The Road to the Holocaust

My Uncle Sanyo, Sándor Sacher, was born 30 August 1896. He went to elementary school for four years and completed two years of middle school. In 1917 the family of Samuel (Soma) Sacher moved from the Sacher House near the Losonc High School to a home, which they bought (9 Kisfalusi-utca). The family house, presumably for business reasons, was in Sanyo's name. According to a police report written years later, Sanyo had two properties; one that was valued at 25,000 pengös, and another one, of which he owned 50% was worth 50,000 pengös.[1]

By the late 1930s Sanyo was a short stocky man with mischievous brown eyes who sported a full mustache. His rich brown hair was still complete in his 40s. He spoke Hungarian and Slovak fluently.

He managed the family business, the soda "factory". The soft drinks were manufactured at a basement plant near the main street of the town. The crates of sodas were delivered on horse-drawn carts to stores, farms and sports arenas. The horses were kept in the stable in the back yard of the Kisfalusi street house. Half a block away on a corner lot ice was stored in mountains of sawdust during the summer. The ice blocks were cut during the winter from the nearby frozen River Ipoly.

At the end of the First World War Hungary lost two-thirds of its territory, including the town of Losonc. The northern part of old Hungary came under the jurisdiction of the newly formed Czechoslovak State. In 1938 that state collapsed and Hitler returned most of northern Hungary, including Losonc, to the Hungarians. In Losonc the newly installed city police immediately arrested Sanyo. He was denounced by a personal enemy as an anti-Hungarian who allegedly made remarks against Hungary's head of state, Nicholas Horthy. The new Hungarian authorities accused him of being a left-winger, that he had no trouble with the Czech "occupying" forces and that he had been friendly with Czech circles in the past twenty years. A "witness" testified that he was unreliable from the Hungarian point of view. He was considered an economically harmful person, a man without employment and occupation. With the same breath the police also said that Sanyo was a pop-soda manufacturer and property owner. According to the police report the 7th Army Corp Command considered Sanyo "worrisome" from a military point of view.[2]

There was little truth in these accusations. Sanyo was not politically active. Although he joined the LAFC sports club, a soccer association of minority Hungarians, he had many Slovak friends as well. He did dislike the anti-Semitic regimes of Hitler and Horthy. I remember a story about Sanyo driving through the town whipping and yelling at his two horses one of whom he called Adolf and the other duce. He taught me this ditty when we went on a picnic: "Brown, white and red, we shit on Hitler's head".


His arrest was ordered on 31 October 1941. He appealed his sentence twice but it was twice rejected. In 1942 Sanyo was imprisoned at the Garam jail. My grandmother turned in vain to the authorities for his liberation. For most of the year he remained in Garam. In November the Ministry of Interior's Country Division ordered his release.[3] Sanyo was allowed to go home but his movements were severely restricted. He was not allowed to leave Losonc or change address without a police permit. He was forbidden to visit public places, be in touch with persons "outside his regular circle", send a telegram, phone anyone or mail letters without the permission of the police. His curfew was between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. and he was to report every Sunday at 10 a.m. to the detective division at Gácsi-út 6. In April 1944 his re-arrest was ordered. Sanyo appealed but his appeal was rejected. However, he was still allowed to re-appeal to the Ministry of Interior according to Deputy Police Captain Porubszky's written report. His internment status was terminated on October 7, 1944, because he was "transported to an unknown place". Sanyo was deported from the Kistarcsa internment camp to Auschwitz.[3]

In 1938 the population of Losonc consisted of 12,467 persons. Jews made up 16.7% of the population, numbering 2099.They dominated the town's commerce. Uncle Béla ran a wholesale haberdashery and textile store (Vajanského street); Uncle Sanyo (Sándor Sacher) managed the soda plant which was registered in grandmother Hány Sacher's name and cousin László Frank owned a drugstore on Masarykova street. From the Gusztáv branch of the family Aladár and Géza Sacher were practicing lawyers and some others were landlords. A Sacher rented the local brick factory.


