Surviving the Holocaust and the Hungarian Revolution of 1956
Speaking About the Holocaust and Memorials
Eva Aigner was born in 1937 in Kosice, Czechoslovakia. Her father would travel and sell hats while her mother would help sew new hats at home. In 1939 the Nazis started to arrive in Czechoslovakia. One of the first discriminatory laws that was passed prohibited Jews from owning their own businesses. Aigner had a sister who was eight years older than her. They lived a comfortable and Jewish life. Their family was close knit and they had relatives nearby. The family was affected by the laws that helped to strip the family's ability to make money. Aigner's dad could not find employment because of his Jewish status. Their non-Jewish neighbors refused to help. Aigner's father had a brother in Budapest, Hungary. After corresponding with him he decided that it would be best for Aigner, her mom, and her siblings to go to Budapest. They put all of their belongings on the train. Before that they said goodbye to all of their family members. Everyone they left behind in Czechoslovakia with the exception of one cousin was killed in camps. They moved to Budapest and with her uncle's help her father was able to find a job. The peaceful atmosphere around Budapest subsided quickly with the implementation of Nazi law in Budapest. In 1943 a forced labor camp was built and her father was forced into it. The forced labor camp contained all of the able bodied Jewish men. They had to dig ditches, build roads, and help the Nazi war machine. They were not given uniforms but were marked with a yellow armband. They were treated quite brutally if they did not do their job. A few months later, in a new place, Aigner found out that her father had died in a forced labor camp. The Nazi laws gradually increased and their implementation increased as well. Rules were established that kept Jews off of sidewalks and in the gutters. Every Jew had to be marked with a Star of David armband. Aigner was a little girl at the time but she remembered her mom sewing on a yellow armband. Every time they stepped on the street they were made fun of or yelled at. Aigner admits that as a child it was hard to understand what was happening around her. Aigner was happy at school but one day the teacher made all of the Jewish kids stand up. They were told that they had to leave the room because from that day on Jewish children were not allowed to say the Hungarian national prayer. They had to go out in the hall and wait for the other children to finish the prayer. Aigner went home that day and cried in her mothers arms. There was nothing they could do because it was the law. They had curfews and they had to turn in all of their valuables. They were not able to have anything from their past life. One day, the Hungarian militia came by and told them that the building they were living in was to become a marked house. They put a yellow Star of David outside and more and more people began to live in their house. As it turned out their three bedroom apartment ended up with three families in it. Little did they know how good those conditions would be compared to what was to come.
[Annotator's Note: Eva Aigner was a young Jewish girl from Kosice, Czechoslovakia. After the anti-Jewish laws were implemented in her country, she moved to Hungary with her mother and sister. The three survived the holocaust and were liberated by the Russians in January 1945.] It was wartime so they had to have shades on their windows. Bombs were a constant threat. Whenever there was an air raid they made sure to go into the basement. They did not have running water and eventually they lost their electricity. The Hungarian police came again and told them they needed to pack. They were going to be transported to the Jewish ghetto. They packed their few belongings and, along with her mom and her sister, they were taken to the Budapest ghetto. They were herded into an area that was cordoned off with barbed wire and machine guns. They also had dogs. They were put into apartment buildings. Most of the rooms were designed for four to five people but Aigner found herself getting crammed into the rooms 20 at a time. They had a mass feeding, usually twice a day. They still had to deal with air raids. Sometimes they would not get food if they did not get in line fast enough. People were constantly getting sick. One night when they were huddling together, the Hungarian militia came by and began to collect able bodied people. Aigner's mother was taken away from her at gunpoint. At this point her sister was 15 and Aigner was seven. They had no idea where there mother was taken. They were woken up in the middle of the night by the Hungarian police and were told that they were going to go on a march. It was December 1944 and it was snowing and brutally cold. They were lined up and forced to march a mile or two down to the Danube River. They still had no idea what happened to their mother. They were standing in a line hearing nothing but gun shots. They took 50 to 75 people at a time down to the river and shot them one at a time. There were 800 people that particular night who were killed along the banks of the Danube. The Danube did not run blue that night, but red. Aigner found out her mother was taken onto a train. At the first opportunity, Aigner's mom jumped off of the train and with a little luck and sympathy from a German soldier was able to escape. The German soldier had a wife and kid as well and was able to sympathize with her mother. Aigner's mother hid during the day and walked at night. She was luckily able to walk back to Hungary. On her way back she scavenged for food. Aigner's mom sneaked back into the ghetto looking for her but earlier that night their section of the ghetto had been emptied. Aigner's mother recognized her daughter's crying voice. Her mother took the last thing she had on her that was valuable which was her wedding ring and bribed a guard to get Aigner and her sister out of the line. In January 1945 Russian troops came into the ghetto and liberated it. They were told that they were free to go. No one wanted to leave because they could not believe it. One by one they started leaving. Aigner could not walk because she had dysentery. They did not have a blanket or a pillow to lay down on. They got back to their original apartment and it was stripped down. They were able to find post cards from their father that he sent to the apartment before being killed at the forced labor camp. They lost a lot but they survived and they had each other. They lived under communism until 1956. Before that, Aigner met her future husband who was also a survivor. During the revolution [Annotator's Note: the Hungarian Revolution of 1956] they were standing in line waiting for bread when they heard two men behind them. One of them said that after they get rid of the Communists they could get rid of the Jews. This alarmed Aigner and right then and there her and her husband decided that if they were going to raise a family they were going to do it in a free country.
