Collected Memories of the Holocaust


The Story of Sanyi Hecht

HECHT, Sanyi (Sandor)

  • born in Balassagyarmat, Hungary

  • family: parents Avraham and Rachel Devora nee Spitzer; sisters Irma, Ilonka, Magda, Valerie, and brother Henri

  • address in Balassagyarmat in 1925: Teleki Utca 3

  • forced labor--building airport for Germans at Kiskunlachaza, and served as an undertaker at typhus camp in Gyor





While I was very young, about the age of four, I went to the Talmud Torah to study a little bit of Hebrew. When I was five I went to regular school, until I was nine, and then I moved up to the high school (gymnasium.)

Well, I was not always a good boy and my father had to force me to study a little bit of Hebrew with a private teacher. I will never forget him. He had a red beard and was a very nice man. He always gave me some homework or questions. I remember once he said to me, "Here is your book. Study pages twenty-nine to thirty-seven and give me the details at your next lesson." The Hebrew lessons were in the afternoon after regular school. The teacher came and me, not always being a good boy, I said "You never gave me the pages to study" (I removed them from the book), and I laughed a bit. The teacher said, "I gave it to you." How did he know this? He looked in the book and saw that the pages had been removed. He told my father. That was the only time my father ever had removed his belt. He took me into another room, and I had quite a bit on my "tuches." My mother was standing there at the door, begging my father not to hit me so much.


My friend Valerie Netzer's father Shia was a teacher and also taught me many things like Hebrew and Haftorah for my bar mitzvah. He also showed me how to reduce the light into a four or six volt system, and I built it up myself in my room. And I read at night in secret.
Where we were living, they had installed lights in our apartment. And I wondered to myself, "What is this light all about?” So I removed the bulb, and thought nothing of putting my finger inside the socket (laugh). A tremendous amount of shock! And I was really dancing (laugh) for a long time. I will remember this the rest of my life.

I learned my bar mitzvah and also belonged to the choir. There was a rabbi there who was helping me to study the Haftorah--that was Rabbi Deutsch. He was a most wonderful and knowledgeable man. He was a real tzadik, we call him. Unfortunately, he also ended up in Auschwitz.

I had my bar mitzvah in a beautiful synagogue. At that time I was also in the choir. My friends asked me to sing, as I had a nice voice. I remember something that I will never forget. My parents prepared a little party for the occasion of my simcha, and I found a little bottle, actually a liter bottle. I opened it, and smelled and tasted the liquid. It was a cherry liqueur. I said, “Oh, gee, that’s so good.” And I had quite a bit of it. When I was called up to the Torah to say the bracha and the Haftorah, I was so good. I was afraid before that. Before that I was afraid and asked myself, "how will I survive?"  Nevertheless, the liqueur helped me do a good job and the people congratulated me afterwards. Looking back, I remember how I zigzagged up to the bimah.

Sadly, during the war our beautiful synagogue was destroyed, flattened to the ground.  It is now a parking lot and on weekends it's used as a farmer's market.


She was a very good cook and I remember good things. Before Shabbat I would take a big container containing beans, eggs and meat to the baker to put into his oven overnight. Then on Saturday at noon I would go to the baker and bring the cholent home. The eggs would turn almost brown. It was the most delicious cholent.

Another thing I remember was that even before my bar mitzvah, my mother would bake once a year for my birthday a beautiful cherry pie. Also, I remember her paprikash, which was homemade paprika-flavored potatoes with meat.

Another Hungarian delicacy she made was goose liver--huge ones when it was possible to find them. It was prepared for use in the winter, and the goose fat helped conserved it well. When we were hungry, we had some bread with libamáj, which means goose liver. This was another of my mother's specialties.

I also remember something funny. When I was maybe ten or eleven, my mother bought a huge quantity of prunes, and she cooked them in a huge cauldron outside the house. We all helped by taking turns stirring the mixture with big wooden paddles. This was called lekvar in Hungarian; in English it was called jam. When it was all ready, it was put into ten yeast boxes to be preserved for use in the winter. Each wooden box weighed about five pounds. A friend and I found the place my mother placed them in the storeroom and we took one box and almost ate the whole thing because it was so good. It did not take long until we both had a bad case of diarrhea. We suffered! This was another time I stole something that I paid for.


It was 1939 when the war started and the Germans were very powerful and aggressive. We Jews were considered to be second-class citizens. We couldn't walk on the sidewalks
[i]--only in the road where the carriages and horses that pulled the buggies went. I remember one thing that I will never forget and I still have a souvenir of when we went into the cattle train to go to build the airport for the German army. A friend of mine with whom I studied in gymnasium was not a good student. So he became a Szálasi soldier with the Germans. I did not realize this until he pushed us onto the train. I told him he should be ashamed to be pushing me and my friends. We were two hundred and thirteen children who left there then, and only fourteen of us lived. His name was Joseph Baldizsar. He pushed me in the cattle car and I spat on his eyes, and he hit me in my neck with his  gun that had a bayonet. He almost killed me, and I still have a bad scar that reminds me of this occasion.