During the 1940-41 school year Judit Sacher, Gusztáv's granddaughter, attended the József Kármán high school and was getting ready for her matura, her high school graduation tests. Hány's grandchildren, including my sister Ágnes and me, spent the summer and winter vacations in the Kisfalusi street Sacher homes. In the winter we went to skate at the nearby Szilassy field and during the summer Sanyo took us on excursions or to the local swimming pool and at times to the visiting circus.

***

On the eve of their Holocaust the Jewish community of Losonc consisted of two groups: Congress Jews and Orthodox Jews. The first group had a membership of 1400 and 388 taxpayers. Dr. Adolf Kemény, a local lawyer, headed the group. Dr. Artur Reschofszki was their rabbi. Adolf Beck led the smaller orthodox community. Their chief rabbi was Henrik Unsdorfer. There were 325 members in April 1944, of whom 59 paid taxes. This was the congregation of poor Jews. Each community had its own elementary school. [4]


On March 19, 1944 German troops invaded Hungary. A new administration was installed which accepted the German request to hand over the Hungarian Jewish community for resettlement "in the East." Soon the gendarmerie and the local police units herded the Jewish population into ghettos and transit camps before deporting them to Auschwitz-Birkenau or Austria.


On 3 April 1944 the Losonci Hirlap reported that the government planned to ration food to Jews from May 1. Jewish white-collar workers were to be fired. In its 23 April 1944 issue the paper published the regulation which detailed the firing of all Jewish civil servants and the closing of all Jewish-owned stores. The deadline was set at 30 September 1944. However, until that day the dismissed workers were to be paid their due wages. The paychecks were never issued. To rob the Jews of their properties, cataloguing of all their wealth began. The city museum was to become a depository for Jewish artifacts.[5] On 2 May the mayor of Losonc ordered the establishment of a Jewish ghetto and the setting up of a six-member Jewish Council to facilitate the ghettoization. Gentiles were invited to leave the ghetto voluntarily. By May 5 half of them had left. At first there were two ghettoes; District One consisted of the area including Varga Street, Kis Street, Zsák Street, Temetö Street 2, 4 and 6, Torna Street, Malom Street, the left side of Rét Street, Telep Street and Kisvarga Street. District Two was made up of Toldi Street, part of Busbak Street, Zenész Street, Lovagló Street, part of Raktár Street and part of Kossuth Lajos Street.[6] Many Christians who had their homes in these streets were upset because of their dislocation. City Hall, to avoid responsibility for the replacement of Gentile citizens, requested the appointment of a commissioner from Budapest.[7] Then Losonc authorities ordered the local Jewish population to move into the ghetto by 22 May 1944, 2 p.m. The mayor appointed six leading members of the Jewish community to oversee the ghettoization of the Jews. People were crowded into the ghetto from Losonc, from the temporary ghetto of Szécsény, and from the districts (járás) of Losonc and Szécsény.. By the appointed day there were 2,034 persons in the ghetto. Families lived in one-room apartments; at least six persons per unit. Seventy-eight men were able to leave the ghetto because the army drafted them or they were obliged to return to their military unit, that is their labour battalion.[8] László Zsorna, Leó Gyura, the Arrow-Cross barber Perec and the gendarme Alberti ran the ghetto. At first civil and police authorities supervised the ghetto but soon the gendarmerie took charge. They carried out a cruel campaign of interrogation at the schoolhouse in search of hidden valuables. An officer by the name of Lantos drove nails into the feet of his victims. Among the victims was Mr. Hercog, once the wealthiest man in Losonc. He was sent home badly beaten in a wheelbarrow.[9] Several Jews were fined and imprisoned for breaking the curfew and one for employing a Christian girl.[10] Many frightened Gentiles handed over valuable goods that they originally took for safekeeping from their Jewish neighbours and friends. Within ten days people heard of news of immediate deportation. Complete curfew was imposed. Women between the ages of 14 and 50 were enumerated, ordered to take the oath of national defense and were informed that they soon will be employed as agricultural labourers.[11] Viola Stern, Uncle Stern's niece and future wife of my cousin György Fischer, was one of them. She was 21 years old in 1944.


