Protocol Nr. 3550
The person in question has given us the following information: The above mentioned person was the member of the former Jewish Council of Balassagyarmat and he is the chairman of the congregation at the moment. Besides him only a man called Simon has come home of those who were deported from Balassagyarmat. All the other male survivors are former labour servicemen or POWs. He presents the following: The number of Jews in Balassagyarmat was 2400 and they represented all layers of society with the exception of the peasantry. They were intellectuals, tradesmen, craftsmen, artisans and so on. They generally lived under fair financial circumstances. I mean there were neither extremely rich nor paupers among them. They lived in harmony with the Gentiles. The Arrow Cross did not have many followers in the town, apart from perhaps a few youngsters. The local middle class kept distance from any extremist actions. The officials were just like everywhere. We did not experience pronounced antisemitism and the authorities were always willingly at the service of the Jews. We were rather separated within the local society, but only from the years 1939-1940. The local population was shocked by the German occupation. However when the yellow star decree was put into effect, the authorities started to harass us and the general behaviour of the locals also changed. It was basically due to the fact that there was a Gestapo and a gendarmerie command in the town. Besides there was a German unit stationed near Balassagyarmat, the soldiers of which spoke Hungarian, so most probably they were ethnic Germans. They launched individual anti-Jewish actions: they entered Jewish homes and clamoured for money and jewellery. If they got nothing, they arrested the given person and took him into custody. After we had sewn the yellow star on, a lot of local people, especially from the older generation of craftsmen gave proof of sympathy towards their fellow citizens wearing a yellow star. They felt sorry for the Jews and kept on saying we should not be ashamed. I do not remember any local atrocities or insults. There was no denunciation against the Jews and the local authorities interned nobody on their own initiative. At the end of April when we had already worn the yellow star, there was a raid by the police under the pretext of checking if Jews were wearing the star in the proper way stipulated by the decree. They arrested a group of people and marched them off to the police. Then they released some of them, but interned another 10-15 people. Most of the latter were people against whom the authorities had already taken action before. The ghetto was to be established by May 10. Before that, the authorities propagated that they would make only some streets free of Jews. Later they said they wanted to remove them from some of the quarters. Finally they issued a decree announced on bills that designated only a very small part of the town, more precisely two and a half streets for the housing of the Jews from Balassagyarmat. Besides, they designated an even smaller site, hardly larger than a single block for the Jews from the surrounding areas. Everybody had to be in the ghetto by May 10. We were allowed to take as much of our belongings as we could carry. During the preparatory negotiations the authorities and especially the police seemed not to have any understanding as far as the living space in the ghetto was concerned. People were crammed together irrespective of their age or gender. Some lucky families were allowed to live in a room on their own, but it happened that three or four families that numbered 15-20 people shared a room of 6 x 6 metres. All the physicians unanimously declared the ghetto endangered by infectious diseases and they especially feared the outbreak of a typhus epidemic. They ordered to vaccinate everyone against typhus and as far as I know, hospital superintendent Dr Albert Kenessey sent the municipal authority or the sub-prefect a memorandum in which he protested against the crowding in the ghetto. The authorities, being under German pressure as they claimed afterwards, were not so sympathetic. For instance, they did not let mineral water to be carried into the ghetto, even though the physicians warned us about the water of the wells in the ghetto. The ghetto had been guarded by the police for a couple of days and later they were replaced by gendarmes brought from other parts of the country. The Jewish Council was ordered to quarter the gendarmes. The ghetto was surrounded by a cordon and even a doctor could only go over to the other ghetto to treat the seriously ill if escorted by gendarmes carrying rifles with bayonets. We were allowed to bring medicine into the ghetto only once a day. Nobody provided us with any food. After we had been petitioning them for a while, the authorities permitted us to place two cows in the ghetto in order to provide the elderly and the children with milk. We were also given permission for one person to go to the marketplace after 10 am every