The personal story of Holocaust survivor John Dobai
John Dobai was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1934. To mark Holocaust Memorial Day, John delivered a talk at The National Archives on 25 January 2019 about his personal story and the plight of Hungarian Jews.
I’d like to introduce today’s event with a short introduction from the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. We’re probably all aware that Holocaust Memorial Day is on Sunday. The Trust encourages remembrance in a world scarred by genocide. The day itself is commemorated internationally on 27th January to remember the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust and the millions of people killed under Nazi persecution and in subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. It is a day when we consider those who endured genocide and honour the survivors and all those whose lives were changed beyond recognition.
With that day approaching, it is fitting for The National Archives to welcome John Dobai, a renowned survivor speaker who has devoted so much of his life to educating a wide variety of audiences. The late, eminent historian Professor David Cesarani described the fate of Hungarian Jewry as ‘one of the most dramatic, tragic, and controversial episodes in the fate of the Jews in the Second World War’. John’s testimony greatly contributes to the learning and understanding of the events of the Holocaust and in particular the persecution of Hungarian Jews.
I have heard John speak before. Many of our documents here at The National Archives support his narrative. Telegrams informing the Foreign Office of deportations, Churchill’s responses to the massacres and vivid descriptions of the horrors are all to be found in our collections. Hidden stories of that terrible past are still emerging from our files. But today we are so fortunate that we cannot only see the documentary evidence but, more importantly, on this occasion, listen to a unique oral testimony.
I’d like to introduce John by beginning with a quote he’s asked me to read out from Hannah Arendt. ‘We can reach an understanding of the past only if we can tell of the events again and again’.
Thank you very much for coming especially with so many friends among you. I will be talking for under an hour and the talk is divided into four parts. In the first part I will tell about the life of my family and I before the Second World War, and then there will be a short oversight of Hungarian history in so far as it affected us. Then I will tell you what happened to us during the years of the Holocaust, and then finally I will try to tell you why I’m doing this. This is a talk that was developed for senior school children and university students, as well as some adult audiences.
So I was born in 1934. In Budapest, the capital of Hungary. In the Hungarian language we put the surname first and other names after. So when I go to Hungary, which I do from time to time, I’m called Dobai Janos and here I’m John Dobai.
So for those people whose geography might be a bit rusty, that’s where Hungary is right in the middle of continental Europe and it’s about 1600km or 1000 miles from here. To show you how it relates to the countries around it, to the south are the countries that formed part of Yugoslavia. That is Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia. To the south east is Romania, and to the north east is Ukraine which was previously called Russia and before that it was the Soviet Union and before that it was still Russia. To the north is Slovakia, which was part of Czechoslovakia before they split into two. To the west you see Austria. There’s the blue Danube coming through Vienna and Bratislava, then it forms the frontier between Hungary and Slovakia, and then it turns around the Danube bend, comes through Budapest, goes south, exits Hungary and goes towards the Black Sea.
Here I am with my mother in the back here of our house. It was a flat in a larger house. Budapest is formed of two towns really. Buda which is the western side, which is hilly and wooded, and Pest which is totally flat. The western Buda side has got a number of historic buildings, museums, it had the Royal Palace, and the Pest side is the commercial centre, the manufacturing centre. We were fortunate enough to live on the Buda side about 200-300 metres above the level of the river which was a nice place for a young person to grow up.
In those days paediatrics was quite a new science. My parents were told that the baby must spend an hour a day outdoors. This is the building where we lived on the ground floor. It was a three-room flat. My father was a very good sportsman and here we are on the shores of the Lake Balaton, which is a long and very narrow lake.
So my father played football for a second division team as an amateur. He had a trial for the Olympic Games in athletics. He played tennis in the Davis Cup. So our life was very much dedicated to open air activities and this lake is about an hour and a half by train from Budapest, so the mothers who could afford it would spend the summer with their children by this lake and fathers would come down at weekends.
