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Bombs Falling!

Soviet, British and American air forces began attacking Hungarian cities daily, primarily Budapest, in the spring of 1944. A strict curfew was imposed and all light sources–from homes, businesses, cars, even bicycles–had to be blocked.

When air raid signals sounded, we took our blankets and emergency kits (with bandages and food) and headed down to the shelter. Our concierge had cleaned out the basement storage area and converted it into an air raid shelter. He was the master there, assigning space to each family and generally maintaining peace and order.

Blankets were spread out and candles lit. We soon overcame our embarrassment over appearing in nightgowns and dressing gowns in public. Some people would start conversations, cautiously avoiding talk about the air raids. Others brought down candles and books, and retreated behind their book covers.

As the the bomb raids became more frequent and more intense, the scenes in the shelters grew uglier. There were territorial disputes: someone’s legs were too long and stretched into the space of another family; or if a stranger happened to be around, he or she was eyed with suspicion and people grumbled about how valuable space was being used up. Gradually, the grumbling turned against Jewish residents. They blamed us for the bombing attacks, us and our allied friends.

As the complaining turned into vicious verbal and sometimes physical attacks against Jews, it became more dangerous for us to go to the shelter than remain in our apartment. So after a few weeks, we began ignoring the sirens. We still got up, dressed and prepared our emergency kits, but we stayed put inside the apartment, remaining as quiet as possible, as it was an offence not to go to the shelter.

Later, Jews weren’t allowed into the shelters at all. Accused of co-operating with, or of at least being sympatetic towards the enemy, we were ordered to stay in our homes and were thus put at maximum risk.

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