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My Last Hiding Place

Our hiding place was cramped, but it proved safe.The remote location of the lumberyard offered a relatively safe hiding place. The family of one of the owner’s employees smuggled in food supplies, and thanks to the organizational abilities of Mother and other women, these supplies were rationed out frugally so that they lasted us throughout the siege.

By December, two or three dozen people were living in the yard–individuals and families of all ages. There were worksheds in the yard, containing woodworking machinery and a larger warehouse that was connected to the office building. Under each machine in the worksheds was a large cement-lined pit with a concrete lid where the sawdust was collected. This is where we hid. Each family was assigned its own shed and pit.

When the siege of Budapest started around mid-December, emergency measures were implemented. During the day, everyone stayed in their pits until dark. There was no food, no access to toilets, no room to walk or even stand up straight. The pits were just large enough for three or four people to sit or crouch in. After eight to ten hours in these cramped spaces, we would cautiously climb out and gather in the warehouse or the converted office space, which was the designated nighttime living area.

The many shelves in the warehouse that used to hold large sheets of plywood and lumber now served as bunk beds. The small kitchen was used for primitive cooking–boiling water, cooking weak pea soups, dried peas and vegetarian stews. On lucky days, a piece of horse meat was added to this stew to provide some variety. Electricity and water supplies were cut off by that time, but there was plenty of sawdust available for burning in the cooking stove and water was melted from snow and ice. Considering the primitive conditions, our basic survival needs were met quite well.

The conditions were extremely unsanitary. Washing and keeping clean were practically impossible tasks. There was a humiliating head lice inspection every week, which involved pouring kerosene on the heads of those who were infested. The toilets often got blocked and backed up due to the cold and the lack of running water. This was the source of constant bickering, as was food distribution. But under the circumstances, it was surprising that the arguments weren’t sharper and that we all managed to get through those months together.

When David and I arrived in mid-December and shared our parents’ pit with them, the space became even tighter. But we were hopeful that our liberators would arrive in a matter of days since we were in one of the easternmost suburbs of the city and the Russian armies were only a few kilometres from us. But the front moved very slowly. It took almost another month for the front line to reach our area. A very long month…

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