Collected Memories of the Holocaust



"Return to Munkács"

as told by Shiku Smilovic in his autobiographical memoir  "Buchenwald 56466"


 August 1, 1945 

We returned to Prague to visit sister Rose, Mano, and the children.

The family moved back to Prague from Budapest to the place they lived prior to the war. They were great hosts, there was lots of food and lots to drink, and a beautiful apartment to spend a few days with the family. I found my friend Jack Reisz, whom I left behind when we went looking for Brother Leo.

We were gone for about two weeks. In that time, Jack told me he took sick and went to the hospital. They diagnosed him as having a touch of pneumonia. But he felt much better and was very happy to see me back. We both stayed at sister Rose’s place, and we planned our trip home to Munkacz.
We were both anxious to return home, to see if someone of Jack's family had returned and also to recover the things we both had buried before they took us to Auschwitz.


The trains were unbelievably crowded, people were hanging on the side of the train, on the roof, sitting on the window sills, their feet dangling outside the train. We got to the train, we were lucky to get on into a special car for Russian soldiers. Jack and I were wearing the green uniforms we received in Buchenwald made from military cloth. We asked the officer in charge if we could join them on the train. He looked at us for a split second and asked us: "Where are you guys going?" "Mukachevo," we said. "That's Russia now," he said. "Of course," we said. "Let's go."

Heading West from Munkacs
Aug 1945

He waved at us to get on. We were on that train before you could say boo. We traveled for about 6 hours. We reached the city of Chopp, which is on the border of Slovakia and Russia. From Chopp, we took another train that took us to Munkacz in about 2 hours. We got off the train in Munkacz or Mukachevo, as it is called now. We were heading to the exit gate when two militia men approached us and demanded identification. They led us into a dark interrogating room, no windows, no furniture, just a small light burning, with a few chairs in the middle of the room. We explained to them that we had no official identification card, but we had a duplicate of our Buchenwald registration slip. They frisked us for guns. All of our baggage was spilled onto the floor. They were looking mainly for propaganda newsletters that were floating around. The area had been annexed by the Russians very recently and the Czechs were trying to get it back. This part belonged to Czechoslovakia prior to 1938. Then it was practically stolen by the Hungarians after the famous Hitler and Chamberlain Munich agreement in 1938. And now it was stolen by the Russians. The Czech Republic was pretty upset, but it remains Russian to this day. After a long talk, the militia let us go. Jack and I looked at each other, like to say, what in hell are we in for now? We were going to hire a buggy and head for our sister's place. It took us a while to get a buggy, but after a while we got one, and we headed to town.

On the way home we passed the building which was the Hebrew high school, and a lot of memories passed through my mind. Thousands of students were walking this same road for years. Laughing and walking with big excitement. Boys and girls holding hands and walking towards the school building with so much love and dedication, you could read it on their faces. They were the envy of the youth in town.

How many of them survived? Every house and store that belonged to someone we knew, we just stared and looked; maybe some face would reveal itself in the shadows. No one had yet appeared. We felt like stopping at each house we knew and reciting the Kaddish, but this is impossible. There were too many stops to make. The man driving the buggy would not understand the hundreds of stops we would have to make. We finally arrive at Shari's house. We all embraced, including Jack, he was part of the family now. Again, we started with our stories. How Jack and I met in Buchenwald after the liberation, we had been together since. Our experiences in Auschwitz and Birkenau, Buchenwald, and Zeitz and how much trouble I went through to get from Zeitz to Buchenwald after I found out from Spitz that father was alive and well in Buchenwald. The stories lasted till early in the morning, and we all fell asleep like little sheep, on the floor, on the mattresses that served as beds for a while. In the morning, after we ate a good healthy breakfast, Jack and I decided to go and try our luck at finding the valuables that we buried in the days of the ghettoes. It was late August, and I remembered that our peaches would be just ripe for the picking.

We walked to our house by the Korzo, the street that had the best coffee house in town. The Hamdi Czukrazda and the best custard cake (Krejmes) in the world and the street that hundreds of young Jewish boys met Friday nights after the holy Shabes meal. Hand in hand, boys and girls filled these streets weekly, with so much love and happiness. They all belonged to a Zionist organization, Mizrachi, Bnei Akiva, Betar, or Dror. All organizations had their houses in the close vicinity of the Korzo. Where are they? What happened to them?

The trees, and the sidewalks, the only witnesses left to these beautiful places, where thousands of young boys and girls met for the first time and lived in peace and happiness. Jack and I walked along this street, nobody we knew, or recognized walked this historic road.

Everyone was gone. The life of so many bustling Jewish communities was destroyed. Everybody just stood by and watched without moving a muscle. Suddenly we passed the famous coffee shop. "Look Jack, Hamdi's!" I screamed. This place was off limits for us religious boys. We wouldn't think of even going close to a place like that: Treife Vi Chazer (not Kosher). That was before the camps, when life in this city was peaceful and Jewish families observed all the laws of the Torah (Bible). But now, who was there to stop us?

