Gyuri and me were in the same age group. I was born in May; he was born in June of the same year. We both lived in Rákospalota. We were childhood friends and joined the Hungarian Army labor battalion the same time in the same center in May 1944. We were together; we helped each other until the evacuation order came on/or about March 27, 1945. Since I had become ill with fleck-typhus and hardly able to walk, Gyuri escorted me to the infirmary barrack in the Hölle and said GOOD-BYE. He thought that he would never see me again. He was evacuated, and in a forcible death march, taken to Mauthausen concentration camp. He was liberated in Mauthausen and returned to Rákospalota. His mother and his sister Klára also survived the Auschwitz concentration camp. In 1949 Gyuri, his mother and by that time married sister and his brother-in-law immigrated to Israel. Later, in 1965, Gyuri immigrated to America and settled in California. After we, my family, arrived in America in 1956, we settled on the east coast, in Brooklyn, NY.Gyuri regularly, once a year, visited his mother and his sister in Israel. Every time Gyuri traveled to visit mom and sis he took a stopover in New York and visited my family and me. Gyuri pasDuring the first two weeks in April of 2007, Elisabeth, Josef and Stefanie Weinhandl were my guests in Ventura. Within a short time span of two weeks we realized that we had an exceptionally good time together. Mainly because over the shorter than two years time – via correspondence – we developed a relationship with mutual respect and love. And now if you look back and observe the “Handshake with the Mayor” picture again, you can see already the beginning of a friendship; it was written on our faces. Next day, after the Handshake with the Mayor, at the Fehring station Elisabeth Weinhandl, in her farewell to Ron and me said that she feels like Ron had become her brother and I am like a grandfather to her. I guess, because she experienced her part of my mental exhilaration during those five short days we spent in St. Anna. And the relationship between the Weinhandls’ and I started budding.
But let’s go back in time a bit with an abbreviated version of my arrival to Budapest in April 1945, from the original description in the “We Couldn’t Cry”:
Right after my arrival in Budapest I went to Rákospalota. I headed home; to the home I left to answer the call-up order. I went to the place where my parents, my sister and I were living before and that we called our h-o-m-e. But I found strange people living there. I went into a next-door neighbor’s – the Sas family – apartment to inquire about the situation. The Sas family greeted me with open arms. They fed me, prepared a bath for me in a bowl shape large washbasin. I unceremoniously undressed and stepped into the bath. Mrs. Sas washed me off like a midwife bathing a newborn. While I was bathed the clothing I wore at arrival and all other flammable belongings I brought with me were burned. After the bath, Mrs. Sas showed me a wicker-basket with some clothing. I realized that the clothing was mine. I recognized that my mother had folded those items. I recognized her specific way of folding the clean laundry. Then came a brief explanation. They told me as much as they knew about what happened with my family.
Thus I started my liberated life.
Victor E. Frankl was writing from a psychiatrist’s view about his experiences in the concentration camps. He advocates that every liberated inmate after the liberation should go trough a psychological liberation also. The aide of his writing and my own experiences enables me to express my thoughts in the following:
I wrote in the We Couldn’t Cry, as well as in this work, that on every single day of our 57 years together, Anna and I discussed some aspect of our lives during the holocaust, our losses, and our experiences in the camps. We got married about one year after the liberation from the camps. Two years after Anna died I traveled to revisit St. Anna where my camp was located in early 1945. That puts my revisit about 60 years after liberation.
For sixty years I lived a liberated free life without being completely liberated. The Red Army liberated me physically. The Red Army cut the chain of the shackles the Nazis forged on my legs. But I dragged the loose chains around with me for 60 years.
During my revisit to St Anna, Mayor Josef Weinhandl showed me where the campus was located, which served as my place of housing. He took me to the site were I was forced to dig trenches. He also took me to the spot were the infirmary barracks were, where I faced the German machine gun, where I spent the last 7 or 8 days before the liberation. The Mayor’s wife, Elisabeth Weinhandl facilitated the reunification with Maria Lackner who gave me life sustaining, nourishing food in 1945.
With those actions, sixty years after the physical liberation, the Weinhandls’ handed me a psychological liberation. With their loving kindness, Elisabeth and Josef Weinhandl cut off the chains and trimmed the anklet of the shackles to be much lighter. Since coming home from St. Anna, that loving-kindness has further blossomed into a loving close friendship.
In ”We Couldn’t Cry” Anna reminiscing about her liberation and wrote the following:
Now comes the question: I am here, but did I really survive? Bodily, I'm here, but my mind is always wandering back to those horrible experiences. Those experiences are forever within me. On every passing day those memories are coming back. Haunting.
The arrival day to St. Anna on Sunday June 12, I had doubts. Are we in the right village? Are we in the right country? Are we in the right universe? Or this is just a nightmare? Or may be a diabolical trick? Or it’s just a mirage? The Weinhandl’s erased those doubts. They took me to the physical locations where I experienced the nightmarish existence in 1945. Clutching Maria Lackner’s hand was real. Her tears washed away her own doubts and like dew, moistened the oasis where I received my psychological liberation.
While observing the photograph depicting Maria Lackner’s tears on her cheek, I wrote a poem to express my thoughts with words. Elisabeth Weinhandl started to translate it to German. Via e-mail we have sent the poem back and forth numerous times until the present format took shape. We created the poem. In the process I changed English words to better suit to the German expressions and she created new German expressions to better suit the English text. Thus the creation of SIXTY-YEARS LATER became a cooperative product of two persons. Thank you Elisabeth! I know that these acknowledgements usually are the subjects of Forewords, but this is not a usual story.
Victor Frankl words imply to seek psychiatry professional help for psychological liberation. My help came from lay people whom had nothing to do with professional psychology. The Weinhandl’s are unique, loving, caring people from the right part of the world. Anna was also surrounded with loving people and still she questioned her own physical and/or the lack of her psychological liberation. I didn’t phrase my question in such form I just lived my life with raising the questions silently. The Weinhandl’s were born and raised in the specific location where I was subjected to inhuman treatment as a slave laborer, in St. Anna/Aigen. Where the Nazis set up killing-grounds to slaughter Hungarian Jewish Forced Laborers. Where their grand parents risking their own and their family’s life while bucked the Nazi trend and helped and saved Jews. And they live now in a tranquil place where they set out to shine some light of the dark pages of the Nazi history and the Nazi atrocities effect on humanity. With those attributes they are uniquely set to file away the anklet of the shackles the Nazis forged on my legs. With loving-kindness they keep filing day after day and I feel the shackles lighter day-by-day.
Anna wore her tattooed number from Auschwitz to the grave. I am destined to continue to wear – by now – a much lighter “anklet.” Thus living a freer life, which enables me to “construct” an imaginary memorial monument to Anna. In part of the construction of that monument I am making music with my harp. In part of that music I’m frequently playing a melody, which recalls an event, a picture often discussed between Anna and me. A picture depicting my mother serving a Sabbath midday meal to her husband and her two children while enjoying that melody playing on the radio in late January of 1944. The music was Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 “From the New World” and the melody is the Legend from the Largo movement. And that music is a shining jewel, a very integral part of the monument for the memory of Anna. For the year 2007, I received the prestigious “Volunteer of the Year” award from the Ventura County Medical Resource Foundation. The people who nominated me for the award – I’m almost sure – based their nomination on observing the construction in progress and visualized the “imaginary” memorial monument.ed away in 1980.