Research

Zeltzer, Angie

Kisvárda, Hungary

Child of Holocaust Survivor

On March 10, 1946, a warm Spring day in Kisvárda, Hungary, Helen Szeren Schwartz gave birth to a her second child, a daughter Agnes (Angie). Angie was born at home with the help of a midwife and weighed only three-and-a-half pounds. “My father, Lazlo Gottesman, died three months before I was born while he was in the Hungarian army. He died of typhus, as many soldiers did in the time of war…. I’m told that the first six months of my life I lived in an orphanage, along with my brother, Gabi (Bob) who was about one-and-a-half years old, because my mom couldn’t take care of us and earn a living.”

Soon after her birth, Helen took Angie and her brother for a walk in the stroller. “I was sitting in between his legs and everybody kept coming up to us, saying what a beautiful doll you bought, because I was sleeping and they didn’t realize it was me.” So beautiful, that as a one-year-old little girl, Angie “won the heart of” Markus Wasserman and he married her mother Helen.

Markus was a tailor from Miskolc, Hungary, who was twenty-five years older than Helen. His first wife and three children were killed in the concentration camp. “I called him my father, because he raised me…. Once, he gave me a porcelain doll; one of the few toys I had. When I dropped it, he wasn’t mad at me. He said, ‘it’s okay; when I get more money I will get you another doll.’ So that’s the kind of dad he was.”

“It was a very, very tough life and my father was considered rich, so I can’t imagine how much worse it would have been for the many children who had less than me…. We lived in Miskolc in a house that opened on an enclosed yard with many doors in a row and I’m assuming they were all different houses. Our house consisted of basically one large room for sleeping and eating. The refrigerator was in the ground, and we had to put ice into the ground to keep all our food cold. Across the way was a little room which was our kitchen – just a stove…. I can remember that my brother’s and my duties were to take the cholent, a large dish with beans and potatoes and meat, to the community oven at the synagogue on Thursday and then pick it up Friday night; and that would be our food for the weekend…. Our synagogue was also our safe house. Whenever things didn’t look right, the Jews met at the safe house and we were kept safe and the children, of course, were kept really safe.”

Angie tells her family’s story in post-World War II Hungary, because “People don’t believe the extent of the Holocaust or that after ’44 when it supposedly all ended, that it wasn’t happening. Everybody thought that none of that was happening anymore because it was done. But it wasn’t done. It was just done in different ways now. We were still ridiculed…. I want my grandchildren and others to know that just because the era was over and the Jews were ‘freed out of concentration camps’ that the anti-Semitism didn’t stop. And the United States and all the other countries didn’t know that we were still treated poorly, no better than dogs. So it was really horrible. When somebody asks why did we leave Hungary, I answer, ‘I wish you would know what really happened after ’44 and that it didn’t stop. And it was still there. It wasn’t a concentration camp; it was a level above concentration camp.’”

Her first recollection of anti-Semitism in Hungary was when she was about three-years-old. “I can remember something was going on around me but I wasn’t sure what. I had a tumor on my head, and the doctors told my mother that they needed to remove fluid that was building up in my brain or I wasn’t going to make it. I only remember waking up to the flash of lights over me. But the interesting part of it was that the surgery was done in my house and the doctor was Jewish, but I wasn’t allowed to go to the hospital because I was Jewish.”

“As children, we were still pretty beaten up most of the time one way or the other, whether it was verbal or physical…. I had neighbors upstairs that weren’t Jewish and I would play with their little girl who was my age and it was okay. But it was never okay in school. You could play with these kids in the neighborhood but you couldn’t play with them at school, because at school they just did horrible things to you…. My brother and I would go to school and always on the way to school or on the way back, we would have a group of other children who would call us dirty Jews and told us not to walk near them and don’t touch them because we stink and we just can’t be near them. And they would harass us; push us down; pull our hair. My brother got it a lot worse than I did; the boys took him into the bathroom and urinated all over him…. That would happen every day at school and the teachers didn’t care that there were two kids that were being kicked and beaten up on a regular basis. It wasn’t just that they didn’t care; they just turned their backs…. One day we came walking home from school and these kids made a big circle around us and threw us all the way around the circle. And my dog came running and kept pulling the kids off by their clothes.”

”The other major part of our life was the nightly, I don’t know how many times a week, visits we would get with loud knocks on the door and pushing the door in and taking my father to work camps. We didn’t know where they took him, but we had the smartest dog in the world and he would follow my father and the soldiers and then he would come home and he would lead us back there…. The only reason we were able to take my father back was because my father, by those standards, was wealthy. He was a tailor and probably made all the suits for all the people that were a part of this too. So my mom would pay the soldiers off and they would release him….  And not only would they take him, they would ransack the house and just scare us to death…. When my mom heard them coming, she would get my brother and me up and send us to the end of the block to a Christian family that would take care of us and try and get us out of some of this horrible feeling and seeing. They didn’t want to be identified because then the soldiers would maybe come and hurt them too. So they helped us, but they didn’t want us to make a big deal out of it, which now I understand, but then I didn’t.”

“The Russians came in at the end of ’55.  This whole time my mom and dad were working on getting us out of there. So we had a plan, we were going, and we had to get to a place in Budapest and from there somebody was going to take us across the border. But that’s when the Russians came in and we had to do it on our own because he didn’t show up. Nor did we have papers, which he was going to provide us to get across to Austria.”

“My mom and dad just said ‘we are going on a train ride,’ with no explanation. I was nine-years-old at the time and so we just thought okay, we are going on a train ride and it’s going to be fun.  But once we got to Budapest, that’s when things became really hectic because the man wasn’t there with our papers. And now the Russians were all over the place and we didn’t know what was going to happen…. We went to Austria. I remember, as a nine-year-old, to me, it was walking; I was used to walking because I used to walk to school every day, which was far. But this was dark and just lots of trees and things in the way that I didn’t know what they were. And there were guns firing. It didn’t seem like it was near me, but I heard it. When we got to the Austrian border, there was no man to meet us and take us across; but we did it by ourselves, the four of us.”

“Once we got to Austria, we didn’t have any place to go nor did we have papers; we didn’t have clothes either or food; whatever we took got lost in getting across. So we sat on a bench and I fell asleep and the German police came. I thought we were arrested because we were put in jail. My father was quiet as he always was; but my mom was hysterical because we thought that was it, we’re going to be sent back. But really we weren’t put in jail; we were put in safe-keeping. And they treated us very well. They brought us candy, food, clothes, everything; so we understood that we were going to be helped…. The Jewish organization HIAS took us over and it took about nine months to get papers and a sponsor so that we can come to the United States.… My dad’s brother in Detroit sponsored us.”

Markus got sick almost as soon as they arrived, so Helen was the sole supporter of our family. She was a great cook and became a well-known caterer all over Detroit. Bob taught himself computer programming and moved to Washington DC. Angie married Irving Zeltzer and they have two children, Michelle and Brian. Michelle is married to Rob Davis and they have three children, Jillian, Max, and Nicholas.”

Angie’s closing message is to Jewish visitors to other countries who are not sure about the attitudes towards and treatment of Jews. “It’s not always what it looks like, so try to get away from the major part of the people and city and ask the other people how things are and how life is there before you support the country…. Remember that in Hungary it really wasn’t anything different, there just were no more camps. But that’s all that was no more, there were no more camps; but there was still plenty of hate.”

Date of Interview: June 16, 2015
Length of Interview: 45 minutes
Interview & Synopsis by: Zieva Konvisser
Videographer: Ted Nickel