Personal Reflections - In Ghettos
The story of Bertha (Panni) Guttman,
Transcribed and edited from the original hand-written document
I was born in Budapest, Hungary on October 23, 1914. Three months after WW I started. My maiden name is: Bertha Hufler.
My family consisted of my two parents, two older and one younger brothers: Henryk, (b. 1909), Laszlo, (b. 1911) and Andor, (b. 1922).
My father, Salamon Hufler, was born in 1869 in Galicia and he escaped from Poland because of the anti Jewish pogroms. My mother was born in Lemberg (Lvov) in 1882, and was a young girl when she came to live in Budapest to join her brother Vilmos and sister Bertha.
I believe my parents got married in 1906.
In 1914 my father was conscripted into the Hungarian army and served four years there, till 1918. At this point a communist revolution broke out, led by Bela Kun and the government called in the Romanian army to help put down the revolt. They took my father as a prisoner, mainly because he was a Jew, and when he was about to be executed some Jewish people came and helped to release him from prison.
The Immigration and Citizen laws in Hungary, at that time, were as such that in spite of the fact that the children were born in Hungary, still they were to follow the father's Polish citizenship. Thus, we were all considered Polish citizens. As such, we had to report every year to the Immigration Office and live on a valid passport, from year to year, for decades.
In 1931, on the second day of Shevuot, my father died, five years after he had a stroke. My younger brother Andor died three months later, at the age of nine.
Both of my brothers had high-school education. Later on, Henrik was working in a shoe factory as a cutter. Laszlo became a tailor.
I also completed high-school and after that, in a business college, I completed my studies and got my diploma in typing and short hand. The year my father passed away, I had to stop my schooling for I needed to get a job..
In 1934 I married Sandor Guttman, who was a Hungarian Jew. In 1937 my son, Endre, was born. In 1938, my husband, unfortunately, became very ill. He had cancer. He suffered for three and a half years. In August 1941 he died.
One month later, in 1941, my whole family was taken to a concentration camp. Almost three years earlier than most of the rest of the Hungarian Jewry.
At that time, my son was four years old, my mother 59, Henrik 32 and married with a small daughter, Agnes. Laszlo was 30.
In 1941, when Poland was already occupied by the Germans, one day, many of the Polish Jews in Hungary were picked up by the police and transported to Korosmezo, near the border with Poland. On the street where we lived there were many Jews like that and we all knew each other. My generation, while of Polish Jewish parents, was already born in Hungary. To no avail - we were considered Polish.
We lived on this street until all of the Jews with Polish passports were picked up. We never considered ourselves as immigrants. We lived, loved, played, worked and paid taxes just like everyone else in Hungary.
In the morning of July 25, 1941, my oldest brother Henrik (Harry) was arrested by two detectives and taken to the Magdolna Street internment camp.
I was the only one in my family who could move around freely and could go to visit Henryk. My husband, Sandor, was Hungarian born and this made me, automatically, a Hungarian citizen too. As a result, my name was taken off the list of those who were going to be taken away. My mother was on the list but she was ill with a serious ulcer on her leg and she was, on and off, a clinical patient.
When I visited my brother in this camp, he instructed me to get my brother Laszlo packed and ready. He also implored me to try to get some kind of official papers for my mother in order to save her. But this was a Sunday and we could not get hold of any official who might have helped.
The same night a detective came to my house. Laszlo and my mother lived with me. He was looking for my brother, who, in the meantime, ran from the house, down the street, hoping that if they didn't find him at home they'll go away. When the police detective couldn't find my brother he started to ask for my mother. who was hiding out at a neighbour's house. He threatened that if my brother doesn't show up he'll take me, even though I wasn't on the list.
So, my brother came back. He was picked up and taken to the Rombach Street Synagogue, where I was married, five years prior to this event. The next day my two brothers were united in another camp. From then on, I was running back and forth daily, to supply them with all the things they needed.
In the meantime my mother was waiting to see what will happen next. My brothers told me to tell my mother to go into the camp voluntarily. They saw what was happening, that nobody will be saved from this deportation. I went home, gave my mother the message and we started packing. My poor, dear mother was torn between wanting to be with me on the one hand, and with her sons, on the other. Maybe the sons will need her to cook the meals (?)or to stay with me, my sick husband, my child and my brother's child. What to do? She couldn't decide.
There wasn't much time to hesitate. I helped her finish packing, but was afraid to accompany her to the train for fear of wanting to go with her. She kept saying: "you have stay behind so that we'll have someone 's house to come back to." Little did we know that this was the last time we will be seeing each other. That this was our final good bye.
During the same night they were taken away, by train and deported. A few days later I received a postcard, from the road, going towards their destination: Kameneck-Podolsk.
My brother indicated that my mother got very ill and she was placed in a so called hospital. Later I received another letter. In September a Hungarian soldier came to see me to collect money, food and clothing for these people.
For years and years I was waiting for a miracle. But the next news I had of them was only after WWII ended .
I read in a magazine that on August 26, 1941, in one day, between 18 - 30,000 Jews, in Kameneck- Podolsk, were naked and digging their own graves - then they were all shot, thrown into these ditches, covered with lime and earth. The next day, the earth on top of them was still moving.
