FOLIO Sutton Coldfield has pledged to share Dr Agnes Kaposi’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 a short piece from Agnes, exploring one aspect or experience from her life.
This month’s window into Agnes’s life takes us back to 1944 and is titled “Yellow Star Factory”.
My native Hungary fought World War 2 on Hitler’s side, and yet, the German army occupied allied Hungary in March 1944. One of the reasons was to eliminate the Jews of the country.
Hitler put Adolf Eichmann in charge of the task. Eichmann wasted no time. Within weeks, Jews were confined to ghettos nationwide. Even before, from 5th April 1944, Jews aged six and above had to wear a distinguishing sign: a six-cornered yellow star with strictly specified colour, hue and size (10cm diameter). At the age of 11, I came under the regulation.
At first, Jews appeared on the streets wearing limp scraps of yellow rags. The police chased them home, demanding regulation stars.
What good fortune, having a mathematician for a father! Even before I reached school age, my father had taught me how to construct hexagons, using a compass. I put my skill to good use. I cut six-pointed stars of the prescribed 10 cm size out of thin cardboard. Next, my grandmother and I cut slightly larger six-pointed stars of some yellow felt from her stock of textiles, and she and I tucked and sewed the felt around the cardboard. We made stars for each member of the family and sewed them to our outdoor clothing. Everyone admired our smart designs, and soon we were producing yellow stars by the dozen, the fruits of our labour freely available to all.
These stars earned me a handsome sum decades later, when my beloved grandmother, the real star of the star factory, was long dead. In London, in 2006, my mother was nearing the end of her life, suffering from dementia. One day a lady came from Britain’s ‘Jewish Care’ organisation, asking how they might help. The lady was surprised to hear that my mother and I had been in the camps during the war, and asked whether we had worked in the ghetto. I said of course not. How did we spend our time, she wanted to know? When I mentioned making yellow stars, she perked up, asked a lot of questions, filled in a questionnaire, and told me to sign it: she knew of a German fund which ‘compensated’ Jews who worked in the ghetto. A few months later I received a cheque for some £800. Other survivors (although not members of my family) had received ‘restitution’ money. Can a lost childhood be restituted? Can people be compensated for fear, pain, grief, degradation?
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.
If you’d like to learn more about Agnes’s life and experience you can borrow her autobiography from the library or purchase your own copy. You can also watch the interview we made with Agnes in January on YouTube.