day with a pushcart and under the escort of a policeman carrying a rifle with a bayonet so as to buy at least the necessary vegetables. Generally the inmates of the ghetto behaved in an orderly way. Sometimes there were minor quarrels due to the tense atmosphere, but they never went further than a domestic tiff. Physical insult happened in the ghetto only once. The members of the first Jewish Council were the following persons: the chairman Mihály Lázár, Pál Sándor, Dezső Sándor, Dr Ferenc Hajdu, Dr Imre Léván and Jakab Weltner. Later a second council was established with the participation of Emil Jónás, Dr György Zilczer, Chief Rabbi József Deutsch and Márton Révész. The activity of the council was criticized, but always respected. Some people attempted to flee, but they failed and were brought back in the ghetto. We could not organise ourselves, because even if a small group of people assembled, the gendarmes intervened right away. The internal order in the ghetto was maintained exclusively by the Jewish police. We established a communal kitchen that was financed by the wealthy. The local gendarmerie and police kept public hygiene in the ghetto under control; they were always very strict about this issue. However they never gave us the opportunity to carry the trash away. In the second half of May there was a call-up announced in the ghetto three or four times and all the able-bodied men between 16 and 48 were taken for labour service. Only children below 16, men over 48 and the ill remained in the ghetto. The younger women were also taken away and assigned to do agricultural work in large groups. It seemed as if the authorities wanted to save them from deportation as well. However, on some kind of superior orders they had to be brought back. We could not find out who had given the order. One day at the end of May an investigative unit arrived in Balassagyarmat to search for the hidden Jewish wealth. They beat people mercilessly until they confessed where they had hidden their gold or valuables. They took some people into custody for days in a cellar and four or five of them were beating a person every night so severely that he fainted. For instance, Dr Ferenc Hajdu was beaten up so cruelly that his kidney got seriously wounded and when he arrived in Auschwitz he had been half-dead. Dr Tibor Hegedűs was beaten so badly that we could hardly recognise him when he came out. The committee did not respect age or gender. For example, Mrs Miklós Kertész as well as Mór Mühlrath and Emil Strausz who both were over 70 were also beaten severely. Besides, they threatened the Jewish Council to take the children and the women in custody if a certain amount of gold was not collected. They even took the wedding rings from all of us and later they gave them back and suggested that we should surrender them “voluntarily”. The committee functioned until the very end or until the day prior to our entrainment. One night at the very beginning of June gendarmes knocked on the doors of every house in the ghetto. They delivered printed slips of paper to us that read all of us should leave the ghetto with a luggage of 50 kilograms per person in 30 minutes. Before we left the ghetto they searched through our entire luggage. Everyone was deprived of his or her watches, wallets, pens, pocket knives and the more valuable clothes. We were subjected to internal body search as well. I must add that local Gentile women conducted body searches on women. The search was coordinated by gendarmes and the records were kept by local residents. The gendarmes used strong language, but they did not beat us. The local policemen treated us humanely in the town ghetto. However the police officers behaved rudely and the gendarmes were the worst. We were taken to Nyírjespuszta where we were placed in two large tobacco drying sheds. About 2500 of us were there, out of which ca. 1850 were from Balassagyarmat and some 700-800 from the neighbouring areas. We numbered less than in the town ghetto, because the labour servicemen had been taken away before. The ill were transported by trucks and wagons. I must add that the streets were completely empty as we were going through the town. Apart from a few youngsters who made insulting remarks, the citizens of Balassagyarmat looked out of their windows and wept. The Jews from the surrounding areas were brought in the Nyírjespuszta ghetto on May 10. Some villagers protested for certain Jewish families. For instance, the peasants of Mohora escorted their district physician Dr Adolf Lőwy with several horse-drawn wagons carrying his furniture. They wanted to help him in such a way. Nobody provided for our housing or food supply in the ghetto in Nyírjespuszta. There were no kitchens and as the buildings were flammable it was even forbidden to light a fire. The only thing the authorities did was setting up two open latrines, where men and women could not be separated. Nothing happened for a couple of days to improve the conditions. Then we got a stack of straw to lie on. In the beginning