True Life Experience from the Holocaust
By George L. Scott, (Gyuri Szasz from Spiegel) a brief auto-biography.
TREASURES THAT MEASURE!
I was born in Budapest, Hungary on the 25th of May, 1930. My mother Sarah Reich was the 4th
daughter of Mondi and Ilona Reich who were blessed with six beloved girls.
I had the distinction of being the first grandson in the enterprise.
My mother met her husband at the wedding of her sister Margo, the second daughter.
Margo married my father’s brother Joseph “Szasz”.
The name “SZASZ” a generation ago used to be “Spiegel”. In those “grand old days” my paternal
grandfather changed his name to this Hungarian sounding name in order to avoid discrimination for
I never did know him. He died before I was born.
Margo’s marriage took place in 1923, in the home of Hermina and husband Gyula, In Budapest.
Hermina was my grandmother’s youngest sister, a WOHL girl.
As I was saying, it was on this auspicious occasion that my mom Sarah met my father Emil,
In spite of the strenuous objections of her parents their relationship ensued.
Sarah was in love! She ran away from home, to Budapest and wed Emil in her aunt’s Hermina’s home. The small, intimate wedding took place in 1923.
I suppose the family got over it. Emil and Sarah were very much in love. Reportedly, a gift much awaited, I arrived seven years after their union.
In the meantime, Margo’s husband had died and left her with a little girl, Vera. Margo and daughter returned home to the farm in Szucsi where Ilona and Mondi lived. Mondi bought the lands in 1911, prior to it he leased holdings of St.Ivanyi, a Hungarian noble
man, in the village of Apc.
The Szucsi farm consisted of 400 acres, in two sections. Vineyards, on the North- west had 50
cherry trees on it. Attached to it were 20 acres of woods. On the East, they had another 100
acres of vineyards and 100 acres of farmland on which they grew food for us and for their
Like good middle class Jewish parents, it fell on my grandparents to bring up Vera and to find
a second acceptable husband for Margo, both feats were accomplished.
I was one year old in 1931when my father also died. Apparently my dad picked up a stomach
condition while a prisoner in Russia during the First World War. He was dead on arrival to the
hospital in Budapest, internal bleeding. I do have a picture of him on my wall, with my mother
expecting, but have no recollection of him, beyond the stories I’ve been told. Mom and I also
returned home, to the Village of Szucsi, in 1931.
My life actually began there.
The four other girls in the Reich family were all married and away from home by that date. They
all had small families, and with the exception of my aunt Bertha who at the wishes of her husband
remained childless. All those lives came to tragic ends. The entire family, parents, children,
grandchildren and two great-grand children ended up from the Hatvan Ghetto in Birkenau, in the
summer of 1944.
The reason I am spending what may seem undue time on this background is to illuminate the
situation that my maternal grandparents faced, the most religious of the five Jewish families who
resided in their village, Szucsi. Szucsi is 100 kms. from Budapest, was home to about 1000 simple, agricultural people. The
inhabitants were all Roman Catholic, I myself being the only Jewish boy in town.
My mother Sarah disliked farm life intensely She was the best educated of the girls, not religious, forever standing up to her father. He
knew no dissent.
My mother read Oscar Wilde. As a child I remember her fascination with Sarah Bernhardt. Not
the kind of program readily available in a Hungarian village in the early 30’s. She was often at
loggerheads with her father Mondi.
I was a “clinger”, I loved my mother dearly. She read me Fairy Tales to me before going
Sleep. Sleep was an activity I abhorred in case I would miss anything,!
Increasingly, I sensed my mom’s unhappiness and this made me even more “needy.” I nagged, cried lots, held on, a close, non-abating, unhappy situation. My mother was also naturally lonely.
Way back, there was a Christian boyfriend, “Uncle Tommy”. They liked each other. When years
before her death I asked aunt Bertha” why did not my mom marry uncle Tom?” she responded glumly,
“because he was already married!” Besides, it was unthinkable for a REICH and a KOPPEL-REICH to “marry out!”
The family had too much love, too much respect, father Mondi would have sat “Shiva” if that
have ever happened!
Mr. Klein in his shiny brown leather coat was also a friend, a wine salesman.
