Interview with Etel 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  Etel'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.

As one of my cousins noted at the time, it is too bad that the interview had not happened five years earlier, when my mother was in better physical and mental shape.  She seems, in this interview, a little unclear on dates, and the details of some of the events of the 30's and 40's seem blurred together.  For example, she seems to confuse her visit to Paris after the war with an earlier, longer visit when she attended the Sorbonne for a year to study medicine in about 1936.  I don't know the complex movements that took her to several concentration camps during the Holocaust, but I recall her talking before of more detailed stories of additional terrible trips and places.  However, the horrific nature of what she endured, and the remarkable equanimity with which she was able to restart and continue her life are amazing.

She lived for a little more than two years after this interview. A note about her life and memorial service is at

Peter Szolovits


JG: It's February the 13th, 1997. The survivor is Etel Szolovits Angyal, John Gordon interviewing, Los Angeles, California, interview to be in Hungarian.

JG: My name is John Gordon. Today's date is February 13, 1997. I am conducting an interview with Etel Szolovits.  The interview is being conducted in Hungarian, in Los Angeles, California, United States.

JG: Etel, please state your name, and spell it out.

ES: Etel Szolovits. E-T-E-L S-Z-O-L-O-V-I-T-S.

JG: What was your name at birth? And please spell it.

ES: E-T-E-L A-N-G-Y-A-L.

JG: Did you have any other name?

ES: No.

JG: Your first husband's name?

ES: Klein, Károly [Carl]

JG: Please spell the family name


JG: Do you remember the Jewish name?

ES: No.

JG: When is your birthday?

ES: Mine? February 11

JG: Which year?

ES: '17

JG: 1917?

ES: Yeah

JG: How old are you?

ES: So, how old am I then? 70…, no, 82, about. 82, I think.  I just had my birthday the day before yesterday.

JG: You just had your birthday. But what year were you born?

ES: 1917.

JG: 1917, so you are exactly 80.

ES: 80?

JG: It's 1997.  Please say and spell the name of the city where you were born.

ES: E-G-E-R, Eger

JG: And the country?

ES: Hungary

JG: Thinking back to your youth, what are your first memories of home and of life?

ES: I had a very beautiful childhood, with loving parents and loving brothers.

JG: What do you remember of school?

ES: I attended four grades of elementary—Jewish elementary—then four public school [polgári]. I went to four in public school, and afterwards I went over to the nuns' school, to the English Ladies', for high school [gimnazium], where we had to pay double tuition because I was a jew.

JG: What were your classmates like? What do you remember?

ES: In high school they were all children of military officers, because the common person [harando?] did not get to high school. And I remember that one of my classmates was great friends [lover] with a priest, and when this was discovered, the priest committed suicide. This I recall.  And the other was not invited to a ball to introduce Horthy [the fascist leader of Hungary during the 1920's, 30's, and most of World War II] because her grandfather lay in a Jewish cemetery.

JG: What do you recall of home? Your home life?

ES: Well, my father was a shoemaker, who cut the material. There were people working there, because he had a large workshop, and also sent work out to others. We had a comfortable life. We never lacked for anything.

JG: What was religious life like?

ES: My father went to Temple every Saturday morning, but before that he worked, before he went. We were not religious, though we were Orthodox. My mother only went to Temple for the fall holidays.

JG: Do you have any memories of the holidays?

ES: Of course.  We strolled outside in the Temple courtyard with the boys.

JG: So it was a pleasant time.

ES: Yeah.

JG: And you enjoyed it? Did you enjoy those times?

ES: Yeah.

JG: Did you have many friends, girlfriends?

ES: Not so many. But there were always three or four.

JG: Do you have any memories of them?

ES: Of course.

JG: What do you recall?

ES: One was so religious that the maid would carry her books behind her on Saturday, because we had to go to school. Another… was the child of some simple people, such as I was. I lived a simple life.

JG: What do you remember of your siblings?

ES: One of my brothers always watched what I was reading, because when I was reading trash, he was angry because of it. My other brother was cautious that I should not go out much with boys. This is what I remember.  And my other brother, I was seven years old when he left home, because first he studied in Italy, and then at the Sorbonne, and he was a doctor in Paris.

JG: Were all your siblings boys?

ES: They were all boys.

JG: So you were spoiled?

ES: Very

JG: By the boys?

ES: I thought I deserved everything. I know that once my mother wrote to my brother in Paris, "bring home your coat, because I'd like to have a coat made for Etuka [diminuative of Eta, or Etel] out of it". I secretly wrote him a letter that said: "Brother Béla, if you love me, don't bring your coat because I'd like to get a new coat."

JG: What else do you remember from this time?

ES: There is not much to remember.  What ever happened in such a small city?

JG: Was there any antisemitism? Was there any sign of it, when you went to the English ladies, was there any antisemitism there?

ES: No.

