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Surviving in Silence: A Deaf Boy in the Holocaust

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My guess is that more than half the people in the ghetto were ill. Typhus fever was rampant. The lice were out of control and were eating holes through the dying bodies that littered the streets. I tried staying lice-free by bathing in freezing water, but avoiding the lice was next to impossible. Lice eggs covered my jacket. Dr. Kanizsai told me to keep washing my body with cold water and to stay as busy as possible to remain healthy and alive.

I was ready to give up and submit myself to death when I learned that, suddenly and miraculously, food was being provided to anyone who was willing to work. I knew I needed food. Even though I could barely walk, I decided to work. My duty was to clean the streets and tidy up the sleeping quarters of the Arrow Cross officers. The Arrow Cross militants also gave me a variety of other tasks. For my hard work, they gave me a cup of broth (which was really warm water). I wasn’t satisfied, but I was glad that I at least had two warm liquids a day. Keeping myself physically active was also important because it kept me from freezing.

The Russian troops began advancing aggressively and were almost on the Pest side of Budapest. The chaotic conditions prevailed among the people. It seemed as though everyone wanted to go into hiding, including soldiers and officers in the Hungarian army. They no longer wanted to obey their new government’s orders. They, too, had no more access to water, electricity, and food. Everyone was tired and fed up, and they wanted the war to end.

But the bad conditions turned into a Christmas nightmare. On Christmas Eve, the siege of Budapest began. Eichmann knew that the Russian troops had almost completed surrounding the boundaries of Budapest and that his stronghold was in jeopardy. He set forth his final command to the Nazi troops, ordering them to kill all the Jews in the Central Ghetto before evacuating Budapest. Naturally, none of us knew what was going on. I was barely surviving. On this evening, gunmen broke into a children’s home, which was run by the International Red Cross. They shot some of the children and forced others to the banks of the Danube River, throwing them in to freeze and drown.

The rampage wasn’t over. On Christmas Day, the Fascists broke into another children’s home and shot the children, killing all but the girls. The young Jewish girls were spared from death, but they were assaulted, raped, and then tattooed as whores. After the girls suffered through that treatment, they endured additional violence from the Arrow Cross militants and Nazi gangs. [1] No one was safe. For the next couple of weeks, looting, rape, and murder became commonplace. Food and heat were still not available. When I wasn’t doing my duties, I tried to make myself invisible.

By January 11, 1945, a plan was in motion to get rid of all of us Jews in the ghetto. We were to be bombed to death. The Arrow Cross Party began planting the bombs. We could not have escaped, even if we had known what was happening. The many escape fantasies I had entertained since entering the ghetto could not help me now.

Rumors were being spread that the Russians were coming and that, outside the ghetto, wall-to-wall fighting was in progress. Some hearing people told me they saw a couple of Russians peeking in through the ghetto fencing. I was trying to remain hopeful. For a solid week, I could see the fighting, the bullets flying through the air. I could feel the ground shaking tremendously.

On January 17, the Russians and Americans, independently, were fighting the Arrow Cross and Nazis soldiers on the outer perimeter of the ghetto area. They were closing in. The vibrations from the bombings become more frequent. At night, in the distance, I could see shots being fired that lit up the sky. I had no fear. I had no energy to be scared, and I figured that if a bomb came and I died, so what. I had lost interest in life. I was helpless—unable to move and without any freedom.

1 Danny Smith, Wallenberg: Lost Hero (Springfield, Illinois: Templegate, 1986), 104–16.