Interview with Ármin Szolovits
Survivors of the Shoah


The Shoah Foundation sent interviewers and camera operators to many parts of the world to record recollections of survivors of the Holocaust.  Some excerpts from these are available at the web site:

My parents, Armin and Etel Szolovits were among the interviewees, in 1997.  This is a transcript of  Ármin’s interview, with John Gordon, transcribed and translated from Hungarian to English by Peter Szolovits.  A compressed copy of the video may be seen above. Because of a synchronization problem on the video, it appears in black and white.

As should be clear from this interview, my father was a good story teller, and retained an excellent memory for what he perceived. He became quite hard of hearing in his old age, but could still fascinate his friends and family with his stories.

He lived for three more years after this interview, and died a year after my mother, in 2000. A note about his life and memorial service is at

Peter Szolovits


JG:    Today’s date is January 24th, 1997. The survivor is Armin Szolovits. The interviewer is John Gordon. It’s Los Angeles, California, United States. The language is Hungarian.

JG:    My name is John Gordon. I am interviewing Armin Szolovits. Today’s date is January 24, 1997. It’s Los Angeles, California, and the interview is being done in Hungarian. {Repeated in Hungarian.}

JG:    Please tell me your name, and spell it.

AS:    Armin Szolovits. A-R-M-I-N S-Z-O-L-O-V-I-T-S.

JG:    Your name at the time of your birth.

AS:    My name at my birth was just the same.

JG:    And did you have any other names?

AS:    No, never.

JG:    Nicknames?

AS:    Nicknames? Perhaps in childhood, Mandl, they called me Mandl because it was in connection with my Jewish name. I am from a very religious family.

JG:    So what was your complete Jewish name?

AS:    My full Jewish name was Avrohom Menachem.

JG:    When were you born?

AS:    I was born in 1910, January 16.

JG:    And how old are you now?

AS:    I was just 87 on January 16.

JG:    And where were you born. Please spell the name of the city and the country.

AS:    Derecske. D-E-R-[E-]-C-S-K-E, Bihar megye. B-I-H-A-R, that’s the county, Magyarország, Hungary.

JG:    What do you remember? What was your earliest memory of childhood? You have mentioned what a religious family you came from. What was your childhood life like?

AS:    My childhood life...  I start at age four, when on a Saturday afternoon we passed... it was before the war, I was four years old already before the war, and on a Saturday afternoon we passed the time playing. I had a brother a year and a half older, and he led. Well, he was bigger... We went to play football or whatever it was, and we were late to the minche. And our father, the poor man, beat us severely because he was very strictly religious and he could not allow this, that we should skip a prayer service.

Next was when he received his draft notice. I was still four years old when the war broke out, and my mother chose me to accompany them to the city hall where he had to report. That is where they picked him up with some transportation and took him to Berettyóújfalu. That is where the railroad line passed that went to Pest--the main rail line. This was the second [memory]. My poor mother took me so that she would not have to return home by herself, so the two of us returned home. I remember this so clearly. Perhaps it was the first time in my life that I saw an automobile.

In ’17, we were sitting on a Saturday afternoon; my poor grandfather was there too, on a Saturday afternoon, and the postman came bearing a letter addressed to Widow Szolovits Lajos. I cannot imagine such brutality today, that this is how they would inform a woman this way that her husband had died. These are the things I recall. Then afterwards for a year every morning and evening we went to the temple. First, we had big problems in school because it was always late when we arrived, and the teacher berated us. He didn’t beat us. Finally, my sister, who is three years older--she happens to be here in Los Angeles just now--stood up, as she was three years older, and had more brains than us [Armin and his brother], and said “Sir Teacher, the two boys have to go each morning to the mihen to say kadish.” The teacher replied “It’s very proper that you told me. They have permission to come late to school.” So then we only went to school when the prayer was over. This, too, I remember very well.

Then, what did we play in those days? I started to say here in America in 1978... I began to speak of what our childhoods were like, when we were at my brother-in-law’s 50th wedding anniversary, with my sister who is here just now. She is visiting with one of her daughters, not with me. And when I told about these memories, how we played together, how we attended chaider in addition to the Hungarian school in the afternoon. We went to chaider, where they taught us about aleph-bet, then the older ones a michnaies or the translation of the chimis. And I became so overcome when I looked at my sister, and said where are my other siblings? Even today I am so overcome when I think of them, and then I got such a crying fit that it took a very long time--all afternoon. These are the things I recall.

Then as I went to elementary school, every year one grade higher, my mother had a widow younger sister who remarried then, after the war she married a shoemaker who lived in Polgar. And my aunt liked me very much, and because my mother was left with seven children as a widow running a tiny little store, she took me with her and had her husband teach me to be a shoemaker. This was a very significant turning point in my life. Why my family agreed to have me become a shoemaker (schuster, in Hungarian [joke; it’s German]) was because there was horrible inflation right after the war in Hungary, and the shoemakers lived well because every day they could ask for more for what they made, but a teacher died of starvation because by the time he got his pay, it was worth nothing. Thus, they agreed that I should learn shoemaking because that would give me a living. Truly, I did learn it, and so I became the first helper of my mother when I turned 16 and was officially recognized as an apprentice, I got a work book, and worked for a salary. It was a very small salary, because in Hungary labor was not well paid, but in any case I contributed whatever I could to my mother to care for the rest of the children. Then later, my older brother and then my younger brother both went to Pest to study. My older brother became a prepared teacher, a Jewish teacher, but as antisemitism rose in Hungary, he was never able to get a job. Thus he became a dollmaker, in his workshop. He opened a workshop in Pest, and made doll heads and constructed  dolls. Then my younger brother, as a war orphan and outstanding student, was accepted to the Budapest Technical University. There he became an engineer. He became a mechanical engineer, who--the Láng gépgyár [flame machine factory?] comes to mind where he last worked--but before that--I don’t remember its name--another place. So he didn’t start there, at Láng; he got to Láng only in the later times.

JG:    So you were four years old when your father was taken to be a soldier?

AS:    [Nods yes.]

JG:    And then you didn’t know about him until you were seven? And then your father died when you were seven?

AS:    [Nods again.]

JG:    What was your home life like? Did your religious life persist? Did your mother continue to keep...?

AS:    My mother inherited from my father, or rather learned from him that very strict religiousness. My grandfather was also a very strictly religious man (the father of my mother, whose photo you will see), but he was not as strict to us in our upbringing. He happily talked with us, but he only corrected us in words. He never hurt us if we did something bad, my grandfather. He too was a teacher, in Derecske, for forty years, and then went into retirement. By the time I got to know him, he was retired. He went into retirement when I was four years old, and that is when I start to remember him.

JG:    How many Jews lived in Derecske?

AS:    In Derecske there were 120 [Jewish] families. There were families--not just one--where there were 16 children. My wife used to ask me “How many children would there have been in your family if your father had not died?” I said “At least 16, so we wouldn’t fall behind the rest!”

JG:    About what was the size of the population? So what part were Jewish? What percentage?

