When we think of Holocaust survivors, we tend to think of those who left Europe to settle in the United States or Israel. But there is also a group of survivors who chose to remain in Europe and begin again in their hometowns.
On November 4, the World Affairs Council brought Marta Fuchs to Louisville to share her family’s story of survival, not only of the Holocaust, but of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.
“Of all the Jews in Europe,” she said, “Hungarian Jews could have survived. They weren’t picked up until the eve of liberation.”
In the end, though, of the 1400 Jews in Tokaj, Hungary, only 80 survived. Fuchs’ family was lucky. Her parents survived and returned to Tokaj after the war to rebuild their lives and reinvigorate the family grocery store.
Fuchs described her childhood as lovely. She studied piano and her brother, violin. Everything seemed good and normal.
On October 23, the family was listening to a concert in which a cousin was playing the viola when the radio went dead. The next day, they learned the revolution was underway. By December, Fuchs’ family knew they had to leave Hungary. Dressed in several layers of clothing with party clothes on top, the family traveled all night to reach a train station in Budapest then made it to the Austrian border. There, they told the guards they were going to a wedding.
They said goodbye to their relatives and walked across the Austrian border. Once there, they were taken, with many other Hungarians, to a refugee camp.
There was a problem in that camp. Jews and former Nazis were mixed in together, and the old hatreds were still strong. Fuchs said her uncle was beaten by an ex-Nazi in the camp, one of many such victims.
The family managed to secure passage to America, and Fuchs reported that she was seasick for the entire 19-day journey. They arrived in Linden, NJ in 1957 and earned their citizenship in 1962. “We just got American,” her father declared.
When she and her brother were children, their parents refused to tell them about what they endured during the Holocaust. It was only 30 years later, in 1987, that she learned the details of their parents’ ordeal. At that time, Fuchs was asked by an Iraqi Jewish filmmaker to do an interview for a film he wanted to make on the multigenerational impact of the Holocaust. She told him that her family had never talked about it, but she would ask her father. “I think you’re old enough,” her father said when she asked.
Her father had been in a labor camp in the Bryansk forests under a brutal commander who forced them to do crushing physical labor under difficult conditions. Then a new commander, Zoltan Kubinyi, took over. Kubinyi refused to carry a gun and treated the Jews under his command with humanity. Toward the end of the war, when he was told to march the Jews to an extermination camp, he defied orders and marched them to Hungary instead, saving 140 lives.
After hearing her father’s story, Fuchs convinced him to document his story for Yad Vashem. While Zoltan Kubinyi, was no longer alive, Yad Vashem presented a righteous gentile medal to his son Marton in 1994. Professionally, Fuchs is a psychotherapist, and she credits her parents for withholding their stories until she was old enough to cope with them with her own happiness and well being. She has written two books about her family’s experiences.
Following the formal presentation, Jewish Community of Louisville President and CEO Sara Klein Wagner and Women Who Write Board Member Susan Lindsey served as panelists for a brief discussion.
World Affairs Council Board Chair Ingrid Johnson emceed the event, which was held at the University of Louisville’s University Club and Alumni Center.