This was very much how we lived. Here we are on the terrace of a rowing club and we’re about to go on a weekend trip along the Danube. You could sleep in haylofts or inns. If the winter was good in terms of snow then we could go skiing for several weeks at a time. As you can see in that particular year it was a good snowy winter. So we went hiking, swimming and skiing. In addition of course we saw family who lived in Budapest and friends. My parents found a place for me in a kindergarten so I made friends there.
The big change of course came when I first went to school. This is the school building as it is today but it was identical at the time. At the time this was a co-education school but boys and girls were in separate classrooms. This is a picture of the class. The lady with the hat is the class teacher. The rather severe looking man on the other side is the headmaster and the man in between is the man who taught us about religion.
So I need to say a few words as to why I’m here to talk about the Holocaust. This is obviously a Roman Catholic picture. A picture of a Roman Catholic class. This picture was taken after a ceremony of the first communion and these white outfits were hired for the occasion. The bishop was there. Now about four out of ten of these boys come from Jewish families.
So how did this come about? It’s a question of dates. We were born in the last quarter of 1933 and the first quarter of 1934. Almost exactly twelve months after Hitler came to power in Germany. Hitler declared in his book Mein Kampf in the 1920s that when he comes to power, he will make sure that Germany will be great again. Not an unknown phrase in another context. That the blame for Germany being defeated in the First World War is not due to the superior armed forces of France, United States, Great Britain and Russia, but the German civilian population sabotaged the German army and this conspiracy was led by Jews.
This shifting the blame on to Jews was quite welcome among many Germans because it absolved them from any responsibility. Now Germany was the largest and most powerful country and it was quite clear that the influence of Germany was going to spread all over Europe. Which of course it did. In this country we had the British Union of Fascists. We had right-wing parties in France, and Italy of course had the fascists, and Hungarian anti-Semitic movements were also very strong.
So what happened was that the parents decided that they should do everything they can to minimise the effect any Nazis may have. They thought if we became Roman Catholics that might be very helpful. So they went down, not in an organised fashion, to the local parish church and asked the priest there if they could become Catholics, which happened.
Now some of you believers in religion might find it strange this change of religion but our parent’s generation were not believers. They were not believers in Judaism or any other religion, so it was not a great problem to become Roman Catholic. It felt at least they did something that might help to minimise the effect of Nazism. I will anticipate the story by saying this hope was actually not realised.
So now a bit of history. Before the First World War Hungary, which is the green area, was also responsible for the administration of the red area that is part of Croatia, Serbia, Romania and so on. Hungary of course took part in the First World War as a partner of Germany. My father fought on the eastern front up in Ukraine; two of my uncles were fighting against the Italians here and another uncle served in Romania. But of course Hungary, along with Austria and Germany, lost in the First World War. At the peace conference led by the American President Woodrow Wilson the word was self-determination, so the Allies decided to detach large areas from Hungary and form two new countries. That is Czechoslovakia in the north and Yugoslavia in the south because the Czechs, Slovaks, Serbs and Croatians all wanted not to be under Hungarian rule but to form their own countries.
Unfortunately the Allies of course they were tired of the war and huge losses, they didn’t have huge patience at the peace conference. So they drew up the new frontiers rather quickly. This meant that these red areas, these were areas where a large number of ethnic Hungarians lived; about 300,000 lived down here, about 1.5 million in Romania, about 300,000 in what is now Ukraine and about 300,000 in what is now Slovakia.
This edict of the new countries was a huge tragedy for Hungary. Hungary had to find a new direction after the war and the Hungarians decided that they will try and find partners who will help them to recover those territories. They tried to form an alliance with Poland; they talked to the Italians but essentially they started drifting more and more towards Germany, especially as Hitler and the National Socialists became stronger and stronger. They said if you support us then we will try and help you recover those territories. Those areas even today contain people whose mother tongue is Hungarian but of course they would speak Romanian, Serb or Slovak and whose culture is Hungarian. So there are still tensions due to that decision after the First World War.
