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3 The Priest

3 The Priest

The Priest
In the middle of 1944, a couple of months after the German Army occupied Hungary, the Jews of Budapest were herded into the Ghetto or into the designated Jewish, Star Houses, which were identified by the big yellow Star of David fixed on the gates.
By that time the Jews from the countryside had been deported to Auschwitz or other death camps, but it was still impossible to comprehend the horrors that were waiting for us. The time soon came when the rounding up and transportation of the Jews of Budapest began. People became desperate to obtain protection from the Swedish, Swiss or any other neutral country but there was a curfew on the Jews, so it was extremely difficult and there was not enough time in the day to reach the end of the long queues.
One day a priest came to our home promising that he could save us from deportation and could give us a Vatican Protection Document if we accepted baptism. Mother rejected the offer but the priest said, 'Think about your children', and promised to come back again. Mother was against a mock conversion but we four children, said that it would only be for the duration of the war, which we believed was already in the final stages, as we knew the Red Army was rapidly approaching Budapest. Nevertheless at this time the Nazis and their Hungarian Fascists allies, under Adolf Eichmann, ordered a rapid deportation of the Jews out of Hungary.
In the end Mother accepted our reasoning so the Priest came to undertake the ceremony.
If we thought that the Priest understood our doubts and embarrassment, we were mistaken; he came through the courtyard with an altar boy carrying all the regalia for everyone to see. He took us to the basement, which doubled as an Air Raid Shelter, marked us with holy-water, gave us a wafer and eventually handed over the all-important Vatican protection papers.
After a few days we decided that the time was right to leave the Star House and melt into the free population as Christians until the end of the war. Within a few steps of leaving the house an armed Hungarian Arrow Cross guard stopped us. He asked us where we going and demanded our papers. We showed our Vatican passes, which certified us as Christians and free to go anywhere. He took the document, read it slowly, and then tore it into pieces saying, 'Now you are not Christians'. Taking his rifle and pointing it at us, while swearing obscenities he said, 'You go back to the house or I will shoot you'. We went back hoping he would not shoot us in the back.
We had nothing more to do with the Catholic Church ever again. We survived to the end of the war, (except Father, who disappeared).
In the first census after the war we registered as Jews us usual.


Oil on Canvas 122 X 76.5 cms