I was born on May 8, 1920 in Hungary in the small city of Satoraljaujhely. We were a family of six children. My mother's name was Katalin. My four brothers were Zoli, Laci, Karcsi and Bela. My sister Ica was five years younger than me. I was the oldest child.
My father died in 1931 when I was only eleven. We were a very close knit family. My father left my mother financially quite comfortable. He was an official with the railroad and I remember when he died we were fairly well off. But, as the years went on we became quite impoverished. Nevertheless, all of us kids would be working and doing odd jobs and over all as a result we managed to get by as well as we could.
People in the community would look to my mother with respect since she raised six children who were always well behaved and stayed out of trouble. We adored my mother so much that as children we would compete with each other for the honor of brushing her hair.
My brother Laci, when he was still just a teenager moved to Budapest, a few years before the war. My mother was quite upset with him over this. But, he was determined to be a success in the big city and eventually was. He would often send us presents. One time he brought my mother, my sister and I back with him to the capital and showed us around the city. He bought my mother clothes from all the fashionable stores and took us to all the fancy restaurants. Overall, we were quite content with our lives.
However, when Hungary officially allied itself with Nazi Germany in 1941, my family lived in constant fear. Germany demanded the extradition of “foreign” Jews living in Hungary. Those were Jews who were born in countries now occupied by Germany. My father was born in Cracow, Poland. A secret we all kept in my family. As far as the Germans were concerned, as a result, we were officially Polish Jews. While my father was alive, in order to get the position with the Hungarian railroad he bribed officials to acquire false documents stating that his place of birth was Hungary and not Poland.
Occasionally we would hear of a Jewish family deported because the husband was discovered to be Polish born. We prayed that no one would discover our secret. But, as I said overall we were relatively content with our lives. That all changed in 1944 when Germany invaded Hungary.
Around February of that year, a lot of violence began to be directed toward us Jews. The windows of Jewish homes and businesses were broken into. People were constantly attacked on the streets. Starting in early April of that year all of us Jews had to start wearing a yellow star. We became easy marks for thugs and members of the Nyilas Party, the Hungarian Nazi Party.
About the middle of April 1944, the Germans started building a ghetto in my city. Our house which was on Arpad Utca was located within the ghetto boundaries. Officials came to our house and told us that we had to make room because there will be a lot of people moving in with us.
Everything happened very fast. Within a few days Jews were forced to live within the ghetto not only from Satoraljaujhely but from all the surrounding towns within Zemplen County. We ended up with eight families living in our house and yard. Probably about forty people in all.
Our home became very crowded and noisy. There were mattresses all over the house and in the yard to sleep on. Food became an immediate problem as was good hygiene. Out of necessity I began to wash laundry for people and to prepare and cook meals in the kitchen. I would also help to clean our house and yard. I also spent a lot of time helping the elderly who were beginning to get sick. I fed them and washed them.
Everyday conditions became worse in the ghetto. People became sicker and many began to die. I tried to keep busy working. I was constantly cleaning and washing. Thank G-d my family all seemed to be holding up as well as could be expected except we were all getting very skinny.
After about a month and a half, toward the end of May, early one morning, the Germans took us to the grounds of a Jewish school where we spent the night. In the morning they took us to the railroad station and gave everyone one small loaf of bread and began loading us onto cattle wagons. So far my family managed to stay together. We were very crowded in the wagon. The train began to move.
We didn't know where they were taking us. It was unbearable in the train. I could hardly breathe. The stink was overwhelming. People began to faint and after a while some began to die. Everyone was thirsty. There was no water to drink. I remember at one point when the train stopped in Czechoslovakia I saw some local people gave two of their children some bread and water to attempt to bring to us prisoners. But, the guards would not allow it. They waived the children away. Upon the urging of their parents, the children tried again at which point an SS guard shot them on the spot.
By the time we arrived in Auschwitz I was very weak and skinny. From this point everything seemed to happen very quickly. SS guards were screaming for everyone to get off the train. The first thing I became aware of was the awful smell in the air and classical music being played.
There were prisoners in striped uniforms trying to help the new arrivals off the train. They urged mothers who were clutching their babies that if they want to stay alive they must throw away their babies. They told us that the awful smell in the air is coming from the chimney where they are burning the bodies of the people who were gassed.
Although most of my family was immediately separated from each other, my mother, my sister Ica and I managed to stay together. We tried to keep my mother protected by keeping her between us, but Dr. Mengele, known as the Angel of Death selected my mother and I away from my sister.
When the guards were not looking, my sister somehow managed to grab hold of me and pull me back to her column. We could not however save my mother. The last time I saw her she kept looking back at us. Her lips were moving perhaps in prayer. Her face was very red and appeared to be glowing. She looked frightened as if knowing that she will never see us again.
Here, the selection went very quickly. It made no difference whether we were religious or non-religious Jews. It made no difference if people were Chassidic and had a beard and side curls and were observant or were totally secular and non-observant. It didn't even matter if a Jew converted to Christianity. To Doctor Mengele, we were all Jews.
