“We were huddling together in a closet . . . A bomb hit the house . . . My mother covered us with her body. ‘Shush,’ she said, ‘just one more bomb and we’ll never have to be afraid again.’”
She was sure we would be killed, and that was her way to make us stop being afraid and making noise.
Éva Paula Nathanson, a Jewish 4-year-old, was hiding in Budapest in constant fear of being arrested. Her dread was compounded by the American B-17s and B-24S that began bombing the city in April 1944. But in the early spring of 1945, matters took a turn for the worse.
Éva had befriended a little girl named Valerie, whose parents had been deported to Auschwitz. Then “we were discovered . . . Vali and I were separated from my mother. We were on a truck, (I was told . . . much later that we were taken to the train to be exterminated) scared and crying, clutching each other. Two men, dressed as SS, on horseback, grabbed us off the truck. My mouth was covered by a sweaty hand. I was petrified.”
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“I couldn’t breathe. I threw up. Just thinking about it, I can still feel the pain from fear in the pit of my stomach. They brought us to a cellar and we were reunited with my mother.” As the Russian Armies closed in, the virulently anti-Semitic Arrow Cross Party was shooting Jews into the Danube as fast as they could.
“It is dark, late afternoon, early evening. We’re at the end of a long line. I hear crying, begging, screaming, shots, then thuds. My mother says, ‘Close your eyes and ears.’
“When we get to the front of the line, only two Arrow Cross are left. One wraps a rope around us, the second holds a gun. The man with the gun said, ‘Dirty Jews, I recognize you from the building. I won’t kill you. The rope is loose. You can get out. I’ll shoot to graze, not to kill. But don’t forget who saved you when the times come to testify.’
“Shots were fired. My mother pulled us to the ground, telling us to be very still. We were lying on the edge of the cold water near the floating dead bodies, until it was completely dark. I still recoil from uniforms, guns and a body of water with things floating on it. It seemed to take forever. We were soaking wet, grimy, cold, smelly, hungry, nauseous but alive.
“A man came for us. We were brought to someone’s house and washed, fed, clothed and hidden for the rest of the war. First we were hidden in a small closet, then one day we were told we can sleep on the floor in a big room. There were some other people there by then.
“After the war we were called to testify in defense of those two men. My mother kept her side of the deal.”
Budapest was liberated by the Soviet Army in February 1945.
“Two Russian soldiers came in and motioned for us to get up. They gave the children chocolate and took the wrist watches of all the adults. The person who hid us came in opening the shutters.”
Abraham Lincoln was assassinated 150 years ago this week. His assassin was a bigot acting in what he thought to be a patriotic cause.
Lincoln understood the kind of bigotry and scapegoating that caused the Holocaust. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant had issued General Orders No. 11 in 1862, barring Jews “as a class” in Mississippi where he was preparing for the siege of Vicksburg. He thought some Jewish merchants were smuggling cotton.
Lincoln rescinded the relocation order, saying “I do not like to hear a class or nationality condemned on account of a few sinners.”
Carol Matas in The War Within: A Novel of the Civil War, tells the story of Hannah Green, a Jewish girl whose family is forced out of Mississippi. Hannah’s diary entries tell of her changing views concerning slavery and all things Union, and what it means to be Jewish.
You can hear Éva Nathanson at the 2015 Holocaust Memorial at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Congregation Beth David, 10180 Los Osos Valley Road, San Luis Obispo.