He purchased our wine, stayed with us sometimes, fond of my mom, still, nothing serious
It is painful for me to reconstruct these distant times, I was still a very young child.
Eventually, her loneliness and her unhappiness claimed my entire Mom.
Mondi was the undisputed lord of the manor. There were lots of arguments in the house, my mom
The skill to escape came to me before I understood what I was doing. In a Grade 2 Class someone came running to the school to tell everyone that my mom was taken to
the Hospital in Gyongyos, a city 15 kms. from us.
She had “severe depression”. This was in 1937.
She remained in this facility until the Germans occupied Hungary in March of ’44. Within a few
weeks the Hungarian Nazis shipped all Jews into Ghettos. Hospitals, Old Age Homes, all Jewish
homes, were emptied. My mom was taken to the Hatvan Ghetto and from there, around May, 1944 with
all my family, to Birkenau,. End of the saga, almost.
While still in Public School in Szucsi I had more and more time on my own.
The magic spaces of the farm, haystacks, lilac bushes, chestnut trees, roof tops, an abandoned
well, slow crawling June bugs, gentle rain drops, readily shared their secrets with me and I mine
My mom’s loss was a terrible blow to me. Gone was my only close ally with whom I could
identify, who was part of me. When I finished Grade 4, the highest grade offered in the Village Szucsi, my grandparents
placed me into the Budapest Jewish Orphanage. I was 9 years old.
Now while I am still on my early childhood, I need to tell you that I did have friends,
especially the boy Joseph Maksa, living on the other side of the road from us. We were the same
age. We still correspond. We still like each other. Is this not lucky, is this not a miracle?
It is very important for us all to have good friends; to have “the give and take” of
relationships…this was even more important for me.
What has all this to do with
The only thing any of us can really understand
is what we know through our own experiences. Floods, earthquakes, wars, epidemics,
revolutions are collective events not readily within our personal grasp.
It cannot be a surprise to me or to anyone that I had become a reflective, quiet boy,
puzzled by many things, whose early audience consisted of roosters, bushes, tree tops, things that
moved and made noises. I cried lots on my pillow…talked to God.
Along with all this, I got into all kinds of mischief, looking for fancy bird eggs in old
wells, repeat encounters with poison-ivy, I climbed every tree on our land and elsewhere,
injuries, scrapes, crie… Ilona, my wonderful grandmother was always there for me.
I remember the soft places under her double chin. I loved to kiss her there!
My grandfather Mondi was a good but also a very difficult man. Proud, quick tempered, he had a
good heart, convinced that he was speaking for God. Not and easy man to share life with, to bring
up a family with. Always honourable, he was forever seeking to prove that he was right, he
dispensed “justice” readily, as he saw fit.
Just as constantly, my Grandmother Ilona was trying to save him from the consequences of his
Grandpa Mondi played “buttons” on the ground with me, with an axe he carved for me a spinner
for Hanuka. I can still see the blue ink marks on his face as he licked the pencil to put the
Hebrew letters in each side of the spinner. He had a fierce red mustache, blue eyes, bragged that
he could pick up 100 kgs. of grain with his TEETH when he was young.
We sang as we walked together on rare summer evenings. We held hands.
I remember the wheel ruts in the old country dirt roads coming up to my knees.
It was a huge shock when I got to the Orphanage in the big city.
Everything was different. 120 boys, we wore a black uniform, ages from 5 to 18, a highly
organized, regimented existence. There were already “cliques”, groups of boys who were friends, I
was an outsider. Worse, I spoke Hungarian with the dialect of the country…funny, I don’t think
so! I met Steve Propper, my age, also a new boy, we remained friends all our lives. He developed
a brain tumour, I later learned. By then I was in Canada. Steve died in Budapest in1968.
In 1939, September, I was enrolled with three other boys from the Orphanage, Steve Propper,
Robert Lang and Alfred Pesti in what was called “Middle School”. There were
about thirty students in our class. We wore black uniforms, the approved uniform of the
Orphanage, no one could forget where we lived.
After getting used to how we looked and how others looked at us we learned to take a special
pride in our “orphan status”, a very broad connection, a sentiment which still lives on. Us the
“boys”, living in different parts of the world, many in Israel, still correspond, meet
occasionally, one of our teachers Mr. Lebovitz is still active and alive, lives in Haifa, Israel.