Those of us who were lucky to stay alive were immediately tattooed on our arms and shaved everywhere including our heads and private parts. I was tattooed with the number A-6597. The letter A stood for Auschwitz. We could hardly recognize each other with our shaved heads.
When we asked other prisoners where my mother was taken to, we were told by the Sonderkommandos that your mothers are already dead. Sonderkommandos were Jewish male prisoners who were still in relatively good health whose job it was to dispose of the bodies from the gas chambers and the crematoria. They were forced into this position with the only alternative being death.
Eventually, most of them were put to death because they became too weak themselves and the Nazis did not want any witnesses. They told us that the prisoners were first gassed and then the bodies taken to the crematoriums to be incinerated. This had to be done quickly to be ready for the next transport of people being brought in by train.
They said that some of the people would still be alive when taken outside and dumped into open pits and covered with dirt. The barrack where my sister and I were housed in was across from the crematoria. The sky was usually so dark and bright red from the smoke coming from the tall towering chimney that for the eight months that I was in Auschwitz I hardly ever saw the sky blue.
We were packed in like sardines in the barrack bunk beds. My condition was deteriorating, but my sister always managed to save me. Once during early morning Appel or roll-call a selection process, we were lined up for the SS guards to check us. I looked very pale and sickly. But my sister quickly pinched my cheeks to put some color into my face. I was very lucky. I tried never to give up hope of staying alive even though there were many times that I thought I couldn't go on any more.
My barrack was near a storage house where I knew that potatoes were stored in the cellar of the building. One of the windows was slightly open. I was so hungry. The guard tower was near by. I told my sister that I was going to sneak through that open window to get potatoes because I was so hungry that I could not stand it anymore.
She begged me not to throw my life away. I told her I have to get something to eat. When I thought the guard not looking I climbed in the building through the open window. I loaded my striped uniform with as many potatoes as I could carry. On my way out the guard discovered me.
He aimed his rifle on me. At that moment I really didn't care what happened anymore because I was so hungry. I told the guard to let me at least eat one of the potatoes before shooting me. My sister and other prisoners begged him to spare me. By some miracle, he took pity on me and turned his head away. I thanked him profusely and shared my catch of potatoes with the other prisoners.
I am not sure how Ica and I managed to stay alive the following months at Auschwitz-Birkenau but we did. There were countless occasions when we came close to death. I witnessed horrible things there, things that I did not talk about to anyone. Even now after such a long time I still find it difficult. But now I feel an obligation to talk so that my children and grandchildren will know.
I became very skinny and weak but Ica and I still managed to stay together. Toward the end of that year in December 1944, the Germans began to take many of us and marched us out of Auschwitz, those of us who were still strong enough to walk.
The winter that year was very cold. But they just had us marching. We wrapped whatever we could find around our feet to keep it from freezing. Those prisoners that fell out of line were immediately shot. Those that tried to escape or just collapsed from the cold and exhaustion were shot. Bodies were everywhere.
I am not sure for how many days we walked. It seemed a long time. There were sometimes villages that we marched through. Most of the people in town would look away. Part of the way, the SS would put us on a train and again like animals we found ourselves in cattle cars. We finally arrived in Bergen-Belsen, another death camp, this one in Germany. There the killing continued.
Then, in January 1945 a few hundred of us that were lucky enough to stay alive were selected and taken to a small city called Aschersleben to work in a Junkers airplane factory as slave laborers. My sister and I worked very hard and put in long hours during the day. But at the end of the day we slept in barracks that were unbelievably better then the condition in Auschwitz or Bergen-Belsen. We were even fed better and the place was heated.
We had to work very hard. We were guarded and constantly under observation by SS guards many of whom were female. If a prisoner became tired or slowed down she was beaten or shot. Ica and I were good workers and as a result were given sometimes an extra ration of thin watery soup.
In April of that year the Americans began to bomb the factory and a lot of our SS guards disappeared. But some stayed and again forced us to march. I have no idea how we managed to stay alive, since by now I was so weak that I really can't remember much. By now many of the prisoners died.
Then one day we found ourselves abandoned by our guards near a village. Shortly thereafter, by some miracle we were liberated by American soldiers on May 5, 1945.
Along with a few other Hungarian Jewish women, my sister and I, all of us in striped prisoner's uniform just kept walking. At one point we were able to rest at a farm in Czechoslovakia. The farmer let us sleep overnight in the loft of his barn on stacks of hay. He told us to be extremely quiet and hide in the straw since there will be Russian soldiers staying for the night down below.
In the morning when the soldiers departed the farmer gave us a horse and wagon along with some food and we continued our return to Hungary. But my health was deteriorating and soon became unconscious. My sister later told me that some Russian soldiers picked us up in a truck and I ended up in a hospital in Prague, the Czech Capital.
The fact that my sister and I managed to survive and stay together was a miracle. But we were about to have another miracle. People talk about coincidences. But I think I would be more comfortable with the word fate or rather the Yiddish expression Ba'shert. Unbeknown to us at the time, my bother Karcsi survived the camps and managed with a Czech friend to also be in Prague at the same time.
