Last month an amazing woman called Agnes Kaposi turned 89. As a young woman, Agnes was a ground-breaking engineer, who later became an emeritus professor in electrical engineering at London South Bank University. She was only the third woman to become a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering.
Agnes is also a Holocaust survivor.
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 bears witness to what happened in 1943 to some of the important adults in her life, in a small village called Doroshich.
I had no brothers or sisters, the only child of my extended family, the only Jewish child on the block. I should have had a lonely childhood, but the hardship of adults came to my rescue. Most men of my family were nearing 30, married but without children: a lawyer, a doctors, a banker, an artist, a civil engineer, all unemployed, prevented by anti-Jewish laws from practising their professions. They loved me, they had plenty of time, they played with me, and introduced me to the wonders of their professions. Then, suddenly they all disappeared, and I am mourning them every day of my life. I only learned recently the fate of two of them, and might never know what happened to the others.
World War II broke out in 1939, and in 1941 my native Hungary joined the hostilities on Hitler’s side. Young men were called up into the army, and special Jewish Battalions were formed. Jews went to face the Soviet army, the Russian winter and the cruelty of their own fellow countrymen. Here is what a survivor writes:
“Perhaps the most pitiful victims of World War II were the Jewish labour battalions. Other soldiers sent into action at least had the consolation that their life was the responsibility of their commander who could not recklessly risk that life. In contrast, what the commanders of the ‘Jewish labour battalions’ had responsibility for was the destruction of the Jewish personnel in their charge.”
How about us, civilians?
In March 1944, the German army occupied its ally Hungary. In weeks, Jews were concentrated into ghettos and deported to Auschwitz where in 56 days, 450,000 were killed.
Just before we were sealed into the ghetto, a wounded Hungarian soldier, back from the front, came by to tell us that my civil engineer uncle Deutsch István was killed in Doroshich. We had only his word for it: no official notification ever came.
There-quarter of a century later, a few weeks ago, a reader came across Istvan’s name in my book Yellow Star – Red Star, and sent me the picture of the plaque below. I looked through the rest of the plaque, and that is how I came across the name of my banker uncle Falus Frankel Miklós.
I now have the full list of those Doroshich victims who are known by name, together with the date of their death and the cause of death. According to that list, István died ‘by burning’ on the 29th April 1943, the date of the fire, and Miklós on the 5th May 1943, also by burning; presumably he died of his injuries.
Doroshich is a village, hard to find on the map. It is some 100 miles west of Kiev, where Hungarian Jewish military labour servicemen, suffering from typhus, were burnt to death. They were crowded into huge wooden sheds which were set on fire by Hungarian soldiers, their fellow countrymen. The few who managed to escape were machine-gunned down. Records vary, but the consensus is that there were 800 victims. There is now a memorial garden at Doroshich, with the names of known victims. The name of the majority is unknown.
Will this story never end?
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.