AS:    Well, about 10,000 people lived in the village, and of those there were 120 Jewish families, who might have made 800 or 1,000 people. These Jews were all merchants or craftsmen. The merchants were better off than the craftsmen. None of the craftsmen became big manufacturers, as I remember. In Polgár, the shoemaker to whom my aunt took me, or rather whom she married, grew his shop into a larger manufactory. With her spirited counsel, he build up his workshop much more than he had managed before the war. Thus, we were called, either in jest or in mockery, factory owners, because I belonged to the family as my aunt’s nephew, and she had two stepsons, one of them one year, the other three years younger than me. Thus, when on Friday evenings we would go out to stroll with the girls, we were referred to as the manufacturers! Because by then my aunt--I’d rather say than my uncle--worked with fifteen to twenty people by then. And we nicely enlarged the business. I too worked as if the business had been mine, I remember. And they dealt very nicely with me when I returned from the army and started to talk about becoming independent. Then I opened a leather goods store and made shoe uppers.

JG:    And did you continue the religious life?

AS:    By then I wasn’t at all religious because as I became 16 years old and I started to see the world, I no longer believed in those tales, that God’s command, or God’s words as they are written in the book, so one must accept them. The komoshenem, a goode [?] for example. I could not believe in these things, and so on my own part, I was not religious. But we were observant of the Sabbath. We went to temple on Saturday, but not on weekdays. Friday evening and Saturday..

JG:    What are your first recollections of antisemitism? When did you have some feeling of antisemitism as you look back?

AS:    About antisemitism... I mentioned before [not in the recording] that there was an institution where we youngsters formed a self-education circle [like a debating society]. In that society one time I undertook a presentation because I got my hands on a book about Hitler. So by then there was antisemitism. This was around the hip [middle] of the 30’s.

JG:    How about when you were in school. Was there antisemitism there?

AS:    Oh, right after the war...

JG:    The first war.

AS:    Right after the first war, the gömbös héjas [?] and his companions, “race defenders”, or whatever they called themselves,. Those started an antisemitism in Hungary. Then the slogan was “Go to Palestine. That is your home, and leave us here.” Gömbös Gyula was the leader of this, and it was this Gömbös Gyula who, when he died in ’35, I said this Gömbös Gyula has hurt Jewry more by dying than he hurt them by... rather, while he lived. Because while he lived, he started his career as a racist, namely harassing Jews, but when in ’32 he was elected, or rather named--Horthi named him--prime minister, he took on the office of prime minister saying that on the Jewish question, he had reconsidered his position. And he issued a command to the national guard that for every Jew, on every holiday--those two-day holidays, Easter’s [Passover] two days, Pünközsd [Pentecost], Rosh Hashana, Yom Kipur, Succoth--each time we got leave for both days, and not just on the day, but also the evening before. Thus we could not be forced on duty during the night either. I had to mention this about Gömbös Gyula, and this is why I had the conviction that he caused more harm by dying. Because when Gömbös Gyula said that he had  reconsidered, he kept his word. I became a soldier shortly after that, and I felt then what an enormous change this was, from a Jewish standpoint.

JG:    How long were you a soldier?

AS:    Then I was in the military for one and a half years, because I was called up on February 1, and I was demobilized at the end of June, or perhaps May, I don’t recall.

JG:    What years?

AS:    I was called up in 1932, and was demobilized in the summer of ’33, from active duty.

JG:    Do you have any recollections of your military time?

AS:    Well, it was always interesting, as I saw it, that the officers, who were more intelligent than the lower ranking non-commissioned officers, and those officers went, when we were inducted, and in the first week or two interviewed each soldier individually. They talked with him individually and examined his chest--because we all had military chests--to see what kinds of things they contained. When a lieutenant interviewed me, or perhaps he was a first lieutenant, then I remember that when he opened my chest and saw there a book, then he said to me, “Is this a prayer book?” I said, it’s not a prayer book, but I didn’t say what it was because by then he had opened it and saw that it was Toldi, the author of Arany János. Stupid me, I thought that in the military I might enjoy Toldi. Of course that came to naught, but I achieved that the lieutenant arranged for me to be assigned to the company workshop where I worked as a craftsman, and I had to join my fellow soldiers only for large exercises. Most of the week, I worked in the shop, and this was a big help.

JG:    When you were demobilized, what did you do?

AS:    When I was demobilized, I returned to work for my uncle, whose two sons had grown up by then, and could thus substitute for me, so I thought that perhaps I should become independent. And in June ’36, I opened my own little shop, and in July ’36 I was called up by the military again for 4 weeks, and thus had to close the shop.

JG:    Why were you called up then?

AS:    Because every two or three years they called up the reserves for a big exercise, so then we were on a big field exercise. Almost every night we had a bridge construction. It was very, very hard work, but then I was still young.

JG:    And it didn’t last very long.

AS:    And it only laster for four weeks. Even those four weeks were a lot, because one was not used to such intense physical labor. For a peasant, it was nothing unusual, no special strain to do that work which for me was enormous.

JG:    What did you do after the four weeks?

AS:    After the four weeks, I again opened my shop and continued it. I remember that it was when Mussolini attacked the Nébus [?] Just during the summer when they called me up for a large field-exercise. But at that time they didn’t persecute Jews in the military, as they did when they called me up in ’38. When I was called up in ’38, one morning when they were giving orders for who was to go here, do this or that, one sergeant said that during the night they had arrested the Jewish population of Nagykalló, or some town in the neighborhood, because they found a secret radio in the temple, which they used to inform Moscow of the Hungarian military situation. {end of tape 1}

JG:    We were speaking of...

AS:    Let’s say that at the giving of commands, the sergeant reads the commands and says that in Nyírbátor or Nagykalló, somewhere in the neighborhood, they arrested the Jewish leaders because they found a secret radio station in the temple, with which they notified Moscow of the Hungarian military situation. And the sergeant asks “What does Szolovits Armin say about this?” This so surprised me. How does he even know my name? Because I had just been called up and had not been with this sergeant in any assignment. He knows my name, and asks me what I say about this.  What could I say? I was ashamed, but I said I don’t accept the tie with them. That is what I said. If they had a real secret radio station--of course that wasn’t so, it was just such a thing that later happened to me as well. So, there are some moments like this that stand out in connection with the military in my life. This was in ’38, thought, not in ’36 when I was on a big exercise. In ’38, before we took back the highlands [Slovakia, I think], with a giant fist, on Hitler’s command, then I got a memorial medal. Even Jews got such decorations at that time. But I was not allowed to wear it, because by the next occasion--I was a soldier then for four or five months, being demobilized only in the winter, when the civil authority took over the city, Berekszász, and then there was no more need for a call-up. The regular military who served there were enough, and we reserves were demobilized. Then I went home, and was at home for a few months, and then got another call-up in the spring, after a few months. Another call-up, and then constant call-ups. If a call-up was only three months long, that was a glorious thing. Sometimes it lasted for six months, so this way my shop went downhill. I could not continue it; it was built on my own work as a one-man shop. My wife was unable to do anything. She could not make shoe uppers, or work in the shop because we had a little boy and next to the baby, she could not do anything. That was the second Szolovits Lajos, that baby. And when this third possible Szolovits Lajos was to be born [me], we decided that I didn’t want to send a third Szolovits Lajos to the abattoir. So we christened him Peter, and here he is.

JG:    When did you marry?

AS:    In ’39.

JG:    Before the war?

AS:    [Nods yes.]