JG: Despite their knowing that you were Jewish?

ES: Well, they knew I was a Jew, but there was no antisemitism. They never rubbed out noses in that we were Jewish.

JG: Did you have to attend services? For the Jews, at the English ladies?

ES: No. But when the archbishop came to visit, we had to kneel.

JG: For everyone?

ES: Everyone. Whether Jew or non-Jew, we had to kneel when the archbishop came to visit.

JG: What kind of feeling was this when you had to do it?

ES: At first, it was a very bad feeling, but then one got used to it.  One gets used to everything.

JG: What was the first sign of the War? What do you remember of the start of the War?

ES: Well, first of all, we had to wear the yellow star.  I wanted to go home to visit my parents in Eger, from Polgár, because by then I lived in Polgár, and they made me get off the train, and they would not let me continue on to Eger.  So I hired a taxi, and I went with that to Eger.  Wearing the yellow star was the most notable part of the whole thing.

JG: How did you get to Polgár?

ES: I went there to my husband.  Klein lived in Polgár.  He had a shop there, and I went there to marry him. 

JG: How did you meet him?

ES: How did I meet him?… We met somewhere. We met at a dance, I think. Because in Eger, if one of the surrounding little villages had a dance party, we would always go there.  And that's where I met him. 

JG: Then you moved there… When was it that you moved to Eger?

ES: I was born in Eger, I did not move there.

JG: Apologies, Polgár, to Polgár.

ES: Forty-one.

JG: And how long was it … Before the start of the war, you must have lived in Polgár for three years.

ES: I lived with my first husband for six weeks.  In total.

JG: What happened to him?

ES: He died.  During the war?

JG: DId they take him away?

ES: They took him away.  To a labor camp. 

JG: To where?

ES: I don't know. I don't remember.

JG: So you had to wear the Jewish star.  Then what happened?

ES: Then not long afterwards, we were deported.

JG: There was no ghetto, in Eger?

ES: In Polgár, there was no ghetto.  First, they took us into the Temple, the Jewish temple.  I think we were there for one or two nights. Then they took us out to Nyírespuszta, which is near Nyíregyháza. That is where they took us.

JG: And what did you do there?

ES: Absolutely nothing.

JG: How long were you there?

ES: About a week.  My father-in-law died there.  He was a sickly man, and died.

JG: Who from your family were together, there?

ES: There I was just with my husband's family.  I wasn't with my family at all. I'm not even sure just when my parents [literally, "mothers"] were deported. Sometime during the summer.

JG: So you were there just a short time.  Then what happened?

ES: Then they took us to Auschwitz. They loaded us on [rail] cars and took us to Auschwitz.

JG: And this was after Passover [Pesach] in April '44.

ES: [nods head]

JG: And when you arrived in Auschwitz, did you know that … Did you know anything beforehand of Auschwitz?

ES: We never knew anything of it.

JG: What were your feelings when you arrived?  How was the trip?

ES: Horrible because they stuffed us into a wagon. And they gave us a bucket to urinate, but when it was full, no-one emptied it, so it flowed on the floor of the wagon. So it was a horror.

JG: Did they give you anything to eat?

ES: Coffee and bread.

JG: How long was the trip?

ES: I don't remember.

JG: Did it take several days?

ES: Not that long.

JG: Even at night you were in the wagon?

ES: We were in the wagon at night. Because frequently they would pull the wagon to the side, and then it would not go. It was sidetracked.

JG: And when you arrived, was there any relief?  What feelings did you have when you arrived?

ES: An uncertain fear was in everyone. Because we didn't know what would come.

JG: And do you remember what happened when you got off the wagon?

ES: I know that a woman was with a small child, and the small child ran away.  A Polish somebody was there, I don't know who, perhaps a guard, and he said "Leave him, let him go." The child.  Of course, a mother in a crowd, she ran after the child.  Because perhaps if the child had gone away, she would have stayed alive.  Indeed, it's more than likely she would have stayed alive.

JG: And what happened? She went after the child, and what happened to her?

ES: Well I am sure they immediately killed her, with the child?

JG: But you didn't see that?

ES: No.

JG: And then what happened in Auschwitz?

ES: Once they brought in a group, supposedly from near Krakow. They had gathered them in a Christian church, and they brought them down to Auschwitz.  They had them dig a large ditch. They were dressed up, in hats and everything, because they had gathered them from the temple.  A German soldier came and slapped me so hard because I was peeking at what was happening there.  That's when I said that I understand what it means to see stars in bright sunshine.  He gave me such a hard slap because I was watching.  

JG: And what happened to those people?

ES: They shot them into the ditch that they themselves had had to dig. 

JG: And you saw the whole thing?

ES: The shooting I did not see. Only when they were digging the ditch. 

JG: What else do you remember?