In the ghetto Viola stayed with her parents and a pregnant cousin in a one-room apartment. A Gentile friend brought milk for her cousin but she was denounced to the police and the delivery had to cease. She said that many women were molested, some were raped. The 28 May 1944 issue of the Losonci Hirlap published police councilor Dr. Angal's latest announcements: all Jews who have not yet moved into the ghetto must immediately move there and stay there indefinitely. All contact between Jews and Gentiles was forbidden. The police issued special orders to shoot any escaping Jew.


Two Protestant clergymen, Bishop Sörös and László Böszörményi, attempted to save some of the persecuted through conversion without result.[12] A young man was fined for sending his Jewish sweetheart from the ghetto to Budapest.[13] On 21 May 1944, the veteran journalist and local historian Lajos Scherer began publishing a series of articles in the Losonci Hirlap on the history of the Jews of Losonc in order to create some sympathy for the incarcerated Jews. He emphasized their contribution to the economy of the town and their moral uprightness in the century past. Armed opposition to the regime was rare but there was an anti-Fascist partisan unit operating in the Losonc district according to a June 1944 gendarmerie report. However, neither this, nor any other armed group did anything to aid the Jews.[14] The population in general neither opposed nor approved the persecution. A few were displeased and tried to help; some loudly approved.
The editorial in the 14 May 1944 issue of the Losonci Hirlap welcomed removal of Jews from public life. A week later the same editor protested the slow expulsion of Jews from their posts.
Grandmother Sacher, Uncle Béla, and Aunts Ilona and Marisha moved to a Varga utca apartment in the ghetto. Ilona had just returned from Budapest where she visited her sister Irén, my mother. Despite the pleadings of my parents not to return to Losonc, she took the train just in time to fall victim to the Hungarian Holocaust. Aunt Gizella repatriated from Miskolc following the murder of her husband Sándor Stern. Sándor was accused of spying and was beaten and then shot to death by the local police. Gizella shared the fate of Ilona, Bela, Marisha and grandmother. In the backyard of their Varga utca apartment in the ghetto, the Sachers buried their treasures and sent a message to Budapest with Marisha's stepson Jenö Frank indicating the location of the container. After the war my mother never found the box.


Before their deportation to Auschwitz the victims were moved to a brick factory. They spent several nights there. Then the trains were loaded. Viola told me that the cattle cars contained two buckets: one for water and another for relief. There were 80 to 100 persons in each cattle car. Viola's father lost his mind during the journey. In her wagon all survived the trip to Auschwitz ­ ready for selection. On June 9 the first train left the Losonc brick factory's loading platform with 1970 passengers.[15] A second train followed a few days later. The Sachers survived the long journey but not the selection.

On May 16 three freight trains arrived at the railhead--the first trains carrying the Jews of Hungary. The Jews were ordered to lay down their luggage, after which they were to line up in rows of five and were led in the direction of the crematoriums. Starting that evening, all chimneys of the crematoriums belched smoke. By 9 July 1944, 437,402 Jews were deported from Hungary to Auschwitz. Due to the pressure of neutral countries, the United States and the Vatican, Horthy forbade any further deportation. Nonetheless, a few hundred Hungarian Jews from the Kistarcsa internment camp were shipped to Auschwitz in August. I believe Sanyo was among them.


The arrival of the first two transports was well prepared. The crematories were carefully renewed, the ovens covered with fire clay and the chimneys reinforced with iron rings. Behind the crematories, pits were dug and the number of members in the "Sonderkommando" and the cleaning commandos was increased. Despite the enlargement of the number of inmates in these two commandos, it was not possible to handle the mass of people and their goods arriving in the camp.
The average travel time of the Hungarian Jews amounted to at least four days. Since the vans were always overcrowded, people did not get enough air to breathe and nothing to eat or drink except what they took with them. At certain stops in Hungary some were allowed to get water. In such occasions some were shot for "slowness" or for attempting to escape. A very few did escape. Some died due to these harsh transport conditions.