Now I would like to turn to the position of Jews in Hungary. There’s clear evidence that Jews arrived in the Carpathian Basin with the Romans. There are Jewish gravestones alongside Roman ones. The fate of the Jews was very similar to the fate of the Jews in the whole of Western Europe. They were regarded as somewhat separate. They were welcomed into society when things were good and their expertise in various fields was also very welcome. However, when times were hard and there was a drought, the plague or other misfortune, it was convenient to blame it on the Jews. Just the same way that Jews were expelled from York, Lincoln and other towns, they were expelled from major towns of Hungary too.
But things changed in the last quarter of the 19th century. A wave of equality swept through Europe. In 1876. There was an agreement between Hungary and Austria that the Hungarians would be much more in charge of their own affairs and, in addition, full civic rights were granted to Jews as well.
So the golden age of Jews in Hungary was really between 1876 and 1918 when they were encouraged to participate in every aspect of Hungarian life, in science, in art, in music, and they built up factories and industries and so on. Also, the Jews put in a lot of effort into educating their young people to the maximum. This is the result of that. This is from 1930. This first word here is doctor. There are 5% of the population coming from Jewish families. Jewish both in the religious sense and the racial sense. So 5% and yet it says doctor. 55% of doctors came from Jewish families and 50% lawyers, 30% engineers, 46% of merchants, 75% people doing other commercial work, 60% accountants, 60% bank workers, 19% civil servants and so on. In other words the proportion of Jews in these professions and occupations was many times higher than arithmetic would dictate.
Just like the situation with immigration in this country, the greatest concentration was in Budapest where around 20% of the population was Jewish. So this meant that the Jews in a broader sense formed essentially the middle class and this led to some jealousy, which fed to the underlying anti-Semitism and anti-Semitism therefore increased.
I’m sorry to say that Hungary was the first European country to introduce an anti-Semitic law when, in 1920, the Government decided that the entrance to university from Jewish families had to be limited to 5% just as the same as the general population contained 5% of Jews. This caused enormous alarm among the Jewish population and huge emigration of young people to the West. We had the arrival in the West of people like Edward Teller, who later on with John Von Neumann worked on the Manhattan Project, the development of the nuclear bomb in the States. George Schulte arrived here and Michael Polanyi, who was a mathematician in Manchester. Writers – the Korda brothers came out who did a lot for the English film industry. So I had two uncles and an aunt who could not get into university because they were judged to be Jewish. They had to actually go to Austria and even to Germany to finish their university studies. Later on there were other anti-Semitic laws but we’ll come to that later.
So in 1939, of course the Second World War breaks out. But even before that, of course, Hitler dismembers Czechoslovakia and he says to the Hungarians if you attack Czechoslovakia from the south, to a limited extent I’ll give you back part of the territory that you lost, and the Hungarians enthusiastically took part in the invasion of Czechoslovakia.
Around the same time Hitler lent on the Romanians to give back part of Transylvania to Hungary. So in 1939, the German army invades Poland. At the same time the Red Army, the Russian army, invades Poland from the east. As two armies come together there’s a flood of refugees coming through Hungary trying to escape, many of them Orthodox Jews trying to flee towards Palestine. On the one hand, Hungarian Jews did their best to assist these refugees on their way, but on the other hand they said this is not going to happen to us because we are Western Jews, we are fully integrated into Hungarian society.
There was a saying among the Hungarian Jews that ‘we are more Hungarian than the Hungarians’. So they were not Jews that lived in Hungary but Hungarians through and through who took part in wars: they paid their taxes, they made industries and commerce flourish, they felt thoroughly Hungarian. So they said this is not the fate of the Polish Jews, it was not going to happen to them. How wrong they were!