JG:    And when you returned from the last call-up, then how long were you at home?

AS:    Generally, if the call-ups were short, they happened twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall. If it was longer, longer than six months, then it was just once. This went to ’40, because I started in ’38, and ’39, I don’t remember exactly. Then in ’40 when Hitler attacked Belgium, and the war broke out, then they called us up and it lasted more than six months. I think the war began in June and they called us up right away, and I didn’t get home until sometime in the winter.

JG:    Then how long were you home?

AS:    Then I was home to ’41--it was just Passover when I got the call-up to labor service. In ’40... ’40 was so long because we had to liberate Erdély [Transylvania]. But I was no longer eligible for the Erdély liberation medal, because when that liberation happened, the Jews were transferred to labor service. And I too was in labor service, but not for such a long time. It was in the fall, around October, but not for terribly long because my father was a war orphan [really, Armin was the war orphan]. My mother got all the papers necessary to certify that I was a war orphan, so at that time they demobilized me after a shorter service than the rest, as a distinguished person because my father died a war hero.

JG:    You were married by then?

AS:    By then I was married.

JG:    And did you have your first child?

AS:    The first child... I married in early ’39, and my son was born on December 20, my first son. As I said, we christened him with my father’s name, but not with my current son.

JG:    Then your first son stayed at home with your wife when you were called up to labor service.

AS:    My son, yes. He was not quite a baby anymore when I was called up again. In ’41, we were sent to the highlands that we had taken back, to build a road there. There was no need in the whole wide world for what they had us do there, but as labor servicemen, they commanded us to leave home.

JG:    You were all Jews?

AS:    All Jews. Only the guards were...

JG:    Did you wear the armbands?

AS:    Wearing armbands? I can’t tell you. Maybe by then, yes. By ’41 when they took me to labor service, we had to wear armbands.  Yellow armbands.

JG:    When did you return from that?

AS:    From that, a good six months later. Then in ’42 summer, they called me up again, and took us to Russia. That was the Hungarian government’s last act.

JG:    What do you recall of this labor service? What were the conditions like?

AS:    This labor service... They called up people from Polgár to another nearby village, and settled us in a manorial stable. It was a long building in which horses, cows and what else were kept. We spread straw, and that was our lodging for a couple of weeks, until they organized a train to take us out to Russia. And I remember that I had some kind of problem, and one of the military doctors where I reported said “you’ll get well in Russia.” Truly, 232 of us went to Russia, a company, and four of us returned. Maybe there were a few who wound up as prisoners of war, because there were among us people from the highlands who spoke Czech, which is close to Russian, and those could play to be captured. They could talk over with the local peasants where they should hide until the Russians got there. So perhaps a few were able to do that, but not many.

JG:    How did the others die?

AS:    The rest, whoever had the slightest organ problems was the first to fall.  First, the train that started us to Russia dropped us after Poland and we had to walk, I don’t know how many kilometers per day, because I had no idea where we were. I know just that I remember Katowice on the train, and... it doesn’t... the other city I remembered has left me, a Polish city. It occurred to me that these Polish cities had such horribly long train stations, so it was the Germans who had built these, the Germans had built them for military transport lines. Then we started on foot in Russia to the Don, from Poland. It became winter, merciless winter by the time we got there, and I remember that the nights were [-]43 degrees [C.].  43 degrees negative, Celsius. I had before leaving made myself a pair of shoes lined with lamb skin, and reported for duty. It was size 47. When we reached Nobioskor, the camp police received us, they pushed us into a roofless house where there was a little straw on the ground. They said “you will sit and rest here.” The rest was just long enough that we had to undress down to our shirts; nothing more could remain on you. Everything had to be put in your blanket, and the guards would examine what you had, and would beat you to death whatever you had.  It didn’t matter what you had, or didn’t have, the hit and beat us. I remember that there was a highlands engineer with us, because he was a Czech and lived in the Czech Republic, and he could not imagine that this could be done. So he said something to the camp guards.  How they beat the poor man; I so sorrowed for him. I didn’t say a word. They threw back my shoes, they threw back my pants, which were flannel lined but whose outer cover had already worn through leaving only the rags of the flannel. This was my first memory of the treatment we got from the Hungarian defense forces in labor service. Of course there was the perennial horrible cold in Russia.  I didn’t see, from fall until spring, a river in Russia.  I didn’t see a bridge, because where they took us everything was frozen, no matter whether river or not river, and we crossed everything in deep snow. It didn’t matter whether under the snow there was water or bridge. It made absolutely no difference. This was my first impression of Russia.

Then when we go there, we were deeply into the winter, and we were not far from the January Russian breakout. By then they did not take us out to cut barbed wire in front of the army, to use the Jews as bullet catchers. They did not take us out because the Russians had broken through the lines, crossed the Don and came closer, Annoska, Nobioskor, Tadioskol, and those little villages that stretched along [the Don]. So, I stayed alive and we came to the retreat. What we did on foot one way the previous year, we did again on foot the other way in the next year. What a terrible thing that retreat was. Of course food was the least. It was so scant that I remember that a soup of groats was a day’s sustenance. Bread? We occasionally got some. When we got some, it was a small soldier’s loaf, but when. It’s enough to say that I didn’t have any organ problems, so I got home, or at least I was able to come back on that miserable route. We returned as far as Koroszteny. Koroszteny is 40-60 kilometers west of Kiev. Near Koroszteny is Daviaki, or more Hungarian style, it was called Davicka, where they gathered together the Jews who had typhus, and they gathered them and burned them up in a wooden building. At that time, I did not have typhus, Then as the days passed in Koroszteny, we were visited by census takers, who asked people--the labor service people--what their professions were. They then assigned people to some work. I, as a shoemaker, was assigned to repair German boots in Kiev, so they took us into Kiev. In Kiev, we got an honest three meals a day. Breakfast was nothing, just a coffee, but there was a decent lunch, served in a mess-tin, which was filled with ladled food, which was Mecca to us. And we always got something for dinner as well. We worked in Kiev when I came down with typhus. They took me back from Kiev to Darnica. Darnica is a little village on the other bank of the Don. I was in despair that my illness took me backwards, to the other bank of the Don. But by then we knew that the Russian army was coming, because this was near the end of summer ’43. But the Don was between us and our goal, and it would not be as easy to get away as if we had stayed on the other side of the Don.  In any case, I improved nicely, though with a dry pleuritis I was in a Jewish hospital for three months. The cure was that they injected me with blood from those who had recovered before me, and they took my blood to help cure those who came after me. This was the only medicine. And I survived.  As I said, anyone with any organ disease did not survive.

JG:    Did you know anything about your family during this time?

AS:    The first I contacted my family was when I was in the hospital and sent a postcard saying “I’m well. Armin”, and that was all that was allowed to be written.

JG:    This is what you sent.

AS:    This is what I sent.

JG:    Did you get...

AS:    They didn’t know where I was. My postcard had my address, so after that began our ability to correspond. My wife wrote, describing the whole family, my mother and the family. By then all four of us boys were in the labor service. My older brother fell in Bór (that’s Serbia or Yugoslavia). My youngest brother died in Russia, but I never could find anyone who knew anything about him. My engineer brother at first worked legally in Pest as an engineer in a war factory, so he was legal. But that regime came to an end, and when Szálasi came to power, they were going to send him to Germany, to Dachau or who knows where, and he went into hiding. He hid in Pest, and when the first Russian solders appeared, he came out of hiding. But the first Russian soldiers retreated, the Iron Cross returned, captured him, took him to the Chain Bridge and shot him, into the Danube. This was my [other] younger brother.