Certain transports were too huge, so the SS selected part of the group for the camp and sent them to be gassed later. The number of gassed people was so high that the crematories were not able to burn all the bodies - the overflow was piled up in prepared pits and burnt outdoors. In order to accelerate the burning, grooves were dug to which the fat of the braised bodies would flow. The fat was used to pour it over the bodies in order to make them burn even faster. Sadists among the SS-guards enjoyed themselves by throwing live children or old women into the braising fat or the fire. A number of Hungarian Jews were allowed to write post-cards saying: "I'm fine." The sender-address was purely fictional: Labour camp Waldsee. Some wrote them in the dressing room of the gas chambers minutes before their deaths.

The first group from Losonc arrived to Auschwitz on June 13. Josef Mengele conducted the selection.[16] Selections at arrival on the ramp were carried out in order to process the daily transports from Hungary. In a day sometimes three or four trains arrived each with a load of around 3000 persons. From 14 May 44 to 9 July in 56 days a total of 134 trains carrying 438,000 deportees arrived to Birkenau from Hungary. More than 90% of the deported Jews were driven directly to the gas chambers, the rest, the young and the healthy, was partly registered or kept as "Depot-Haeftlinge" in reserve.[17]

On arrival, probably at the end of August, Uncle Sanyo became a member of the Sonderkommando, according to a survivor, the lawyer Keleti of Losonc. On October 7 there was an uprising of the Sonderkommando group. They blew up one of the crematoriums. The participants were captured and killed. On November 17, between two and three p.m., to eliminate all the witnesses, the Sonderkommandos were executed in Auschwitz. Sanyo probably shared the fate of the first or the second group.

Only 450 women and 160 men arriving from Losonc were not sent to the gas chamber for extermination. According to one transport list the 38 years old Valeria Hegyi (Bock) was alive until 19 December 1944. Ella Keleti, Julia Riegel (Panne) and Lilly Strelinger survived the war. Rózsi Holzweber died in November 1944 and Irén Grünwald in January 1945.[18] From those Jews who were deported from Losonc to Auschwitz 294 survived. Sixty women and two men of the survivors returned to Losonc, now Lucenec again, by 1947. Today less than a dozen of them live in Lucenec.


Notes

[1] Országos Levéltár (The National Archives of Hungary) (OL), K 149, 651/2, 1942-1-7085, 2877/99; K 150, VII, 9, 1944, 177551.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Schweitzer-Frojimovics eds. Magyarországi Zsidó Hitközségek. 1944 április [The Jewish Religious Communities in Hungary, April, 1944] (Budapest: MTA Judaisztikai Kutatópcsoport [Judaistic Research Group of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences]. 1994): 374-376.

[5]21 May 1944, Losonci Hirlap.

[6]7 May 1944, Losonci Hirlap.

[7]14 May 1944, Losonci Hirlap..

[8] Ágnes Ságvári , ed. Dokumentumok a zsidóság üldöztetésének történetéhez [Documents Concerning the History of the Persecution of Jewry] (Budapest: Auschwitz Alapitvány, n.d.): 18.

[9]Alice Klein's testimony.

[10]21 May 1944, Losonci Hirlap.

[11]Jenö Lévai, Zsidósor s Magyarországon [Jewish Fate in Hungary] (Budapest: Magyar Téka, 1948): 412.

[12]István Böszörményi's testimony, Losonc, 10 May 2000.

[13]28 May 1944, Losonci Hirlap.

[14]László Karsai and Judit Molnár (eds.), Az Endre-Baky-Jaross per [The Trial of Endre, Baky and Jaross](Budapest:Cserépfalvi, 1994): 513.

[15]Ibid.: 511, 516.

[16]Alice Klein, survivor's testimony.

[17]Gabor Hirsch's research- report.

[18](Bad) Arolsen ITS (International Tracing Service).