March 3, 1946.
Translated Excerpts from letter of Miss Janka Gergely (one of the leaders of the Hungarian Feminists Organization), dated January 14, 1946; received February 25, 1946, by Rosika and Franziska Schwimmer (Riverside Drive, New York 24, N.Y.I
Miss Gergely’s address, Guyon Richard utca 8. Budapest II. Hungary.
I were quite useless to attempt to write about our personal experiences for this would require as much paper as a novel and I do not think it is possible to send anything so heavy through the mail. I have kept a sort of diary these last years and could send it to you if you are interested and know some with the American Mission here who would undertake sending it to you. I do not know whether such personal experiences would interest a woman’s magazine or some Jewish newspaper. What do you think?
First of all, I would like to report about our various friends. This is a sad duty and starts with a list of the dead. Members of our Feminists Organization of whose passing I am certain are:
Margit Taubner (Tubi) – bombed.
Dr. and Mrs. Lamberger – suicide.
Mr. and Mrs. Miksa Havas shot by the Nazis.
Dr. Emil Szalay – deported. His wife bombed.
Sidonie and Ella Willhelm – suicides the night before deportation in Szeged.
The following were deported in the Summer of 1944 without any sign of life about them since then:
Our beloved Eugenie Miskolczy Meller. Her behavior throughout was heroic.
Note: Julia Eva Vajkai in a letter to Emily G. Balch, dated Nov. 25, 1945, writes as follows about Mrs. Meller:
“I am afraid the same was the fate (deportation and gassing in Auschwitz) of Eugenie Meller and Melanie Vémbéry, because both have been taken away about 15 months ago, no news were available about them and we know that the Germans gassed everybody who was not young enough to work. The last news which I had from Mrs. Meller were from May 1944 when she was a prisoner of the Gestapo with a cousin of mine, who later on came free, but she was already taken from there by the end of May and since that nobody heard anything about her. Whilst in the prison of the Gestapo, she was most courageous and the personification of kindness, helping everybody, distributing the food which her children sent her, in one word, being her dear self until the end.”
Melanie Vámbéry with her whole family: daughter, grand-daughter, son-in-law and the parents of brothers and sisters of her son-in-law. Of all of them only her son-in-law returned.
Jancsi Kozma with her elderly mother who died on the way; her husband and two children. Of these, only her twenty-years-old daughter returned.
Mrs. Havas and her brother.
Melanie Schlanger reported to have been thrown into the Danube.
This list does not pretend to be complete for people are not to be found at their old addresses. At present we depend on accidental meetings.
All Jews were deported from the provincial areas. Only fifteen to twenty percent have returned, those who did not get very far, only to Austria and Germany. Those who returned are all young. The older deportees and the children were quickly dispatched in the extermination camps of Auschwitz, etc.
We, who have survived, escaped this ultimate horror, but it is equally difficult to describe what we suffered, especially since March 19, 1944, the date of the German invasion. I do not know how much information you already have about the graduated cruelties that were practiced. First, we only had to wear yellow stars. Then, we were jammed into so-called Jewish houses. We had to leave our cottage, and live 160 of us in a house that otherwise could hardly hold 60. The doors were locked. We were allowed on the streets only during particular hours. Theaters, concerts, movies, restaurants, public baths, parks were forbidden to us. We were allowed to use only the third coach in each street-car and forbidden to leave our part of the city.
When Szálasi came to power, we were forbidden to leave our houses for an entire week. During this week, the deportation began also in Budapest and so thoroughly that out of 800,000 Hungarian Jews, 500,000 are still missing.
In December began the last act of this tragedy – the Ghetto. 80,000 people were herded together into an area in which only 30,000 had place. This area was barricaded off from the rest of the city. Thereafter no bureau of the government gave further thought to this area. The ghetto had no post office, no stores, no pharmacy – nothing essential to sustain life. For nourishment, we had once a day a tenth of a quart of thin soup. In a totally unfurnished room with two windows slept nineteen persons, men, women and children, partly on the bare floor, partly on blankets they brought with them. During the final weeks we had no water, no bread and no electricity. Many died, especially older people and children. Others died during the siege from bombing. During our entire life, my sister and I did not see as many corpses as in those final weeks in the ghetto.
This went until January 18. On that day, in early morning, soldiers of the Red Army broke through the ghetto walls and declared the ghetto abolished. It is impossible to describe our feelings as we came out of the cellars where we had spent the previous fourteen days.
