Research

Thirman, Magdalene

Survivor/Camps
Csorna (Hungary), Farád, Auschwitz, Allendorf

Magdalene was born in Csorna, Hungary in 1926 and grew up in Farád where her Father was manager of his uncle’s estate.  Before that, he was a livestock buyer and was self-employed.

The two cities are 35k apart.  Her Father was Eugene and mother died in Auschwitz at the age of 48. Magdalene had five siblings but only one sister survived, Phyllis, who lives in Cleveland. At the time of their deportation, in March of 1944, the children were 20, 19, 18, 16, 13 and 10.

Csorna was a city of about forty thousand and about one-fifth were Jews.  There was one large synagogue. Farád was a very small town with only ten Jewish families, but they also had a synagogue, a very small one. Their family was conservative, but their practice was similar to the American Orthodox Jews of today.

Her paternal grandparents lived in Budapest and survived the war.  Her aunts, her mother’s sisters, also survived.

Magdalene attended a Lutheran school, which had a separate room for the Jewish children.  She doesn’t remember any anti-Semitism, but once, riding her bike, she was called a “dirty Jew,” but this was just prior to the Germans arrival.

In 1944, rumors about Jews being murdered in Poland surfaced, but the Hungarian Jews thought nothing would happen to them.  On March 19th of 1944, the Germans arrived and within a few weeks, her family was taken away.  The Mayor had sent notices to the Jewish families, telling them to pack up and go to Csorna, where there was a Ghetto, because they no longer belonged in Farád. He gave no reasons.

A Gentile man offered to have Magdalene move in with him and he would save her, but she declined and left with her family, taking nothing but small suitcases with some clothes and underwear.

The ghetto was very crowded when they arrived, all wearing their yellow stars.  Everyone was bewildered and were taking a “wait and see” attitude.  Soon they were herded off to another ghetto close by where there were mentally sick patients from a nearby hospital. One of her younger sisters was visiting friends in a nearby town and was taken from there directly to Auschwitz.

The family was sent to Auschwitz in windowless boxcars and was packed in like “sardines” with no food or water.  Magdalene thinks the trip took about three to four days during which time some people died.  Before boarding the train, the Germans, looking for jewels, strip-searched her mother.

Upon arrival, they were all dumbfounded.  Dr. Mengele was there making the decisions whether to go to the right or to the left. Magdalene and Phyllis were sent to the right and all her other family to the left.  They were immediately stripped, shaven and given a dress and a number and then were taken to barracks.  No one knew what was going on.  

One day, one of her sisters who was separated from them found Magdalene and Phyllis and told them that, even without hair, they looked beautiful.  She showed them spots on her stomach and Magdalene encouraged her to go immediately to the infirmary.  She felt that she sent her sister to her death.

They were in Auschwitz for six weeks during which time they both lost weight. Phyllis was so thin and weak that Magdalene had to help her so she wouldn’t be left behind.

Beginning every morning around 4 a.m., they were counted and “selected.”  The women wore only their dress, no underwear or shoes.  The weather was very cold and they were made to stand in a line for one to two hours every morning and sometimes often during the day.  At times, they were made to stand in the line without their dresses.  Those who were “selected,” were never seen again.  This happened every single day.

They lined up for food and were given nothing but “weeds” and their mouths were blistered because of lack of water or liquids to drink.  Magdalene said she couldn’t believe that anyone survived.

The “strip and select” line-up happened daily and those women who were selected never returned.  They saw German soldiers and dogs, but thought that the crematorium was a factory, never even guessing about the killing going on although there were stories about the Germans cremating the Gypsies.

Leaving Auschwitz, Magdalene and Phyllis were put on a train with about one thousand others heading for Allendorf.  One of their cousins who also survived was with them.  The trip lasted overnight and, during the night, a German soldier offered her some soup because he said she looked like his daughter.

The conditions in Allendorf were much better than Auschwitz. Here they were fed and they had plenty of water to drink.  They worked every day in the ammunitions factory, hoping these bullets and bombs were not hurt anyone, especially not the Americans.

During that time, they slept in barracks and marched to the factory.  They worked eight hour days, with both civilian and German soldiers guarding them.  The women guards were very mean to them.

When the liberation was near, everyone, including the Germans, walked away from Allendorf, marching for three to four days.  As the Americans came closer, the Germans scattered and ran away, leaving Magdalene and about fourteen others to fend for themselves.  They reached small towns, begged for food, but were made to earn their keep, making aprons from German flags.  When they began to see white flags, they hid on a farm until the bombing stopped and the American soldiers arrived, throwing the Germans out of houses and moving the survivors into them.

Magdalene never wanted to go back to her home, not wanting to ever see her Gentile neighbors who turned them in, but her sister did go back for a short while, finding that no family members survived.

Magdalene worked in a restaurant on an army base in the U.S. zone and then became an administrator during the next four years.  Her next stop was Frankfurt where she worked for the Joint Distribution Committee in their medical office.  Finally, in 1949, she, Phyllis and her brother-in-law all arrived in Cleveland.  She doesn’t know why they were sent there as they had no relatives in America.  She was then 23.

Magdalene arrived in Detroit in 1955 where she met and married her husband.  She has two sons, Mark and Michael.  Although she doesn’t speak to her sons about her past, she knows that they’re well aware of what happened, especially since Michael spent one year in Israel.

Magdalene Thirman said that she loves America and doesn’t think of herself as a Hungarian.  She only wishes that she could speak without an accent.

Interview information:
Date: 02/19/86
Interviewer: Robert Roth
Format: Video recording