So initially Hungary does not take part in the Second World War on the side of Germany but pressure is put on by the Germans to introduce these three lots of anti-Semitic laws. The first one ensures that higher echelons of universities’ academia are cleansed of Jews. Second one actually reproduces the Nuremberg Laws which defines who is a Jew. So in our family all my grandparents were Jews, so that was not a problem. But in other cases, where in a marriage one half is Jewish and the other one was not, what happens to the children? That was legally defined. The third Jewish law actually deprived Jews of their places of work. It caused enormous distress as well as issuing Jews with identity cards. There was a front that gave the name, address and the usual things but behind it was a large letter which said ‘S’, which was the first letter for the word for ‘Jew’. So if you showed your identity card and the person seeing it could identify you as a Jew.
So the war starts and Hungary is neutral. But in the spring of 1941, Hitler again says to the Hungarians I have to come through Hungary to destroy Yugoslavia – will you please join with me in invading Yugoslavia, and I’ll give you back part of Serbia where a lot of Hungarians live? Once again the Hungarians join in with enthusiasm in that invasion. Hitler decides to invade the Soviet Union.
On the 21st June 1941 he invades. A few weeks later, a frontier incident is engineered which forces Hungary to join in the Second World War on the side of Germany. The Germans ask Hungarians they don’t join in the fighting but the Germans demand that Hungary provides support for people behind the lines. Jewish men are called up to take part in forced labour. My father, who fought in the First World War and was still in the Reserves, is called up initially to go back as a soldier. But a few weeks later Parliament passed a law saying Jews can’t be in the army, so he is released but then called up again as a Jew.
He was very fortunate because he was very fit; the physical labour wasn’t very hard and also he was looked after by the Hungarian army. He was relatively well fed and not mistreated. But thousands and thousands of Jewish men were sent behind the German lines near the front, where among other things they carried barbed wire without any protection. The worst thing was [that] they were lined up in ploughed fields and driven across these ploughed fields, so that their footsteps would explode landmines, and over 50,000 Jewish men died that way.
Of course initially the advance of the German army seemed irresistible; within a short time they were at the gates of Leningrad, Moscow, Stalingrad, Odessa and they were in the Crimea. It looked like no force could resist them. But the Russians reorganised themselves and finally beat the Germans at the famous Battle of Stalingrad, which was a turning point of the war in the East. The Red Army started very slowly to push the German army back. The situation looked so serious for the Germans that they called on their three allies – the Romanians, Italians and the Hungarians – to provide armies.
The Hungarians sent an army of 200,000 people. This army was not very well trained or equipped, and the Russians recognised this military weakness and in a three-week battle really destroyed the Hungarian army because it was a weak point in the front. 120,000 out of the 200,000 were killed, injured or taken prisoner.
Suddenly Hungary lost its appetite for the war. As the Archives’ documents show, the Hungarian government sent out secret emissaries to try and negotiate a separate peace. But the German Intelligence got wind of this and on the 19th March 1944 they occupied Hungary. Within two days a small group of 150 men arrived in Hungary led by a man called Adolf Eichmann, who was the highest-placed official tasked with carrying out the final solution, that is the destruction of the Jewish population of the whole of Europe. By the time he arrived he had dealt with the Jewish population of Poland, which had the largest proportion of Jews, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Germany, Holland, Belgium, part of France, Yugoslavia and Greece. So he had a well worked out plan of how to go about things.
A whole host of laws were published. One of the first was the law to say that everyone over the age of eight should wear the Star of David. This picture was actually taken by a Soviet cameraman after the end of the war, but I use it because I like audiences to see what it was like to have to wear this. I had to wear one of course and you couldn’t carry a newspaper, it had to be visible. If you walked along a pavement and somebody not wearing a star came towards you, then the Jew had to get into the gutter because the law said we were not fit to share a pavement with non-Jews.
Now this was during a school holiday and I was sent to the shops to buy something for my mother. I met a boy in my class and I said that I was rather looking forward to going back to school, and he said that he was going to go back to school but I was not because his father told him that I am a ‘dirty stinking Jew’. Well, I protested that I was Roman Catholic but he repeated that ‘you’re a dirty stinking Jew’. I ran home and my mother had to tell me that, yes, we are a Jewish family. My mother didn’t tell me because she wanted to spare me the pain because the anti-Semitic propaganda was so strong that my friends and I, we were anti-Semitic because there were pictures of Jews hugging bags of gold and dripping with blood and so on.