He is eighty-four. We “the boys” are in our 70’s and 80’s.
It was a challenge for me to get used to the new routine but I did. We got up at seven am each
morning, we washed, we dressed, we prayed, three separate groups, under 9, under 18, and the
“Trade Learners” with the few who could pursue higher education.
We had breakfast in the Dining Room in the basement of a three storey building fronting on #25
Queen Wilhelmina Blvd., with two attached wings, on each end of the building. The wing closest to
the Park, [“Liget”] contained a handsome, ornate “reform” Synagogue with a beautiful pipe organ.
The famous Julius Revere was our conductor. Lisznyai -Szabo Gabor, played the organ, masterfully,
either of them Jewish. Mr. Revere with the help of our Cantor taught us our songs to sing.
Eventually I too sang in the choir. The Synagogue spanned two stories, with an impressive
entrance from inside the building. We slept in the two large Sleeping Rooms, on the top floor,
one in each of the wings..
After breakfast, we already had on our “outgoing” black uniforms, we all went to school, in
different groups and to different schools. After school we returned, all together. There was a
public school right inside the Orphanage, four primary grades, pupils attended from the Seventh
District of Budapest, all Jewish, some were orphans from inside. The outside students paid a fee
which went to maintain our home. While on this subject, all the Jews of Budapest made regular
contributions to the orphanage. Some of the more prominent better to do denizens, like the Dukesz
and Tushak families, [some of their children now live in Toronto] gave much more generously.
One of he teachers in this Public School was the daughter of the Director of the orphanage, Mr.
In 1942 Mr. Fodor had a heart attack and died. He was replaced by Mr. Maurice Lederer a
Professor of Philosophy. He was fired from the High German Academy in Budapest where he taught for
twenty years because he was Jewish.
During summer holidays when I returned to Szucsi, 1940, ‘41, ‘42 I still slept in the bedroom
of my Grandparents, on the same sofa I occupied when I was a child, after my mom was taken to the
In 1943 all Jews in Hungary became disenfranchised.
Mondi’s farm was taken away. My grandparents opted to remain in their own house, in one of
their 4 rooms but there no longer was space for me. That summer I stayed in Godollo with cousin
Panni, [Anna], Aunt Rosie’s daughter and her family, husband Matyi, and their little boy, 4 year
This morning, awakening, I remembered that during that last time in Szucsi I heard my
grandfather cry in his sleep. Amazingly, in his little boy’s voice, he was speaking to his mom. I
found that so strange!
Come to think of it, he was younger then than I am now.
Sitting here now, on a different sofa, I now KNOW AND UNDERSTAND that all voices within
continue to resonate, that we all are singer-conductors of enormous
I shall never forget Mr. Lederer! Once, early on in his reign, as I was in the basement,
on my way to explain to Mrs. Pfeifer, head Seamstress, how I happened to rip my pants, I heard
steps behind me. Of course I did not dare look. Someone passed me and kissed me as he passed. It
was Mr. Lederer.
In the spring of 1943, I had My Bar Mitzvah along with two other boys. My grandparents were not
present. Aunts Bertha, and Elisabeth and her husband Laci and cousin Eva were in attendance. I
received my first Swiss wrist watch! Vague happy times tinged with fear and uncertainty…boyish
premonitions…how true they were!
Our lives in the orphanage were more or less “as usual”. In 1943, 1944, at Fund Raising
Functions that usually included a good feed for us too, called “Festive Meals”, I was one of two
or three boys who were asked to recite poems written by an “unknown” Hungarian Poet, [Mr Lederer]
... the suspense of it all!.
Mr. & Mrs.Lederer, Bertha, had no children. They resided in a special apartment,
inside the Orphanage. I was often invited for Friday night suppers. My dear Grandfather’s
persistence that I should learn to pray in Hebrew fluently, in spite of my hostile feelings, paid
I still remember one of Mr. L’s poems, “No more questions!” the imagined response of God to the
pleas of wicked people, I am working on translating it.
In these times we had a few new boys arrive to us. They came from Poland, from Slovakia,
somehow they escaped and were placed with us. They spoke only Yiddish, we could not believe the
stories they told.
