Holocaust Sole Survivor

HolocaustYesterday saw the continuation of the story of a Hungarian 17-year-old who lived through the Holocaust and was the sole survivor of his family. It relayed the tale of a woman who risked her life to save his and attempt to save his father’s. Sadly, the young man, Andor Braun (“Bandi”), lost his father the day after the small group of ill Jewish prisoners was liberated from Nazi authority. Bandi later learned that his mother and the rest of his family had been murdered in Auschwitz.

HolocaustThe Russian army pursued the German Nazis from the East. The ragtag assemblage had crawled into a ditch as they watched the Nazis vehicles flee. At night they found shelter in an abandoned schoolhouse. The next morning, not knowing where else to go, the prisoners returned to the ditch, where they were liberated by the Russians the next morning. The same morning of liberation, Bandi’s father died in his arms in the ditch.

In Jewish tradition, it is important to note the date someone has died in order to observe a loved one’s yahrzeit or anniversary of death. Bandi did not know the exact date they were liberated, but it had been a year since the ghettoization, now April 1945. Since Passover is often in April, Bandi chose the 2nd day of Passover as his father’s yahrzeit.

In April 1945, Russian soldiers overran the area. They captured the Jewish men who were in the ditch, ready to take them as their own prisoners of war! The Russian soldiers started marching the Hungarian Jews back to Miskolc. Bandi and his group protested, “We are Jews!” but the Russians said, “It doesn’t matter.” They needed workers. Bandi and his group were fed oatmeal, and were always on the move.

Bandi relates that the Russians mercilessly confined him to a prisoner-of-war camp where he came close to starving to death. They did tasks such as picking spinach, and had to separate the weeds from the vegetable. Bandi did not know what to do and picked wrong. A man with a gun pointed at him convinced him of that. When he returned to his comrades, one asked, “Why didn’t you pick the spinach?’ Bandi replied, “Oh, that’s what it was!” He was only familiar with spinach as part of his mother’s cooking, stewed and on a plate.

One day as the Russian soldiers were getting ready to take their workers to a new location, they had gotten most of the men into their truck when one of the Russian soldiers – a Jew – saw something one of the Jewish Hungarian men had in a box – a tefillin (phylacteries). He asked, “What is that?” The Hungarian – who had studied Russian in Gimnázium (high school) – replied, “I use it for praying,” whereupon the solider asked, “You’re a Jew?” The Hungarian man acknowledged that he was. The Russian asked, “Are there others?” and the Hungarian man pointed to Bandi, who about to get on the truck.

The Russian urged them to get going when Bandi, with the courage that was at this point second nature, said, “Wait! There are others!” (His friend was on the truck.) However, the Russian said, “There’s nothing we can do about that – they’re already on the truck.” and the truck began to pull away. Bandi’s life was again saved; the irony is that although it was a religious object that saved him, Bandi was not a religious man – not then, and not later. When asked about his beliefs about God and faith, he said, “I was only 16 – whatever foundation I had was shaken to its roots.”

The woman who saved Bandi was Rosa Freissmuth Schreiber. The Talmud states that whoever saves one life, saves the entire world. Rosa Schreiber risked her life saving Bandi’s life and tried to save his father’s. Bandi survived the Neuhaus Labor Camp because of her courageous deeds. Now, the thought of finding his rescuer again was part of what gave him motivation to continue on.

Following the War, in April 1945, Bandi returned to Hungary, just over the border, and tried to return to the Russian Army Headquarters in Hungary. Unfortunately, they refused him papers, so he went “home” to Miskolc in May 1945 to look for his mother and relatives. He found his family and friends all gone. He waited from May until December and, eight months after the Holocaust ended, he realized that he was the sole survivor of his family.

Moreover, his home uninhabitable (with a hole in the roof) and looted (he saw people with his family’s things), and his street, Clara Utca (Clara Street), bombed. His parents had previously told him that they had gold and jewelry buried in the backyard, but he never found it.

Having no money, he devised a plan: The budding economist and businessman, he was able to salvage some chairs from his old house, fix them and sell them. He formed a bond with another young Jewish man whereby they would get furniture and fix and sell it. Unfortunately, the rate of inflation was escalating dramatically at this time, so each time they got money, it decreased in value; Alan described this “as if it were slipping out of our hands like water.” This went on for some time until he realized he must quit and move on. Rampant anti-Semitism propelled Bandi’s exit from Hungary.

With the remaining money, Bandi bought three things: tobacco – the most trusted currency of the day, a suit made of an old army blanket, and a falsified Red Cross food ration card. With these, in December 1945, he left Hungary of his own volition and made his way to Germany.

Bandi tells the story: “Many survivors who came back to the hometowns after the liberation, left, like me, but some Jews whose communities were destroyed settled in Miskolc. Miskolc was unique among thousands of smaller places in Eastern Europe because it still has some Jews. Yet, it is difficult to imagine Jews living somewhere that the German Nazis and their Hungarian allies brutally and systematically exterminated the Jewish people.”

Bandi was the sole survivor of the Holocaust from his family. He explains: “My parents, grandparents, and most of my family knew no liberation. The only thing that remains is their ashes remain as well as their memories. And, of course, the memories of all the six million.” Tomorrow the next installment continues the story of Bandi after he left Miskolc.

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
Holocaust Survived Through a Door in the Woods
Ukraine Separatists Seizure of Capital Reminiscent of Nazism

Personal conversations with Alan Brown, PhD
Ten-minute video of Alan Brown’s personal account
Alan Brown’s Yom HaShoah speech in Windsor (1995)