ES: That I sneaked into a food larder—I crawled in the window—and I stole some cabbage.  With my empty/hungry [kiéhezett: "hungered out"] stomach, I got bloody diarrhea.  This was the start of my Auschwitz career. 

JG: And what did you do then?

ES: What did I do? Nothing.  I lived through it. 

JG: There was no medicine?

ES: Ahhhh. Supposedly, they put bromine in the food so people wouldn't have their periods. Supposedly.

JG: Did you have to do some work?

ES: In Auschwitz, we didn't work on anything.

JG: So how did you fill your day?

ES: I know that the Gypsies scraped ["kapartak"] a piece of iron all day long. They scraped them. What I did, I don't know. It passed.

JG: How was the weather when you were in Auschwitz?  Do you remember the weather?

ES: I know that early in the morning we had to go out for inspection [?], and early in the morning it was cold.  By then, we were wearing just that striped clothing, nothing else in the world but that striped cloth. 

JG: And were you aware of what was happening to people in Auschwitz?

ES: No.  The Capos would say "Just laugh, now they are burning your mothers and fathers." And we said, what ill will they had, that they would frighten us with such things. 

JG: So you didn't know that this was really true?

ES: No.

JG: Couldn't you see the smoke, or smell it?

ES: We could always see smoke, but we didn't think it was human smoke.

JG: You couldn't imagine that this was possible.

ES: Yeah.

JG: How long were you in Auschwitz?

ES: First, for about six weeks.

JG: And when did you get your number [tatoo]? Was that on the first occasion?

ES: We got the number on our first occasion, yes.

JG: Where is the number?

ES: [points to her left forearm]  OK?

JG: Yeah.  What happened after the six weeks?

ES: They took us to Guben.  There we worked at night.

JG: What did you have to do there?

ES: I made radio transmitter/receiver sets there.  And there we were relatively well off.  I met a Hungarian peasant there; I told you this before.

JG: And what happened?

ES: He hit me in the back so hard that I nearly fell on my nose.  Because we had these wood-soled boots, and it was almost impossible to walk in them.  I knew he was Hungarian, and I said "God damn it, Uncle Laci, why did you do such a thing?" "So you're Hungarian?" he asks me. I said "Yes". "Where did you come from?" I said "From Polgár." "Whose daughter are you from Polgár?"  The Hungarian peasant lived near Polgár.  So I said I was Klein Marci's daughter-in-law. " "Which one's wife are you, Andor's or Károly's?" That's how well he knew them.

JG: So then what did he do?  Did he help at all?

ES: He said to come out at night and he would give me some food.  Ármin's sister-in-law, his brother's wife, who lived in Pest, his brother was a teacher, and I said, "Klári, go out if you want, I'm not going." So she went out, and he really did give her food.  He gave her an apple, and I don't know what. 

JG: So this helped somewhat.

ES: It helped somewhat.

JG: How was… Was this hard work?  Physical work?

ES: No.

JG: It wasn't… What did you have to do?

ES: We mostly soldered. We connected together things in the apparatus.  I made radio transmitter/receivers.

JG: And daytime? This was night work?

ES: This was night work.

JG: What did you do during the day?

ES: We slept.

JG: Where?  There in that place?

ES: In Guben. There was a camp, and there were tents [?], and that's where we slept.

JG: And how was the food there?

ES: We didn't hunger.

JG: How long were you there?

ES: I don't remember that.

JG: And then what happened?

ES: They began to evacuate us. We started off on foot.  That was very difficult, that trip. Because there we were hungry.

JG: Do you remember approximately when this was?

ES: No.

JG: What was the weather like at that time?

ES: During the day, pleasant, but at night, very cold. At night, we slept in barns.

JG: Fall weather.

ES: About.

JG: In 1944.  Then where did they take you?

ES: Begen-Belsen

JG: And how long was the trip?

ES: It took a good two weeks.

JG: What do you recall from the trip?

ES: In the meantime, I am remembering that when we were working at night, there was a wretched German Capo, and once I found an apple in my drawer.  I was horribly frightened because if someone stole an apple or something from the Capos, that deserved shooting in the head.  So he waved to me that I should stay quiet and just eat it.  So he helped me. And when he made the Hitler salute pretending to wipe his ass with it, I thought he wanted to be an agent provocateur. I was afraid of him.  But when I was ill, I had jaundice, he said that one way or another I had to go out, because otherwise they would take me to Auschwitz. Then he hid me, put me to bed, and covered me with his cape, that German. 

JG: So there were good people too.

ES: There were good people too among them.

JG: Did he help others too?

ES: I think so.

JG: How long was he with your group?

ES: Until we reached Bergen.

JG: So this was all on the trip.

ES: This was all on the trip.  We saw the shot-out trains and wagons.

JG: Were there those who perished on the trip?

ES: Many.

JG: What did they die of?

ES: From the drudgery and lack of food.

JG: From hunger.

ES: Yeah.  If we ever found a wheat seed or grass seed, we would eat that too.