One of these boys named Farkas was from Slovakia. He spoke a bit of Hungarian, he was
seventeen, I was fourteen, webecame friends. I idolized him, he was a brave boy.
When the Germans occupied Hungary in March of ‘44 we decided that we’ll run away together.
Farkash reasoned that all the Jews were killed in Slovakia, we’d be safe there… also, we might
join the Partisans! Heady stuff!!
He claimed that he knew where and how we’ll be able to slip across the Border.
Days after the German tanks and trucks rolled into Budapest stringent regulations were put into
place against the Jews. We could no longer attend school.
We had to wear a five inch yellow Star on the left breast of our jackets to indicate to all
that we were Jewish, we could only go outside of the building between 10 am and 2 pm to do
Farkas and I decided to make our move. It was exciting, none knew about our plans.
One morning late in April, 1944 I put on my civilian grey jacket, no “star”, we just walked out
of the building. We took the street car to the Southern Rail Station of Budapest, purchased
tickets, got on the train we needed, nobody stopped us or questioned us. I remember, it was an
intense 4-5 hour journey, we hardly spoke. We were preoccupied with our thoughts.
We got off at a small station, I still do not know where. Farkas took the lead on a country
dirt road, I followed. In a half hour or so we came upon a post, we saw it from a distance but
the people inside saw us too. We kept walking.
As we got there, in the shack there were two or three Hungarian soldiers.
They asked us for our papers. We had none. We were asked to wait.
A truck arrived in 20 minutes. It took us back to the village where we go off the train. We
were locked up in an empty house. The place must have belonged to Jewish people because I found a
stack of Hebrew prayer books on a windowsill. I remember getting strangely emotional opening the
Farkas and I never discussed what went wrong.
We stayed in this house for a week or so. We were brought food regularly but we were locked
in. One morning a policeman arrived. He handcuffed us and marched us to the railroad station.
Very strange feeling, a first [and last, I hope] to be hand-cuffed!
We were a sight I am sure as we stood in the Waiting Room! A woman in a small crowd discussing
the happenings pointed at me saying ”he does not look Jewish!”
I returned her glance, she looked away from me.
When speaking to an audience I always refer to this incident for I find it still very
There is no part of the human body that is not meant to be used, certainly including our eyes.
When someone talks to someone, if it is possible, they must also be looked at, in the EYES!
Looks maintained is like a bridge, a real CONNECTION between people who communicate,
which is all of us!
Not being “looked at” in conversation readily conveys either absence of intent, or, worse,
“rejection”, a thing none wants to feel or merit.
On our way, at different train trips we were taken to different prisons, I did not know where
A week or so into our sojourns, at a larger station Farkas requested to go to the Bathroom… he
disappeared in the crowd, I never saw him again.
When, after I returned to the Orphanage in September, 1945, after the Liberation of Dachau, I
heard that Farkas managed to get back to the Orphanage. He may have immigrated to Israel, I hope
so. I don’t know what happened to him.
My police man and I arrived to the city of Sarvar. It is a midsized city in the north-west
part of Hungary. We walked through a large, guarded gate, a tall brick
fence all around it, and a large four storey square building inside. I arrived. Inside, there were perhaps a thousand people, few women, mostly men, practically no
The skies were clear. The newspapers told us that the Normandy Invasion was in progress. No
one seemed worried. There were rumours that we’ll be taken East, to work in different places, I
thought that was o.k.
We were fed, loafed about all day, we could not leave. I looked for kids of my age, I could
not find any. I still wanted to run away.
One morning early in August bells started ringing. Everyone had to bring their belongings to
the square facing our temporary home, the four storey flat building. We had to gather there,
something was cooking!
I had other ideas. I ran up to the roof of the building, hid behind a chimney and watched the
people lining up, talking, carrying their belongings. Everyone appeared “cool” talking to one
another, almost relieved that something was happening.
In my reverie the door to the roof suddenly sprung open. My heart was thumping in my throat.
In front of me stood a young man, maybe 30, black leather jacket, civilian clothes, slim, about
5ft 9”. He had shiny, black hair, pasted on his head. As I stood there cowering his face turned
into a big grin.
Not one word was spoken.
I got down from the roof like a shot out of hell, ran down, lined up with the group.