JG:    Returning to your labor service, you were on the other side of the Don.

AS:    We were on the western side of the Don, because there was the German, Hungarian, Italian, Romanian. Each guarded one small section until the Russians conquered them. Later, here, I read the history of the World War, and then I saw more clearly what they had done with us, from the American writings, the encyclopedia, or whatever. That is when I saw it clearly. I know that as the Russians started, that instant, Nobioszkol, Tabioszkol, where we were and worked, at that moment, the Hungarian army had to heedlessly pack its medicines, foodstuff, ... into wagons and to bring them homeward. But the Russians came so quickly that we were not able to bring away anything. And the Russians ... {end of tape 2}

AS:    So in Kiev, we got into somewhat more orderly circumstances. Kiev made a big impression on me, with that giant city of ruins that Kiev was. Only the post office building remained standing, in the section where we were. They took us there, because the building had big rooms, and one became a shoemaker’s shop, another a tailor’s shop, the third a beltmaker, who made tools such as horse tack. So we were there so long as the Russians didn’t come. because we figured out that the Russians had to move forward 300 kilometers, then repair the railroads and rebuild the bridges, and after three months when the path is prepared for the larger army to follow, then they would advance another 300 kilometers. Thus, our falling back from Kiev because of Russian pressure was Bergichev. This made a deep impression on me, because I, as a Jewish boy attending chaider, and learning a bit about Judaism, Berdichev was such a Jewish center, Zsidonir, Bedichev, that I had heard of them in childhood. And now I was walking there. But there was not a single Jew there.  Those that could left with the Russians because they did not want to tall into Hitler’s hands. But if they could not escape, then Hitler took them, and we never saw a Jew anywhere. We were also in Zsidonir for a few months until the Russians could build out the line further, and then we came to Stanislov. We were there one winter, and there we heard stories that in one or another Jewish house that was injured, they found dollars in the opened walls. Poor Jews. Everyone had something that they guarded, so they buried it in their walls, but as the war came and destroyed the walls, the plaster fell away and there were the dollars, exposed. So we heard stories such as this. Then slowly, even as far back as Bergichev in the Ukraine, we started to sense the stench of burning human corpses. Everywhere we went, in larger cities, not small villages, everywhere there were crematoria. Or open fires. But they were burning the partisans that they had captured. As we came, we often found corpses dressed in Russian style clothing on the ground. As the Germans captured such people, they would immediately execute them. Or they would just burn them. But it’s possible that they found those whom they wanted to question first, and then they burned them; we are familiar with these techniques.

When the Russians threatened us as well in Stanislov, then they brought us across to Hungary.  But how? Of course by walking to Hungary, under horrible conditions.  For example, it was winter, terrible winter in January, February.  The road was covered by high snow frozen into ice. As they dragged loaded carts or cannons over this, they would sink in to two meters. We were assigned to help push the cannons, to ease the work of the horses. We pushed, and I slipped and fell into one of those deep trenches, and one of my fellow Jews pulled me out.  If he hadn’t, the cannon would have rolled over me and I too would have remained there. This too was a fortunate moment.  Then we arrived at the Tatárhágó, where the vehicles needed to be pushed up the slope.  The other side had been easier, but in this direction pushing the vehicles up was almost impossible, it was so steep. We got through this, and arrived in the middle of a big snow storm to Máromarossziget. As we descended from the hills to Máromarossziget, to the valley, it was like summer in Máromarossziget. At least we felt it to be summer, even though it was only March, but the sun was shining. We felt it to be summer, in snow high enough that one could not always see over the top. We were at Máromarossziget for a brief time, and from there we were ordered to Sátoraljóújhely. There, they set up big workshops and we worked there all summer, until fall.

JG:    What year was this?

AS:    This was in ’44.

JG:    The Germans were by then in Hungary.

AS:    The Germans were in Hungary, and they had taken the Jews from Hungary. At least those from Polgár were taken by March, where I lived and my family was. By March they had taken them. Of course not straight to Germany, but first to Nyiregyháza, then Nyírjegypuszta, and then we were in Sátoraljóújhely, and we had such a decent company commander that when we found out that our families were deported, he gave us an afternoon’s leave. He gave us papers so we could get on a train, because in those days Jews could not ride the train, or the guards would ... So we went to Nyiregyháza from Sátoraljóújhely and there I met my wife.

JG:    When did you first hear from your wife? You wrote to her, but when did you hear back?

AS:    That was in ’43 when I got a postcard in the hospital, and then she replied. But it took months for the military mail to make a round trip, so I am not sure we were able to exchange mail more than twice.

JG:    How did you hear about the deportation?

AS:    Sátoraljóújhely was Hungary.

JG:    And did they say that everyone had been taken?

AS:    In Sátoraljóújhely, we were at home, and ...

JG:    Is that were you first heard that they had deported your family?

AS:    Yes.

JG:    So then you met first with your wife.

AS:    Our company commander was good.

JG:    Where was your wife then, when you met?

AS:    My wife was in Nyiregyháza then.

JG:    Was she in a ghetto in Nyiregyháza?

AS:    Yes, in Nyiregyháza she was in a ghetto. There they were locked in, 10-20 people in one room.

JG:    They let you into the ghetto?

AS:    At that time, yes, they let us in. By then we wore [?] soldiers’ uniforms, because our civilian clothes that we had taken with us were long gone. What could they give us in place of those? Military uniforms. But when the deportation happened and the Jews were deported, we were only allowed to wear civilian clothing. We had to repair or improvise civilian clothing, and everything was without much direction by then. When we were in--where were we--Darnica, or Zsitomir, or Berdichev, one time soldiers came to the workshop to select boots and whatever, and I was the one who was ordered to count out the 20 or 50 pairs of boots, which we had repaired. There was a surveyor from the Hungarian army, an ensign, who spoke in the same way as those from my village. I said to him, “Sir Ensign, I don’t ask you where you are from, but I am sure you are from Debrecen.” He said “You’re right, but how do you know?” I said from your accent. I am not from Debrecen, but from a village near Debrecen, but I know the Debrecen accent very well, I went to school there a little.  This was a small episode in the middle of misery.

Then on another occasion, Austrian soldiers came to select items, and two Austrian soldiers, tall, good looking Swabians, with fine bearing, not shrunken as we were, were talking. As I said, I spoke a bit of German then, not so much from German I learned in school but from my curiosity. For example, it would happen in the village that an American would come as a visitor and could not speak with anyone in the village, except me. But not in English then, but German. So from this I was also able to speak with the two Germans, who were talking about how much longer could this wretched war last.  The two Austrians, not Germans; pardon. So I approach them as say “How can you say this, from which one could deduce that the war is ending, and we have lost the war?”  One said “Don’t you see that we have lost the war?” I said that what I saw, I am not allowed to say. But I knew that the Russians were coming ever towards us. As we fell back, they kept coming after us. He says “the krieg ist kaput.” He actually used the word “kaput”, because in Russia it had stuck to his vocabulary. I said “But we are resisting everywhere; how can it be that we have already lost the war?” He says “Du weist gar nichts.”--You know nothing. I said you’re right, what do I know, and even if I know something, I wouldn’t say it to you. I couldn’t say it to you. So there were such little episodes in the meantime that reminded one that he isn’t a little cow who is just chased from one place to another.

