The Sáránd Ghetto
March 19, 1944, was the day the Germans invaded Hungary— the day Kati and Mór knew they were in serious trouble, as the Hungarians welcomed the Germans as saviors. First, the town crier came to the town’s square and announced that the Jews were subject to progressively more restrictive curfews. They were ordered to wear a yellow star on their outer clothes. Their valuables and radios were confiscated and eventually they were confined to their homes.
The Early Days
Before conditions in Sáránd worsened and the noose around the Ehrenfelds’ freedoms tightened to house arrest, a neighbor girl of similar age, Juliska Rácz, occasionally came to keep Kati company and provide respite from the growing restrictions.
One day, Juliska suggested going to the movies. Even though they were mostly German propaganda films, the invitation offered a welcome change of scenery.
Kati recounted to me how she and Juliska walked to the theater arm in arm. Kati’s yellow star, which by then all Jews had to wear to identify them, managed to become obscured, and this crime was reported to the authorities.
The next day, gendarmes came to the house and handcuffed and arrested Kati for going out without the yellow star, despite her tears and begging and Mór’s stature in the community.
Kati and Mór were so obedient, they wouldn’t have dreamed of breaking such a rule. But the gendarmes didn’t believe Kati, so at the age of eighteen, she was taken and jailed in Derecske, a town five miles away, for two days.
Mór was able to send a message to their old housekeeper Zsófi néni, who was Mrs. Leitner’s sister, and she took a bribe to the jailers and bought Kati’s freedom, enabling the women to walk home to Sáránd together from Derecske.
Kati never saw Juliska again. Decades later, in 1985, when she returned to Hungary, she asked about her old neighbor and was told that the twenty-year-old had suddenly died “of “natural causes” right after Kati’s arrest. It’s clear that Kati doesn’t believe that and suspects that Juliska’s death was retribution for her consorting with Jews.
After the German occupation, food was rationed to all, but Jews received only half the ration because they were considered subhuman.
In March 1944, the Germans made Mór close his bar, and soon after, the store was forced to shut its doors. Mór had to give the officials the key to the store, and they sealed the area so he couldn’t get in.
All the young men had to register with the authorities, and they were all taken to labor camps; only 10 to 20 percent of those young men survived the war.1
Even tiny Sáránd had its own Kristallnacht a few nights after the Nazis took over Hungary. In the town, the houses were right on the street, with only a narrow muddy lane where people walked on the edge of the dirt road, which was usually filled with animals and wagons. The Ehrenfeld home’s windows opened right onto the street. One March night in 1944, people began yelling and throwing stones, and Kati and her father heard the sound of splintering glass as young Hungarian men shattered all the family’s windows.
The next day, Mór boarded up the windows. From then on, he and Kati lived in almost complete darkness. From about March 21 until early in June, father and daughter did everything by the light of a faint kerosene lamp. Despite rationing, Kati recalled that Magdus sent her and their father matzoh from Debrecen with which to observe Pesach, which began on April 7 that year. Kati told me they almost felt relieved when they were taken from the town, likely around June 1–7, as best as I can piece together from the limited records I have found.
Hiding at Tóth Bácsi’s
The night after Sáránd’s Kristallnacht, the village hoodlums knocked on the boarded-up windows and door of the Ehrenfeld home. They yelled at Mór, “We brought the German soldiers, and you bring Kati out; the Germans want her.” Of course, the Germans wouldn’t have known that Kati existed unless they were guided to her by the young and very drunk Hungarians.
The German soldiers demanded that Mór fetch his daughter for them. All the while, Kati was shaking as she hid under the bed in the guest room, which had a bedspread that reached the floor.
Fortunately, Mór, who could speak German, was able to convince them that Kati was visiting her sister in Debrecen, even inviting them to come in and look. They finally gave up and left.
To read more and learn the fate of the Ehrenfeld family, purchase Resilience online at www.amazon.com.
Judy Stone, MD, is the daughter of Hungarian Holocaust survivors and has a longstanding interest in genealogy and family history. In this excerpt from her recently released family memoir, Resilience, Mór is the author’s grandfather, and Kati is her aunt (her mother’s younger sister). Dr. Stone is also an infectious diseases physician and the author of Conducting Clinical Research. Dr. Stone will donate the net profits from Resilience to organizations that promote Holocaust education. To learn more, please visit www.drjudystone.com.