I traveled to Sankt Anna am Aigen, foremost, to say THANK YOU for giving me life saving food, which helped to sustain my living until the liberation. Also possibly to meet with people who were residents of the villages in 1945. And to revisit the places and sights where I was sleeping, working, begging for food. Accomplished all within five brief days.
For sixty years I was in the belief that the place were I got my daily ration of food and the room where I was sleeping was in the School Building. At the very moment of my arrival to the village of St. Anna I was questioning the validity of the notion that the School Building served as sleeping quarters for me. In two days we found that the Lippe warehouse was our bed-and-breakfast place. The notion that I was housed in the School Building became a nagging question. Where did I have the idea that I was sleeping in the School Building?
While I was summarizing the Austrian trip of June 2005, Dr. Lappin, Mayor Weinhandl, Mrs. Weinhandl, Mr. Schober and me kept the e-mail correspondence alive. Over the times, I kept writing in our correspondence, seemingly unrelated episodes of my slave labor experiences. Those episodes seemed unrelated, because, sixty years later, I couldn’t place them in the proper prospective. In May of 2006, almost a year after the trip, Dr. Lappin, while reading one of my e-mails, spotted a key element, which enabled her to put a new idea on the table. Archival data proved her correct. Placing the puzzle pieces in the proper order the scenario sounds as follows:
As slave laborers, we were working in the bombed out oil refinery of Szöny,Hungary. The time was Christmas day of 1944. Regular workers form local villages were off, they celebrated the holiday. But holiday or not, the German army wanted the oil. The refinery was idle while the crude oil was still arriving through the pipelines. The pipe lines were tapped with spigots and the crude oil were loaded into 55-gallon steel drums. This job was given to us, a contingency of Jewish forced laborers. We had to fill the drums and rolled them up onto the German trucks. Dirty, slippery and hazardous job, as such stayed in my memory. Two or three days later we had to evacuate the camp. We received a new contingency of guards. They were brutal MP’s, specifically trained for the job. Death-march toward west.
We followed the direction from Sz ny, Komárom, Györ and Sopron. And from Sopron to Austria. Marching daytime, corralled in nighttime. Whoever needed to step out from the marching column, for whatever reason, was shot on the spot. While marching toward, near Sopron, we were ordered to stop on the roadside before reaching the city. We were ordered to empty all our pockets and our backpacks on to our blankets. They confiscated practically all our personal belongings. To demonstrate their aim that they will take all our belongings, they randomly selected two of our comrades and shot them by a firing squad, before our eyes. This charade was on the pretense that they attempted to hide something in their pockets. This charade was just for warning. They confiscated almost everything, except the clothing on our back, not even a spare to change. We were allowed to keep the blanket. Also we were allowed to keep our identification papers in our pockets, the empty backpack with our mess kit and canteen, toothbrush and my Gillette safety razor for shaving. We had to shave daily, but water to wash up was denied. From there on we traveled lightly. I remember that toward the end of that journey, we were shoveling snow in downtown Sopron. The last Hungarian stop was the Steiner Brick Factory, in Sopron at Aranyhegy Street 1.
It seems that the Brick Factory served as a way station, as a concentration camp. When we arrived, there were already several hundred Jews in the camp. If my memory serves me right, I saw Jewish women also. There were daily selections to form slave labor companies and ship them out. When we arrived, we were just mixed in with the other inmates. If I remember correctly, that was the time when Gyuri and I were separated from the other comrades whom we befriended earlier, in Szőny. We slept one or maybe two nights in the brick factory and we were selected with a new group to be sent to another camp.
While researching the location of the brick factory, I found that Hungarian Jewish Slave Laborers were buried in mass graves in the Steiner Brick Factory proper. Also I found that the Steiner Family lived in central Sopron and not in the impressive house in the factory grounds.
The railroad tracks for the Gyõr-Sopron-Ebenfurt line are on the other side of the road, some distance away from the road.
This Brick Factory is one of the key puzzle pieces, which Dr. Lappin pulled from the archives. In the last sixty years, the brick factory was constantly lurking in my memory, but I couldn’t place it in the proper prospective. The connecting links were missing.
From the Brick Factory we were transported – by foot – to another way station camp (already in Austria proper) for delousing and processing for further shipment. This march was the shortest daily march since we left Szőny. We accomplished that march in about four to six hours.