JG:    Returning to the day you were allowed to visit your wife, was your son there as well?

AS:    My son was there.

JG:    They were together in the ghetto?

AS:    They were together in the ghetto, yes.

JG:    Then you had to go back the next day?

AS:    I had to go back, and I have not seen them, poor dears, since then.  After that they moved them from Nyiregyháza to Nyírjegypuszta, then they put them on wagons, after I don’t know how long. I do know that my aunt’s husband, the shoemaker, died already in Nyírjegypuszta. He was a bit too fat, and that killed him.

JG:    And your aunt?

AS:    My poor aunt... When I was there, I spoke with her too. I said to her, “Auntie, don’t despair. The war can’t last too much longer, and if we remain healthy, we will live through it.” She replied, “Yes, son, you and the other young ones, but not us.” That’s what my aunt said.

JG:    And your mother?

AS:    My sweet mother was in Derecske, and from Derecske they deported her one or two months later, just as they had the ones from Polgár. The Polgár people were the first, because we had such a wretched sheriff that as soon as the yellow stars came, he arranged that [the Jews of] the village would be deported. To give you a picture of what that sheriff was like, he was head of a járás [district]. A járás in America--what is it? The megye is a county, but I don’t know what a járás is.

JG:    A voting district.

AS:    It’s more than a voting district, which is just within a village or city. A járás is a smaller section of a county. The sheriff was head of that, and in 1942, just before we were called in to labor service to be taken to Russia... In winter of ’42, the big mill in Polgár burned down. It’s not rare in the history of mills to burn down, because there is a lot of flour powder, which ignites easily. Here in America the grain elevators where they store grain, those tall buildings, are also capable of igniting.

JG:    Silo.

AS:    How do they call it?

JG:    Silo.

AS:    Ah, silo. It can ignite by itself, so a mill can even more easily burn. Things warm up, and they ignite.  The mill burned down, and they grabbed about twenty people like me and like-aged, or if they were older, those who were a bit more significant people from the village, who were leaders of the synagogue or involved in its upkeep, or whatever reason they had, as there were a few older people. But most were like me. When the constabulary--but they didn’t use local police, but brought them from other places--who were guarding us, we were put into a large hall in the local industrial guild, everyone facing the wall, forbidden to look in either direction, just to the wall, and close to the wall. We had to be there, and the evening came. Then as a little preparation, they beat the soles of our feet with rubber truncheons, as an “adjustment”. As a shoemaker, I started speaking a little with one of the gendarmes, and I asked him who are these characters who did this, because it was not the local gendarmes to did it. These were people from the anti-espionage unit of Csillaghegy [star hill], one of the Budapest suburbs. They were dressed as civilians, and they were the ones who questioned us. When they questioned me, I suggested that I could make a few custom shoes. The man who heard me said, all right, when you are released from here, the next day I will come, you will measure my feet, make me a pair of shoes, and send them to me. I said fine, and they did not bother me any further. They did not question me any further. But the first question, before they beat my soles, was when I had last heard the English radio broadcast.

JG:    Did you have occasion to do so?

AS:    I was the one in the village who listened to it, I could say by myself. I had a radio that would receive short wave broadcasts. People would come to my house in the evening to listen, and I was in despair because as soon as the broadcast ended, people streamed from my house like the Jews streamed from the synagogue after services. If a gendarme saw that, ... But perhaps they did see it, but didn’t make a problem out of it. However, when these people came, then the question was when I had last heard the English radio?

JG:    What did you say to him?

AS:    I said, “Do I have a machine with which I could listen to English radio?” They took away my machine, and for all I know it’s still locked up in the city hall attic. But no-one other than me could have used that, even technicians. It was jury-rigged, and not assembled but just consisting of independently assembled pieces outside a case. But anyway I was able to listen to the English radio, along with the other Jews. But this ended it, because they took it.  They let me go, but my current wife’s first husband was deported, no, taken into forced labor, no, what did they call it? Those like Jewish rabbis or others who were still home, because many had already been called into labor service... As I said, they didn’t call me until the summer to be taken to Russia, so in the spring I was still home, which is how I was among them. {end of tape 3}

JG:    When you returned from that one-day leave, what happened?

AS:    When I returned, we were in Sátoraljóújhely, and that is where they assembled Jews from smaller villages for deportation. That is how I met several members of my wife’s family, in the ghetto. This was the only memorable event of those days. Those people were more rapidly taken further.

JG:    And what happened to you then?

AS:    What happened to me is that as the Russians approached Hungary, they started to take us from Sátoraljóújhely westward. From Sátoraljóújhely, the first place was Diósgyőr, the first such place that I knew. Diósgyőr is a steel town. In Diósgyőr, as they drove us on the muddy road, because by then it was fall and the snow was falling and rain, and the road was pure mud, as we were going along, the street kids, those 10, 12, 14, 15 year old kids were watching us and mocking us. One of the labor service men said something to them. He wasn’t close enough to me to let me hear what he said. It was surely not something nice, and one of the kids who mocked us said, “Calm down, Jew!”  In his superiority, as he was the lord and only he had rights, the Jew had none... “Calm down!” When a horseman yanks the reins on a horse and the horse stops. This was terrible for me to hear, “Calm down, Jew!” That word, “calm down,” was so belittling.

JG:    And then?

AS:    From Diósgyőr, they took us by foot across the highlands. I can’t say exactly where we were, but I know that we were up in eastern Slovakia, once as I knew it, Zólyommegye and ... the high mountains [Carpathians], it was always colder and colder. By then it had become winter, because we went everywhere on foot. From there we went across to the Czech Republic, first Brno, Moravia, then Czech, and there in the Czech Republic they again assigned us to some kind of work. There we were again at work, and at the workplace we met the Czechs, and as we spoke a bit of German, we could speak with them because many of the Czechs spoke German--but only until the end of the war. When the war ended, they said “no German!” But a very good feeling overtook me when we were liberated in a little village and the little village immediately deported the Germans. Not to a Vernichunglager [?], but they evicted them from the Czech Republic. They put them on a train which took them to Germany. Maybe they wound up better off that what they had there, but I saw that each of them started walking with two laden suitcases, and after 100 meters put down one, and after the next 100 meters, put down the other, and then went on naked, as we had done. This was a good feeling at the time.

I say to Israel, I mean to friends with whom I speak about Israel, why was this allowed for the Czechs? Why don’t the Israelis do the same, telling the Arabs in the same way to go to where they belong?

JG:    What happened after liberation? Did you go home?

AS:    After liberation, there were such small episodes. Finally we got a train of cow cars, climbed aboard an empty wagon, which had a door so we could close it and not freeze at night. However, by then it was summer anyway. This was after May, June. It was July 15 by the time I finally got to Pest.

JG:    1945?

AS:    ’45, July 15. That’s how I remember. Unless by then I was back in Polgár.