JG: The Germans gave you nothing to eat?

ES: They gave us a soup [?], but it had nothing in it. It had radish leaves in it. I think with the stems.

JG: On this long trip, did you have to wear those wooden shoes?

ES: The wooden boots—wood-soled boots.

JG: So very hard… How were your feet? Did they get wounds?

ES: No.

JG: No?

ES: [The boots] were so large that we tried to find paper to stuff them with, otherwise the foot would slip around inside.  Because they gave everyone the same size.

JG: Do you recall anything else from the trip?

ES: Not really.  I know that we were very tired of it.

JG: What happened when you arrived in Bergen-Belsen?

ES: There, an enormous number died.  They herded us into a large pen, in Bergen-Belsen.  When we arrived, there was not even room to sit.  Then there was more and more room, because people died there. 

JG: What else do you remember of Bergen-Belsen?

ES: That I had visions.  I had a girlfriend there, and I said to her "Ibi, you are vile.  There was a big piece of bread here, and you didn't give me any."  Of course, this was not true.  I grasped on to the idea that I should not forget the address of my brother in Paris.  It was always on my mind: "Oh, let me not forget my brother's address." 

JG: What else do you recall?

ES: That's all.

JG: That's all. Do you remember how long you were in Bergen-Belsen?

ES: No, but I remember a Christian woman with a huge golden cross. I don't know how she got there.  When I told her my name is Angyal, she said that they were together with a young man who was also called Angyal. They shot him to death [literally, "in the brain"] at the border, because he pretended that he could not walk further.  My brother had a faulty [club-] foot, but he could walk very well.  He thought they might put him on a hay-wagon, and at the Hungarian border, they shot him to death.

JG: This is how you learned that your brother had died.

ES. Yeah.

[start of tape 2 of original recording]

JG: When this woman told you about your brother, how did you know for sure that this was your brother?  Just from his name?

ES: Just from the name.

JG: Just from the name.  And what feelings… What did you think when you heard this?

ES: It's not possible to write down normally what one thinks about.  Because at such a time one completely ceases being a man. For example, I never shed a tear for my poor dear parents in my whole life.  It was a holocaust ["world burning"], and they perished in it.  That's what happened.  In Auschwitz, my husband's… my first husband's cousin worked in the kitchen.  And her parents… her mother was in a different camp, so she could not pass food to her there.  And I handed food over to her parents, and when I handed it over, I came back and she also gave me some food.  That was the deal.  But it frequently happened that at the barbed wire fence, if they saw someone communicate with inhabitants of the other camp, they would shoot them to death.  Because it was forbidden.  Once we got some food from the Red Cross, and a little boy of about 12 was talking with him mother in the other camp through the wire fence. He asked "Mom, did you enjoy what the Red Cross gave?"  She said "I didn't eat it because it is not kosher." He said in reply "Mom, you're pretty stupid."

JG: So there were those who strongly kept their religion, even there.

ES: There were such, yeah. And it destroyed people's faith whether there is a God or there is no God at all.  We always said if there were a God in heaven, he would not tolerate this. This this should happen.  I don't believe much, to this day.

JG: You don't pray [?] since then?

ES: I can't believe.

JG: So you were in Bergen-Belsen.  What else do you remember from Bergen-Belsen?

ES: That it was a horrible camp.

JG: Why was it horrible.

ES: We were fed very badly, and we did nothing.

JG: Were the Germans worse there than at Auschwitz?

ES: They didn't hurt us, they didn't hit us.  No.

JG: And the Capo?

ES: By then there was no Capo.

JG: There was no Capo.

ES: However, that Hungarian peasant was there with us, and he said that Ármin's sister [Bella, I think] was also there, with her family, but in a different camp. I didn't see them.  And one of my cousins, poor head; I couldn't eat because I was very ill, and she came over for two days for the food we got. She ate it. Then she wanted to tell me that—they had an iron stove factory—that that's where my parents hid the bit of jewelry, they hid it there.  She wanted to tell me where they had hidden it.  I said "Are you crazy, that doesn't interest me at all."

JG: How did that peasant wind up there?

ES: He joined the German army as a volunteer. But he didn't let them tattoo him with the SS symbol under his arm.  He was smart enough for that.  When I got home later, detectives came and asked me about this "Laci Bácsi", as he was called, and I said that he was a vile pig, but that he was very good to me. 

JG: Where was this?  Was it at the hearing where they asked you this?

ES: I wasn't at the hearing in Pest, but these detectives came out to ask me what I could tell them about this Laci Bácsi.

JG: So you protected him.

ES: Well, I protected him by saying that to me, he was good.  But to the others, he was a vile pig.

JG: What else do you recall when in Bergen-Belsen, now near the end of the war?

ES: That the Americans liberated it, opened the warehouses, and gave canned goods to the unfortunate people, and from that dies very many people. 

