The Ghettos of
My Story, 1944-45,Hungary to
Buchenwald, Mauthausen and Back
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.
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.
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
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.
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.