David’s Close Call
By early June, mob rule began to take over in the city. The Jewish yellow star houses were frequently raided by young Arrow Cross members and policemen. The alleged purpose of these raids was to verify that no one was hiding inside without proper papers, to confiscate illegal radios, etc. The real purpose was to steal and rob whatever caught the eyes of the raiders. If any resistance to the robbery was attempted, the residents were beaten up or arrested, or they were beaten up and then arrested. These raids were totally random and the police were often reluctant partners who were forced to participate.
Shortly after David’s return home, our house was raided. One day, we heard someone banging violently on the outside door. Looking out through the peephole, we saw a handful of young fascists and two policemen carrying heavy weapons over their shoulders. As we opened the door, it was violently pushed open, almost injuring the woman who stood in front of it.
They yelled threats and pushed us aside with violence. No reason was given for the raid, no search warrant was presented. We immediately returned to our rooms as they roved through the house. We heard doors and drawers rip open and dishes crash onto the floor as the group spread out through the house.
David was in our room, standing pale, half hidden behind the partially open door of a large armoire. Mother pulled down the bedding and silently motioned for him to lie down on the bed. She piled the bedding on top of him and smoothed out the bedspreadcalmly and in total silence. Then she motioned to me to get busy with something. This was a desperate gamble on her part. If David was found, he would be taken away and probably shot as a deserter. Mother and I were also at risk since we would be considered accomplices; we would be jailed and/or deported.
The minutes crept by slowly. Then our door flew open and one of the young thugs marched in, followed by a policeman, an elderly man, who looked very uncomfortable. They began searching the room, opening drawers and throwing things on the floor. The policeman searched methodically, going around the room, until he reached the bed. He took his baton and pushed it between the layers of bedding, then he called out to the fascist boy: “Nothing here, brother! Let’s go on to the next room.” He looked straight into Mother’s eyes and walked out.
I had been standing by the wall the whole time, holding an exercise book and pencil in my hand, pretending to study. They pushed me aside a couple of times, but otherwise didn’t bother with me. It was difficult to control my hands so that they wouldn’t tremble. I didn’t dare look in the direction of the bed or at Mother, even after they had left the room. We both remained frozen, motionless. I feared that David would be smothered under the heavy eiderdown bedding and prayed that the raiders would leave the house quickly.
They did finally leave, taking with them items they had grabbed from our rooms. Robbery had been the real reason for this raid. We pulled the heavy eiderdowns off David. He was pale but none the worse for wear. He had managed to maintain a tiny opening at the back of the bed, by the wall. He had heard everything and had felt the push of the policeman’s baton. He hadn’t prayed, or thought about what could happen to him. He had just lain there, motionless. We tried to act calm. We didn’t hug each other in triumph or celebrate David’s miraculous survival. We knew that only one battle had been won and that the war was still on. There would be more raids of this kind, more risks and dangers.
I was then and I am still convinced that that policeman knowingly saved David’s life. If the young fascist had discovered David after the policeman finished his search, he would have been accused of helping Jews and he would have been severely punished. Yet this elderly man had put himself at risk. Here was one good gentile I will remember forever. Not the only one I encountered during those dangerous months. Along with the butcher and the baker who set aside food for us, the acquaintances who met us in the street or on a streetcar at some illegal time when we were not wearing the star and didn’t point us out to the fascists who were searching for people just like us. I remember all these people. Their humane behaviour underlined the inhumanity and cowardice of the others. And then there was my school friend, Joseph Kovacs.