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The Jewish Ghetto
Kartal, Hungary


My Story, 1944-45,Hungary to
Buchenwald, Mauthausen and Back

by István Katona

 István Katona,
age 20,
cir 1944


I was born István Katona in 1924. My father was the manager of a large agricultural estate in Kartal, a village of few thousand people, forty km from Budapest. We lived the normal Hungarian assimilated Jewish existence: I went to Jewish elementary school, had my Bar Mitzvah, went to the local synagogue on High holidays. My mother kept a kosher household.

My father was only fifty-five years old when he was forcibly retired in 1942, due to the Hungarian anti-Jewish laws. The law restricted the number of Jews in certain professions. The same year, when I just finished High School, my parents moved to Tarnaméra, the village where my father was born. As Jews were not allowed to go to university, I went to the town of Gyöngyös, where I started an apprenticeship as an electrical mechanic.

The Germans occupied Hungary on March 19, 1944, and imposed a new government. This government, with German supervision and the enthusiastic participation of the majority Hungarian population, brought in daily more and more restrictions. Jews were not allowed to travel, at the train station they arrested all Jews, who were interned and later deported. Within weeks we had to wear yellow stars.

Within six weeks of German occupation, by the end of April, we had to move into newly erected ghettoes. At first, these ghettoes were organized only in the country. In Budapest at that time they established the so called "yellow star houses" where the Jews had to live, and later they had to move to a ghetto too. The ghetto was the most horrible, humiliating, soul destroying experience. My parents had lived a comfortable, middle class existence. My father was a proud Hungarian, his eyes were filled with tears in hearing the Hungarian Anthem and not by hearing the "Shema Yisroel."

It was already a shock leaving our home in 1942 and moving to Tarnaméra, in a small part of our ancestral home. My father, now without a daily occupation at 55, felt like a useless homebody.

In Tarnaméra everybody knew he was a Jew, even without yellow stars. One felt a Jew, like one is black haired, has freckles, or limps. It was a fact, which could not be changed. But to wear a yellow star, to become a target of ridicule, shattered my parents.

Hungarian Jews deported
Jews being deported from Koszeq, Hungary, 1944
--photo from Yad Vashem Archive

On the end of April 1944 the gendarmerie told us, "be ready, you will be moved to a ghetto, you are allowed to take 10 kg. of clothing, cooking utensils etc., but not valuables, mementos." To us, life ceased to exist. We were told to hire a horse-drawn carriage, at our expense, to go to an unknown destination.

In the first days of May 1944 we were taken to Bagolyuk, an abandoned mining settlement close to Eger, approximately 40-50 km away.

What waited for us was the hell coming to earth. Hungarian gendarmes and German SS kicked and hit everybody. They ordered us to get off the carriage, run to one of the houses, and 2-4 families had to occupy a room.

They brutality dehumanized everybody, not only the ones who did the beating, but us too. Old friends fought for the corners of the room that looked more comfortable. The same happened in the kitchen with cooking and food, if food was available at all. For me personally, the ghetto life did not last long. First, as a young man I was conscripted into the ghetto police. Within two weeks came the order that everybody born in 1924 should go to a forced labor battalion on the 15th of May, 1944. My parents were downhearted to be parted from their only child, but thought --very realistically--that anything would be better than the ghetto. How true it was, though I did not know that at that time.

To Auschwitz

June 15, 1944: Hungarian Jews deported to Auschwitz


In a late effort to keep control of the Hungarian Jews, the Horthy regime called up every Jewish man to labor battalions attached to the Hungarian Army. My two uncles volunteered and survived. My father who was a strong practical man, said to them, "I will not go, somebody has to stay with the women and children." There were approximately 15-20 relatives in the ghetto. He stayed, went with them to Auschwitz, was separated from them on the first selection, and finally killed in Dachau.  

At that time, I didn't know what would happen to my parents. I had the vague idea, that they would work somewhere to help the war efforts. And in any case, we had the firm conviction that the war would not last long and that the Allies would win. We never thought about the viciousness of the Germans.

When every rail carriage was an essential war necessity, when the Russians had already liberated half the Ukraine and were already in Romania, they packed the whole Jewish population from the Hungarian countryside in cattle cars and deported them to Auschwitz. It happened to my parents: their entire ghetto was deported within three weeks of my departure.

next, The Ghetto and the Day of the Yellow Star, Miskolc, by Arthur Rosenthal ►►


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