JG: Because they over-ate?

ES: They over-ate. They filled their hunger-distended stomachs with canned meats and whatever, and that totally finished them off.

JG: And what happened after the Americans arrived?

ES: Then there were those whom they were taking to Sweden, and a German doctor told me to do anything to make sure that they also took me.  Then,… how was it?  Yes, I started to have a fit, that I want to go to Sweden, I want to go to Sweden, and so they took me to Lubeck, and there they put me on a boat to go to Sweden.

JG: Do you recall anything about the trip to Lubeck?

ES: A woman who worked as a volunteer on the ship asked me where I was from, Budapest?  I replied impudently, "Why, is every Swede from Stockholm?"

JG: What did she answer?

ES: They started to laugh about me.

JG: What condition were you in when you were liberated?

ES: In very bad condition.

JG: From what?

ES: The many tsores [roughly, travails in Yiddish] that one went through. They took us into a canvas tent, bathed us in warm water, and as they brought us out on stretchers, they hosed us down with cold water.  I said, so this is how these people want to finish us off, to hose us down with cold water.

JG: Did you have any reaction to this? The cold water?

ES: No. When one is lying on a stretcher, what kind of reaction can you have?

JG: What did you think when the Americans arrived?

ES: We were very happy about it. We were very happy.

JG: What did you think, what would happen afterwards?

ES: That everything would be good.  Well, in Sweden they dealt with us so well that it can't be described.  When I got back a little strength in Sweden, I went to work. I worked in a hospital.  There was true democracy, because when we went into a dining hall, we dined in the same place as the doctors, we would go into the dining hall and the doctors might stand up and give us their seats.  We were maids there.  A couple of us; not many, just a couple. 

JG: What kind of feelings did you have about being in Sweden?  Did you think about whether you wanted to go home, or stay in Sweden. What were …

ES: I didn't want to stay in Sweden.  But they told us that any time we wanted to go back to Sweden, they would accept us back.  They were very decent.  I told Ármin when we got home, should we go to Sweden?  He said no, they eat a lot of fish, and he doesn't like fish.  His dream was always California. 

JG: How long were you in Sweden?

ES: At least 8-9 months.

JG: And what was the result of this? Did they strengthen you up? 

ES: A little I got well.  And afterwards I went to Paris to my brother. 

JG: When was that?

ES: When was that?  Françoise is now 58 years old, and at that time she was six. 

JG: Now she is 85?  [mistakenly]

ES: I don't know exactly how it was.

JG: Approximately in Sweden… this was in 1945 or 1946?

ES: I think it was already 1946.

JG: It was '46?

ES: It was '46.

JG: So from Sweden you went directly to Pest… Paris?

ES: To Paris. I know that the Hungarian embassy gave me $10 in Sweden, and with that I immediately telephoned my brother. And I got him, and told him that the Swedes sent the French back at Swedish expense, and the woman [someone Eta knew in Sweden?] would call him when she arrived in Paris.  My brother said that indeed they went to visit her and brought her a big ham, which she ate on the spot.  The woman ate the ham.

JG: Then from Sweden you went by yourself to Paris?

ES: I went by myself.  That was the first time I was on an airplane.  It was a small plane, for 27 passengers.  I filled every one of the 27 barf bags myself. 

JG: So it was not a pleasant…

ES: It was not a pleasant trip. I didn't enjoy my first plane trip.

JG: What happened when you arrived in Paris?

ES: My brother was a very busy man.  I did not get along with his wife.  Actually, she was still only his girlfriend.  [She is confusing this visit with an earlier time, when she stayed in Paris for over a year in the 1930's.] And I wanted to go home to Hungary. I had some aunts living in Pest. And after I went home, I soon became Ármin's wife. 

JG: How long were you in Paris?

ES: About half a year.

JG: Did your brother want you to stay there, or go home?

ES: I would have liked to stay there and study to become a doctor, but he said that it's not a women's profession, you'll ruin your life with it, become a pharmacist instead.  But I didn't want that.

JG: Thus neither succeeded.

ES. Neither succeeded.  I didn't become either a pharmacist and I didn't become a doctor. 

JG: When you went home from Paris, what did you know of your relatives? When you were in Paris, what did you know of your parents? 

ES: Well, I knew that before.  I knew already in Paris what had happened. 

JG: You learned in Paris what had happened? How did you learn?

ES: Through my brother.

JG: And how did he know?

ES: Through the Red Cross.  My American cousin [Marion Bamberger] was searching for me, and asked an American soldier, the son of one of her friends, to find me and bring me to California, but by then I was no longer there; I was already in Sweden.

JG: This soldier was seeking you in Bergen-Belsen?

ES: He searched through the Red Cross.

JG: And they didn't know that you were already in Sweden.

ES: According to this, no.

JG: So when you decided to return from Paris to Hungary, you already knew who had remained alive and who not.