So we were displaced from our normal life and became total outcasts. So it was a huge blow and certainly the worst day of my life at that point.
So then another set of anti-Semitic laws were published, in which Jews were told to hand in their motor cars – not that there were many; hand over their bank accounts, their jewellery, carpets of value, pictures, cameras, radios and so on. So everything was done to destroy their self-respect and all this of course at a time when my father was 250km away.
The next stage is when the deportations start. This is a picture of the Jews who are told to report to a railway station with one piece of large luggage, which is loaded onto that lorry. As you see, there are no working-age men because they are all in forced labour camps. So they are women, children and old people. When this lorry is fully loaded it goes, never to be seen again. And when the administration is complete all these people are loaded into a cattle car. Here is a small cattle car; we would form the load for two cattle cars. I had family down here and my cousin and her mother are loaded onto the car and goods wagon, and they go along here and they go up to Krakow, and they go 50km west of Krakow, the site of Auschwitz. They went for three days and three nights without water or access to sanitation or any food.
On arrival both my aunt and cousin were judged to be fit for work and they were together. But a week later, my aunt fell over and hurt her leg and the injury turned septic and she was sent to the gas chamber. But my cousin survived Auschwitz and the famous, notorious Winter March.
This is the list of the trains that went from Hungary or Hungarian-controlled territory to Auschwitz. So 137 trains carrying over 430,000 Hungarian men, women and children went to Auschwitz. Very few of them came back. To give you an idea of one day, on the 19th May 1944, trains number 16, 17, 18 and 19 – that is, four trains went in one day to Auschwitz carrying nearly 13,000 people. This was between April and the end of July 1944.
Now my mother was corresponding with her family, who lived inside Budapest, and these deportations only affected the countryside at this stage. When there were no replies to her letters she knew there was something wrong. So she got some false papers, took off the yellow star, and through the agency of some organisation she placed me with a peasant family in the countryside. This was because she felt that my father and she are going to be murdered, and at least my life should be saved.
So we said goodbye to each other and I stayed there for around two months. Of course it was a better life in the countryside – there was more food and no bombing. I forgot to mention that before I was taken to the countryside, we were told to leave our flat and move into a larger house, which had big yellow stars. This is to collect the Jews into a controllable area prior to deportation. So as I was in the countryside, the Royal Air Force was bombing Hungary but there was no bombing in the countryside. There was a bit more food and I was looking after the pigs mostly.
Unfortunately I developed a rash, and the woman thought that I had typhoid fever and I was sent back to Budapest to be with my mother. My mother again made another attempt to save my life as she saw it and found a place for me in a children’s home. I became quite ill and I get sent back to my mother. A few days later the children’s home was emptied and Germans and Hungarians shot all the children.
All this time the Front was getting further to the West and the fighting reached the Hungarian frontier, and it became clear to most people that the war was going to end in the defeat of Germany and its allies. So the camp, where my father was, was dissolved. The Commander said I can’t feed you, I can’t look after you, so do what you want. So my father started walking back towards Budapest, though I think he may have got a train from time to time for short distances.
So we were formed up in front of the house carrying only what we could. The people were watching us and the majority of the spectators were really indifferent – they said if the authorities are decided that this is the right thing, it is none of our business. There was a proportion who were rejoicing because they could take over a Jewish property, flats and shops and so on. But there’s also a proportion who were crying because they were our friends and neighbours.