the gendarmes were very rude to us. However later on the commander of the ghetto with the help of Lieutenant Tamássy, the commander of the local gendarme unit, did not let them to act in such a way. Therefore two or three days later the gendarmes started to treat us much better. The Gestapo came to oversee the ghetto. By chance I was the one who showed them around and translated for them. They became indignant at the way the Jews had been housed in the ghetto. They said they had instructed the Hungarian authorities to separate the latrines and to set up a kitchen and an infirmary. Despite those circumstances the Jews were orderly in that ghetto as well. I may say we did not even lose our good mood. We had not known until the very final moment what they had wanted to do with us and where they were taking us. On June 10 at 11 am we were ordered to make a list of those who had left goods important for public supply in the town ghetto. They were allowed to go back by the escort of gendarmes and bring the necessary things to Nyírjespuszta. However at 12 all of us were lined up and half an hour later the gendarmerie formed a strong cordon around the ghetto. They said we would be entrained at 1:30 pm and taken away to an unknown destination. They announced what we were allowed to take; for instance, the youth were allowed to take one set of working clothes, one set of holiday clothes and three sets of underwear. The women could take one more set of underwear and as much dry food as they could carry. They took away about 2800 people in one transport, including all the Jews from the town and from the Balassagyarmat District as well as about 100 Jews from Losonc. The other Jews of Losonc, along with the inmates of the Ipolyság ghetto were taken to Illéspuszta that is near Balassagyarmat. The ill and the elderly were transported to the train by horse-drawn wagons and the rest went on foot. They put about 68-70 people into a cattle car in average, irrespective of their age or gender. The Jewish Council distributed all the tinned food, vegetables, bread and flour they had had and therefore everybody got enough food. Taking the heat into consideration I asked draftsman of the police Oszkár Óriás, who coordinated the entrainment, to put an appropriate amount of water into each car. He refused, but gendarme Lieutenant Colonel Korpánszky, who had overheard our conversation, scolded him for that and ordered to carry water to each car right away. The gendarmes wanted to get the Jews to do that but finally they had peasants carry the water. Of course the cattle were locked and sealed. Some people, especially the elderly, fainted in the heat. Perhaps the children could take the strains of the journey the most easily. I had been informed at least 15 times about the death of one or two persons in the train. At least the same number of people became mad, including, for example, Ármin Winter or Mrs Dezső Himmler. I do not know about any successful attempts to flee. We were taken over by the Germans in Kassa. Previously we had been subjected to a final search. A Hungarian gendarme sergeant went along the train and he took away the belongings some people had managed to keep. The Germans treated us very decently on the way. The Hungarians told us nothing about our final destination, but the Germans reassured us that all of us were being taken to work in Germany. They said the families would stay together and the elderly would do easier physical labour and the youth harder work. They promised that those who worked well would have nothing to complain about. We arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau in the early morning of June 14. We were detrained right away and ordered to leave our luggage in the cars. The prisoners who had received us said our belongings would be taken after us by cars. They added that the men and the women should be separated just because we would be subjected to medical examination, but we would meet our relatives in a few hours. That was the last moment I saw my family members. They separated the men from the women and then they selected the healthy men between 16 and 60, including me. We have never seen the rest, including the ill since then. Most probably all were taken to the gas chambers. I know about the crematoria only by hearsay, because I never got closer to them. Upon our arrival we had a relatively good impression of the camp. Young men were walking around and the place did not look dangerous at all. Those men, according to my perception, looked neither sad nor down-hearted. I was together with 25 other men from Balassagyarmat and my other fellow prisoners were from Transylvania. Three days later I was taken to Mauthausen where I stayed along with Hungarian Jews from Transylvania as well. There were 19 of us from Balassagyarmat, including Muki Weisz, Márton Révész, László Engel, Dr Béla Pásztor, Lipót Krausz, Jakab Kohn, another Weisz, the two Klein brothers and others whose names I do not remember. Only two of us survived from that group. I was taken to