ES: Yeah.  I knew that my brother [Imre] was in Russian captivity, one of my brothers.  That I knew.  And in Eger I had no relatives.

JG: So when you returned to Hungary, were did you go?

ES: I returned to Polgár.  Ármin's aunt lived there, and I went to her.  Because Ármin and my first husband were cousins.

JG: Did Ármin know what happened to your husband?

ES: He knew. Right away, he suggested that we should marry. At first, I said no, because I don't want to go live in Polgár.  I didn't like Polgár. 

JG: What did you decide?

ES: As you can see, I decided to go back in any case. 

JG: How long were you in Polgár?

ES: Well, Peter was born in Polgár also.

JG: What was life like in Polgár after the war?

ES: For us, it was very good because we had a successful store, I carried on my first husband's show business, that's what I carried on.  And Ármin was an upper maker and sold soles and shoe accessories.  We lived very well.

JG: How many Jews remained in Polgár?

ES: Very few.  Even the ones who came back later left Polgár.

JG: So when you lived in Polgár, there was no big Jewish life there?

ES: No.  No.  We would go to Debrecen every week, not to get a Jewish life, but because that's where the family was, Ármin's sister. 

JG: What was the Jewish population of Eger or Polgár before the war?

ES: The population of Eger was 40,000; about 10%.

JG: And after the war?

ES: Zero.

JG: And do you know how many were killed from Polgár?

ES: A couple of men who were in labor camps survived.  The Jewish children and women did not survive.

JG: About how many Jews had lived in Polgár?

ES: All the merchants were Jews, but I don't know how many.

JG: There might have been several hundred?

ES: Yeah.

JG: So you returned from Sweden with nothing?

ES: With nothing.

JG: How did you succeed to build yourselves up [financially]?

ES: Not long after returning, I married Ármin. And when I came home from Paris, my brother Béla gave me a certain amount so I would not have to be a burden to my relatives.

JG: How long then did you stay in Polgár?

ES: Until signs appeared on the wall: "No kulaks allowed in the cooperative!" [When the communists came to power, all work was organized into cooperatives, and former business owners were excluded as exploiters of the working classes.] Because we counted as kulaks.  You know what a kulak is? 

JG: Because you were merchants.

ES: Because we were merchants.  Then Ármin said that it would be better to go up to Pest, and we bought a very nice house in Erzsébet [a suburb, now Pesterzsébet]. Then the next circus started.  They wanted to expropriate the house because they found it too big for a three-person family. 

JG: So what happened?

ES: One time I wanted to give some money to one of them to shut up; that's what scared me the most, because he said "I could report you for this." 

JG: What happened?  Did he report you?

ES: No.

JG: But he took the money?

ES: No, he didn't take the money.

JG: He didn't take the money.

ES: He didn't take the money.

JG: Did they assign a tenant to you?

ES: No.

JG: So you succeeded in keeping your house.

ES: We succeeded in keeping it.  It used to have two entrances, and we closed one of them off so that it would be impossible to subdivide it because it had only one entrance. 

JG: So you stayed there.  How long were there?

ES: Until 1956 when we left.  We went up in '50, so we were there about six years.  [Actually, we left in April 1957.]

JG: Six years.  And there did you work?  Ármin worked...

ES: Ármin worked in a cooperative, where he was a shoe upper maker.  And they gave him a certain amount of leather, that must yield a certain number of shoes.  Ármin always saved a bunch from this, and that became his.  So we earned good money.  We had a huge garden, where we had 21 fruit trees.  And it was a brand new house on which we didn't even have to pay taxes because I think on new houses one didn't need to pay tax for 25 years.  So we lived well in Pest.  We went to theaters, we lived well.

JG: Did you think back on the war much when you lived in Pest?

ES: No.  That had ended.  It was finished.  I didn't think back on it very much at all. But when we left, Ármin said "One good thing: I am liberated from the garden!"  Because it demanded a huge amount of work.  Then we saved $5,000, which we buried in the garden.  When we knew we wanted to come out, we wanted to take the $5,000 with us, but we could not find it.  The tree roots had grown around it.  It was put away in a glass jar, and the tree's roots had grown around it.  Ármin had dug a trench so deep that one could not see out of it, but we still could not find the money.

JG: You never discovered the money?

ES: Yes, we brought it out.

JG: How did you find it?

ES: He started to pick at the roots of the tree and saw that something was there, and it was the glass.  Then when we were leaving Hungary, he built it into the heels of his shoes. 

JG: Thus you saved it and brought it out.

ES: At that time, $5,000 was very big money.  That formed the basis of the liquor store that we bought.

JG: Then you came out in '56 at the time of the revolution?

ES: We came out in '56 after the revolution.

JG: Where did you go?