For the delousing process – I believe – we were in a fairly large estate winery. The building was surrounded with ample number of trees in a well-kept area. Inside in a large hall there were wooden tubs, built like the vessels were used in the wineries to crush grapes and to keep the just pressed grape juice prior transferring to wooden barrels for fermenting. The size of the tub: about 4 or 5 meters in diameter and the side would be just about less than 1 meter high. I estimate that each tub’s capacity was well over 1,000 liters. All our body hair was shaved, and then we had to take a short bath in batches, using the same water. About 15 of us were in a tub at one time. Soap was provided. Our personal belongings were treated in steam ovens.
From that winery, we moved to St. Anna. We might have traveled by railroad, in boxcars, from near a nearby railroad station to near St. Anna, probably to Fehring station. I also have a rail travel in my memory, which I couldn’t place. We weren’t too many people, may be 150–160 of us; we were not squeezed in the boxcars like sardines. We had room and the doors were not locked shut.
We arrived to St. Anna on foot – by the middle of the afternoon – and escorted to our sleeping quarters at the Lippe warehouse. We settled in. I looked around and besides my friend Gyuri, I saw new faces, none of the old comrades were present. The new comrades were mostly young men, similar to my age. We were all Hungarian–Jewish Forced Laborers. We all spoke Hungarian. I didn’t know that in St. Anna there were already two other groups of Hungarian Jews housed in two separate locations, although geographically in very close vicinity. They arrived much earlier to St. Anna. The first group was housed in the School Building. The second group was settled in to the Kino. The third group, us, ended up in the Lippe warehouse.
The next morning we were escorted to the work site and group of ten’s were formed to work together. My group of ten was constant through out of the next two months and Gyuri was a member of the group. We worked together. We spoke Hungarian among ourselves. We trusted each other in our work. We worked together harmoniously, if one can use the word “harmoniously”. In our conversation the school building as “our housing” was mentioned numerous time daily. I did not know that eight persons from the ten lived in a separate building than Gyuri and me. I assumed that we all lived at the same place but in separate rooms and that way we met only at the work site. The name of the School Building entered in my memory from the work site conversations.
Another aspect came up in those e-mail exchanges:
Before shipping us to St. Anna, in late January or early February of 1945, we went through a delousing process in the winery. How come that in short of six weeks time, me and other comrades from the Lippe warehouse group, was infected by fleck-typhus? From where did we get the lice and the illness? Dr. Lappin collected survivor’s testimonies. And from those testimonies it is known that some of the inmates were already recuperating from fleck-typhus when they were evacuated from the Kino building in late March 1945. The first group was housed in the School Building, the second group slept in the Kino and the third group, us, we lived in the Lippe warehouse. Minimal hygiene was denied from all of the three groups. They were there much longer already. They were infested with lice and infected with fleck-typhus. Since our daily liquid intake was about 1 liter, we were severely dehydrated also with weakened immune system. We were commingling and working together. Thus spread the lice and the disease between us. That way I was able to catch the fleck-typhus in a very short time.
Accompanied by Ron, we traveled to Sankt Anna am Aigen, and said THANK YOU for giving me life saving food, which helped to sustain my living until the liberation. We learned more details of the fate of the Hungarian Jewish Forced Laborers, – including myself – in Sankt Anna am Aigen of 1944-45 years. We found the place of where I was billeted in my St. Anna’s staying in February – March of 1945. We found the place where the infirmary barracks – locally known as Granite Barracks – was standing in early April of 1945, where I was taken to wait for the death to come. We brought home a piece of brick as a souvenir from the Granite Barrack. We met with the lady – Mrs. Maria Lackner – who gave me life saving food while being a fearless young women participating in bucking the Nazi system and helping Jews. We met with Maria Lackner with a photographer present, who in a great photograph captured a wonderful, tearful, unimaginable historical moment in Maria Lackner’s and in my life. We met people whose generosity is just as great as their mother’s and grandmother’s generosity was. We experienced elations, which one can experience only once in a lifetime. We wrote and rewrote a small part of history. We accomplished a lot.
On 18 July 2005, shortly, after arriving home from the trip to Austria, I submitted a petition with supporting material, to Yad Vashem, testifying the heroic, life saving good deeds of Mrs. Maria Lackner. On 17 March 2007, Yad Vashem sent a letter of recognition to Maria Lackner. In that letter Yad Vashem expresses thanks and appreciation to Maria Lackner for her humane act, which helped the victims to survive during the Holocaust. Her humanitarian deed at a time of great sufferings of the Jewish people will remain enshrined in Yad Vashem’s records so that it will inspire future generations.