When much later, around 1985 I saw an article in the Toronto Star, that Adolph Eichmann was
captured”, I recognized his face.
We all marched out of the Precinct, five in each line, all accounted. We proceeded to the side
of the Sarvar Railway Station where a long line of cattle wagons stood. There was no tension,
quiet conversations everywhere. Change hung summoning in the air.
There were two planks, side by side, from the ground to the gaping wagon doors. We started walking up, being counted as we moved in.
When it came my turn, all the corners of the wagon seemed to have been “reserved”, I found
myself stooping on the floor about the middle of the wagon, a wonderful, rectangular, barred
window in front of me showing a patch of reassuring, blue sky. We were squeezed in tight, almost
like sardines, before our big steel doors were slid shut. Like receding echoes, I waited to hear
the noises these doors made, until the last one was sealed. There was a shudder, we got moving.
The clamour and the noise inside our wagon quickly subsided. Very soon, there was no conversation
at all. Close to me there was a pale, to be used as a toilet, soon overflowing.
During the next two or three days our train only stopped once, in a field. People scrambled
out to relieve themselves, guards with guns, watching.
On a bright mid day in early in August 1944 we arrived to a very big complex.
Our train came to a sudden halt. The doors slung open, there were people in blue and white
striped outfits milling about, there were some, perhaps 4 or 5 German soldiers, some with dogs,
standing about, a loud announcement, “everyone leave all personal belongings in the wagons, they
will be brought to your quarters”, men were requested to line up with men, women with women.”
I was very hungry. Scrambling out of the wagon I saw a wonderful
bright sky, a Soccer Field on the other side of our train, the gate through which our train
arrived, a large, black, cast iron gate with the inscription, ”WORK WILL SET YOU FREE”… “Arbeit
I remember it was a reassuring to have arrived. I was happy to move my limbs, to observe the
proceedings. In the group with all males, I drifted along toward an elegantly dressed, entirely
unthreatening man, in shining German uniform, fully absorbed in his task.
When I reached him, I pulled myself to my full height, looked him straight in the face. He returned my look. Our eyes were locked for a second or two, he motioned to me where to go
and I went.
We arrived to a bathing facility a few hundred feet away, two left turns, passing fenced in
areas with bald, blue and white uniformed persons inside. We were treated to a shower. People with pubic hair were shorn. We were sprayed, handed out
uniforms like the ones we’ve seen and shoes with wooden souls.
We lined up again and were marched into one of the enclosed sections we earlier passed. It was
called the Gypsy Camp. We were informed by the people who were here that we were in Birkenau.
There were no more Gypsys, they were gassed a couple of months earlier. They used to live on one
side of the center road that separated the Blocks.
They were allowed to live with their families, on one side, the other side were Jews, men only.
The name of the camp still remained the Gypsy Camp” or “TSIGEUNER LAGER” as the Germans called
There were about ten blocks on each side of the centre road, one side “even” numbers, the other
side “odd” numbers. I landed in Block 3. All blocks were all the same size, one small entrance
door, concrete floor, a horizontal chimney in the middle of the floor, sections separated by
posts. That was it. No water. The only place we had cold water only was the Latrines, one of
the “blocks” in the centre, odd numbered, where we had all the unwrapped soap anyone could want!
One small problem, no suds, it was pasty, grey-yellow marked “RIF” [Reine Yiddishe Fat?]
The water was heavily chlorinated, , two rows of concrete stacks of “seats”, about 80 holes 20
inches apart to do the bathroom, a trough to urinate. I never saw more than 4 people at one time in here.
The last “block in this row, closest to the incoming trains was the “Disinfectant Unit” where
to my utter surprise, the head person was Sandor Wohl, my Grandmother’s oldest brother. All
enclosures in this place were surrounded with electrified wires, little signs warning “Hoch
Spannung!” “high Tension”, Guard Towers every 100 feet.