ES: To Vienna.  We were there for two years.  We didn't know… America didn't want to let us in, Ármin worked … he was making shoe uppers. We lived in a wretched little hotel room, all three of us, with Peter. I cooked on a little electric hot-plate, and worked at the American Kitchen.  We cooked big pots of soup and such things.  And we distributed American canned goods.  We were very fortunate because in the same hotel lived a Czech guy who was some kind of salesman and he had a car.  In the evenings he would take us all over.  We went to heuriges [simple places where they sell new wine and you can bring your own food]. So we have very pleasant memories connected to Vienna. 

JG: How long were you there?

ES: Two years.

JG: You were there… How old was your son?

ES: He was ten when we left Hungary. [Actually, I was eight.]

JG: So he continued school in Vienna?

ES: Yes, in Vienna he continued in school. For two years.  He spoke perfect German, and now can barely talk [German].

JG: Did you both work in Vienna, or just Ármin?

ES: I worked at the American Kitchen.

JG: The kitchen.  Yes, you said that… Was that throughout the entire two years?

ES: No, one of my acquaintances was assembling pullovers, and I helped her. We made pullovers with leather panels in the front.  But I always worked at something. 

JG: What happened after two years?

ES: After two years, they took us to Salzburg, and then brought us to America. 

JG: When did you arrive in America?

ES: When was that?  I don't know exactly.  Ármin would know…

JG: In '58 or '59? Two years after '56? 

ES: Could be.  [Actually, we arrived in the US on January 29, 1959.]

JG: What feelings did you have when you arrived in America?

ES: Happiness. It was happiness.  My cousin and her family awaited us at the Burbank airport. In their hands was a photograph from when Peter was still tiny and I was holding him in my lap, and that's the picture with which they recognized us.  I remember that Peter called my cousin "Tante Marion", and Tante Marion said "Leave the Tante away; I am Marion." 

JG: Different customs.

ES: Different customs.  They were very decent.  They wanted us to stay with them for at least a month. After a week, we rented a little apartment, one bedroom, kitchen, furnished, of course, and that's where we lived.  I started cleaning at a hospital those first days.  The Queen of Angels Hospital.  That's where my career began.

JG: And how did you continue it?

ES: In an [insurance] office, I became an underwriter.  First file girl, then I became an underwriter. And then Ármin bought the liquor store, and then we worked in the liquor store for nine years.

JG: Together?

ES: Together.

JG: Do you often think back on the holocaust?

ES: No. But when the topic comes up, it brings back refreshed memories [?]. But that I should have nightmares from it, no.

JG: Now that you have been speaking of it, what memories have come back?

ES: What I have told you.

JG: Are there things you didn't recall but that you now remember?

ES: Not really. Not really.

JG: Then after the liquor store, did you do anything else?

ES: No.  Ármin said "For money, I don't want to do anything else ever in my life."  I was very ill, and would faint all the time, so I got disability, and got it until I reached my retirement age. 

[start of tape 1 of original recording]

JG: Is there anything that you would like to add, about the family…?

ES: Just that we have beautiful memories because we traveled a lot. We traveled throughout Japan, we traveled throughout Australia; we only were not in South America; everywhere else we traveled.  These are very beautiful memories.  We traveled a great deal.

JG: And this you enjoyed a lot.

ES: A lot.  Every moment.

JG: Anything else you want to say about the family?

ES: Then came the two little grandchildren. 

JG: And your son?

ES: My son, according to me, is an exceptional man.  Our joy and pride.  The little boy wrote a little verse, and Peter sent it to us. Then he had read it on the telephone.  It's a very sweet little poem.  The little boy is gorgeous.  The little girl is not as pretty as the little boy. 

JG: Here you have a chance to send them a message, though I know it will have to be translated.  Their father will translate for them.  Is there something you want to say for your grandchildren?

ES: Just one: They are our joy and pride, the grandchildren too.  The little boy is gorgeous, and has a very good personality, easy going.  The little girl has a little bit more difficult personality.

JG: I have to ask you… Have you thought about why you survived? So many others in the family perished.

ES: Chance.  It's all chance.  In Bergen-Belsen there were twenty of us in a room; I am the only one who survived.  Though strong…  I was always a weak [?] little somebody, I survived and the others all perished.  So this is just a matter of chance.  For example, one time we were selected—I don't remember when; perhaps in Auschwitz when we were there the second time—and they put one of my friends on one side and me on the other.  My friend said "Come here," and I casually walked over.  Not even a dog noticed.  I survived, and all those on the side where I had been perished.  So one cannot figure this out.  It's all a matter of chance.

JG: Chance and will.  That you had the courage to go across to the other side.

ES: I didn't know what I was doing; that it took courage.  I simply crossed.  Beside it all, we had a beautiful life because we have many beautiful trips to remember.

JG: Is there anything else you would like to add?

ES: There is nothing more to add. And even now if there weren't this illness, we could live very nicely.  Because, thank God, we have no financial worries.  My son is not concerned because he has his certain job.