In early 1944, I had to move with my parents and my sisters into the ghetto. Fortunately my father had already sent my eldest sister Irma and my brother Henri to study in France. I don't remember much about ghetto life because we were sent after just a short while to a forced labor camp.

Balassagyarmat, Hungary
cir 1937

I had four sisters and one brother. My little sister Valerie ended up in Auschwitz, where she perished tragically. My sister Irma lived in London, England until she passed away in 2001. My brother Henri studied medicine in France was was with General De Gaulle during the war. He lives with his wife Rachel, who is also a doctor, in Grenoble, France. They are both retired. Unfortunately, her father was killed by the German Gestapo because, as head  of the Jewish community, he refused to disclose the names of the community's officers. My next sibling was named Ilonka. She lives in Hungary and is a retired psychiatrist. Next was Magda, who along with Ilonka, survived the concentration camps. Sadly Magda, after many years living in Toronto with her husband, has passed away. Our family is now very small; out of six, there are only three of us left. I was the youngest until my little sister was born eight years after me, and unfortunately she perished with our parents at Auschwitz. My father had many brothers whom he sent to the United States; he decided to stay in Europe...

photo: On the occasion of Roza and Abraham's 25th Wedding Anniversary--l. to. r.: mother Roza, children Magda, Sanyi, Ilonka and father Abraham; seated in front is sister Valerie. The photo in the center is of Roza and Abraham's children Henri and Irma. Both were sent to France before the war and survived the Holocaust.

My mother stayed home to look after us. My father was a merchant who specialized in antiques from Hungary, and he visited different high places like Barons, buying paintings, sculptures, and furniture. We had a beautiful home, but everything was confiscated by the Nazis. After the war, we tried to obtain some compensation, but of course we had no documents and could not give them proof of ownership.  So we were turned down after so many years had passed.

When I came back after the war,  I received some compensation from the German government, concerning my belated parents and sister, but I didn’t want to touch a penny of it. I didn’t want it. My sister Magda suggested that I give it to a charitable organization. I was working at the time as a corporate credit manager for Allied Photo, a division of the 3M company. My rabbi came to see me in my office with a friend from Israel, looking for money for a new yeshiva. I said to them that their visit came at a perfect time, as I had this compensation money and I would give it to them with pleasure, and then make it a round figure. From that day on, I am in touch with the dean of the Yeshiva,  Rabbi Aryeh Rottman of "Mercaz Hatorah," who is an American by birth.


My father’s name was Abraham Hecht. His Hebrew name was Abraham, and his father's name was Israel, which became my Hebrew name at birth. My mother’s name was Rachela Debora, and her father’s name was Shlomo. The family name was Spitzer. My little sister’s name was Valerie. They all ended up in Auschwitz and perished there. I don’t know too many details about that time, though, except for the fact that all the people from Balassagyarmat went to the gas chambers on the same day which was the twenty-second day of Sivan. My good friends Valerie Netzer, now Rosenthal, who had grown up with me in Balassagyarmat recall the yahrzeits of our families, who were all in the same cattle cars going to Auschwitz.

That was a sad period. I was called in to serve as a forced laborer, carrying very heavy cement bags all day to build an airport for  the Germans. This place was close to a small place called "Sventivan Puszta." This was at a time before I was forced to walk day and night toward Austria and the camps.

Again, we had to get in a cattle car that was going to Eisenstadt through Sopron. Then we had to walk day and night until we arrived at a place whose name I don't remember, moving closer to Matthausen. We were put in a barn temporarily with cows. This was our bedroom. The next day a nice Austrian lady saw me and said that I looked like a girl. She told me that these people are going to die, for sure, that we were preparing ourselves to go to Matthausen. The only chance of salvation, she said, is for me to dress like a girl because I was so young. Then she said, " do you see that dress on the line drying? Take it, and here are two small kohlrabi.  Make yourself breasts with nails and rope." Suddenly I remembered that my dear mother had insisted that I take her woolen shawl with me, even though I said no. She said to me that you never know when you will need it, that it will be winter, so I took it. So wearing a woman's dress, the kohlrabi and my mother's shawl, I managed to escape from the camp where the German SS soldiers were watching us very carefully. One soldier said to me jokingly, “You are good-looking!  I wouldn't mind spending a few hours with you…”

Somehow I managed to get out  of the camp and hid myself during the day and walked at night towards Hungary and my city. I can't recall how many days and nights it took me to reach the frontier. The only food I had to eat was rotten vegetables which kept me going. Somehow I arrived in a small village and got to a train station.


My mother had made me a pair of trousers and in the inside seams she put money. She did this so I could  buy a train ticket to Budapest and try to find any of our family.  After buying a ticket I boarded the train and sat down. One guy was looking and looking at me. He said to his friend beside him, "That girl over there looks like a boy. There is hair growing on his face like a beard." So I said to myself, "My God, that is it for me. I will be caught. So I put my hands together like I was praying. The man realized it. Then he said something to his friend. Then he came to me and said, "Get out at the next stop, a little place, because the next stop is a big station and it is full of "TOT' and SS guards. He said that I should get off as soon as I could because I would otherwise be caught for sure. So as this just happened, the train stopped at a small village. I got off quickly, managing to escape from the soldiers. I looked back and thanked the man, just signaling to him with a relief. He was very kind and saved my life. That was just the first stage of my wondrous escape.

