B y 1941, Hungary had become home to many Polish refugees. We listened with politeness and fascination to their stories of Nazi atrocities against Polish Jewry, stories of ghettos and mass murder, yet thought they were spinning gizmos — gross exaggerations. When we heard that the Hungarian government had expelled more than 20,000 of those Polish refugees to Kamenets-Podolski, where they were massacred by the Nazi Einsatzgruppen, we were sad. But we still thought we Hungarian Jews were safe.

Soon afterwards all men of military age were taken into forced labor battalions (“Munka Tabor”) and sent to the Ukraine. By the end of the war, 27,000 of these men had been killed, many of them by their Hungarian overseers. Yet even this forced conscription didn’t set off warning bells.

After the liquidation of the Bochnia Ghetto in 1943, handfuls of Polish Jews escaped to Hungary, among them the Hochberg brothers. They told of how the Nazis were slaughtering Jews, how women and children were being put into the ovens. Ovens? What did that mean? It was totally incomprehensible. Besides, Polish Jews were a different “species.” We were Hungarians. The Hungarians would keep us safe.

The SS arrived in Hungary on March 14, 1944. With the blessings of the new pro-German Hungarian government, Jews were herded into holding pens, to be shipped off to “work camps.” The new Hungarian government paid the Nazis per head to get rid of their unwanted Jews, just as they paid to ship livestock to slaughter — and the Jews were put in the same filthy cattle cars.

Hungarian Jews were in shock. My neighbors — people who had worked and lived peacefully with us side by side, people we had employed and helped — now showed their jealousy and hatred. Father was accused of signaling English airplanes with a flashlight from our rooftop. Pure fabrication, but he was incarcerated. He was released, however, by the mayor, who vouched for him, on condition that he return to prison after spending Pesach with his family. Friends begged Father to run away, but how could he? He had given his word to the mayor, and return he must. We heard he was interned in Pest and later taken to Auschwitz, fate unknown.