Weisz Weiss, Lily
Balassagyarmat (Hungary), Nyirjes, Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Aschersleben, Theresienstadt
Jews first settled in Balassagyarmat, a city in northern Hungary near the border of Slovakia, toward the end of the 17th century. Lilly Weiss was born there in 1930 to Lenke Slomovits Weisz and Ignacz Weisz. She had an older sister Edith, born in 1927, and two younger brothers, Gyorgy and Josef. Ignacz owned a small shoe store and Lenke was a good cook and baker. They lived in walking distance to Lenke’s parents, Rosa and Sandor Slomovits, the parents of 11 children—9 girls, 2 boys. The children went to Jewish school and “it was a beautiful Jewish life in Balassagyarmat.” Lilly still remembers picking up the cholent for Shabbos from the kosher bakery “and you could smell it from far away. It's nice to remember those little things that Jewish people kept in Europe.”
“We were a happy family until the tragic thing came. The Germans came and put us in the ghettos and then transferred us to a place on the outskirts of Balassagyarmat that used to be a factory for drying tobacco [Nyirjespuszta]. It was a small place; it had no sides and no roof. There were babies and old people. It was terrible.”
Ignacz had been sent to a forced labor camp in a city named Nagycenk on the border of Hungary and Germany. Lilly later heard that, just a few days or a few weeks before the liberation, he and the others were shot and are supposed to be buried in a mass grave.
After two weeks in Nyirjes, Lilly, her mother and sister and brothers, and her grandparents were transported to Auschwitz in cattle cars—“like sardines, no bathroom, no food, no water. It was terrible, terrible to see my grandfather standing in one place and just staring out the small little window of the cattle car. When we arrived to Auschwitz, everything went so fast. The Germans were with the dogs; they were barking and jumping on us and we were scared. I remember that my grandmother stepped down from the train and she was crying and she touched us, the grandchildren. My mother was 36 years old and I had two younger brothers and she was holding their hands, so she went with them and I never saw them after.” Lilly and Edith were sent to a building and had to take off their clothes “and we folded them up nicely for when we came back so we would put them on and we would wear them again. Of course we never came back to that side. They also cut our hair and we were holding hands because we were afraid we wouldn’t recognize each other. They gave me a burgundy colored, reddish dress, short-sleeved and in the back there was one stripe, black stripe, and that's all we were wearing in Auschwitz.”
When they lined up to be counted, Dr. Mengele came and always separated Lilly and Edith, so they learned not to stand behind each other. “She started the first person, we counted, and I was the fifth one. He saw we were switching, because he kind of recognized that we were related.” They heard about Mengele’s experiments with twins while they were in Auschwitz and learned more after the war from the shochet in Balassagyarmat, Mr. Braun, the grandfather of twins, one of whom came back and the other one who never survived.
Everybody worried “if they were going to gas us because we saw what's happening after we came into Auschwitz. We saw the smoke coming and we asked our blockova what is this? I remember she said, your parents, whoever you came with, the relatives, you see the chimney is burning, they’re probably dead.”
Instead, after three months, they were transferred to Bergen-Belsen. “It was awful. There was no water, no food. It was terrible. The rats were all over and my sister and I were lying down and we heard the scratching and we were screaming. It seems to me that the rats were dead or they emptied them from a box or something and we were terribly scared. I still can’t go into the garage today and knock on the wall because I am so scared that rats or mice will be there.”
Three months later, they were transferred to Aschersleben in Germany, where they worked in an airplane factory. “I was 14 years old. Can you imagine holding the luft gun and the other person holding something and we were working from one side and the other side? It was awfully hard because you tried to push the gun and it didn't stay in one place where it was supposed to. And the next morning, the Germans came and they were very angry with us. It was kind of scary what’s going to happen.”
After another three or 3 1/2 months, they were sent to Theresienstadt by foot and by train. “We were walking and if you couldn't walk, they’d shoot you, left and right. We saw people dead and we were leaning into each other. If I wanted to sit down, my sister was saying don't; if she couldn't do it anymore, I was saying please get up. My wooden shoes fell off from my feet and I saw my sister taking a pair of wooden shoes from a dead person. My feet were bloody; finally I put them on and we were walking; it was like in a death march. We arrived toTheresienstadt, which is in Czechoslovakia, and also we were there about three months and it was terrible there, awful.”
In the spring of 1945, they were liberated by Russian soldiers, including one of their cousins from Balassagyarmat, Ezra Moskovitz, who was now a Czechoslovak soldier. “We were hungry, we were tired, we were sick, we walked so much. He brought some food for us and some other people and then he disappeared.” Many years later, at a Hungarian gathering in Israel, Lilly found out he was alive and in Israel. “So we met; that was really very sweet.”
So after another three months, in 1945, Lilly and Edith got on a train and eventually arrived in Budapest, where they found two surviving aunts, her my mother’s sisters, Szidi and Ilonka, Lilly and Edith decided to go down to their hometown Balassagyarmat. They still did not believe that the family, their mother and their little brothers were killed, burned in Auschwitz, and were hoping to find somebody, but it didn’t happen. They were among the first ones who came back and slowly they found relatives, including Bela Weisz and his son, with whom they lived in a couple of rooms in a house. Slowly other people came back and the Jewish community started a congregation and held meetings. Lilly and Edith started to earn a living in Balassagyarmat. Edith married and had two sons; then Lilly married her brother-in-law's brother, Michael Aronovich [later changed to Aron when they became U.S. citizens] and had a son George and a daughter Eva.
