The Cukierman family was well known in the city of Bedzin, Poland. Benjamin, called Binim, was the fourth of seven children born to Gayleh Rifkeleh and Herschel Cukierman. The family ran a busy bakery. Their cakes were so delicious that people came from hundreds of kilometers just to buy them. Everyone in the family worked in the bakery, and everyone shared holiday and Sabbath meals together.
Binim began work at the bakery at 4 a.m. every day. After work he cleaned up and went to meet his many friends. He was popular, an excellent musician and athlete. He loved to play soccer, ski, and go swimming.
Binim got married in May 1939, four months before World War II began. His family chipped in to buy a store for him and his wife, Edzia. They sold some of the most famous chocolates in Poland.
Two years after the Nazis invaded, Binim, his three brothers, and one of his nephews were sent to Markstadt concentration camp. Everyone else in the family was sent to Auschwitz. Binim died on April 5, 1944. Almost every member of the large and loving Cukierman family was killed. One of Binim's nephews, Cvi, was able to escape and return to Israel. Later, he heard that Binim's wife Edzia had also survived. They were reunited by phone, and Cvi learned that Edzia had remarried and had a daughter and two granddaughters.
As a girl in Simleu Silvaniei, Elly Berkovits studied Jewish and Romanian subjects. In 1940, after Hungary, a German ally, invaded, Jewish children weren’t allowed to attend school. Elly still continued her education in Yiddish and Hungarian in classes organized by the Jewish committee.
Two years later, Elly’s father was sent to a work camp. His group was later locked in a trailer and burned to death. Elly and her mother supported themselves by sewing and selling geese. They, with the other Jewish people of Simleu Silvaniei, were forced to move into a brick factory. Later, they were driven onto cattle cars to be taken to Auschwitz. Elly managed to conceal a small two-inch pocketknife in her hand and so was able to make a small hole in the cattle car for air. They arrived in Auschwitz on June 2, 1944. Her mother and younger brother were killed immediately. Every day, prisoners at Auschwitz had to stand for hours for roll call. Elly passed out on the second day. The woman in charge of the barracks saved Elly’s life by giving her a job inside the barracks so she didn’t have to go to all of the roll calls and selections. Later she had to work with chemicals that made her ill in a Volkswagen factory. Elly was liberated by the American army.
Albrecht Brecher was born in the small German town of Thale and was raised with two older brothers. His father was a baker who ran his own bakery. He went to school in Thale, and studied to become a teacher in Wurzberg. At the age of 18, in Wurzberg, he met the director of the German State Archive, who was his first love and with whom he lived for 10 years. He introduced Albrecht to the German art world and it Albrecht became involved with acting, directing and photography. Albrecht then became an avid photographer and with his first exhibition held in Vienna. His work gained enormous popularity with his unique world-view and works reflecting his love of life.
In 1935 he was arrested for homosexuality based on Section 175 of the new German Criminal Code, forbidding sexual relationships between same-sex couples. He spent three years in prison in Nuremberg, released in 1944. At the end of the war Germany desperately needed more soldiers so prisoners who were "not considered dangerous" were sent to the Eastern front (Ukraine, Russia). After the war he worked as a photographer and director. He wrote about his experiences during the war in a memoir entitled Paragraph 175, published in 2000. He died in 2002 in Hamburg.
Ágnes Bartha's father came from a very poor family and as the eldest boy in the family he had been working since the age of nine.
As an adult he opened his own shop in Dunaföldvár, and his successes allowed him to provide high quality education for both his daughters. After her middle school studies, Ágnes started her high school studies at a prestigious institute in Vienna. However, she was forced to interrupt her studies due to the political situation and return to Dunaföldvár where she worked in her father’s store. She was 19 years old when she married a Catholic man, someone she had been in love with for years. Because of anti-Jewish legislation, they needed special permission to enter into a mixed marriage. Her husband’s family, however, refused to accept the Jewish Ágnes and they struggled hard to tear the young couple apart. After a year of being married, they ended up divorcing in 1942.
