Silence: A Deaf Boy in the Holocaust
Several more days passed, and I was desperate for food and heat. My nerves were on end, my stomach was growling, and my skin burned from the bitter cold. Finally, Dr. Kanizsai found us a permanent place on the cross streets of Wessélenyi Street and Akácfa Street. He was able to get a bit of food, which was really nothing. We did have some water in our apartment though. We took up residency throughout the building in different rooms and on different floors. I was assigned sleeping quarters on the second floor. Dr. Kanizsai and another counselor ordered me to start cleaning the second floor, room by room. The floor was covered with human feces, and we had no hot water with which to clean it up. I had to use cold water, which cleaned the floor but didn’t get rid of the smell. When I was done, the counselor brought me lunch. He told Dr. Kanizsai to give me a pat on the back because I had worked very hard. He also suggested that I be given an extra ration of food for my efforts.
A couple days later, the bomb siren went off. Dr. Kanizsai rounded us up, instructing us to head down to the basement. In the basement, I could feel the violent shaking. It was scary. We were now in the dark because the building had lost its electricity. Once it was safe to come out of the basement, we could see the destruction. The bomb had destroyed the fourth, third, and second floors of the building. We had been saved by going to the basement in more ways than one. While down there, we discovered beds and blankets. Dr. Kanizsai assigned us to separate quarters in the basement. I was relieved and could now rest.
We still had no heat and little food. I began using my previously earned money to buy bread from Christians. One loaf of bread cost one hundred and twenty pengö. I hid some of my money under my mattress, which got stolen. The money for bread lasted for approximately one month.
During these months of November and December 1944, Budapest was in a state of lawlessness. Gangs of Arrow Cross officers roamed the streets, shooting anyone or anything in sight. Everyone was cold and starving, including many of the military men. Food, water, and heat were luxury items. A kilo of bread was worth eighty pengö on the black market. Christian inhabitants sold their goods to the people of the ghetto. My daily breakfast consisted of bitter black coffee. We had no real breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I had to search for food, eating primarily sugar beets and potatoes and, sometimes, animal feed. I even ate old food from the garbage cans and leftovers from the Arrow Cross officers. I constantly reminisced about my earlier days when I had been a picky eater. I vowed to myself that, if I survived, I would eat anything that was offered to me.
Enduring from day to day, just trying to stay alive, I had plenty of time to reflect on the events and people in my life. I wondered what had happened to my school friend, Péter. Although I was unaware of his plight when he had gone home in May, I later learned that around this time period, he had been deported to a concentration camp in the Netherlands named Bergen-Belsen. Both he and his mother had been separated. In the camp, Péter met a teenage boy named Pavel. Pavel could see that Péter was signing frantically as he was searching to find his mother. Pavel was a hearing son of deaf Poles. Pavel saved Péter’s life by telling him not to sign. Pavel knew that if any Fascist guard saw Péter using sign language, Péter would surely be killed.
Weeks passed and I just wanted to die. All my prayers to God seemed to be in vain. The winter was freezing and deadly, and the health of the people worsened. I was fortunate to have received the immunizations from the Red Cross to protect me from the infectious environment. People were weak, sick, and lice-infested. Many had already died. The dead bodies had a putrid smell. As soon as the dead bodies were removed, new ones appeared. Sometimes the bodies would remain a couple of days. Whenever Dr. Kanizsai saw a dead body, he ordered the older children to lift it and take it away. I have no idea where they went, how they disposed of them, or whether or not the bodies were buried or cremated. I began to grow accustomed to the smell. Newcomers were sick to their stomachs when they first entered the ghetto. The only time the smell was wretched to me was when I reentered the ghetto after the Arrow Cross militants had me work in the snow outside the ghetto walls. Then the smell was heightened.