Thomas Lugosi

"Learn about the Holocaust. Anti-Semitism is increasing more and more. People need to know."

Name at birth
Tamas Levi (Gedalya Ha-Cohen)
Date of birth
Where were you born?
Where did you grow up?
Budapest, Hungary
Name of father, occupation
Zoltan Levi, Small businessman, owned a toy store
Maiden name of mother, occupation
Borbala Wiesner, Homemaker
Immediate family (names, birth order)
Four: my parents, my sister Gabriella (Karp) and me
How many in entire extended family?
Who survived the Holocaust?
My parents, my sister, me, two uncles and some cousins
We had our own apartment in Budapest.  In 1943, my father had a small toy store, but a law was enacted that Jewish people could not own their own businesses since Hungary was now an ally of Germany.  We didn’t think the Jews would be bothered further, and we weren’t until September 1944.  Laws were enacted forcing all Jews to wear yellow stars and we were forced to live in designated houses for Jews.  Soldiers demanded any money and jewelry we might have.  
They took my parents away.  My mother was taken to Bergen-Belsen with her sister and her sister-in-law; they died next to her.  My father was taken into the Jewish Army, to the Russian front.  
We were marched to the ghetto in Budapest one and half miles away.  I lived with my grandmother, three of my cousins and my sister.  All six of us lived in one room.  Some of us slept on the floor, some on the bed.  
There was almost no food.  My grandmother tried to get food for us.  All we had was some soup and some dry bread once a day.  My sister, who is two years younger than I am, lost a lot of weight because of the lack of food.  We were lucky if we had one small piece of bread.  
We had not brought any clothing and no wearable shoes.  My feet were completely frozen.  I couldn’t walk; my shoes had holes in them.  We stayed in the ghetto for four to five months.  There were maybe fifty people living in a two-story building with six or seven apartments in it, lots of children and older people.  
Younger adults were taken to concentration camps in Germany.  There was bombing day and night.  We would go to the basement whenever we heard the siren. Nearby a building was bombed.  Everyone inside was killed.  I was 9 years old.
We heard the ghetto was going to be blown up at the end of January, 1945.  On January 18, 1945 the Russians came to liberate us.  There was a fence alongside the house, with three soldiers guarding us with maybe twenty to thirty houses in the ghetto.  
My father arrived at the end of January from the Russian front and said we would move back to our old apartment.  I couldn’t walk well and was way behind the rest of the family.  I saw dead bodies everywhere but was numb to seeing them.  My father took me to the doctor.  It took me six months to get better.  
In July, 1945 my mother came back from Germany.  I didn’t recognize her because she had no hair and weighed 60 pounds.  She had been in a hospital in Sweden.  My cousin’s father came back from Mauthausen and we all lived together in a one-bedroom apartment.  
In 1946, my father opened a small toy store.  In 1949, the Communist Party took it away, saying that private enterprise was not allowed and everyone was to receive the same pay for their work. 
In 1951, my whole family was sent by the Russian Communists to a small camp about 150 kilometers from Budapest.  We were searched every day and every night.  We were doing really hard work and being paid next to nothing.  
My cousins were still in Budapest.  There were about fifty or sixty people in the camp, including about five or six Jewish families.  I couldn’t buy anything, even food.  My sister went alone to the next village and was arrested.  She was taken overnight to jail, but she came back okay.
In the end of 1956, there was the revolution against the Russians.  In spite of the fighting, some people were able to escape across the border because there were no border guards.  
My parents were afraid and didn’t want to leave, but my sister and I found some people we could pay who would take us to the border.  They took us to a small farmhouse next to the border where there were maybe forty or fifty other people.  This was early December and everyone was very cold.  
We walked and walked and then were put in small boats and taken to the other side of the nearby river, to Austria. Although our parents didn’t know where we were, somehow we thought that if we were able to leave, our parents would follow us. The Austrians were wonderful and gave us food, hot food, and we slept overnight on the floor.  
The next morning, we went by truck to a refugee camp in Ried.  There were 200-300 people there.  We were fed and it was very nice.  We stayed a week and then I suggested to my sister to leave.  We were refugees with no money.  
We went to Linz, in Austria, where we went to the Joint, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).  We waited all day with thirty to forty others.  At 5:00 PM we were informed that they had little money but they still helped us.  We were taken to a small hotel and stayed with four other people in one room.  They gave us some money for food.
Six or seven days later, I had a phone call.  Who could be calling?  It was my father!  I knew the truck drivers who had worked with me when I was doing auto mechanic work.  My father had talked with the same driver who had helped my sister and me escape.  He paid the man to take them to the same place he had taken us.  By then, the borders were halfway secured.  My parents were caught by Hungarian soldiers (border guards).  When the truck slowed down, my parents jumped off and left all their belongings.  They walked to a refugee camp with some people who knew the way to Austria.
Meanwhile, my sister and I went to Vienna which was a big refugee center to look for our parents.  In Vienna, two days later, my sister met our cousins and they told her that our parents were somewhere in Austria.  She told them where we were staying.  They met our parents a few days later and after that our father called us.
My sister and I found a truck driver who took us from Linz to Vienna.  We got on a train without money or tickets. The ticket taker told us we would have to get off at the next stop, which happened to be the town where our parents were staying.  
We managed after three months to get our parents to Linz and took them to the Joint.  We were then sent to a hotel and given money for food, but after a few months the Joint said there was no more money to help.  We went on a bus to a different camp where there was food and a place to sleep.  After three or four weeks, all the Jews were then sent to Salzburg, to a special building just for Jews. One person would act as a guard at night. 
When we next reported to the Joint office, my father was asked where we wanted to go.  He had a cousin in Detroit and wrote him a letter.  His cousin wrote back that he would find a job for him.  My parents and my sister left by plane.  I had to go separately from them on a ship, the General M. Walker, a naval ship with two decks.  Everyone was sick by the end of the voyage.  
I went to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, and my parents and my sister showed up the next day.  We received our Social Security cards. 
We went to Detroit by train.  My father’s cousin met us, and someone from the HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, took us to a flat on Dexter Avenue.  They paid for one month’s rent, gave us money for food and certificates for Hudson’s Department Store to buy clothes.  
We all got jobs.  I started working at Midwest Paper Company, unloading boxcars.  The work was very hard, but the pay was good.  My father had worked as a kosher butcher before he owned the toy store.  He became a butcher in the Eastern Market.  My sister was working in a jewelry store.  We wanted to better ourselves and help others.  My mother was a homemaker.  She was always sick after having been in the concentration camp.  She wouldn’t ever talk about what happened to her.  I met my wife in Boston and the end of 1960.
After a few months, I went to work at National Dry Goods Company.  I stayed two years and also worked part-time selling seltzer water house to house.  My father suggested we open our own meat business.  We saved $3,000 which was a lot of money in those days!  
In 1959, we opened Family Packing, a wholesale meat business in Eastern Market.  We bought meat and paid the rent.  We ran out of money and had to close for one week but we were able to start again after just a week.  
We were able to sell stuff and after two to three months, we were making money.  Some other refugees who had come after the Second World War loaned us money and we got our credit approved.  We were able to pay back the loans in three months.  A few years later, we had a building of our own and ten to fifteen employees.
Name of Ghetto(s)
Where were you in hiding?
In Budapest
Occupation after the war
Auto mechanic, Meat Business
Susan, mortgage underwriter Dianne, travel agent
Four: Brandon, Kaila, Samantha, and Sydnie
What do you think helped you to survive?
The will to live.
What message would you like to leave for future generations?
Learn about the Holocaust. Anti-Semitism is increasing more and more. People need to know.
Charles Silow
Interview date:
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