JG:    Where did you go first, Polgár or Pest?

AS:    Well, first I had to come to Pest because Polgár is in the east, near Miskolc, and I was coming from the west.

JG:    There was no direct line? You couldn’t bypass Pest?

AS:    We went where there were rail lines. [Laughs.] This was the first times. I’m not even sure whether there was a train at all to Polgár. But yes, I think there was one to Polgár because by then it had been liberated for half a year.

JG:    Debrecen was the command post for the Russians.

AS:    I didn’t know anything about the Russian command post in Debrecen. I know that the previous summer, in ’44 summer or fall, there was a huge tank battle on the Hortobágy [the great plains of Hungary], and that is close to Polgár. Because the Hortobágy is to the east... no, the west of Debrecen, because Debrecen is right at the eastern edge. It doesn’t matter, that is not the essence.

JG:    You returned to Polgár.

AS:    Then I returned to Polgár and there got back my house, which others were living in it. There were a couple of improvised windows, improvised because the Russians had used everything for firewood. They took the doorframes out to burn them. And the people themselves... They did this in 1920 also, calling it Vilincia. They robbed every Jewish store. Even the people. The situation was terrible, from which I had to rebuild a home for myself. It was a terrible situation. Winter came and I would have liked to have a double window. I had glass in an opening as a window, but it was not doubled, and the weather was very cold around us in the winter. I remember once measuring -31 C. cold.

JG:    When did you learn that your wife was not returning?

AS:    When did I find out? First, in Pest there was a Red Cross station where one could inquire. But the inquiries there were mostly for those who had registered, because they had come back. But there was no work about those who did not come back. I only got a letter in Polgár much later. As I said, one of [my uncle’s] boys’ wife was my current wife. She wrote to Polgár, to ask whoever got her letter, because she had been taken to Sweden, she was in such bad condition. In Sweden after six months of care, they allowed her to work in the hospital as a nurse, or as a janitor, I don’t know, and she worked there for another year. Only after that did she turn up at her brother’s in Paris, who was a doctor. Her doctor brother, who still lives, though he is 91 years old and in vary poor condition. He is in very bad shape, except that mentally he is quite well. But physically terrible.

JG:    And what was on that postcard that you received?

AS:    What I got from Sweden was a regular letter, coming by the ordinary civil mail. I was the one who replied. I don’t remember if I wrote to her that I had news of her husband because I had met people from his company, the 41 company. I met them in Törösicson, where they were burning the labor servicemen. I met them there, and they said that the cadre had simply beaten him to death. They kept beating him as long as life remained in him. Why?...

JG:    She didn’t know of your wife?

AS:    She didn’t know. She didn’t know. I was the first who knew [of her husband’s death], but I don’t think I wrote this to her.

JG:    And when she wrote, she didn’t know about your wife?

AS:    She knew nothing. She knew only of those with whom she had been together, assigned to one room. “Room!” A pen or wood barack, or whatever.

JG:    So you returned to Polgár to the old store.

AS:    Yes, I got the house back, slowly we got it back into shape, and I again opened my store. In February ’47, my step-cousin’s wife came home, and we were very sympathetic; we knew each other before too, and were very sympathetic for each other. When she came home, I made her the offer [to marry]. She didn’t dare decide quickly, but in a few days she decided. And we married, but not in the village. The village didn’t even know that we were married, but just thought we were living together. When the child was coming, and it became visible on my wife that a child was coming, one of the peasant women asked, what will we call the child. Because they knew that I was Szolovits. They knew her as Mrs. Klein. Because her husband was Klein. Will the child be Klein or Szolovits? My wife, in the best humor, replied, “How shall we call him? Well, whatever name I give him.  He will be called Peter.” With this all was settled.

JG:    When did you leave Hungary?

AS:    We left after the revolution.

JG:    Were you in Polgár until 1956?

AS:    Ah, no. In 1950, the agricultural cooperative took over all my things; not in ’50, but in ’49. In June ’50, we moved to Pest because I had nothing to do in the village. I had no store, so what could I do? I had no workshop, so what could I do? As I said to you, I went to a shoemaking cooperative [in Pest] and worked there until ’56. In ’56, at noon on October 23, the radio reported that the something movement requested a permit to hold a demonstration, so they could march through the city. The government definitely forbade this. They did not allow it. A half hour later, the radio reported that the government gave permission, because people were already in the streets. Factory workers, people from all the larger places, were all out on the street, so the government had to give them permission. As I heard the second report, I said, “Children, there is a revolution here.”  There, in the cooperative, where there were a hundred of us. I said that there is a revolution because if the government gives permission for a march after half an hour because they must, then there is a revolution here, and it is stronger than the government. And that is how it was. After that, of course, we too went out to march, and got to the National Theater, which was not far from the workshop. There, in a bigger square, we watched the events. We saw posters on the wall that summarized in 15 points the demands of the revolution.  Can such a thing be? Can the revolution already have demands? It’s no wonder they permitted the demonstrations. But the party imagined that they could include party members among the demonstrators, infiltrate party members, and the party members could get the rebellious people to return to their right minds. But this is not how it turned out, because by five in the afternoon, the new Rákosi, who was named Gerő (Rákosi was up to then the first secretary of the Party, and then gave it over to Gerő), happened not to be home, but returned by five from visiting Tito in Yugoslavia. Gerő gave a speech to the revolution, saying that the government represents the Hungarian people. How this angered me! Wasn’t I the Hungarian people? Does such a Communist nobody represent me? When he said that these striplings, these work-shirkers who go out on the street to do whatever, this was the stupidest thing that a government leader can say, to belittle that sudden national enthusiasm exhibited by the people. Of course they attacked the Szabadnép [Free People, the daily newspaper of the Party]. That was the Communist press, and they wanted to throttle it, so they attacked it first, after Gerő’s speech. Until Gerő’s speech, everyone behaved very well, but when he called them striplings and shirkers, then everything broke apart. Then they attacked the radio, and disarmed the Russians. They explained to the Russian troops that we, too, are workers, you are workers. Why would you want to use your weapons against us? And the Russians gave up their weapons. With those, they went to the armories, armed themselves, and carried on a week-long fight, under the leadership of Maléter against the remaining Russian and the remaining Hungarian resistance. They were able to fight for a week. How they ruined Hungary is beyond words, because the Russians were willing to shoot at one person with a cannon. By November 1, a half-million Russians arrived, through Debrecen to Budapest, and a half million Russians started fighting, shooting to ruins Maléter’s Péterfia Barracks, where the biggest resistance was, as an old, strong fort, and this is where the revolutionary army stood their ground for a nice long time against the Russians. The borders freed up, there was no Hungarian military, until the Russians took over the border posts.

JG:    And what did you do after ’56?