Ágnes moved to Budapest and started working as a photographer. Her father was deported from Dunaföldvár in May and her mother in June 1944. Ágnes never saw them again. In October 1944, Ágnes and her sister were forced on a death march from Budapest. Her sister managed to escape from the march at Süttő with the help of a 16-year-old young girl. After that, Ágnes befriended painter and sculptor Edit Kiss from Budapest and the two of them supported each other to survive the horrors of the march and deportation. They end up at the concentration camp in Ravensbrück where they were both deemed to be fit enough for slave labor at the Daimler-Benz factory. They were eventually liberated and began their journey back to Hungary together. Upon returning home Ágnes lived in Dunaföldvár for three years before moving back again to Budapest where she continued working as a photographer. By this time, Edith had moved abroad, but the two remained friends until Edith's death.
Lajos, called Laló from early childhood, was the first of two children in his family. Later his name became well known both in Transylvania and in Hungary. His father studied to become a lawyer, but ended up opening a drug-store and photo laboratory on the main square of Marosvásárhely (Targu Mures), a business that provided a living for the family of four. Laló attended school in his hometown, but in May 1944, when he was 15 years old, he and his family were deported to Auschwitz. When the family arrived at Auschwitz, they were immediately separated and Laló's mother and sister were sent to the gas chambers and killed. Laló was forced into doing very physically challenging slave labor in order to survive. He eventually managed to escape from his barracks to the one where his father was kept and during the horrific months they spent in the camp, they were able to stay together which played a crucial role in their survival.
After liberation they returned to Marosvásárhely (Targu Mures). After finishing his high school and university studies Laló began working as a journalist, earning an international reputation for his sociographic photos and portraits and his historical research and publications. In 1988 he and his wife moved to Budapest where several successful exhibitions of his photos were organized and many of his books were published. "I have always lived together with my memories. Unfortunately. They are present in my dreams too.” he wrote in one of his books. His daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren live in the United States.
Izabella Friedmann's father was a popular family doctor who lived with his wife, Júlia, and their two daughters Vera and Izabella in a beautiful downtown house in Gyula. Their home also included a doctor’s surgery room. Izabella, or Belluska as she was called, was seven years younger than her sister, Vera. Their mother was an extremely intelligent, educated, and cheerful woman, who loved her family, organizing large family lunches on Saturdays attended by aunts, uncles and cousins. The girls loved these events because they were able spend the afternoons playing with their friends. All off these happy times formed unforgettable memories for the family.
Belluska started elementary school at a private school in Gyula and then went on to the public civilian girls’ school. She was an excellent student in both institutions so in January 1942 after passing a special exam, she continued her studies at the best school of the region, the Public Lorántffy Zsuzsanna Girls’ High School in Békéscsaba. Her sister had attended the same school before her. On a daily basis she commuted to Békéscsaba from Gyula by taking the train and was a straight A student. In 1944 Belluska was in grade seven when she received the end of term school report early on April 1 – three days before her 17th birthday. Her sister was already living in Budapest, and their father had been called up for forced labor service. The Jewish community of Gyula was deported to Auschwitz at the end of June 1944. Belluska and her mother, Júlia were killed there. Their dear memory has been preserved by the members of the family and through some old photos, a school report and the memorial monument in the Jewish cemetery in Gyula.
László, aloing with his family – parents, sister and twin brother - had a happy childhood in Seregélyes, a village near the town of Székesfehérvár. His father also had a twin brother, and both of them worked as tailors at the workshop in the large family home they shared.
In 1939, László and his twin brother Bandi were refused from the high school in Székesfehérvár due to anti-Jewish legislation and they had to go to the civil middle school in Enying. In 1943, Bandi returned to Seregélyes to learn to be a carpenter, while after a special exam, László continued his studies at the Berzsenyi High School in Budapest. The school-year ended after March 19, 1944 and the school reports were handed out on April 5. Jews were required to wear yellow stars were forbidden to travel. With difficuly, László finally managed to obtain permission to travel back home to Seregélyes on April 22. His father and his father’s twin brother were taken away and forced into slave labor. They both died, weakened, in a camp in Austria. The Jewish population of Seregélyes was deported on June 5 and arrived at the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp on June 17. László and his twin brother were selected to go to the twin camp, where they were experimented on by the infamous Mengele and his colleagues.