Melk on June 25 in a transport of 2000. There had been about 5000 people in Melk, so finally we numbered approximately 8000. Twenty percent of the prisoners were Hungarian Jews and others were from Russia, Italy, Poland, Greece, the Netherlands and France. There was an old garrison on the outskirts of Melk that was converted into a camp. We were guarded by airmen and later by the SS. We had to build an underground factory in a town 10 kilometres from Melk in the hills. At first we had to hollow out the hill and line the hole with concrete. Then we had to build up four factories in there. Our working time was only eight hours, but it took us four hours to get to the workplace and back to the camp. Another four hours were spent with roll calls and disciplinary drills. We were to have eight hours for sleeping, but we had time to do the compulsory cleaning, shaving and disinfection only at night. The work was extremely exhausting and even those men who were used to hard physical labour could not endure it longer than three months. It was mainly due to the very poor food supply. Consequently out of the 19 men with whom I arrived there and started to work at the same time, only two survived. I had a narrow escape and it was just because five weeks later I was appointed a block clerk and I did not have to go out to work any more. The commander of the camp was Obersturmführer Julius Ludolf, whom I saw a few times every day but he was never sober. He was beating the poor prisoners to death with his own hands. The older Austrian SS guards helped us as much as they could, but unfortunately they seldom had the opportunity. The German SS, however, were beating us all the time and they killed people on a daily basis. The block leaders, with the exception of two, were common criminals. For instance there was a safe-breaker by the name of Schwartz from Vienna who considered himself the smartest safe-breaker in Europe. The Blockältester in our block was Rudi Ullmann, a burglar, who was one of the most decent guards. He acted in the spirit of comradeship towards us. He told us he had been sentenced to 10 years of penal servitude, but after they offered him to serve in the SS instead. He was told that if he spent the obligatory years of service, he would be granted amnesty. He had served in Majdanek and other camps, but after six months of service he came back because, as he told me, his soul could not resist the cruelties they had been ordered to commit. He said he would rather serve his sentence. All the other members of the “aristocracy” in the camp were recruited from convicts, including the capos and the clerks. The commander of the bath, for example, was a habitual murderer. With the exemption of few, they were extorting and beating the prisoners. The few more decent block leaders and clerks had to find out tricks all the time to save people from being beaten to death. All of the block clerks were political prisoners and they considered Hungarian Jews to be in that category as well. With the exception of one or two they were very popular amongst the prisoners and saved plenty of lives. Pál Rácz from Ungvár, István Radó from Kalocsa, the physician Dr Ferenc Fellner from Budapest, Sándor Fischer from Szatmár and the naval officer Ferenc Paul saved at least 50 people at the risk of being killed for it. On one occasion they held a revision in the infirmary and they found eight more patients than it had been officially registered. Upon that, the camp commander ordered to execute eight people to equalise the numbers. With the help of the Lagerälteste Dr Hermann Hoffstädt, a lawyer from Berlin, who had saved at least 1000 people irrespective of their ethnicity and religion, Pál Rácz, Sándor Fischer and I smuggled eight dead bodies into the infirmary that night and at the same time we spirited out eight people who looked relatively healthy. Then the commander of the infirmary reported that they had executed eight people. In the infirmary four patients were lying on a 70-centimetre-wide bed. The ill with pneumonia and diarrhoea were pressed close together. In the beginning the only medicine they used was potassium permanganate and a brown coloured cream. Only those who had a fever of at least 39.5 degrees Celsius were accepted in the infirmary. All the others were forced to go out to work and if the feverishly ill people collapsed at work, they were beaten to death as saboteurs. That was the most frequent cause of death. There was a sanitarian called Musikant, a hospital superintendent from Austria amongst the cruel SS men, who often helped the block clerks to rescue people. Unfortunately I do not remember his real name. The number of prisoners in Melk was 7500 and later, in February 1945, it increased to 10,000. During the 11 months of the camp’s existence 13,500 dead bodies were burnt there. When the camp was evacuated on April 10, some 2800 people were taken away from the hospital and I do not think more than 10 percent of them survived. Before evacuation all the block clerks were subjected to