As I advanced toward my destination, I decided to hide at night and tried to find a place to rest so that I could carry on the next day. I was very tired, exhausted. I was also afraid that I'd be recognized, as my beard had started growing. I ended up in a small public garden and sat down in a corner. I said to myself, "My God, it will be good for me to rest a bit." When I sat down in the corner, I soon discovered that it was full of excrement. I was now covered in filth. My dress was so horribly dirty that it took hours and hours to clean myself. I stunk so badly that I had to walk all night to rid myself of the odor. It was then that I promised myself, "My God, if I survive this, I will try to be a good boy, and try to keep religion, etc..." So, this was the time that I had escaped from Austria, trying desperately to get to Hungary. However, I was recognized before getting on another train in my disguise, and I was caught.

When the Hungarian and German soldiers grabbed me, I was immediately condemned by the authority to die as an escapee. They temporarily threw me into a typhus camp, and sadly I became an undertaker. Fortunately I was able to carry all the dead bodies and not to get typhus. However, I could not escape the dozen of lice that attached themselves to my body.

This typhus camp was located in Gyor, Hungary. Somehow, by some miracle, I managed to survive. As I said, I was an undertaker, but I decided to escape from there because staying longer might mean that I would get typhus and I would then be finished. So it just happened one night that the Hungarian soldiers, who were drinking heavily, ran out of wine. I said to them, "Look, I know I am condemned to die, so here is some money to buy some more wine. And enjoy!" Then I said, "Could I go into that corner and pee?" I said this because I needed to very badly.

They said to me, "Hey, dirty Jew, you go outside to pee!" So that was my night to escape from the typhus camp. I went outside to pee, then jumped through a hedge to begin my escape. However, I fell onto a doghouse of a German shepherd. I got up and ran away, covered in a sap full of mud.

I don't recall too much from there on, but after many days, I eventually ended up in Budapest. I found my aunt who had married a non-Jew named Genteman; he was really wonderful. They hid me until the Russian army came. The war was still going on. I was hidden in the sewers for many, many weeks. My aunt was able to give me some food; she was really a wonderful woman. Unfortunately, she died because she had eaten some of the meat a number of  times from a horse who had perished on the street. I also ate some of it at the same time, but I managed to survive.

After her death I went, at my own peril, to the Swiss safe house at Vas Utca 22, as I was concerned about my being reported to the Gestapo by the concierge of my late aunt. He was an anti-Semite.


After we were liberated by the Russian Army, I did go to my home town of Balassagyarmat, where I had been born, and I went to the house of one of my neighbors. They were not Jewish. My father had given them our family treasures for safekeeping, because my father knew what was happening to our Jewish brethren, that all of them were about to be deported by the Hungarian and German authorities.

Our neighbors denied being given anything by my father. They said, "We have nothing, nothing for you." I said, "Look, I don't want my mother's diamonds, the porcelain or the paintings. I only want the two silver candelabra and the additional pieces with three branches. If you don't return them to me, I will come with my friends and with their machine guns, and we will get rid of you and your family." He then continued to say that he had nothing of ours, etc. I told him, "I will give you twenty-four hours, then we will come with our machine guns (we didn't have any guns at all.)" He said to me, "I will try to remember and look..."
Anyway, to my surprise, I now have the two candelabras and their branches. They are now used by us on Shabbat and Yomim Tovim.


Having no success in finding my immediate family in Hungary, I returned to the UNRA rest camp called Pine City in Augsburg, Germany, and began to look for my parents, to see if they were still alive. also, I thought I might learn something or find some traces or there whereabouts of my sisters. However, I did not find them. My memories after so many years are very vague, so I don't remember much about that time.

One day I decided to do some searching in Munich, which is not too far from Augsburg. I was walking in the street and what happened? I saw somebody who happened to look just like my brother. We looked at each other. He said to me, "My God, you are my brother Sanyi! How nice to see you again. You are alive! I was going to visit all the camps and look for you. I work for UNRA as a doctor, and I received permission to look for you and here you are!"

We hugged each other and wept. I was so fortunate. He said to me, "You are coming with me...no more camps for you. You come to France with me. I have all that you need and your life story." So I lived in France with my brother Henri for many years and became a French citizen.

This is my sad story, in a nutshell, about this tragic period in my life. This is a legacy for my family and for the future generations, with the hope that we who survived and those who perished tragically, will never be forgotten.

[i] - Editor's note: The German army invaded Hungary on 19 March 1944; Jews could walk freely without restrictions until the following month. In May 1944 the ghetto in Balassagyarmat was established. Ferenc Szálasi came to power in October 1944.

Site Map            Holocaust Main Page            Feedback            Opportunities            Holocaust Links

Copyright © 2007-8 Museum of Family History. All rights reserved. Image Use Policy