We both walked in and ordered a custard cake for each of us. We were disappointed when they told us that they were all out of custard, and that they had been out of custard for a long time. We walked out from the coffee shop thinking that it wasn't meant for us to eat custard, before or now. Actually, we were not even hungry.

We kept walking toward our house on the Yidishe Gass, and we met a few of our neighbors who had also just returned from camp: boys our age. We invited them to come along for the dig, and also to pick some delicious peaches. When we arrived at our house, to our surprise, a lady stopped us, "where do you think you are going?" I said, "to pick some peaches from our tree." "Who are you?" "I am the son of Marcus Smilovics who is the owner of this house." "Well, she says this is my house now." I wasn't going to discuss this matter any more. I told her to stay off this land as long as I was in town. We climbed the tree and we made sure that not one peach was left on the tree. I proceeded to the place I buried the silverware, from the late Rebeczin of Zedichov just before we were driven out of the ghetto. I dug for a while when I suddenly I felt I hit something solid. Slowly, I continued, careful not to damage the silver items below. I finally removed every piece that I buried, and all the boys were amazed at the dig. I credited my survival to the good deed I did for the dear old Rebetzin, the wife of the late Gaon (Sage) of Zedichov. Harav (Rabbi) Mnashe Eichenstein. Sister Rose later handed the silverware to their grandson, Avraham Eichenstein in New York after she immigrated to the U.S.A. in 1946.

Jack and I proceeded to look for his hiding place; at first we didn't succeed. The people living there would not allow us to go looking for it, but later we managed to find all the stuff. We returned home, and the whole family was amazed that we managed to find all these things.

 August 15, 1945 

Heddy and Arthur announced their engagement and the wedding date was set. Arthur Spitz, the groom, was very well known to us. Heddy worked for his father since she was 16 years old as a wig maker. And they were going steady before the war. The invitations were mailed immediately; there was no time to waste. The response was amazing, everybody was coming to the wedding. The wedding plans were in full swing. We hired Feri Bacsis, a Gypsy Band. The Feri Bacsis Band was playing steady in our ballroom for 20 years in the good old days. Brother Leo was coming home for the wedding and we were all excited about it: the first wedding in the family after the Holocaust. All our family and friends were baking cakes, you can smell it, all over town.

 The day before the wedding: August 26, 1945 

Beri Spitz, Arthur's younger brother appeared at our window at 5 a.m. in his underwear.

Please open the door! We quickly let him in. And he told us that the Russian N.K.V.D. broke the doors at 2 a.m. and confiscated everything inside. They even took all the wedding cakes that were there prepared for the wedding. They also arrested all the occupants of the house, including the groom. I was lucky to escape through the rear entrance door. The next morning brother Leo had arrived, and was called upon to try and get Arthur Spitz, the groom, released from jail for the wedding. Luckily Leo knew most of the leaders in town from the army or from the schools they attended together. He got dressed in his officer’s uniform, with all the medals on his chest. He proceeded to City Hall to see his friends to try and release Arthur for the wedding that day. By noon, Leo had Arthur released for the duration of the wedding, but he would have to report back by midnight. We were all very happy that the wedding would go on as planned. There was a little hitch with the groom's attire, since all his suits were confiscated. He borrowed a suit from his friend, who was six inches taller than him, and it showed, since Arthur was only 5'3" tall. But the wedding was a great success and nobody even noticed if Arthur's jacket fit. After the wedding, bride and groom took off for their honeymoon and Arthur didn't bother to report back to jail. They were headed for Prague for good, brother Leo included.

Jack and I continued to wander around the city. One day we ended up on the market place. To our amazement we saw that most of the militia consisted of the Nazis who were in charge before the war, we remembered the beatings and insults they used to dish out.

And now they were in Russian uniforms. We immediately proceeded to city hall, where we met with Chief of Police Schwartz Shimi, a friend of Leo's, and we told him about the militia we just saw on the market place. He immediately took action and brought them to jail. After a few weeks Jack and I decided that this place was not for us. Living with the Russians under a Communist regime was not our piece of cake.

We spent about 2 months in Munkacs, we met most of the kids that returned. We renewed our friendships and we made some new ones. Especially Schneider Ritta that lived with us in the same house with her family and her old mother. Jack and I had real warm feelings toward the Schneider family. The old lady treated us like her own, and the sisters were the liveliest bunch we ever met. Especially Ritta, she was our age. In the garden, we had some fruit trees. Goldie, one of the sisters, used to climb up the tree and act like a monkey, jumping from branch to branch. The super's wife of the court used to come out screaming. Get off that tree! And Goldie used to laugh at her and say, "Come and get me, you Nazi." The lady took off like a wind, she must have had a guilty conscience. Feigi, the third sister, she was very close with sister Shari. Before the war they were sewing at the same dressmaker for a few years. And when Shari opened her own dress shop, Feigi started to work for her for a number of years. Feigi was a conservative individual; she loved to hear Jack and I sing, she taught us ballroom dancing and loved to discuss world politics. The time had come to say goodbye to all the family and new friends. It wasn't easy, but we were only 17 years old, and we had a whole life in front of us. The sooner we started, the sooner we would get there. Soon after the High Holidays, Jack and I headed for Prague.



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