During the following days we returned to our former homes which we found partly destroyed by bombs and completely plundered. Or our bedding we found only two covers and one sheet; only one pot out of twenty-five; out of 25 kilograms soap, four or five pieces. Of our clothes, shoes, coats and hats only the shabbiest were left. Our homes had not a single unbroken window. There was no light, no transportation, no gas, no water. We had an invasion of lice, many cases of intestinal flu and all types of respiratory diseases, which normally would not have been serious, but because of our weakened condition were often fatal. My oldest sister died this way.
Then followed long, long months of slow and difficult reconstruction. It was impossible to buy anything. Those who had no provisions starved and we had none. In May for the first time we could get daily 10 dekagrams of bread. Most of us lost up to one third of our weight and very few could gain any of this back until now. We are not among those few. Inflation rages now.
Those who are lucky enough to have good jobs earn at least a thousand times more than before the war. But the cost of food has risen in the meantime then thousand times. That is in general, for of course there are exceptions such as sugar and fats, which have risen to hundreds of thousand times their former value and are quite rare. Of course, there are people, who can even pay these prices because they themselves make fat profits on the black market. We, our friends and relatives naturally do not belong to this group.
We live in the greatest misery. Our personal tragedy is that for us liberation came too late. Today’s watchword is: Youth first and we do not belong in this category. There is work enough but no paid work. Sixty-years-olds may still be tolerated in an office if they have worked there for a long time, but in no case would they be newly hired. During the past years, I somehow pulled through doing translations but with the present shortage of paper that is also out.
Dr. Charlotte Steinberger has it equally hard. She lost much more. Her two sisters and a brother with all their families were deported and no one has returned. Her apartment in Koháry Street was destroyed by bombs. The other place where she found shelter were burned. Her furniture, valuable library were plundered. Of her clothes and linen, she has only what her housekeeper was able to save. She has no pension either for this part of the political program – that the old will be taken care of – is still in the distant future. After 39 ½ years of service under the health insurance program, she receives a monthly pension of 250 Pengős. To help you judge the value of such a sum, I’ll mention only that a street-car ride costs 500 Pengős and so require two months’ pension. She is fortunate to have the little cottage in Hidegkut. She now lives out there constantly. Her address is: Bethlen Gabor utca 25. Pesthidegkút, Hungary. In all respects she is bearing up wonderfully and shows more and more qualities of human greatness.
Mrs. Irma de Szirmai has also fared badly. She is now very old and tiny with snow-white hair, bent back and quite impoverished. She has only one room in her six-room apartment in Perczel Mór utca 2. All the other rooms are inhabited by strangers assigned by the authorities who naturally do not pay her any rent.
We do not know what is to become of us. It depends on the lot the Great Powers decide for us. But I am an optimist still and convinced that at last we are on the right track. But the next six months will be filled with different trials. There is a catastrophic lack of food, clothing and fuel. Heaven only knows how we shall survive it. UNRA assistance we do not yet have. The Joint Distribution Committee feeds about 50,000 people, including us, but this skimpy meal is quite insufficient. Sugar, condensed milk, fats, butter, meat, fish and conserved fruit are vague memories.
If there are organizations and individuals sending packages with whom you have contact, we would be most grateful if you would give them our and Dr. Steinberger’s name.
Please do not be angry that I trouble you with such a personal request, but even the most unselfish must become egoistic and view world history first of all in relation to their personal fate. An empty stomach affects the clarity of one’s thoughts.
For the past two years I have been working diligently on the history of the Feminists Organization. We divided the work with Melanie Vambery. I undertook the period from the founding of the Organization until the 1913 Congress. She carried the story from the outbreak of the First World War. I managed to get the story finished to 1912. But the archives after 1913 where shipped to Melanie in a big case and no one knows whether it still exists. I wrote her son-in-law, but have had no answer yet.
Have you been informed that the Organization has been revived? Shortly after our liberation a democratic women’s organization was founded: Association of Democratic Hungarian Women. It wants to work for the realization of the program of the Feminists’ Organization. With the exception of the Social Democratic party, which does not participate, all the other parties take part. Especially the Communist and the Small Farmers Party. They are very alert. They had already participated in a Congress in Belgrade and a few weeks ago in the Paris Congress. Some of the younger members of the Feminists’ Organization are working hard in this Association, among them Lilla Wagner, Zsuzsa Osváth. They already have their own periodical. Women.
New York Public Library Manuscripts and Archives Division. Rosika Schwimmer Papers, Box 428.