Eva Aigner and her husband decided to leave. They left through Austria and ended up in the United States. It is not easy for Aigner to talk about the Holocaust. In the mid 1980s, the Holocaust denial movement was gaining notice in the media. It was then and there that Aigner decided that her and her husband could not keep quiet about what they experienced. They joined a Holocaust speaking group in Portland, Oregon. Ever since then they have spoken to church groups and school groups trying to spread the message of love. They have incredibly high praise for the US Army and the part they played in liberating Europe. Aigner has high praise for The National WWII Museum [Annotator's Note: The National WWII Museum, New Orleans, Louisiana]. As a child growing up in the ghetto Aigner did not have any possessions or belongings. They slept like herring on the floor. Aigner was hungry all of the time. They constantly scavenged for food. She remembers finding a piece of moldy bread in a cabinet and they treated it like a piece of candy because they were so hungry. Aigner recalls missing out on her spot in the food line because she was so small. Some days she had to wait an extra day for food. When the bombing raids occured over the city [Annotator's Note: Budapest, Hungary] everyone ran downstairs. Aigner vividly recalls how the basement in the bomb shelter was filled with rats. There was no electricity. She cannot stand seeing rats to this day. Aigner had long braided hair but because they could not wash their hair they had lice. Later people even had lice in their clothing. Aigner learned from history that they had it better than the people in the camps. The Russians were not able to help right away but they did tell people that they needed to leave. Some of the Russian soldiers were raping the younger girls. Aigner's mother made her kids look like Gypsies so that the Russian soldiers did not rape them. Aigner asked the Russian soldiers in Russian if they could spare some bread. A lot of soldiers did give her bread. A memorial on the Danube was erected in 2004 [Annotator's Note: Shoes on the Danube Bank]. Aigner has been back to see the memorial. The first time she saw the memorial it was difficult to realize the enormity of the situation. The monument pays homage to the last thing the Jews most likely heard before they were shot which was the request that they remove their shoes. Aigner and her husband have been trying to get a monument together in Portland, Oregon. Aigner does not want people to forget about the 11 million Jews who were killed. Finally, in August 2004, the memorial was dedicated.
There are docent led tours at the memorial in Portland. It gives Eva Aigner a physical location in which to go honor her family. Local historians were able to put down the entire history of the Holocaust. They were able to compact it down and keep it concise. They have 10,000 to 12,000 visitors who come and receive docent led tours. They probably get more people than that. It is an educational memorial. Aigner is thankful that their group was able to leave a legacy. Her sister was not well throughout her experience. She was able to get married after the war but stayed in Hungary and had a few kids. Aigner has stayed in contact with her family members. She was able to bring her mother to the United States in 1964 for a visit. It was a very limited visit because Hungary was still communist. Aigner's mother lived to be 84 and was near Aigner in Portland. As Aigner's mom got older she got dementia and was somehow thrown back into her Holocaust experience. It was hard to see her in that condition. When she passed away she thought she was in the Holocaust. Aigner took her to Disney World one time and she loved it. For a long time, Aigner was able to put the Holocaust out of her mind. When she escaped Hungary in 1956 she relived a lot of her Holocaust experiences in her mind. She and her husband were truly happy together. Since they had similar backgrounds it made it easier to support each other. Aigner wants future generations to know that she does not wish what happened to her upon anyone. The experiences are going to stay with her for a lifetime and no one needs to experience that. Aigner believes that every one of us is God's children.
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