As the last survivors of the Holocaust age, we know that hearing these people tell their stories will keep this horrific chapter in the history of the Jewish people – and the world – from being forgotten. The New York Times’ Alison Smale does just that as she writes of a Jewish woman who was sent to Auschwitz as a teenager, and who has returned as an elderly woman to visit this place where dozens of her family members were murdered:
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HIGH above the hubbub of Budapest’s main tourist street, Eva Fahidi flits, birdlike, around her warm apartment, lined with books and plants. The setting is cozy, and the hostess and narrator, at 90, a lingeringly beautiful charmer. So the contrast with the Holocaust horror she is describing is all the more complete.
When she was 18, she was, as she put it, “ripped off the school bench to be deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau,” one of an estimated 437,000 Hungarian Jews rounded up outside Budapest and dispatched to death camps in just 57 days in 1944.
Auschwitz-Birkenau, she recalled, “was not ready. It was too fast. The gas chambers were big enough that people could still be suffocated to death. But the crematories could not manage. So corpses were being burned on open fires.”
“Really, at the very first moment you knew something was wrong. It was the huge stench of burning corpses — only we didn’t know.”
Ms. Fahidi lost 49 relatives in the Holocaust, including her mother and sister Gilike, then 11. Her last glimpse of them was on the ramp at Birkenau, where arriving Jews were sorted into those sent instantly to the gas chambers and those — like Ms. Fahidi — selected for hard labor and thus a chance at survival. She was later transferred from Auschwitz to Münchmühle, a camp near Stadtallendorf, in the German state of Hesse.
HER father also perished in the camps, whose horror she has chronicled in a memoir in this 70th year since the liberation of Auschwitz, and which she wishes to see judged, finally, when a former Auschwitz guard goes on trial in Germany in April.
“When I came home from the Holocaust,” she said, using an everyday phrase in German that seems implausible when containing so much tragedy, she ran right past the house in Debrecen, eastern Hungary, where her prosperous family had lived.
The house was so rundown, she said, that “I knew instantly I would not have anyone to look for.” The inhabitants “were complete strangers who really did not let me in my own home…”
“One of the biggest lies is that time could help,” she said. “Time does not help. It only deepens the feeling that something is missing. One simply learns to live with such trauma. And if you don’t get to the point where you can forgive them, then I think you can’t go on living.”
“I needed a lot of time,” she said. “Six decades.”
After that 2003 visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau, Ms. Fahidi declared it her duty to share what she remembered, and wrote her memoir, “Die Seele der Dinge,” or “The Soul of Things,” published in German in 2011 and later in Hungarian.
She hopes especially to encourage scrutiny of the past in Hungary, which like other central and eastern European nations has not really examined its history of the era.
“At some point it has to come,” she said. “Because much repeats in history, and if you don’t know what happened and what consequences it has, then it can happen very quickly again.”