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Deaf People in Hitler's Europe

Donna F. Ryan and John S. Schuchman, Editors

Part Three: The Jewish Deaf Experience

Deaf Survivors’ Testimony: An Edited Transcript

John S. Schuchman and Donna F. Ryan

In the summer of 1997, Donna Ryan and I interviewed a dozen deaf Hungarian Jews. Although neither of us speak Hungarian nor use Hungarian sign language, we believe that this transcript is a reasonably accurate English translation of the narratives that follow. Our initial interviews with a dozen Hungarian deaf Jews occurred in the summer of 1997 in Budapest. I conducted them with the assistance of Hungarians who translated from spoken Hungarian to spoken English. Our sign language interpreter, Vilma Dostal, translated to and from signed Hungarian to spoken Hungarian. Ryan operated a video camera and took notes throughout the interviews. The following summer, we were able to bring four of the survivors to Washington, D.C., to participate in the “Deaf People in Hitler’s Europe, 1933–1945” conference. Again, with the aid of Vilma Dostal and survivor Harry Dunai, who is fluent in both signed Hungarian and American Sign Language, the survivors—Peter Farago, Miklos Klein, Klara Erdosi, and Judit Konig—shared some of their experiences with the audience. We used two translators for spoken Hungarian and spoken English. In the summer of 1999, I interviewed Harry Dunai at his home in California. Using American Sign Language, Dunai corroborated and amplified some of the information provided earlier by the other Budapest survivors. The following summer in Budapest, these same survivors spoke to the students and an assemblage of the Hungarian Association of Deaf Jews. Mrs. Dostal interpreted and yet another Hungarian translated from spoken Hungarian to spoken English. In total, we have used four different translators for spoken Hungarian to spoken English. In addition, Donna Ryan and I have communicated in gesture and shared Hungarian and American signs with these survivors one on one in social situations since 1997. The basic narratives that these survivors have communicated to us and others have remained constant. We have added clarifying comments in brackets.


Klara Erdosi: Camp Experiences, Including Ravensbrück

Arrival at the Camp

They were very rude with us, the soldiers. We were eighty to a hundred pushed into a wagon [cattle car]. Everybody wanted to find themselves a better place . . . as well as for their baggage. The windows were very tiny and the train started. At night the train stopped. We got off. For about seven days, the train went until we arrived. . . . [at Ravensbrück] I could see many children. They were very dirty and disheveled. My heart was hurting from watching this. I was patient, I was trying to control myself. We lay down in a huge yard. The next day they called us, they undressed us completely naked, they shaved off all our hair, they gave us prisoner uniforms . . . . At a table in a corner they were putting the hair into packages, a whole pile of gold, a pile of watches, a pile of photographs, a pile of shoes, clothes were—we were looking in this huge hole, I was trembling. We received this prisoner uniform, we put a kerchief on our head, everybody retained their shoes. This was very odd to be bald.