Edith’s first pregnancy resulted in a stillborn child and Lilly miscarried her first child after about six weeks. Almost all of the young women who had been in Auschwitz had a miscarriage or something was wrong with their first child because, as Lilly explains, “they gave us something to drink like black coffee that was very bitter. It was a medicine called a broom and it caused us not to have our monthly period. Something about this medicine also caused something to happen to the firstborn child of almost all of us.”
In 1957, when the Russians came into Hungary, Lilly and Michael decided that they did not want to raise children in Hungary any more “and we sneaked out to the United States, thank G-d. There’s nothing like this country.” Two guys agreed to help them all the way through to Austria, but it didn't happen. “It was winter, it was snowing, and I was holding my son’s hand and my husband was carrying Eva, my daughter, and they disappeared. We couldn't see which way they went to. I was holding my son George's hand and didn't know which way to go and I saw footsteps two ways. First we started left and then I said no, we’re going to go right, and we chose the right route.” They walked and took a train, on which “we had to give some small amount of sleeping pills to the children so they won't cry.”
When they arrived in Vienna, Austria, “We didn't have any strength whatsoever; so finally we found a hotel for people who sneaked out from Hungary to Austria. And we didn't have any papers and didn’t know who we were going to get visas from. So we stayed almost a year. It wasn't easy and in the end we found out we had two non-Jewish families in the United States that we had helped with some amount of money to get out of Hungary to the United States. They never forgot this. They went to a lawyer and found out we were in Austria and they said that those people are very nice people and we want to help them. We got papers from them.”
Meanwhile, Edith’s husband had both Hungarian and Czechoslovak citizenship and could come to the U.S. with regular papers on the quota for Czechoslovaks. So they also came to Austria first and then to the U.S.
Lilly and Michael and their two children settled in Youngstown, Ohio, where their sponsors and lawyer lived, and started a small fruit store. Edith and her family also lived in Youngstown and they raised their children together, “like they were brothers and sister.” After Michael Aron passed away, Lilly got a job and then met her second husband Michael Weiss, a survivor from Kaszony, Czechoslovakia, who was living in Detroit. He had two sons, Arthur and Mark, and between them, there were 13 grandchildren.
For Lilly, “It's very, very hard; there is no day that I don't think about my family. I was 14 years old and my sister Edith was three years older; we didn't have a childhood. I’m 82 now and it hurts me that I don't remember if I ever said I love you mom or I love you dad. I didn't have a chance. We were busy with our lives, raising the children, raising families. But now that we are older, it's even worse.” It saddens her that her children didn't ever know their grandparents. “They used to go to birthday parties and come home and say that this friend’s grandparents or something and where are my grandparents? The holidays came, Thanksgiving, no family, no grandparents. It was very, very hard for the children, for the second-generation and they still feel it. They ask a lot of questions, the why is there for them all the time. It still hurts very much and I never talked about that too much with my children because I didn't want to make their lives miserable or give them nightmares. If they ask questions, now I do answer and talk about it.”
Although it is hard for Lilly to explain or try to describe what she went through in the Holocaust, she and her girlfriend talk about it almost daily. “My friend is telling me, don’t you think we are lucky that we coped with everything, which is true, very true. All those years we raised children, we were working, we are still here. Sometimes I am thinking that so many people were gassed, burned, and how we came back, my sister and I, so young at 14 and 17. It's just unbelievable how much we went through at a young tender age and we survived.” Lilly concludes that what helped her and Edith survive was being together. “That's how we survived. It’s a miracle, it's really a miracle.”
Lilly’s message for future generations and to the world is that “if you see, if you hear anything, don't ever forget, G-d forbid. This should never happen. Don't forget, remember, remember what the Jewish people went through in the Holocaust from Europe, how many people were burned, gassed in the gas chambers. Stop the hate. In Israel too, don't kill the Jews. They want over there, another Holocaust. G-d forbid. Just don't hate us, we are good people, which is true. Just never forget. Some people, like me, have a hard time talking about it because I lived through it, I choke, but please talk about it. The world should know what happened with the European Jews. Hitler tried to kill us all. But thank G-d for some miracles, he couldn't, it didn't happen.”
When Lilly and Edith first came home to Balassagyarmat, “we didn't have anybody. We didn't have any clothes, we didn't have any food, we didn’t have anything, no place to go. Nobody cared. Nobody asked us to come in to have a slice of bread or something. No one; the Gentiles didn't care and in a way they didn't want us back because of what happened. They took us from our hometown and they got everything; one person got the house, another person got the furniture, they got everything that we left; we didn't have a chance to close the door or lock the door.”
Lilly still has hard feelings about the Hungarian people because “if the German wanted to take out from the city the Jews to send them to Auschwitz, to the death camps, they could have said, this is my country. They could have fought with them, but they didn't.” She cannot talk about them nicely. “I remember walking on the street and a young boy came from the other side and bumped into me and said, you dirty Jew. You cannot forget this. Where did he learn this? At home. Yes he came over and said, you dirty Jew. We used to play together.” As for the Germans, although “the younger generation is not responsible for what their grandfathers did, . . . you really cannot forgive the German people for what happened.”
Date of Interview: July 12, 2012
Length of Interview: 1 hour 17 minutes
Interview & Synopsis by: Zieva Konvisser
Videographer: Fred Safran