Eichmann arrived immediately after the German occupation and set about his “task” of liquidating the Hungarian Jewry. The word “deportation” quickly became part of our vocabulary. Officially, it meant moving all Jews from the countryside to areas in the east, where they would be resettled and allowed to live and work peacefully.
In reality, it meant:
- Being ordered without warning to pack a small bag and report to a specific point, like an abandoned factory or a stone quarry.
- Being marched through the streets of towns and villages, with gentiles lined up along both sides, some looking on sadly or crying, but most of them smiling with satisfaction and expressing their support for the heinous treatment being meted out to Jews. During these marches, many of the sick and elderly were shot or beaten to death on the road if they were unable to keep up.
- Travelling in packed cattle cars, locked up, with even the windows covered with barbed wire, to an unknown destination, an unknown fate. At the train station, there was confusion, shouting and yelling as one group after another was pushed up into cattle cars.
- Finally, deportation usually meant being killed in the gas chambers of one of the concentration camps.
Within three months of German occupation, between April and June of 1944, 400 000 Hungarians were deported from the countryside to concentration camps and murdered. My uncles, aunts, nieces and nephews were among them. My grandfather, Abraham Salamon, died on the train on the way to the camp. Only 150 000 Jews were left living in ghettos or yellow star buildings in Budapest.
Trains rolled through Budapest at night: a long row of cattle cars, doors padlocked, windows covered with barbed wire, an open car at the front and one at the back, packed with armed soldiers. Occasionally, a night train would stop at some station and voices were heard from behind the wired up windows, begging for water or medical help. This went on for four months. That’s how long it took to kill Hungarian Jews in the death factories of Auschwitz.