Agnes Kaposi 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.
As part of FOLIO Sutton Coldfield’s pledge to share Dr Agnes Kaposi’s testimony, each month we share a short piece from Agnes, exploring one aspect or experience from her life. This month Agnes shares a little about the consequences of the German occupation of Hungary, which took place on the 19th of March 1944.
In World War 2, Hungary was one of the Axis states, fighting on Hitler’s side. Even before the war, the Jews of Hungary had been suffering oppression and discrimination, and when Hungary entered the war, Jewish men were taken into the army without weapons, without uniform. They were severely maltreated by their own fellow countrymen, and all but one of the young men of my family were murdered.
By the spring of 1944, most of Europe’s Jews had been deported and millions murdered in Hitler’s death camps. It was evident to everyone except Hitler and his followers that the Germans were losing the war. Hungary’s Jews appeared to have had a lucky escape. They were missing their menfolk, they had been deprived of their livelihood and had lost their civil rights, many were killed or committed suicide, but most still lived in their homes. They were not systematically murdered.
The 19th of March 1944 is a memorable date for all Hungarians: the date the German army occupied allied Hungary. The population of the country welcomed the Germans with open arms, but for the Jews, the occupation spelt mortal danger. Within weeks, ghettos were set up. My grandmother’s tiny flat fell into the area of the ghetto in my native city Debrecen. Her two small rooms became the home of the whole extended family: five young(ish) adults, three old ladies, three little children and me, aged 11.
The ghetto was sealed: no post, no medical supplies, no inflow of food or other goods, no outflow of rubbish. The only exception was that the Hungarian police extracted prominent members of the community, torturing them to reveal the whereabouts of any hidden valuables. I have vivid memories of people staggering home after such arrests, bruised and covered in blood, and some failing to return. Two members of my ghetto family, a mother and her little son of five, had been murdered in this way.
The ghetto period did not last long. In mid-May, deportations started. Long trains of cattle trucks were taking away thousands every day to unknown destinations. It turned out that the vast majority, almost half a million Jews, were taken from the provinces of Hungary to their death in Auschwitz.
Our family of eleven was forced to board one of those trains on the 27th of June 1944, but that is a story for another day.
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.