AS:    Then we sought the chance, the opportunity for us to leave the country too. At Christmas time in 1942, I was invited to the home of a Hungarian who, in France, in its great freedom, had become a Communist. He was converted by Communism. He had a French wife, but when Communism took over in Hungary, he returned. He was a doctor. He returned to Hungary and beat his chest as a Communist, French Communist. Of course he got a good job as a hospital director because he was a Communist. I didn’t focus in him on his Communism.  I asked “Don’t you see what you are doing?  How can sane people do things that are so different from what they say?  Because what you say is so beautiful that if foreigners hear it, they will think it is El Dorado. But what you do cannot be looked at. Take note that as soon as Stalin is dead, that moment Russia will be ashamed that it had a Stalin.” On February 13, if I remember right, In February ’53, Mr. Stalin croaked. He died.  We were already in the cooperative when one of our members came in drunk and late, and says “Boys, don’t you know that Stalin has become carrion? Here, drink up!” It took less than a minute for the secret police to show up, and even though he was a member of the cooperative, we never heard from him again. Never, didn’t hear a word. This was a little episode. The day of Stalin’s funeral, they led us out to a [parade ground], and that is where we first used the Communist slogan. Their slogan: If the people begin to move, they are unstoppable. Of course they meant that on the road to liberation, on the road to Communism, once the people start to move, they are unstoppable.  The Communists used this to give courage to the people, or to the Communists. When the festivities on Stalin’s funeral day were ended, every workshop’s and factory’s workers were ordered out to stand side-by-side... {end of tape 4}

JG:    Returning to how it started...

AS:    Oh, yes. When the stupefying speeches--I called them stupidifying speeches--were over, then we observed no traffic rules. We ignored the police, who were arrayed around the square to keep order, we observed nothing, and the people truly began to move where we wanted, the sooner to catch a bus or streetcar to go home. This was Stalin’s funeral. Three months later, Kruschev, in the Kremlin, did just what I had said at Christmas to that French Communist. He threw Stalin’s corpse out of the Kremlin.

JG:    And then what did you do after the revolution of ’56? How long did you stay in Hungary?

AS:    After the ’56 revolution, we stayed on in Hungary for several days. I don’t remember just how long.  There was no electricity, and no transportation, so I could not go to work because I lived in Erzsébet [a suburb] from which one could go into Budapest only by streetcar, or perhaps by bus. The buses were so packed that people were hanging from the steps, and I didn’t undertake to do that.  I had no need of it. We did stroll into Pest, about 15-20 kilometers, with my wife. We went into my cooperative, and there I saw what was going on. I saw how similarly we people actually thought, but that we had never dared speak as honestly as we then were able to speak, when we went in after the revolution. I heard the same questions from all of the cooperative’s members that also lived within me. I can’t say that it was everyone, because there are many average workers who had no strong opinions, such as the ones I am describing. Then, after a few days when I was again at the cooperative, then I saw that things began a little to revert. The foreman, for example, began to speak the way Kádár [the new Russian-installed leader] spoke. He started to revert... I think he wanted to keep his job, to be foreman rather than a worker. Because of this, he was the first from whom I heard that things were in dispute.The first time I went in, our clerk, who was our chief bookkeeper, says “OK, we acknowledge that there were errors before now, but now we want a different,... a different leader.” I said, “but who is there here in the cooperative who is better than what we had?” And the bookkeeper says, “For example, you yourself.” I said “No.” And when he said this to me, I decided that, no matter how, I would leave Hungary. I don’t want to be a Communist country’s leader, or to be leader of a place in a Communist country. That, I don’t want.

When I joined the cooperative, the party secretary there was, of course, a Jew. And the party secretary right away said to me, “Good, you will start working here, get people to know who you are, and then you will begin to speak up at meetings.” So I asked him, and then what do you want? He says “To put you into a good job. Where you don’t have to cut leather for a living.” I said, “Thank you [but no.]” I had an apprentice, who stayed on to work for me after his apprenticeship, and when the ’49 elections came, his father happened to come vote at that polling station where I had just then brought the local party secretary so he could inspect the voting precinct. So there I met my apprentice’s father. I said to him, “Listen, Papa, you know very well what is going on here. Don’t write anything on that ballot, just submit it blank, as they gave it to you, and leave them alone.” He says to me, the peasant... I really appreciate among the peasants an intelligent peasant; I am a great appreciator of them. He says to me, “Listen, Mr. Szolovits, I have had a hoe, I will be left a hoe. Rákosi will never take it out of my hands. I will always remain who I have been. Those who strive to become party secretaries, or such, will do well for a few days or a few months, but after that comes the downfall. Because the next one steps forward who needs a better job, and the previous one is pushed out.” I said to myself that I have had my cutting knife, and I will retain my cutting knife, and Rákosi will not take it from my hands.  And that is how it was. I never accepted anything, whatever.  I did have to do one thing, that at some meetings I had to speak up with a few words. I had to do this because neither the [local] party president nor secretary would leave me alone. “You are the only one who could contribute to the discussion, but you don’t want to speak?” I said “I would speak if I could say what I want.”

JG:    When did you leave the country?

AS:    From the country... Well, if was very difficult because a few times they caught us, with the child, our bags. The child was too little to go on foot, but too big that I could carry him, in addition to our bags. Our child was then, in ’56, six years old... oh, eight years old. He was eight. But can an eight year old travel on foot? So most of the time they caught us, until finally it succeeded, sometime in December. We managed to get through and arrived in Vienna. [My father is disingenuous here. We got out in April ’57, after bribing some people at the passport office to get us forged passports. I don’t know why he did not want to tell this story.]  There in Vienna we immediately signed up for the American quota, but we had nobody, no family members who were directly up or down in the family. My wife had a cousin. That cousin/s husband just died.

JG:    So what did you do, how long did you stay?

AS:    In Vienna, I went to work, because I had my cutting knife. I got a job with a Jewish shoe factory, and I worked there until we left.We had to wait two years for America to bring us. That too, was accidental. At that time, there was Eisenhower, and I think he and his government decided that they had to wind up the Vienna refugee camps. I didn’t live for a minute in a refugee camp, because I worked right away and earned enough that we could live on it. It was very expensive. We lived in a hotel room for two years, and that required the most. My wife cooked, and we ate and lived. [This is not quite accurate. We lived in a single room in a “pension”, which provided many fewer services than a hotel, but was also not as expensive. My mother did indeed cook on a single-burner electric stove, which was officially disallowed but ignored by the landlord. We also shared a common bathroom with a number of our neighbors in adjoining rooms.] We didn’t dare to spend on entertainment, because we were afraid that if we spent an extra penny unnecessarily, then we would die of hunger. Though in the heel of my shoes were hidden $5,000, in the shoes I had made in Hungary. This was from before Communism. I made the shoes and hid the dollars inside. I have here the shoes as witness. I can show them to you.

JG:    And then after two years?