On Sunday, March 19, 1944, the German Nazis occupied Hungary too. Shortly after that, we were ordered to wear the yellow Star of David. In Budapest, apartment buildings, designated to house Jews, were also identified by the same yellow Star. Two to three families were expected to live in one apartment. It was very crowded.
Every day, new, anti-Jewish edicts and laws were proclaimed. We were allowed to leave our dwellings only for a very limited time daily, to do some shopping. Fortunately, there were some very helpful, non-Jewish people around us. They shopped for us to get bread and other food items. This was important because usually by the time we , the Jews, were allowed to shop there very few items on the shelves.
During the month of November, 1944, we heard that the Hungarian Nazis, members of the Arrow Cross Party, will come to our buildings with the Yellow Star and will take all the Jewish women under 40. For 17 days I was hiding in a neighbour's home, in a 2 x 1 cupboard. This neighbour took care of my young son.
In July, Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat of this neutral country, handed out Swedish documents to protect people from deportation and/or from being murdered. I could not obtain one. However, a friend of mine received 2 and gave me one. I erased her name and substituted mine but I did such a poor job that I could or dare not use it.
On November 16, 1944, my non-Jewish girl friend, who knew a family in a Swiss protected building, took me and my eight year old son to stay with these people . A few days later, there was a surprise police raid on the building and they took away everyone's protective document. I didn't even show them my terrible looking, altered document. That turned out lucky for me because this way they didn't have my name and when they finished the raid they left me there
A few days after this incident, by then some of us were hiding in the cellar, another raid occurred and the police left with a lot of people. These frightening raids (called: razzias in Hungarian) were very frequent and yet another one was carried out few days later. This time I wasn't so lucky. My son and I were taken to a designated park along with hundreds of others. The older people and the children were selected to go to the right and the young adults, like myself, a 30 year old, had to go to the left - to be taken to a brick factory and then unto Nazi Germany.
At the factory there were a sea of soldiers idling around and I pleaded with on of them to help me get back to my young son. He helped me to escape and took me back to the so called 'International Ghetto'. Here too, on every second or third day we were subjected to these terrible police razzias.
On January 4, 1945, as a result of another brutal police raid, everybody was taken to the 'Closed Ghetto'. Conditions, here, were unimaginably terrible. 40 people had to share one room. No beds - sleeping on the floor only. Once a week, the Jewish leadership was able to send in one slice of bread and a thin soup with nothing in it, for the children only. Naturally, there was starvation.
The Ghetto was surrounded by mine fields. The war was raging on - for Budapest. The Nazis' plan was to blow up everything and everyone, in the Ghetto, sometime on January 18, 1945.
But, a miracle happened --- in the form of the Soviet Army. They liberated Budapest, at 7:00 o'clock in the morning of January 18, 1945. That's when I saw the first Russian soldier. We, Jews, of Budapest were saved by them.
At this point I resided only 2 blocks away from my original apartment and thank God, I got it back.
I thank God also that my son and I survived this catastrophe. So did my oldest brother's little girl Agnes who was taken care by one her aunts. Her dear mother, my sister-in-law, starved to death in the Nazi concentration camp called Bergen Belsen, in Germany. Little Agnes was taken good care of after the war too. She finished high school and in 1956, during the revolution she escaped with some friends to Holland where , eventually, married a Dutch, Jewish man. She had a little girl called Editke. My niece is working for 'Time' magazine. I thank God, that after such a terrible childhood Agnes now has a very happy life.
After the war ended I worked at three jobs in order to support my son and myself. I didn't have anyone to help me so after school he was always with my neighbour till I got home. Being a single mother it was tough to raise him. But he was always understanding and satisfied with what I could mange to get for him. Indeed, he was a very good child, working through all his summer vacations to earn some money - to clothes himself. School was free, thus he was able to attend college.
He started his studies in September 1956 and in October the revolution broke out and in November he managed to leave Hungary. In December, the same year, I followed him. We couldn't get in touch with each other and my son ended up in the USA and I came to Canada.
He found out my address through the Red Cross, but for two years we could not cross the US-Canada border and meet personally.
When I arrived in Canada, I settled down in Montreal because my best girl friend, from Budapest, was living here. She invited me to live with her and her family. I stayed for about 18 months at which point she got married and I moved out. I was working as a fur operator till my retirement. I never married again.
My son received a scholarship to the university of Puerto Rico after he studied for his Masters degree at M.I.T. Finally he received his Ph.D. at Cambridge, Mass.
Eventually, he got married and has two children. Eric 23, and Diana 21. They live in Puerto Rico and they have a Computer Studies Institute. I used to visit them every year for a couple of months. But now, due to my severe heart condition I cannot travel. Nowadays, my son and his family come to visit me in Montreal.
I am now 85 years old, I live all alone, independently, on my three pensions. I am very grateful to Canada for having given me a chance to rebuild my life here.
I gave Judy Cohen permission to have my story published to allow others to learn of this incredible tragedy and subsequent hardships the German Nazis and their Hungarian collaborators so brutally meted out to the Jewish people and to countless others. I also wanted my grandchildren to know why they never had grandparents and other relatives on my side.
Guttman, (of Blessed Memory), passed away eight months after the publication of her story here.
© Copyright Judy Cohen, 2001.
© Copyright Judy Cohen, 2001.