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Freed at Last!

That is how liberty reached us, after more than five years of struggling for survival. One grandfather, one uncle, several aunts, nieces and nephews were dead. Others who survived had yet to send us signs of life, but our little family was alive. We even had a home to which we could return. We were at home, alive and together. What a miracle!

We threw ourselves into rebuilding our lives. The apartment needed cleaning, painting and new furniture. We needed food and money to pay for it. Our store had been left intact, but with no merchandise. A thousand and one mundane tasks needed doing just to restore some semblance of normalcy to our lives. Feeling very isolated and uncomfortable in our old surroundings, we moved from the suburb to the city, into a large apartment right next door to our store.

It took another month for the entire city to be liberated, for all the fighting, bombing and shelling to cease. Then, the streets filled up with people again. Pale and frightened at first, they soon set about the enormous task of cleaning up the ruined city and slowly rebuilding their homes and their lives.

The Communist party became active and organized food distribution for the needy population. The Russians brought in truckloads of potatoes and bread from their bakeries. Dead bodies were removed from the public parks and gardens, and buried in huge mass graves.

The entire fascist government, with Szálasi at its head, was captured and shipped back to Hungary. An open session of the new People’s Court found all of them guilty of war crimes. They were hung side by side in a public execution. The last chapter of an ugly period was written. Now we could move on.

While counting the survivors, we gradually received news of all those who didn’t survive. But the Jewish community as a whole survived and resumed Jewish life. Synagogue services started up again and the procedure whereby a boy is initiated and accepted into the world of adult responsibility resumed. That year, 1945, was the year of my thirteenth birthday–my Bar Mitzvah year.

Now the nerve-wracking wait for news of our family members began. The concentration camps were being liberated in Poland, Austria and Germany. The Red Cross and the Joint or Jewish Agency began publishing lists of known survivors and the known dead. Every day, I made a sad pilgrimage to the city centre, where these lists were posted. A few weeks later, when the trains started arriving from the west, more lists–those expected to arrive on the next day’s train– were posted at the train station. The station was crowded with people holding up signs that read: “Looking for my wife” or brother or sister. Pictures and names were attached. We were all waiting for someone to show up and for news.

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