AS:    After two years, the shoe factory owner, a little Jew, admitted that “I had great plans for you. I see that you are going to stick here, and I wanted you to be somebody here.” I said to him, “Thank you very much for this confidence in advance, but I just now got the call from the American Embassy to Salzburg.” They only gave us two or three days, so we said goodbye, got on the train, and went to Salzburg. We had a bit of anxiety because my wife had gotten to Sweden in vary poor condition [after the war], and she had, and has, spots on her lungs. And we were afraid that those spots... people with lung disease at that time... streptomycin was still running around in baby shoes at the time... and America didn’t admit people with lung disease. But these [spots] were so calcified, apparently, that America allowed... that with such calcification, this could not be an active course of disease, and they allowed us in. We did not have to go back, and this is how we wound up on a 4-engine military airplane going across the ocean. [I actually remember that it was a 4-engine turboprop Lockheed Electra, chartered from PanAm. I even got a PanAm pilot’s pin! And saved the PanAm plastic spears that held together our dainty little on-board sandwiches.] They took us by bus from Salzburg to Munich. Munich had military bases, and we got a plane, and we flew over Paris (the pilot announced that we would be flying over Paris and you can wave goodbye to it). This meant a lot to my wife, because here brother lives in Paris, and was a doctor, so we waved goodbye to him as we flew over.  The plane landed with us in the Azore Islands. The Azores have a climate similar to Los Angeles, with the difference that the sea air is always blowing; it’s always a bit windy, so it was a little colder. But in any case, this was in January--near the end of January. From the Azores we flew to Gander, Newfoundland, and from Gander to New York, to the Kennedy [Idyllwilde at the time] Airport. From Kennedy Airport, they took us across to another, smaller airport [LaGuardia, I think], from where we flew on to Los Angeles. The plane arrived not at the International airport but to a smaller one [Burbank]. This was a charity flight, so they did not take us to the big airport. It made no difference to me. My wife’s relatives, the family awaited us there.

JG:    How many children?

AS:    They have three children, but only the two girls were there waiting for us.  We should have arrived at 10pm, but didn’t get in until four in the morning because there were storms on our way, so we had to take a long detour in flight and it took until 4am.

JG:    And when you arrived in Los Angeles, what did you do? Shoes?

AS:    When I arrived in Los Angeles, I searched for work. The work I sought is something I never found, because the profession here is not a profession. There was no need for an expert to work in a shoe factory. The entire shoe manufacture is broken into such tiny pieces that if a man came in yesterday and someone sat with him for an hour to show him what to do, an hour was enough to learn it, and he could immediately do it. And as he practiced that doing, he became so fast, whether he wanted to or not...

JG:    So what did you do in its place?

AS:    What I did is that I want to work at the first place I got a job. That was a leather goods place, where cut leather for smaller and larger handbags. I did it with a Stampf machine, a German leather cutting machine that we called Stampf in Hungary. That is where I went to work. Then there was an opening at a shoe factory, where they offered me a little more than the leather goods maker could pay me, and I went to work there, where I struggled for four and a half years until I was able to buy a little store that I ran myself after that.

JG:    Did you do that until you retired?

AS:    After four and a half years... Even in Vienna we had lived so frugally that I saved another thousand dollars there. I didn’t know what awaited us in America, so we lived very modestly, and the $5,000 became $6,000, and I came to America with $6,000. Here, my wife also went to work, and we lived from my wife’s salary; we paid our rent and ate. Not luxuriously, but we ate. And my salary went to the bank. I worked in the shoe store eight hours, then after those eight hours, I went to a small shoemaker for whom I made shoe uppers, and he paid me, sometimes in cash, sometimes by check. I didn’t accept the checks happily because one  had to pay taxes on it, and every penny counted. So, after 4 1/2 hears, I had $25,000. In those days, that was an enormous amount of money. I began to search out a small liquor store with groceries and delicatessen, and I found one that looked good because it had been renovated and had new equipment. I bought it, and ran it for eight years. After eight years, I said “Thank you”, the Moor had fulfilled his responsibilities, and I sold it to an Arab. An Arab bought it; today only Vietnamese or whatever would buy such a liquor store. But then even Arabs would buy them.  Jews no longer, though when I bought it, only Jews bought them; every liquor store was owned by a Jew.

JG:    Since then you have been retired?

AS:    I was 62 years old, exactly, and I retired at age 62. I said, I don’t know how long I will live. In any case, now for three years I will enjoy myself, and travel from the proceeds. But I didn’t travel from my retirement income, but from what I had earned in the store. Did the tape run out again?  No.

Then my wife and I decided together. Our son was in middle school already... no, he was at university then. 13+8=21. Of course, he was a university student. And from the store... We closed at 10pm, and after 10, we would go visit him at the university, to see what he is doing. We saw that he cannot do his own work, because while we were there, the other boys--the other students--would keep coming to him for advice, information, help, whatever. All the time. He couldn’t talk with us much, and we didn’t go there often. Mainly we would go when it was his turn, because one of his professors kept a big house with a lot of small rooms, and he would rent them to students. In a cooperative there, each day a different person would cook. Each day, someone else would prepare the food, and they live, each in their own room. When it was his turn, he would cook Hungarian style food, and that is when we would mostly visit him.  {end of tape 5}

JG:    Returning to your son, he finished university, and you went traveling?

AS:    Yes, we went every year to Europe, or Australia, or Israel, or Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, etc. And back to to Europe. Our last trip to Europe was in 1990; since then we are unable to travel anywhere.

JG:    I wanted to ask if you often think about the holocaust.

AS:    Do I think of the holocaust? We hear of it enough. My wife wears here [her arm] he number. I don’t have such. So, I have to say that we don’t think about the holocaust, but we lived through it.

JG:    Is your son married, are there grandchildren?

AS:    I have a granddaughter who is 13 years old, and a grandson who is 11.

JG:    Stay. [as my father rises to get photos]. Do you have any message for your grandchildren? About why you made this tape?

AS:   I made this tape, speaking to the grandchildren, that you should get a very, very small taste of how rough our road was, to my 87th birthday.

JG:    Since then?

AS:    Well, your father can tell you more, and your father will translate this to English for you, and your father will explain to you what other meaning this has, in addition to what is said. Because it is not only the lines that speak, but the spaces between the lines have their own say.

JG:    Do you recall something that comes to mind, that you would like to add?

AS:    Those things that are occurring today, to speak of those?

JG:    Not what is happening today, but what you spoke of, during the war...

AS:    What got left out? Nothing suddenly comes to mind. If you don’t ask me questions, it’s possible I wouldn’t be able to tell you anything. Because the spirit stops burning, and a man’s memory also goes to sleep. I had no idea what this interview would be like, and thought of preparing an outline of what I should say. Thus, today as I saw that the day of the interview was here, I was troubled that you are coming but I had no idea of just what I would say.

JG:    Well, you nicely told your history. I thank you very much.


[There follow a number of photographs, with my father’s voice-over explaining them.  That is followed by a brief additional section of the interview in which my mother, Etel Szolovits, and I, Peter Szolovits, also appear.]



My father’s recollections of the Holocaust and his life

AS:    This picture was taken in 1928, at the wedding of my sister, in Derecske.

JG:    Who is in it?

AS:    Who is in it? Ah...

JG:    The whole family?

AS:    I could say the whole family, and the youth of the entire village.

JG:    From 1928?

AS:    This picture is from my sister’s 50th wedding anniversary. This is where the incident occurred that I described, where I was overcome when I wanted to recall our youth to my brother-in-law, with whom we attended Chaider together, and I got choked up.

[This is not the same photograph as the one in the video, but is from the same event.]

AS:    This is my mother, Löwy Lenke, who gave this world seven lives, but of whom today there are only two of us.

JG:    Where was this picture taken?

AS:    My mother was truly such a lively person as she appears in this photo.

JG:    And where was it taken?

AS:    And she was always such an optimist...

JG:    Where was the picture taken, and when?

AS:    This picture must have been made in Derecske. As I judge it, as my mother appears, this must have been before the war.

JG:    Of course. In the late 30’s?

AS:    In the 30’s.