He and friend were on a long bridge overlooking a section of the city. The two were enjoying the view and just enjoying being free and alive on a bright sunny day. They noticed two young women on the opposite end of the bridge. They decided to have a closer look. As they came closer to the women, Karcsi recognized one of them. She was a neighbor from my home town of Satoraljaujhely, also a survivor. They hugged and immediately began questioning each other if either one knew about who survived in the other's families. He could hardly believe it when she told him that Ica and I were in the hospital right there in Prague.
That is how the three of us were reunited after a year of hell. Imagine the joy we felt. Karcsi said that he never would have believed that I would survive since I was always skinny and a very fussy eater. From other survivors at the hospital we found out that my brothers Laci and Zoli also survived and they were already back in Hungary. Laci was transported by the Germans to Cracow Poland. While being held at some collection area that included a synagogue there he managed to escape and make his way back to Hungary. He married and was living in Budapest and working in a large coffee and pastry or confectionery shop.
The three of us in Prague decided that we want to return to Budapest first, but how? It was very hard to catch a train out of Prague. We would go everyday to the train station to try and find a train that we could board to Budapest. But all the trains were military and transporting troops.
One day though, there was a train there that was transporting wounded Russian soldiers back to the Soviet Union making a stop in Budapest. Karcsi noticed the window of one of the cabins was left open. When no one was looking he quickly climbed through it and pulled Ica and I through the window inside the train. We locked the cabin door and when the conductor knocked, my brother told him in Russian that he is sick and does not want to be disturbed.
When we arrived in Budapest we went straight to the coffee and pastry shop to find Laci. From outside of the shop or cukraszda, we could see Laci working behind the counter. Karcsi went in first and walked up to Laci and asked for a piece of pastry to purchase. Without recognizing his brother, Laci sold him the pastry and Karcsi left the store.
When outside at first we couldn't believe what just happened. But then we realized how different we must look after going through a year of hell in the camps. So, one more time Karcsi went back with Ica and myself next to him and walked up to the counter and asked Laci what's the idea not even recognizing his own brother.
Laci after a long look at the three of us jumped over the counter and began to hug and kiss us with tears rolling down all of our eyes. We all went back to Laci's apartment on Klauzal street to celebrate where Zsuzsi, his wife, and her mother cooked us the best meal we had in a year.
After a few days we all decided to take a train back to our house in Satoraljaujhely. My brother Zoli was already there and greeted us at the railroad station when we arrived. It was there at the railroad station that I met my future husband, Laszlo (also Laci) Lefkovits.
My brother Laci and my husband met in Budapest late in 1944 while the two were active in the Jewish underground. Zoli told us that when he returned to our house he had quite a problem in trying to evict a non-Jewish family who decided to move in and take over our house and possessions after we were deported.
It is very difficult to describe the joy that we felt when we were reunited, to be able to celebrate that we stayed alive. But at the same time the overwhelming sadness to realize that our mother was no longer alive or our youngest brother Bela.
We found out from Zoli that as the Russians were liberating Auschwitz at the end of January 1945 and entering the camp from one end, the SS were retreating at the other end. My brother Bela who was 15 years old happened to be outside his barrack. He was skin and bones and looked disoriented. An SS guard bitter about their defeat grabbed my brother and held his head in a barrel of rain water until he drowned. That was on the day Mauthausen was liberated.
The following weeks and months we found out about more relatives who survived. Some returned to their original homes, others decided to immigrate to western countries and start anew. They could not bare the pain of returning to places where there was so many memories of happy and sad times, to countries that allowed horrible things to happen to them where they lost so many loved one.
Every day we gave thanks to G-d that we were able to stay alive. Although I realize how fortunate we were that out of the seven of us taken away, five managed to stay alive I can't help but forever ask why? Why me and not my mother or my brother or the millions of others?
Within two years my brothers Zoli and Karcsi emigrated to the West eventually settling in Canada. My sister Ica moved to Budapest and lived with my brother Laci, his wife Zsuzsi and mother-in-law until she married.
In 1949 my husband and I along with our son Gyuri moved to my husband's town of Olaszliszka. My daughters Zsuzsi and Agi were born in 1953 and 1956 respectively. During the Communist era especially during the time of Stalin’s dictatorship, anti-Semitism was alive and well.
Many Hungarian Jews felt more secure by Hungarianizing their Jewish surnames. So, in 1952 my husband and I decided to change our name of Lefkovits to Losonci. When the 1956 Revolution broke out in Hungary we once again felt that our lives were in danger. My husband and I made plans to leave the country. We tried to convince my brother Laci and my sister Ica to come with us.
But, although they helped with the planning of the escape they decided to stay in Hungary. On the night of December 14, 1956 my husband and I, with our three children, escaped across the border into Austria. We stayed in Austria in a refugee camp called Badkreuzen until August 1957. We then immigrated to Canada and in October 1959 finally to the United States.