IAC :: Remember the past, be responsible for the future

Stauffenbergstraße 13/14
10785 Berlin

fon: ++ 49 (030) 26 39 26 81
Telefax: ++ 49 (030) 26 39 26 83

URI: https://www.auschwitz.info/

Service navigation:
language navigation:
language navigation:

Press Review


A Holocaust Survivor Tells of Auschwitz at 18 and, Again, at 90





Source: New York Times

By Alison Smale

BUDAPEST — HIGH above the hubbub of Budapest’s main tourist street, Eva Fahidi flits, birdlike, around her warm apartment, lined with books and plants. The setting is cozy, and the hostess and narrator, at 90, a lingeringly beautiful charmer. So the contrast with the Holocaust horror she is describing is all the more complete.

When she was 18, she was, as she put it, “ripped off the school bench to be deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau,” one of an estimated 437,000 Hungarian Jews rounded up outside Budapest and dispatched to death camps in just 57 days in 1944.

Auschwitz-Birkenau, she recalled, “was not ready. It was too fast. The gas chambers were big enough that people could still be suffocated to death. But the crematories could not manage. So corpses were being burned on open fires.”

“Really, at the very first moment you knew something was wrong. It was the huge stench of burning corpses — only we didn’t know.”

Ms. Fahidi lost 49 relatives in the Holocaust, including her mother and sister Gilike, then 11. Her last glimpse of them was on the ramp at Birkenau, where arriving Jews were sorted into those sent instantly to the gas chambers and those — like Ms. Fahidi — selected for hard labor and thus a chance at survival. She was later transferred from Auschwitz to Münchmühle, a camp near Stadtallendorf, in the German state of Hesse.

HER father also perished in the camps, whose horror she has chronicled in a memoir in this 70th year since the liberation of Auschwitz, and which she wishes to see judged, finally, when a former Auschwitz guard goes on trial in Germany in April.

“When I came home from the Holocaust,” she said, using an everyday phrase in German that seems implausible when containing so much tragedy, she ran right past the house in Debrecen, eastern Hungary, where her prosperous family had lived.

The house was so rundown, she said, that “I knew instantly I would not have anyone to look for.” The inhabitants “were complete strangers who really did not let me in my own home.”
It turned out, in late 1945, that she did have a distant aunt and uncle who had survived. For two years, she said, she was bedridden — because of a congenital condition that left her unable to sit for long periods after the camps — in their home in Nove Zamky, now part of Slovakia. Her uncle, a doctor forced by the anti-Semitic laws of post-World War I Hungary to get his medical training in Vienna and Prague, was, like her, an avid reader. He gave her Marx’s “Das Kapital,” which she read “from the first word to the last.”
“I knew,” she smiled, “that the capitalist world cannot survive, that my father was an exploiter and the only theology that can make people happy is Marxism. All this, with my bourgeois background!”

Her embrace of Marxism led to a young man who within a week became her first husband. The haste, she said, reflected her loneliness and sense of displacement.

It is “unnatural and unworthy, how I lost my family,” she said. “At my age now, it is normal not to have grandparents, parents, uncles or aunts. But when it happens as it did, you cannot simply get over it.”

Marrying within a week happened “because we felt so terribly alone that it was quite natural to say yes, now at least I have a husband, and one belongs somewhere.”
“We were both young and happy and determined to save the world with Marxist theories.” She smiled again. “We didn’t quite succeed.”

Young Jewish Marxists like Ms. Fahidi and her husband “did not really realize that Russia had been promised all the Eastern countries” at talks in Yalta and Potsdam, she said. When the Communists turned on Jews as enemies, her husband was among those arrested and jailed in 1951. To get a job, she was forced to divorce him, something he could not forgive when he was released after Stalin’s death in 1953, she said.

They parted, with Ms. Fahidi remarrying in 1959. Before that, Europe’s turbulent 20th-century history again shook up her life.

Hungary’s rebellion against Communism in 1956 created a brief window of freedom during which she landed a job at a foreign trade enterprise. Even after the revolt was crushed, Ms. Fahidi’s precious foreign languages, imparted by her upbringing in the polyglot former Austro-Hungarian empire, enabled her to continue work in the field — in the end, for 42 years — and thus travel abroad.

IT was not until 1989, when anti-Communist revolt was again brewing, eventually felling the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union itself, that her distant past bubbled up.

Hungarian newspapers published announcements that officials in Stadtallendorf were looking for survivors of the Münchmühle camp. “That was my camp,” she said. “I didn’t want to believe it. What in heaven’s name did they want now, after 50 years?”

“It turned out,” she said, that the Germans of Stadtallendorf “wanted to ask our forgiveness.”

Slowly, Ms. Fahidi embarked on a journey through memory that took her back to Auschwitz-Birkenau on July 1, 2003, 59 years to the day after she arrived in 1944. “The trees had grown beautifully,” she sighed. But nature could not eradicate the pain.

“One of the biggest lies is that time could help,” she said. “Time does not help. It only deepens the feeling that something is missing. One simply learns to live with such trauma. And if you don’t get to the point where you can forgive them, then I think you can’t go on living.”

“I needed a lot of time,” she said. “Six decades.”

After that 2003 visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau, Ms. Fahidi declared it her duty to share what she remembered, and wrote her memoir, “Die Seele der Dinge,” or “The Soul of Things,” published in German in 2011 and later in Hungarian.

She hopes especially to encourage scrutiny of the past in Hungary, which like other central and eastern European nations has not really examined its history of the era.

“At some point it has to come,” she said. “Because much repeats in history, and if you don’t know what happened and what consequences it has, then it can happen very quickly again.”

ON the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, she spoke at a Berlin ceremony hosted by Chancellor Angela Merkel, then traveled with Germany’s president, Joachim Gauck, to Auschwitz for commemorations there. Her 22-year-old granddaughter, a photographer who previously evinced scant interest in her grandmother’s past, was along.

Now she had asked her grandmother to draw her section of Birkenau. Instead, Ms. Fahidi had made a collage on wood, which she fetched for a visitor. Uncannily, it somehow captured Birkenau’s desolation.

Not one to sit still — she cracked open a bottle of red wine and fielded at least three calls during a two-hour talk — Ms. Fahidi has a new goal.

Last year, she was bitterly disappointed when one of the few surviving Auschwitz guards indicted at this late stage by German justice died in Pennsylvania, a day before an extradition order was to be executed. The deceased man, Johann Breyer, was born in her year, 1925, and she had wanted the chance to look him in the eye at trial and ask how he could have stood on the ramp.

Now the German authorities are preparing to try another Auschwitz camp guard, Oskar Gröning, 93, in April. Her fervent wish is that he not die before her.

“Nothing is too slow for German justice,” she said, displaying gall for the first time. “They are doing everything so you won’t have a trial, because either the delinquent dies, or gets senile.”


Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/14/world/europe/a-holocaust-survivor-tells-of-auschwitz-at-18-and-again-at-90.html?_r=1