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I used to sneak out to our rooftop and crouch down beside the wall to watch the air raids. While watching, I would make a silent prayer that the bombers manage to hit their targets and return in safety to their bases. Some people went crazy with fear, hearing the whistle of the bombs. In the dark of night, each whistle sounded as if the bomb was headed straight towards my hiding place.

Smaller planes would appear in the sky, rapidly descending on the larger bombers. These were the Hungarian and German fighter planes, the chasseurs (which both carried the German insignia of the Luftwaffe‘s double cross), trying to shoot down the heavy bombers, or at least force them to abort the bombing raids. Individual “dogfights” would develop between the fierce attackers and the more defenceless bombers. I saw some spectacular ballet being performed in the air by these flyers.

One night, a refinery storage tank, a few hundred yards away, received a direct hit. The heat of the flames hit my face. I lay flat on my stomach, afraid to inhale the hot air, afraid to move, for fear of being detected from the air or the ground. The night was so bright, I worried that the pilots would see me lying on the rooftop, that they would know I was Jewish, and that they’d drop another bomb, aimed at me.

Another night, the target was the railway line, not far from us. They missed their target and hit an apartment building, practically next to ours. Our building shook violently and the sound of shrieking and moaning filled the air. Firefighters raced to the building, air wardens were yelling at the top of their voices and one could almost smell the acrid scent of charred bodies. The next morning, whispered news confirmed that almost all the residents, trapped in the shelter underneath the rubble of the building, had perished. Damage to our own house was limited to broken windows and blown-in doors.

Another time, a large bomb landed just outside of our building. It dug a deep crater in the ground but didn’t explode. If it had, it would have wiped out our building and all of us with it. The following morning, the army sappers arrived and cordoned off the area. We were evacuated from our apartments and ordered to disappear until the bomb was diffused. All of us, some twelve families, became instant refugees. The others went to the nearby church, while we were taken in by our good friends and neighbours. The bomb was diffused a few days later, but it was left there for the remainder of the war, fascinating us children with its silent threat. The ground we used to play our war games on was now the playground for a real war.

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