I learned that next to us on one side were the “Twins”, fodder for medical experiments to help
German Mothers give birth to multiple males to populate the Army, on the other side was a women’s
camp, Camp “C” where the Soccer Field stood. Of course there was no interaction between the two
I am getting ahead of myself. As we arrived into the camp there was much excitement. “What’s happening?“…”Where did you come from?”… ”What’s new in the world?”…
We told the people in the Gypsy Camp about the Normandy Invasion, that the Germans lost the war
for sure! Out of the blue, Uncle Sandor Wohl appeared with his younger brother Henrick.… Speaking
to others, he always referred to me as ”my sister’s first Grandson!” With him also was brother
Henrik. Henrick did survive the Holocaust. visited him with Martin, settled in Paszto, married
a Survivor. Their daughter married a Fireman in the village.
“See, the square Chimney with the flames coming through, that’s where all the people in your
“transport” are coming through!”
This info was too much, too over powering for me. … My knees went weak…my mind stupefied…
ANOTHER ACCOUNT, WRITTEN
“ARBEIT MACHT FREI!” … “WORK WILL SET YOU FREE!”
After almost three days out of Sarvar, Hungary, with one “bath-room stop” on the way, our train
came to a sudden halt. The wagon doors slid open from the outside.
A scene of bedlam; men in pajamas shouting “Yazdah!, Yazdzah!”… Dogs barking. A few German soldiers, looking on.
”Leave everything in your wagons, your belongings will be brought to your quarters!”…
Amidst shouts and commotion, people are scrambling out of the wagons; men and boys are lining
up, …women, families, form separate lines. The lines are forming swiftly and are drifting
forward, nearing a German Officer, some hundred feet ahead. He is checking everyone out.
He is calm, absorbed, immaculately dressed. [“Dr. Mengele”, as I later learned.]
A prominent message on the gate through which our train arrived:
“WORK WILL SET YOU FREE!”
On the other side of the parked row of wagons, a Soccer Field, green grass, white goal -posts….
I am relieved that finally we got here! It looked like we’ll be treated with some
My row of “men” is proceeding slowly towards Dr. Mengele. The Moment of Truth! [I don’t know it] I pull myself up, tall, look him directly in the eyes.
He returns my look. Maybe three seconds, he motions with his hand, I move on. Working Material goes to the “left”, all others to the “right”. To the “right”, a large submerged building. Double right turns, beyond our view.
Inside, on the walls, in all European languages:
“REMEMBER WHERE YOU LEAVE YOUR CLOTHES!”
Double-doors, ajar, reveal a
gleaming, tiled Shower Room.
As I write these lines, a deep
numbness a heavy heart still takes my breath away.
People get undressed. Again I
remember my Grandmother’s beautiful, long, braided hair, how proudly she worked on it! I cannot
forget how shy my Grandfather was!
Everyone’s hair gets cut off,
for hygienic reasons. All the naked bodies move into the
Shower Room. Families
stay huddled together, wanting to protect each other’s nakedness.
Once all inside, the doors hermetically seal, shut from the
On cue, an SS Officer drives up on his motorcycle. He inserts a canister into a cavity,
located on the outside of the building. As the canister slips into place it is pierced. The SS
man drives off.
Inside the Shower Room, no water comes from the shower- heads.
From the floors, Cyclone Gas rises. PANDEMONIUM!
People scramble to climb “Higher”, to get away from the killing, burning stench. They climb on
top of each other. It takes them fifteen minutes to die.
When the windows open and the ventilators come on, there is always a pyramid shaped pile of
bodies. The corpses are hosed down, valuables, gold teeth retrieved. The floor opens, “processed” bodies fall into furnaces below. “Turn around time” 2 hrs. Capacity: 8.000 persons per day. The trains keep
I know the above from a person who worked in the Commando, they were called, ironically,
“THE CANADIANS”. They performed all the above tasks. They too were killed, periodically to
About three hundred of us are sent “left”, to a bathing-disinfecting facility. We are shorn, showered, sprayed, issued pajamas, our “uniforms” and shoes with wooden soles.
We are marched into the Gypsy Camp. It is August, the beginning, 1944.
To people there, inside the camp, we are the “current news”. There are no more Gypsies, they were all gassed in mid July.
I find my Great uncles, Henry and Sandor Wohl. They are my Grandmother Ilona’s brothers. Or,
rather, they find me.
In very little time, hunger took over, a deep, inexpressible trepidation. The dominion of glum, blank, imperceptible apathy followed.
We melted away, each one of us into his own cocoon.
from the April 2010 Edition of the Jewish Magazine