Women of Valor: Partisans and Resistance Fighters
Katherine Szenes - Part II
I got home at 1:00 p.m. (from 8 a.m.) and a whole group of people were gathered in front of my house. They wanted to know what had happened. I said it was a misunderstanding because they had told me I was not allowed to utter a word. I went up to my apartment. I yearned to be alone. At this moment I was incapable of speaking. Then a couple came and pleaded with me to leave with them with false papers for Rumania and not stay in a place where one was compelled to wear a Yellow Star. From Rumania one could easily go to Palestine. They wanted to know if all my papers were in order. I gave my documents to them and told them that I had changed my mind and would not go. They were stunned. They could not understand how I, with two children in Palestine, did not want to go. I felt that destiny had sent these people to me. I thought if I told them what happened, they would tell Giora when they got to Palestine. So I began to tell the story and they agreed that it should not be kept a secret. Everyone who could be of help should be told. The couple then left hastily.
Just then the doorbell rang. It was five SS officers. They said they were looking for me. I decided to act as if I knew nothing. They told me I had to accompany them to be a witness. No one was around and I was worried that people would be concerned if I suddenly disappeared, so I tried to delay. I told them I had to get dressed. One of the SS soldiers followed me from room to room. I was purposely slow. One officer pulled out a photograph and asked if I knew who that was. It was a picture of Hannah, looking the way I had encountered her in the office of the military, and I said, "Who is that?" He then asked if I had a daughter, Hannah Szenes. I said, "Yes", but that it was a very poor picture and where did he get it? He did not answer; he only told me to speed things up, we had to go now. When I locked the door he wanted to know why I took along keys. I reminded him that he had said I would return home. They put me into a wagon without windows and within minutes we arrived at the prison that the Germans were using. I was handed over to another SS officer who took out a dossier marked "Urgent". He confiscated my pocketbook and took my watch, my ring and everything in it, and asked if I had anything else. I did have a little sack hanging around my neck which contained 3000 pengo (which was allowed to Jews). I hesitated a moment and then handed it over. Because I hesitated a moment, he slapped me across the face very hard. . But I was so numb I didn't feel it; the whole day's activities had thoroughly drained me.
They gave me the number 528, two women guards searched me thoroughly and then they put me into cell #528 with a heavy window. It looked like a hospital room. There were seven beds and approximately a dozen women were there. One of the women was the Baroness Harvani, the divorced wife of the Baron. She introduced me to the other women. One was the wife of the only Jewish member of the Hungarian Parliament. She made a remark about the Germans, and so she was arrested. The Baroness had a stiletto which she said was more useful than a knife or other utensils. I observed where she hid it. When everyone was asleep, I took the stiletto and cut my veins because I felt I could be of no help to my daughter. However, the stiletto was probably not sharp enough for I was not successful. The Baroness advised me to wear my raincoat which had long sleeves to hide my wounds from my interrogators. In the morning we were called down and had to face the wall. No one was allowed to say a word. The German interrogator was more polite than the Hungarian and I had the courage to ask him about my daughter. What had happened to her? What did they want from her? He then told me it was not a matter of life or death - because the Hungarian laws were not as severe as the German laws, I breathed a sigh of relief when I returned to the prison cell.
One of the aides, a woman from Berlin, told me, "When you are in your cell walk to the window." It was actually forbidden to look out the window, but we often disobeyed. When I walked to the window, I saw the window opposite me, and there stood Hannah. In the interim they had moved Hannah to the same Geman prison. Every day our group was given a ten minute walk in the court. They were very cautious that Hannah and I should not meet on one of these outings; but such a "mistake" did occur and by this time everyone was aware of our unusual case. We all walked in twos and Hannah was alone; suddenly Hannah had left her place in line, ostensibly to fix her shoelaces. She did it several times until my partner, the woman who had told me to go the window, subsequently told me to go to the bathroom and I would find Hannah there.
It was there that for the first time, we were actually able to embrace and hug one another. I asked her what it was all about. Hannah told me she could not tell me, it was a military secret, and besides it was for my benefit not to be aware of the goings on. She said she undertook a task that she could not fulfill and deeply regretted that I, her mother, was dragged into this. I told her it was our luck; at least we would be able to see one another. She smiled and said that she fallen into a well, so to speak. I already knew from others that she was a parachutist, that she was interrogated every day, for weeks on end. I told her I was aware that it was not her enthusiasm for the British that had brought her here. There had to be a Jewish reason for it. She squeezed my hand and told me I was on the right road. Her assignment had been initially to rescue British parachutists who had been captured. Only later could she rescue Jews - that was the stipulation of the British. The Germans wanted to know the code of the messages in the instructions of the parachutists. They tortured her. I asked her how she was treated because I had heard that she got better meals, and sometimes coffee and cigarettes. She told me that she shared her food with others who got much less and said that the Germans had a different method of dealing with her. They decided to get information through kindness. Sometimes they would ask her to tell them about Palestine and she said she exaggerated. When she spoke of Palestine, they said, "Enough about all the wonders there, we will come to see ourselves." So Hannah answered that they would get a guided tour just as other tourists did. In September, 1944 it was clear that the Germans were losing the war and Hungary wanted to liberate itself from it all.