May, so my homecoming would be a belated birthday present for my mother.

The train arrived in Komárom, only 50 kilometres from my home town. Some people got out and others boarded. I saw a familiar face among the newcomers and as he drew near to me I called out. He was the father of an old schoolmate of mine, Mr Kraus from Győr. He told me that none of the Jews from Győr who had been in concentration camps had returned yet and he knew for certain that none of my family were in the town. In this way I learned that the dream which I had so fondly cherished through the many months of adversity in the lager was only a dream. A false dream kept me alive, gave me the strength to survive and brought me home.
Home? I had no home. My whole world sank into an all­ enveloping darkness. I was in a vacuum, an infinite emptiness filled me. I Iost the reason that had motivated me to come back. The little girl who could hardly wait to be reunited with her family was shattered. Nothing mattered any more.


I GOT off the train in Győr, leaving the rolled-up towel I had brought along in the carriage. As I left the station, Győr appeared to me as a completely strange town. I did not go via Czucor Gergely Street where Uncle Palis photographic shop had been, the way I had envisaged it so many limes in my daydreams. Instead, broken in spirit, I dragged my body along the road to Sziget where I had been told a refuge for returning deportees had been set up in the old Jewish primary school next to the Temple. This was where I spent my first night in town, on an iron bed.
I was the first arrival of all the Jewish women from Győr who had survived. Only the Jewish men who were in the army labour force had already returned. These men surrounded me when I awoke in the morning, hoping to hear that I had been with their wives and relatives in the lager. They pressured me to try and remember all the names of the women I knew or had seen in the lager. Utterly exhausted as I was, I tried very hard to remember names. The men were so anxious to discover the whereabouts of their loved ones that they could not stop interrogating me. It took a superhuman effort to answer them, to lift myself out of the depths into which my spirit had plunged. My voice sounded hollow, I wished only that they would leave me alone with my pain; but even through my pain I could understand the urgency of the men's need.
My breakfast was laid under the spreading branches of the tree I knew so well from my childhood days, in the middle of the Temple yard. The table was covered with a white cloth and had everything on it that a person who had starved in a concentration camp could dream about: fresh bread rolls, butter, jam, coffee and milk. The sun's light filtered through the leaves, played on the spread in changing patterns of brightness and shade. People watched from a discreet distance to see how the little starved creature would gorge herself. My eyes drank in the beauty of the food, everything looked so lovely and good - but the irony of fate prevented me from eating anything. The roof of my mouth and my tongue were covered in thousands of tiny white blisters, and I could not swallow.
For a few days I wandered aimlessly about the streets of Győr, my body aching and my soul devastated. Not a single member of my large extended family nor any of my childhood friends could be found. Then I went to the town hall and lodged a request for a room in our old apartment, the place I could not help but still consider our home. My request was granted. With the paper in my hand stating that I had the right to move into one of the three rooms of the aparement, I walked across the Révfalu bridge and to No 3 Ronay Jacint Road, feeling sick at heart. I walked up the steps to the first floor and rang the doorbell. Louis Kiss was the name of the new tenant in our flat, according to the narrow typed nametag next to the bell. I pushed the familiar button with a trembling index finger, thinking of the limes when I used to press it with such irritating urgency on coming home from school and running up the stairs two steps at a time. Now I was standing before the same door as an intruder-my presence would not be welcomed.
Mrs Kiss answered the door. I introduced myself as the daughter of the previous tenant of the flat and told her of my intention to stay. I handed her my authorisation paper from the town hall. Mrs Kiss decided I should have the old children's room. I moved in, just like that, as I had no belongings. The light­green furniture of my childhood was still there, so were theholes in the wall behind my bed which I had bored with the end of a pencil. The other rooms still contained our furniture as well, but though it was hard to believe, all the old familiar pieces had taken on a strange look. Nothing was the same. The spirit of warmth, the homeliness of our apartment was gone. The furniture was rearranged in a manner that made it lose its charm. Without my mother's loving care and her very special touch it became a very ordinary place. This was not my home.
The old caretaker of the building was still there. His wife called me into their basement dwelling, and with a faint, shy smile pulled out a drawer of the chiffonier, took an envelope out and handed it to me. When I opened the envelope my eyes grew so misty that I could hardly make out the family photographs that were in it. There were only a few - postcard­size pictures of my father, my mother and Joska. I looked at them one by one. The caretaker's wife had saved these pho­tographs when she found them thrown out, thinking that one day someone from the Klein family might return and want co have them back. Thus I received this precious gift. These photographs are still my most cherished possession.
I was unable to stay any longer in our old fiat. I could not find my place in the children's room with its green furniture. I went out into the country in search of consolation. Not knowing where to turn I visited my old teachers from the convent school who were at that time residing in their country estate. There more sad news awaited me: Mater Benedicta, my drawing teacher at the Orsolyita school, was no longer alive having passed away the previous year.
The nuns treated me with kindness. I stayed with them in the convent for the night. Then I went back to Győr, but it was unbearable for me to remain. The weight of the past and the absence of everyone I had ever loved ruined the atmosphere of the town and drove me away. I went to Budapest. Feeling extremely weak, I admitted myself to a hospital called `Love' for medical observation. I had been there for three days when I became feverish. My whole boly was burning, my temperature soared. The typhoid fever which must have been incubating for some time now burst upon me with full force. It was my great good fortune that the disease broke out when I was already in the hospital, not sooner, not while I was still on the road or in the lager, otherwise I would most certainly have died.
I was given the best of care in the `Love' Hospital. Doctors and nurses did whatever was humanly possible to keep me alive. Being in such desperate condition and weighing only 24 kilos, I hovered between life and death for many months. Because of the high fever, I developed endocarditis and was blissfully unaware of what was going on around me. The illness mercifully carried me away from the unbearable reality of the present. My mind clouded and I sank into unconsciousness. This state of oblivion bought me precious time during which I did not have to face up to the fact that the first chapter of my life had closed forever. My childhood had been cut short, and the world of ordinary adolescence never opened to me. This whole stage of development is missing from my life. About a year later, when I was fully recovered from my long illness I began to lead a different existence. I entered a different world, a world where I did not belong. I spent the following years in Budapest. I was not unhappy all the time, but I was cettainly not happy either. The best way to desribe my state is that I just kept existing.
For many years I retained the faint hope that someone among my relatives might have survived and that at least Joska would return. But as time went on this hope faded. I was on my own, yet not alone: in my heart my parents and my brother still líved on, their spirit never left me for a moment. The seeds my parents planted in my soul during the first thirteen years of my life endured all these years, guiding me through life. All I had to do was follow the path they had mapped out for me, trying to be worthy of them and acting the way they expected me to.




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