On January 18, 1945 the camp inmates were forced on a death march towards the west. On January 20, while trying to escape from a mass execution in a forest area, Bandi was killed. László and another inmate went into hiding until a few days after the Soviet liberating troops arrived. László got back to Budapest on April 15, 1945 as the only survivor of his family.
Mira was born in Temesvár, Romania, and was ten years old when her family moved to Budapest. She attended the girls’ civil school at Aréna Street and was very active in the scouts movement. She later recalled: "Then from one day to the other I was fired from among the scouts, Jews could not be scouts.” As a result of the measures against the Jews she was forced to give up her bicycle as well. She was seventeen years old when her mother died in March 1944, after being very sick for just a short time.
On March 19, 1944 the German troops invaded Hungary. Mira had to wear a yellow star, required to be worn by all Jews, and she and her father had to move into a yellow star house. Her father was arrested for political reasons and kept in prison for three months. In October all the men from the yellow star house, including Mira's father, were taken away. Not much later, women between the age of sixteen and fifty were gathered on the KISOK sports field to be taken to forced labor. This is where Mira reunited with her sister, who had been working for a wealthy family. They were forced to dig roadblocks at Gyömrő and the group was herded towards the west from there on foot. Mira had her eighteenth birthday at the Lichtenwörth work-camp in Austria. The camp was liberated by the Soviet troops on April 2, 1945. Despite the fact the Mira had a high fever due to typhus, she and her sister along with two other girls began their journey home. They later learned about their father’s death in Budapest. After Mira recovered from her illness, she went to the Zionist orphanage in Bácskai Street, where she became a madricha (educator) for orphaned children. She later studied to become a kindergarden teacher which was her profession for the rest of her life.
Péter was raised in a large and loving family. After 1940, the men in the family continued to lose their jobs until they were conscripted for forced labor. Péter was five years old when his father was conscripted; Péter never saw him again. 1944 marked the last year of his childhood. He was not even seven yeras old when he was forced to wear a yellow star and to move into a yellow star building. He had just turned seven when he witnessed a horrible pogrom at the yellow star house at 59 Népszínház street; 22 men were killed by the Nazis and the women and children witnessed the massacre. Among the victims were one of Péter’s uncles and his cousin. After the massacre the Nazis kept the women and children hostage at a sports field without food or drink for two days.
From December 1944, Péter was forced to move to the Budapest Ghetto and was living there in a crowded apartment with his mother, starving and freezing and in constant fear of death. While living in the ghetto, he witnessed hunger, illnesses and epidemics, and shootings killing hundreds and hundreds of people on a daily basis. Péter’s mother was killed when the building at 5 Síp Street was hit in a bombing on January 18, 1944, on the day the Ghetto was liberated. The orphaned Péter was adopted and raised by his aunt. After getting his degree in engineering, he got married and had two daughters.
Magda was an only child and was only a few weeks old when the family moved from Budapest to Szentendre. His father was born in Trencsén, in the uplands (now known as Slovakia), but studied in Budapest where he became a trade correspondent. Later he commuted from Szentendre to Budapest to work. Her mother came from a Catholic Croatian family and converted to Judaism before she got married.
She ran a kosher household, learned the brachot (blessings), and lit candles on Friday nights,” Magda wrote about her mother in her memoire. Little Magda started her studies at the Jewish Elementary School in Szentendre, and after finishing there, she continued her middle school studies at the Archiepiscopal Roman Catholic Girls’ School. She was a straight A student at both schools and went to high school in Budapest. Magda wanted to become a doctor, but could not because of anti-Jewish legislation, so instead she started working in Budapest. In June 1944 she, her parents, and her 85-year-old grandmotherwere deported from Szentendre. The last time Magda saw her family was when they were separated upon arrival at Auschwitz-Birkenau. She was placed with the group of women capable of work and was forced into slave labor. She was starving, freezing and working 12 hours a day at a factory. Her foot got wounded in the winter freeze and dirty machine oils got into the wound resulting in severe blood poisoning. Magda was taken to a larger hospital where she contracted pneumonia in the horrifying conditions. She was liberated from the hospital in May 1945.
"Basically the Hungarian poets and poems brought me home: Petőfi, Arany, Vörösmarty. I could have gone abroad, to the west. I knew my parents were not alive,” she later wrote. After the war she finished education school and worked as a teacher of Geography and History until her retirement.