As regular FOLIO followers will know, we have an ongoing relationship with Dr Agnes Kaposi, who we first met in January this year thanks to our collaboration with Echo Eternal in their Horizon’s festival.
Agnes was born in Hungary and started school just at the outbreak of World War II. Many of her family were murdered in the Holocaust, together with half of million other Hungarian Jews. A series of fortunate coincidences allowed Agnes to survive the ghetto, deportation and slave labour in Nazi concentration camps.
After the war Agnes’s native country fell under a tyrannical communist regime. The 1956 Hungarian revolution offered her the opportunity to escape, settle in Britain, and build a career, becoming a distinguished member of the engineering profession.
FOLIO Sutton Coldfield has pledged to share Agnes’s testimony and work towards increasing community knowledge about the Holocaust through public events and library resources. As part of this commitment each month we share an short piece from Agnes, exploring one aspect or experience from her life.
This month’s window into Agnes’s life takes us back to the early months back in Budapest after the end of the Second World War.
These days Újpest is a district of Greater Budapest, but when I was a girl, it was a town in its own right, a few miles from the centre of Hungary’s capital Budapest. Újpest had been founded in the 19th century by Jewish craftsmen who were not allowed to live and work in Budapest, but could settle outside of the city boundaries and transport their goods downriver to sell them in the capital. Újpest soon grew to be one of the main industrial centres of the country. Before World War 2, of Újpest’s 100,000 inhabitants, 20,000 were Jews.
All but a thousand of Újpest’s Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. When the war ended, disoriented Jews drifted back from the camps, skeletal and sick, many with numbers tattooed on their arm. Some found one or two members of their family, but most were alone, children without parents and siblings, mothers without husbands and children. There were as many sorrowful stories as people.
I was 12 years old at the time, just back from the camps, homeless, hungry, newcomer to the town, one of only three Jews in the school, the only Jew in my class. My classmates did not want to know me. Some of the teachers made it clear that they hated Jews, and would have preferred if none of them had survived.
In other schools, in workshops, in places of work, stray Jewish teenagers had similar experiences of rejection and hatred. A few met by chance. My father met the sole survivor of a large family, a Jewish boy of 14, and took him home to share our family’s meal of a plate of beans. My mum met a lone fifteen-year-old helping out in the market. Slowly-slowly, a group of some 30 youngsters gathered, the oldest 17, the youngest 11. None of us were religious Jews, our ages were dissimilar, we had contrasting social and economic status, diverse aspirations and different cultural backgrounds. Under normal circumstances few of us would have met, let alone become friends, but these were exceptional circumstances. We had all experienced pain and suffering, and had something important in common: we had survived the Holocaust. We formed ourselves into a group of friendship and mutual support. Not being very imaginative, we called the group ‘Our Society’.
Our Society created a rich cultural and social background for its members. We organised lectures, debates, quiz games, chamber music groups, visits to such museums that had reopened, poker games with beans for stakes, rambles in the Buda hills, swimming galas in the Danube. One of us who grew up to become a journalist, regularly published Our Society’s News Sheet. Romances started up. To my surprise, handsome 16-year-old Janos took an interest in me. In due course four couples of Our Society married, among them Janos and me.
Hitler had not won.
If you missed last month’s piece from Agnes, and would like to read about how she and Janos got married, please click here.