Jan Rival

"That nothing comes easy, that life is tough. And you must be tough to achieve what you want to achieve.  Don’t always rely on your parents.  The next generation thinks that everything comes easy and that money grows on trees.  I would like to leave them with the idea that despite the fact that we are not religious, we are good Jews.  I am proud that I am Jewish."

Name at birth
Jan Rival
Date of birth
Where were you born?
Where did you grow up?
Bratislava, Czechoslovakia
Name of father, occupation
Tibor Rival, Physician
Maiden name of mother, occupation
Suzanna Klar
Immediate family (names, birth order)
My parents, me, and my sister Anita
How many in entire extended family?
Who survived the Holocaust?
My parents, my sister and me, my maternal grandmother and one of my father's brothers, Lajos
My father was a physician in the military.  He was also a doctor for the Czechoslovakian government; he cared government officials, like the Secretary of Foreign affairs.  He was from a small place in the eastern part of Slovakia near Jasina.  
My father was from a religious family with seven children; his mother decided that only two of the seven would be able to go school.  My father was lucky.  One brother, Lajos, became a pharmacist; one brother, Tibor, became a doctor, my father.  The five others stayed at  home and worked. 
My father finished studying in Prague and in 1934, he married a wealthy woman.  They stayed in Bratislava where they had two children, me and my sister Anita.  He ended up in Germany after the war and stayed there until he died in 1975.  
There were two reasons for my father to leave Czechoslovakia, because he was Jewish and because he was in the military.  In 1940, he packed us up and we went to Budapest, Hungary where we stayed until the end of the war.  
It was a different childhood.  My father thought that it would was safer for us in Jasina.  We went to catch the last train for Jasina but we missed it by half an hour.  But it turned out that everyone that was on the train ended up in Auschwitz.  
We were living in Budapest and were later taken to the Budapest ghetto; my grandmother, my mother, father, sister, and I were all there together.  
I had to wear a yellow Star of David.  The first three years weren’t too bad, but after that I was hungry.   I was only 8 or 9, so it didn’t always bother me that I was persecuted.  I saw a lot of people shot and killed in the streets.  Many women were shot and left to freeze on the streets from 1943 or 44 to 1945. 
In 1945, we were hiding in the ghetto in a furnace, which was the size of a room, obviously it was not used, and there were benches there.  I was told that I didn’t look Jewish, so they sent me out to find some food.  I was the youngest out of twenty kids there.  
In 1945, the Russians entered the city.  They gave us guns, but I couldn’t hold the gun because I was only nine.  I shot into the air, it was fun.  
We killed a horse, but we didn’t know it was a long way between killing a horse and getting meat.  We found a butcher who took half of the horse in exchange for cleaning it.  
I saw Germans hanging from street lamps. After the Russian soldiers left, people came and beat the bodies; they still bled as it was only ten minutes since they had been killed.  I couldn’t forget seeing them hanging from the lampposts.
I remember wearing a Yellow Star, I remember there was no food, and I remember the dead bodies on the sides of the street.  We were lucky that our immediate family survived. 
Name of Ghetto(s)
Where were you in hiding?
My grandmother stayed in a Raoul Wallenberg protective house in Budapest. She died much later, at the age of 103. We stayed in the ghetto
When did you come to the United States?
After the war we came back to Bratislava, I was 10 or 11. I spoke Hungarian and German at that point. I finished high school, and after some difficulties because of my non-proletarian background, I made it to medical school. I was a good student; I published a lot and was recognized as a good teacher. My father, in 1962, wanted to talk to me in a bar, 40 miles away. I wondered what he wanted. My father wanted to know if the girl I was dating was Jewish, but I didn’t know. When she came for a visit and rang the bell, my sister opened the door and bluntly asked, “Are you Jewish?” It showed that it was important to my family that I marry a Jewish girl. I taught in the University in Bratislava in 1967. My boss told me that I should go to America to see how cardiology is practiced in America. I needed to learn English. So I was sent for three weeks to the United Kingdom to learn from a family there. Then I needed to pass some kind of test. It was done only in one place, in Prague. The tests in Europe were all oral exams at that time. But I was told that the English was tested by southerners from America. They picked us up in a station wagon and took us to the embassy. There were two parts of the test, I passed it and passed it well. The English part was very simple. I was supposed to leave in September but living in a Communist country, it had to be kept secret. My wife and I had to get passports separately. I came home from work and there was a piece of mail saying that I had permission to leave the country. I went to the embassy and said “I need a visa now!” They were very nice and gave it to me. I still didn’t know if I would make it through the border. All of the flights were booked. We left Czechoslovakia and ended up in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, we didn’t like it in Philadelphia. About a year later, I received offers to work in Michigan or Los Angeles. We looked at a map of America. Detroit was closer to Europe than Los Angeles. On August 21st, 1968, my friend called to tell me that the Russians had invaded Czechoslovakia. So we decided to stay in the United States. I called a friend named Paul Dudley White who was President Eisenhower’s physician, and asked him for help to stay in the States. Everyone told me that I needed a lawyer, but I didn’t have the money. I got a letter from a Democratic senator from Rhode Island, saying he would see what he could do. I later got a call telling me to pick up my papers in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, everything was taken care of!
How is it that you came to Michigan?
I received an offer to come work at Wayne State University in Detroit. After one year I went to work at Ford Hospital.
Occupation after the war
Cardiologist, chief of medicine
When and where were you married?
In 1967 in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia
Eva (Folkman) Rival, Teacher
Anita (born in Czechoslovakia) – Worked in hedge funds and retired at 45. She is married with three children. Nicole (born in the U.S.) – attorney. She is married with four children and she lives in Bloomfield Hills, MI.
Jake, Charlotte, Sasha, Elle, Olivia, Clayton, and Avery
What do you think helped you to survive?
I was lucky. I don’t know what else to say. I think that luck was really the main reason that I survived and also that my father was very smart. He took care of the whole family and took care of me. We were lucky, in the ghetto too. I saw them shoot a guy next to me but I was spared. We were lucky that we had a bit of wood to survive the winter. People lost toes from the cold. That was unforgettable.
What message would you like to leave for future generations?
That nothing comes easy, that life is tough. And you must be tough to achieve what you want to achieve.  Don’t always rely on your parents.  The next generation thinks that everything comes easy and that money grows on trees.  I would like to leave them with the idea that despite the fact that we are not religious, we are good Jews.  I am proud that I am Jewish.
Charles Silow
Interview place:
West Bloomfield. Michigan
Interview date:
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