Yesterday’s story told the tale of a Hungarian Jewish teenager in 1944, and what happened to him and his family up until the point when he was selected for Labor Camp. Today’s story continues with how this young man survived the Holocaust by a series of miracles, which started by going through a door in the woods.
Andor Braun (“Bandi”) received a reprieve from the death camps, a fate which his mother Erna would inevitably face, although he had no way of knowing that then. He was, however, reunited with his father, Sandor, in the first of a series of labor camps, initially in Hungary, and then moving to Austria.
After aelection in his home town of Miskolc in June 1944, Bandi and his father were required by the Hungarian military to do forced labor. For six months they performed various tasks, from working in a coal mine, to forestry, gathering the harvest, doing road construction, and clearing snow. In December of that year, the Jewish prisoners were then deported by the Germans. The destination was the Neuhaus labor camp in Austria where they dug ditches and tank traps. Their time in Neuhaus was just fewer than four months, however, Braun relates that very few of the prisoners survived.
The conditions in the Neuhaus labor camp were brutal and demoralizing. The prisoners were completely exhausted because they were on a starvation diet. Also, because they had been taken from their hometowns with summer clothing, they suffered frostbite. Among other factors, the Nazi Secret Service (SS) guards randomly killed Jewish prisoners.
Many Jews became infected with typhus. The SS systematically removed prisoners unable to work, who stayed in the sick bay. Every couple of weeks the SS would take them away in trucks. The SS guards would say with a grin that they were taking the prisoners to “the hospital.” However, the prisoners saw that no one ever returned from the “hospital.”
Bandi then despaired when his father got ill with high fever, which meant that he had contracted typhus. Bandi’s father’s appetite diminished to nothing and he couldn’t keep down even the meager and moldy bread that was given to him. Bandi was frantic to get his father edible food and medicine to get rid of his fever.
One evening, in a desperate attempt at survival, Bandi managed to quietly escape the camp. He could do so because Neuhaus was a small, temporary labor camp – not the larger, high security camps of the Holocaust. Anyway, there was nowhere to run. There were woods all around. Next to the camp was a store that was on a street that they crossed every morning on the way to and from work. Bandi was familiar with the store since the prisoners passed it regularly. It had an “after-hours bell.” Bandi courageously approached the store. When he rang the bell, a woman around 30-years-old opened the door. He knew, from the look on her face, that she knew he was from the camp. Braun relates that she reacted in a most unexpected way. He says that she was “peculiarly calm.” She grabbed his jacket lapels – dirty as they were – pulled him through the doorway, and gently forced him into an adjacent room.
Then, letting go of Bandi’s jacket, she gave the “silence” warning sign – index finger to mouth. She closed the door behind him and said, “Ich werde rechts zurück,” indicating that she would be return soon. Upon her return, she relayed that Bandi had to wait because there had been an SS guard in another room and she had to get rid of him.
When Bandi told the woman about his father’s illness, she immediately put together a small packet of quinine, to reduce his fever and white bread. She then told Bandi that every day she would hide food and medicine in a special area. The Jewish prisoners passed a well to and from work every day, and the woman would conceal items in the snow for Bandi. She kept her promise. There was bread or baked potato there every day. And, sometimes he would find medicine that he soon needed to share with his father, because Bandi, too, became ill.
Bandi and his father were fortunate not to be selected to go to the “hospital” until the War was coming to an end. At a certain point, however, they were no longer strong enough to work. The Jewish prisoners could hear the Russian army rapidly moving towards them.
During this time, the SS guards prepared the prisoners. If able to walk, the SS marched them towards the west. They were hearded towards a concentration camp several hundred miles away in Austria (Mauthausen). Those who could not walk were taken by other guards to the “hospital.” This was to be the last transport of Neuhaus prisoners.
Bandi and his father were put onto two trucks with the other sick prisoners. The SS then drove to a clearing in the forest a few miles away. The prisoners learned at a later date that this was the “hospital.” It was, in fact, a killing field. Prisoners who had previously been transported were shot there. Mass graves had been dug for their burial. But the SS could not finish this job, as they were out of time. The sick prisoners were required to get off the trucks, which then sped away. The prisoners were left on the side of the road. Without food or shelter, the now free prisoners crawled into a ditch. From this position, they were able to watch the German Nazi vehicles drive quickly away from the approaching Russian Front. The next morning the Jews were liberated by the Russians.
The night after they were liberated, Bandi’s father died. Bandi buried him with the help of two other survivors. Later he got the news that everyone else in his family had been killed in Auschwitz. He was the sole survivor. He wanted to thank the woman who saved his life by risking hers. However, they were exhausted and then heard gunfire getting louder again in the West. The Germans were fighting back. The former prisoners knew they needed to get moving, so they slowly starting walking east, planning to travel the 250 miles back towards Hungary.
In tomorrow’s article, the next part of the story will be told. The tale continues with what happened after Bandi’s survival as prisoner of the German Nazis. The woman who allowed him to walk through the door to her pharmacy in the woods saved his life during the Holocaust.
By Fern Remedi-Brown
Fern Remedi-Brown writes on global social justice issues (human rights, LGBT, health care and education access, immigration, refugees, Nazi Holocaust) for Guardian Liberty Voice.
Previous articles on the Holocaust, fascism, and Nazism:
Hungary Post-Election Woes and Rising Fascism
Passover Changes since pre-Nazi Time
Palestinian Empathy for Holocaust Victims Is Called Treason
Holocaust Repeated in Ukraine?
Ukraine Jews Flee?
Holocaust Remembered by Whom? Yom HaShoah is Sunday
Holocaust Denied Can be Repeated
Holocaust Survived 1944