body search, and we were ordered to burn all the lists of the ill and the dead we had kept precisely. Food supply was very irregular. I mean sometimes it was satisfactory and even tasty, but it also happened that we were given only a bowl of cooked leaves for a whole day. The bread ration was 400 grams per day but later it was reduced to 100 grams. Of course it was not made of corn flour. When the food was relatively good, we got soup for breakfast, soup and meat for lunch and bread with margarine and salami for dinner. However in the opinion of the doctors even then we were not given food of enough caloric value if compared to the hard work we were doing. At one time a lot of prisoners, especially Russians attempted to escape. They were always caught and beaten to death as a punishment. From that time on they guarded the camp and the workplace with specially trained dogs. It often occurred that they needed more workforce than the actual number of the prisoners, especially prior to the arrival of additional transports. In those cases we had to work 24 hours a day, without any time to sleep. If it was reported to the camp commander, we were beaten up. It also happened that one person was missing from our block and then we had to line up for roll call all night long as a punishment. We went out to work barefoot or in shoes of wooden sole at best even in winter when it was raining or snowing. If the wooden shoes got stuck in the mud or snow, it was impossible to pull them off and the poor person was sentenced for 25 to 75 blows. We were taken from Melk to Ebensee on April 13. Twenty thousand of us departed but only about 4000 arrived there. We marched for three days and were transported by ship for another three under unbelievably bad circumstances. In Ebensee, a camp that could normally hold 6000 prisoners, 18,000 of us were crammed. Three of us slept on a 70-centimetre-wide bed, or more precisely bunk. The death rate was so high that I myself was lying on a bed with a dead person for four days, because they did not have the time and the room to carry away the corpses. I was in that camp together with two men from Balassagyarmat by the names of Simon and Imre Schultz. It was in Ebensee when I first saw people eating human flesh. Greek prisoners were doing it. When it was reported to the camp commander that some prisoners had eaten human flesh the night before, he answered “Doch eine Schweinerei die sind schon nicht Menschen”. They did not even investigate the case. We were starving so terribly that I saw a Hungarian physician grazing as cows usually do. Our daily food supply for 16 days consisted of 50 grams of potato peels boiled in seven decilitres of water. The potatoes were given to the local residents. Besides, we got 90 grams of bread every other day. At least I did not have to work. The rest were doing the same work as they did in Melk: they were building underground stores of cement. On April 20 there were about 950 people in the block where I stayed. However it had decreased to about 400 by May 6, the day of liberation. All the others died. The first American tanks arrived in the camp on May 6. Of course as soon as they arrived some Germans escaped. There was a great disorder for three days. We were unguarded, so we kept the watch by ourselves. We emptied the stores and after that we had enough food. Some American soldiers overlooked lynching and therefore the prisoners beat 50 capos and other camp personnel to death in my presence. There was only one Hungarian among them, the rest were French, Polish and of other nationalities. It was going on for three days and then a command established from prisoners by nationalities took over the administration of the camp. Credit should be given especially to the physician Dr György Neuhauser from Budapest, the head of the Hungarian committee and the interpreter Dr Fellner. I was the deputy chairman of the Hungarian committee and István Radó was the chairman of the Romanian committee. Shortly after, they started to arrange transports. I left the camp on June 23 and with the help of the Americans and the Russians I was in Budapest on June 28. As a displaced person, I was provided with transportation and food by the Russians. The Americans arranged a Romanian transport of 300 in which there were about 30 Hungarian Jews. We joined the same transport and we were taken to Melk. There we were handed over to the Russians, who told us we would be taken to Wiener Neustadt and handed over to different camp commands according to our nationality. I told them we did not want to go to a camp any more. They suggested that we should escape. As I have mentioned before, they provided us with food and then four of us, namely Imre Schulhof, the physician Dr István Wittmann from Budapest, the tradesman Sándor Schainer from Fejér County and I set off for home. We clambered on a Russian ambulance train and reported ourselves to the commander, who gave us food. We travelled with them to Szolnok and from there we came to Budapest by a normal passenger train.