I don’t want to give you the impression that all Hungarians were anti-Semitic. Hundreds, thousands of children were hidden to save them from deportation, in some cases whole families were hidden by non-Jews. But we were told to go down towards the town, towards the railway station from which we would be deported somewhere. On the way, some administrative hitch came about and we were put into a block of flats. In this block of flats there were about 20 to 25 people occupying some average-sized bedroom. The flat had no electricity or gas. My mother, being an organiser, organised a camp fire where soup could be cooked. One day some people came and they took the women away and I saw my mother being taken away like this. Fortunately they were only made to scrub the floors in a barracks and she came back. But many old people in this block of flats were so distressed, they climbed up to the top floor and they jumped off.
As the fighting reached Hungarian soil, the Government decided to surrender. The Head of State broadcast saying that we are surrendering. But again the Germans were aware of this plan and arrested the Head of State and handed the power over to the Nazi Party of Hungary. They were really a sort of rabble. Simple people who would do exactly as the authorities wanted. These were quite determined to take action against the Jews.
Of course, there was great rejoicing when my father arrives. He’s heard rumours and these rumours were centered around this man. This man was called Raoul Wallenberg. The Wallenberg family were, and still are, one of the wealthiest and most powerful families of Sweden. Raoul Wallenberg, who travelled around Europe on behalf of the family business, heard of the plight of Jews and he volunteered to come to Hungary to try and do what he can. He arrived aged 26 and he immediately set about threatening Hungarian and German officers saying ‘I will make a note of your name and you will be prosecuted as a war criminal’. He bribed people and he started giving out passports. First, similar passports to what you and I have, but later on he handed out these protective papers which said, in a couple of languages, that the person described is under the protection of the Swedish government. He would go down to railway stations as people were being deported and hand out blank forms saying ‘Fill it in now. Once you’ve filled it in, you are under my protection’. So Raoul Wallenberg is credited with saving around 25,000 people.
Another man history ignored for a while was Carl Lutz, a Swiss diplomat, who saved another 15,000. So my father managed to get three of these papers and also a piece of paper to entitle us to have a space in a house that the Swedish government had bought. It should be said that a number of embassies bought houses, such as neutral countries like Spain, Portugal and, even towards the end of the war, the Vatican bought a house or two.
So we set out from that house on the banks of the Danube across the town with great trepidation to find space in that Swedish house, which had a big Swedish flag outside and declaration that this is Swedish territory and not to be disturbed. By the time we arrived, practically all the inhabitants were living in the air raid shelter because we were being bombed by the Royal Air Force during the night, the American Air Force during the day and of course it was going to be likely that as the fighting advances that Budapest will be surrounded and subjected to a lengthy siege. But there was no room in the air raid shelter. My parents, to my intense disappointment, said we are just as safe further up – we were on the second floor in an empty flat. Again, there was no water, electricity or gas and later on there was no glass in the window either.
Once Budapest was surrounded then food supplies fell drastically and we were approaching starvation. In the same street lived two famous writers, Imre Kertesz, who later won the Nobel Prize for Literature for work concerning the Holocaust. Another writer George Schulte lived in the same street. Very quickly the Hungarian Nazis, the so-called Arrow Cross, realised that these Swedish or Swiss houses – there was nothing actually to defend them, so they started emptying these houses and taking the inhabitants down to the Danube and using machine guns to kill them and shoot them into the river. We lost, from our wider family, two grandfathers. But death was also quite random.
That boy in the back row was a good friend of mine and his name was Ivan Borusz. He was in a similar house. He opened the door, went out just a few steps and some Hungarian Nazis grabbed him. They told him to drop his trousers and, when they saw that he was circumsised, they shot him. They went away and said it was rather good fun to be able to kill Jews.
Eventually Budapest was surrounded and the Russians were doing house-to-house fighting. In some cases, which happened in our case, there were Germans and Hungarians near the top and Russians coming through the cellars. I think this picture is actually a reconstruction because there’s no snow on the ground. The Germans blew up all the bridges between Buda on that side and Pest on this side and this bridge was blown up prematurely, and that’s why it’s got the tram and the vehicles on it. So there was heavy fighting, they were shells, aerial mines, big shells and little shells and of course machine guns and rifle fire. We were cowering in a bathroom because it didn’t have a window and we could be safer than others.