JG: Only health is missing.

ES: Only health is missing.  Unfortunately, that cannot be bought. 

JG: Thank you.

ES: I thank you too.

[the tape continues with Ármin joining in]

JG: Ármin, what would you like to add to Etel's interview?

AS: Should I then start from the beginning?  After her Swedish recuperation, she went to Paris to her brother, and at her brother's, the family relations were such that she could not stay there. Thus she returned to Hungary, to Polgár, where I also lived.  When we saw each other, the old sympathy that we had toward each other re-awakened. We had known each other before, but she had a different husband and I had a different wife.  But we had a sympathetic relationship.  After a short while, we decided to marry.  After out marriage, then came the child.  At that time, she was still always feverish from the lung infection that she had had in Sweden, and until she became pregnant, she was always feverish.

ES: Until Peter was born, I was always feverish.

AS: Even during your pregnancy?

ES: Yeah. About 37.6.

JG: Slight temperature?

ES: Yeah, slight temperature.

AS: But we can imagine that she got to Sweden weighing 28kg, showing what terrible circumstances she had been in, and what poor condition she was.  That weakened condition had not yet ceased when she became pregnant, and doctors in those days did not say to take calcium at least, if not other things.  Thus a very puny, weak child was born to us.  He was healthy, and survived, as you saw when he was here.  But he was very weak. At six months, he could not hold up his head.

ES: He was never able to suckle.

AS: Then he got well, but his bones were so weak that at age four his leg broke twice in a row.  He was so weak in the bones.  Calcium deficiency. That's why I said that the doctors should have ordered that at least for him.  But apparently in Hungary this was not an important issue.  She must have talked about our life together. 

ES: I said that a very pleasant memory is the great deal of travel. 

AS: Yes, the travels, those…

JG: More?

AS: I have not thought much about it, so nothing else comes to mind that I could append.

JG: Thank you both.

AS: How…

ES: Is it done?

AS: When communism came, in 1949, we saw that we had no future. But we could not set off into nothingness because we had a tiny child.  And with a tiny child, one is more cautious than when there is not such tiny child.  Thus, communism took my abode, my store, my whole house [the stores and apartment were in the same building], and then we moved to Budapest.  In Budapest I worked at a shoe factory.

JG: Etel had described this...

AS: That is where the '56 revolution reached us. It is thanks to that revolution that we got out to America. We both worked very hard in the first years, but after five years I could buy a small private store, and we carried that store together.

ES: Can I say something? I also told the story of how we buried $5,000 in the garden.  And we didn't find it for a while.

AS: Such little episodes for people...

JG: This is a good termination.  We thank you very much.  Thank you.

[photograph of my mother with her parents, brothers, their spouses, and her nephew]

ES: On this picture, which was made about '41, my three brothers, though here there are only two brothers. And the little boy of one...

JG: Do you recall who they were, left to right?

ES: My brother Lajos and his wife Margit.

JG: Lajos Szolovits?

ES: No, Lajos Angyal.

JG: Sorry.

ES: The second is my first husband, the
second couple. The third is my brother Imre
and his wife.

JG: Sitting?

ES: My father, mother...

JG: What were their names?

ES: Angyal Sámuel, Mrs. Angyal Sámuel, Weisz Franciska

JG: And the little boy?

ES: The little boy is my brother Lajos' son.

JG: What is his name?

ES: Pali [diminutive for Pál, or Paul]

JG: And where was this taken?

ES: I think in Eger.

[picture of Eta with friends and colleagues in Sweden]

ES: This is after the war, in Sweden. One of the nurses, and my
local acquaintances.  I don't know their names at all.  One was
called Sore, that I know, but which one was Sore, I don't know. 

JG: This was made in 1945. And which are you in the picture?

ES: Can I see it close up?

JG: It's not important. I think the middle one.

ES: I also think it's in the middle.

[picture of my parents, around the time of their wedding]

ES: When was this, Ármin? This was in 1947, approximately.

JG: Who is in the picture?

ES: Ármin and I

JG: And where was it taken?

AS: In Polgár.

JG: Polgár

[picture of my parents holding me, around one year old]

ES: This is us with the little Peter: Ármin, I, and the little boy.

JG: In Eger?

AS: In Polgár.

JG: When was this?

AS: It must have been in 1948 or '49 because the child is several months old.

[school picture of Eta’s granddaughter, with braces]

ES: This is our Peter's child, our granddaughter. She's about 12 1/2 years old. 

JG: What is her name?

ES: Elizabeth.

JG: Szolovits?

ES: Szolovits

[picture of Dan Szolovits]

ES: This is also our son's child, our grandson Daniel, a gorgeous child.

JG: Szolovits?

ES: Daniel Szolovits.

JG: How old is he now?

ES: Around 10.

JG: Thank you.



My mother’s recollections of the Holocaust and her life