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Letters From Holocaust Survivors

Translated from Hebrew

Letters,
Makor Rishon,
August 9, 2002

On March 20, 1944, I was arrested by Hungarian police at the Budapest railway station and taken, alongside thousands of Jews attempting to flee the capital, to the Kistarcsa camp on the outskirts of Budapest.

I was there for a month in bad conditions and worse overcrowding. One fine day there were rumours – spread by “people in the know” with connections to the Jewish leadership in the capital – that we would be moved to western Hungary, away from the capital which was being heavily bombed by the Allies; there we would be able to live in more comfortable conditions and await the end of the war.

And indeed, a few days later we received orders for all detainees to gather in the camp square. The names of those being moved to western Hungary were read out, we were loaded on the nearby train that took us to the East Budapest railway station and from there 4,000 people marched to the West railway station through the city’s busy main streets, escorted by about 10 policemen.

I want to stress that not all the detainees were evacuated from the Kistarcsa camp. A small number remained there. I have no knowledge of who were left there or for what reason they were kept in the camp. We were loaded in terribly overcrowded transport wagons and when the wagons had been locked with iron bars, German SS members appeared and took command of the train and we started on the route taking us straight to Auschwitz. And the rest you know from the history books on the Jews of Hungary.

I have not a shadow of doubt that the Jewish leadership in Budapest, with Kasztner among its members, was well aware that the train’s destination was not western Hungary but Auschwitz. And if they had told us the truth we could have escaped from the camp or dispersed in the busy streets of the capital. A handful of policemen escorting the convoy could not have started shooting into the crowd in the streets and many could have been saved from the tragic fate awaiting them in Auschwitz.

It is known that in April 1944 the Yellow Star had not been imposed on Jews and there were opportunities to escape. What was lacking was brave and determined Jewish leadership. Instead there was the leadership’s operation of assembling candidates for the “rescue train” of 1,700 people, a decoy that Eichmann threw at them so that he could deport half a million Hungarian Jews quietly and without disruption to extermination in Auschwitz.

The Jewish common people in Hungary had not heard the name “Auschwitz” and were not aware of the systematic extermination of Jews in gas chambers. The Jewish leadership knew and understood, but preferred to keep the matter secret.

Moshe Malchiel,
Jerusalem

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I lived in Huedin (Bánffyhunyad) in Transylvania, which was under Hungarian sovereignty between the years 1940-1945. My family and I were in a labour camp. My wife remembers that in April 1944, before they were sent to the ghetto in Cluj (Kolozsvár), Kasztner appeared in Huedin before the Jewish community and collected money as a bribe with the promise that everyone would remain in the Cluj Ghetto until after the war.

I had a large family and unfortunately none of them returned. I was in contact with them by letters until they were sent to Auschwitz. Every day my brother and sister went to various work in the city with other young people. From the letters I learned that they wanted to go to Romania and that it could be done easily.

Kasztner was well aware that the young people wanted to escape and he spread it among the people that they should not escape and cause trouble for their families, that they would all be sent to southern Hungary (Kenyérmező) and families would remain together and work in agriculture. Only Kasztner knew that they would be sent to Auschwitz for extermination and he helped the murderers of the Jews so that he could take out his group. Otherwise more people could have saved themselves.

Yosef Reiss,
Haifa