Agnes Lugosi was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1938. Lugosi’s first memory is when she was three years old and she went along with her mother and older brother, to visit her mother’s family. Lugosi recalls that in 1941 when the Germans came to Budapest and relocated the Jews that her mother lost seven members of her family on the same day. After that, Lugosi never saw her mom smile anymore.
Her father was picked up and taken to the Floridsdorf, a subcamp of Mauthausen, in 1943. He died right before liberation. Lugosi, her mother, and brother had lost one more member of their family. Lugosi states “By age six, I’ve seen it all, I experienced it all. I’ve seen people being killed, babies being murdered, children (Jewish children) hung from the tree. And we experienced hunger, and being afraid and always on the run.”
When there was a talk of a ghetto in Budapest, Lugosi and her family left their housing with just the clothes on their backs to go into hiding. The first hiding place was inside a large family plot in the cemetery. Unfortunately, they were discovered, because a woman they were hiding with smoked and the Germans saw the smoke. After being caught, they escaped and fled to an ice cream factory to hide. After some time hiding in the factory, Germans came into the factory to inspect. Lugosi, her mother, and brother hid in the empty ice cream containers. When he thought the Germans had left, Lugosi’s brother stuck his head out of the container and said “We are okay.” But then a soldier answered “Not quite, we are still here.” He then hit Lugosi’s brother on the head.
Lugosi, her mother, and brother were forced to join a line of about one hundred people marching to the Danube River to be killed. When the Jews arrived at the Danube, they would be shot in the head and fall into the river. The babies, Lugosi remembers, would be smashed against the wall. Lugosi’s mother, fluent in German and desperate to save her family, pleaded with one of the soldiers to let them go. Once they got close to the river, the soldier turned towards them and waved his hand, to let them know they could go. As soon as she could, Lugosi’s mother got false identification for everyone, or, as Lugosi calls it, their “Wallenberg Papers.”
These papers enabled them to stay in some houses that were protected by the Swiss and Swedish government. Lugosi, along with her mother and brother, continued to move around. They stayed in the houses only at night and had to share one room with many other Jews as well. One night, when Lugosi and her family was in one of these houses, her brother wanted to leave. He didn’t want to stay; he just knew he wanted to leave. Lugosi’s mother pleaded with him to change his mind because staying out at night was dangerous, especially for Jews. But Lugosi’s brother won and the family left the house. Lugosi’s mother learned that the next morning, all of the Jews in the house were picked up and marched to the Danube, where they were murdered. After this, Lugosi’s mother decided that she wanted to find a safer place for her family. She found a job in a Lutheran orphanage, working as a kitchen maid. Lugosi got odd jobs cleaning potatoes while her brother got the job of cleaning the toilets.
Lugosi has several memories from her time at the orphanage. Once, her mother stole an onion from the kitchen and was going to use it to buy some potatoes. But Lugosi got hungry during the night and ate the onion. She also remembers when her mother had free time, they would sit outside and her mother would pick the lice out of her hair. The last important memory is that of her brother. Once when he was cleaning the toilets the sirens from the raid sounded. For whatever reason, he didn’t stop cleaning the toilets. From the explosions and strength of the raid, he fell head first into the full toilets. This saved his life because everything else around him was destroyed.
The family stayed only three months at the orphanage because the personnel was worried they would be killed if they were found harboring Jews. Lugosi’s mother had befriended a woman at the orphanage and she invited them to come with her to her home on the outskirts of Budapest. Since Lugosi and her family had nowhere else to go, they agreed to the offer. The outskirts of Budapest had already been liberated by the Russians, but Lugosi’s mother and the woman still wanted to be careful because she heard that the Russians abused women. Therefore, Lugosi’s mother and the woman put old scarves on their heads to make themselves look unappealing old women.
During their journey, Lugosi remembers very harsh conditions as it was winter, and is surprised they survived. They did and after three days they finally reached the woman’s house. It was not what they expected. The windows had been smashed, the house looted, no food, and the furniture had been taken to be used for firewood by the neighbors. After assessing all of the damage, a couple of Russian soldiers stopped by. The soldiers felt sorry for them and promised them some food. Sure enough, they came back with a jar of goose liver and some potato candy. The next day, everyone came down with jaundice. Miraculously, without any medication, they all survived. “I guess we were meant to survive. And we did.” On January 18, 1945 it was said that Budapest was liberated. As soon as they heard the news, Lugosi and her family traveled back to Budapest. They went back to their original apartment, thinking it would still be there for them, but it was occupied. A former neighbor, a childless couple, let the family stay with them. Post-war, with the newly elected government and some hung war criminals, the city started to rebuild. Lugosi’s brother witnessed the hanging first hand and told her about them. She comments “They got what was coming to them.”
She says she got through the war by not thinking of all of the atrocities around her. She sometimes has hatred, but for the most part, tries to put the past behind her. This interview is important for her in many ways. First, she wants to pay tribute to the memory of the eight members of her family who died during the Holocaust. She also wants people to remember that the Holocaust did happen and a lot of people suffered. Even the ones who survived continue to suffer. For instance, Lugosi still gets nightmares before and after she speaks about her experiences. Nevertheless she goes on to share her experiences and hopes that people will learn from them.
Date: August 2003
Length: 26 minutes
Format: Dvd recording