On Christmas Eve, a mortar bomb killed a horse in front of the house. The horse was swiftly dismembered and I got a Christmas present of a piece of horse. Finally, on the 13th January 1945, a rather frightened, young Russian soldier appeared at the gate of our house and asked questions about who we were. My father, who could speak Russian, explained that we were in fact victims of the Germans as well. So technically that was the moment of liberation but the fighting went on because Budapest was totally surrounded.
Even to the very last day or two, people were still being deported. When the railways were running they were being deported by train. But when the railway lines were cut, people were sent on foot towards Austria in temperatures down to -20 celsius. About 50,000 people, including children, died on that journey.
This is a monument brought up about five or six years ago called the Bronze Shoes, which commemorates the thousands of people who died by being shot into the Danube. When the fighting ceased, of course the place was in ruins with no services of any sort. We emerged from the building and went to look for the family in Budapest. As we went, there were hundreds of people hanging from lampposts where people took revenge on each other.
So around the 17th January, Raoul Wallenberg travels to the Soviet headquarters to try and persuade them to send food to the starving people, not just Jews but starving people of Budapest. On arrival he’s arrested. He is arrested either because he is seen talking to German officers and so on, or because he was a Westerner. But whatever the reason, he disappears into the vast Soviet prison system and he is not heard of again. Evidence, since the change of regime, indicates that he was shot on Stalin’s orders in 1947. But he’s regarded as a great hero. In London there is a great statue to him just north of Marble Arch.
We emerged into a town that was burning and wrecked but we didn’t realise the tragedy that was behind it all. We didn’t realise until the concentration camps and the extermination camps were emptied and the victims returned, including my cousin who survived not only Auschwitz but Ravensbruck and others.
This is a partial table of the number of Jews who were victims of the Holocaust. Of course, Poland was occupied the longest and had the largest Jewish population, so they lost 3 million – 91% – and Hungary lost two thirds of its Jewish population. For example, where my cousin and uncle lived had a Jewish population of 1,160 and 220 came back. But this is only a partial table and does not include the 350,000 gypsies, doesn’t include the mentally and physically handicapped people who were systematically murdered, and it doesn’t include the political opponents of the Nazis. So the total number is much higher.
Now just a few words about why I’m doing this. Well every time I tell this story, which I do about 12-15 times a year, I remember my cousin who was in Auschwitz, the two aunts who were murdered, not because they did anything but simply because they were Jews. I remember another cousin and the two grandfathers from the wider family, and all the neighbours and friends who were systematically murdered.
This systematic genocide was carried out because one country was persuaded that their happiness depends on the extermination of an entire people. This was a country with the highest standards of education. The country of Beethoven, Schubert, Max Planck, Goethe and Schiller. Yet they believed that this was their mission in life – to exterminate an entire people.
Now, of course, since we’ve had the Second World War, as Ella said, we had the genocides of Rwanda, Cambodia, Bosnia and probably we have a genocide going on in Myanmar. Some survivors who speak believe that a repeat of the genocide is probable, they even use the word ‘probable’. I wouldn’t agree with that. Certainly anti-Semitism is on the rise, racial discrimination is much higher and I try and encourage the young people particularly not to realise the dangers of discrimination and persecution and not to ignore it.
You may not believe this because June and I and lived in the same house for 60 years and we have never seen anything anti-Semitic until last year. Not 100 metres from here there were anti-Semitic slogans saying ‘Six million lies’. In addition, the revision of history is common. Austria, Poland and Hungary have all revised their history so that Austria and Hungary say ‘we were victims not perpetrators’. Which is a denial of history. So I tell the young people not to be indifferent and not only increase tolerance but tolerance is not enough, tolerance is recognising somebody. I like to use the word ‘respect’ for the other person. I feel that we can get a positive movement to push back this awful tendency.
Thank you very much.