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Visit to the Village
In the summer of 1940, Mother and I travelled to Budszentmihaly, the village where she was born. By that time, Jews travelled very little as it had become unsafe. Jews were frequently attacked by Christian travellers or by the gendarmes who "guarded" the train stations. But Mother and I didn't look Jewish, we spoke Hungarian and German well and we carefully concealed our true identities. Nevertheless, we were fearful throughout our journey. I had to sit quietly, without running around or talking to anyone. The trip was extremely long and boring!
We stayed with Mother's childhood girlfriend and her parents. They were warm-hearted peasants who welcomed us into their home and set out to fatten me during our stay. Mother's old school chum, Sari Juliska, was an important person in the village as she was the postmistress and she owned the only tobacco store. In the few weeks we spent there, I divided my time between hanging around the tobacco store in the heart of the village, and stuffing myself with fresh fruit, picked off the trees in the courtyard. Village life fascinated me: the chickens wandering around, the roosters waking us up at dawn, and the fresh fruit that hung from the trees, begging to be picked.
I was sternly warned not to reveal we were Jewish to anyone, not to talk to strangers, and whenever I saw gendarmes from the distance, to cross to the other side of the road. I feared those gendarmes; they looked menacing and cruel to me even though I didn't truly understand the threat they represented.
We had relatives living in that village. I vaguely recall visiting a frightened older couple in their home. We went there cautiously and made sure that no one saw us entering or leaving their house. They told Mother in hushed tones about how badly they were treated, as one of the few Jewish families of the village. They owned the local flour mill and had gentile customers who sometimes refused to pay them and had, on occasion, physically assaulted them. But they had to continue serving these customers in order to avoid a visit by the dreaded gendarmes. I found this all very confusing and didn't see what any of it had to do with us.
That was the last time we saw those relatives. They were among the victims of the 1944 summer deportations to Auschwitz.