Fox, Thomas (Fux, Tamas)
Tamas Fux was born November 5, 1931, in Budapest, Hungary to Salamon Fuchs and Lenke Fischer Fuchs (Fuchs Salamonne). His brother Kornel was seven years younger.
“We lived in Rumbach S. Utca 10, across the street from the Rumbach Synagogue. It was a poor Jewish neighborhood… like a ghetto, but it wasn’t a ghetto. It was just that all the Jews lived there. The Dohány, the big synagogue, was a mile from there. The famous kosher restaurant was in the tenement house where we lived…. It was just a one-bedroom, kitchen apartment. The only utilities we had were water and electricity. The toilets were outside.
“In this apartment, my father and my mother made baby shoes. The bedroom had a double bed and a chaise lounge at the end of the bed; that was my place. In the morning, that place turned into a business. There was a big table that opened in the bedroom and my father cut the material there. My mother and a few other Jewish women sewed and my father did all the other work. They were poor but both of them constantly worked.
“We were Orthodox. Friday night, my mother made all the foods, the chicken soup, the meat, the chicken, and she set a nice table so there was really a celebration every Friday. There was no work on Saturday; we went to shul.
“The Kazinczy Street Orthodox Synagogue also housed my school for maybe 6 grades…. It was walking distance from our house. Some of the kids were wealthier and were driven to school in Mercedes.… There were two kinds of classes; one for girls and one for boys. By the Hungarian rules, they had to teach us whatever the Hungarian schools did, half a day, and another half a day was religious.
“My mother was a very sweet woman and didn’t go to college but she was very educated… I had to be dressed as best as possible even in a poor neighborhood. She took some old clothing for grownups to the official tailor on the third floor. He took this old stuff and cut out the good part and made clothing for me…. My mother did everything for me and later for my brother to make our lives as comfortable as possible. As much as she could.
“I never met my mother’s father but my grandmother, Chana Bella (Johanna) Slomovits Fischer, four uncles, and three aunts lived in Rákospalota, like a suburb in Budapest. It was at the end of the streetcar line, in an area where farmers lived on the same street. They were all small houses because the fields were right there. The family had a factory for making shoes, with maybe ten different shoemakers actually making shoes and my uncles cutting the material.
“My father’s family was from the Carpathians. Mármaros Sighet was the main city, with lots of Jews…. They were in the business of selling stuff to the people, the farmers…. One of my uncles used to go to Havasmező, a little village up in the mountains, to cut wood. He took the trees, cleaned up the trunks, and put them on a little narrow railway, then ran the wood down to the river, dropped it in the river, and the people downriver processed the wood…. They also were selling horses. They did whatever they could to sell and make money.
“As a kid, I just played with all the kids in the yard of the apartment house…. Toys, I didn’t have any. I had some books, Jules Verne books. We really tried to read as much as we could.… My uncles found a bicycle for me, so I could ride to visit them…. We didn’t have money to buy a commercial two-wheel scooter, so I got a piece of wood, maybe three-foot-long, and went to a garage and got some bearings that they took out of a car and put bearing in the front and the back, attached a handle and we had a scooter…. Otherwise, the kids would play cards…. I had some friends who were gentile kids. We were good friends. There were no problems between us. They lived with us. I lived with them. We played together. Some of them eventually turned; they learned from the grownups and they participated but I didn’t see anti-Semitism in my neighborhood.
“Once the Germans came in, the next day everything changed. It took them time to get together with the Hungarian Fascists who were active and armed to do tzores, beating up people and causing trouble. The German soldiers weren’t that active…. Then the Germans made rules, Jews couldn’t go to the bank and take out lots of money. Then the Fascists got slowly organized and started to make rules. Every Jew had to wear a yellow star sewn to his garment, that’s it. Once you have a yellow star you only can show up in the streets in Budapest a certain time of the day. Kids had to wear yellow stars too, but the grownups couldn’t freely go places and do things even if they had some business because everybody knew they were Jews and didn’t deal with them.
“When I was a kid, I could still get out for a few hours and leave the area. Once I was in the downtown area in Budapest and two older guys came. I was only 10 years old, and they were maybe 13 or 14. They figured out that I’m a Jew. They couldn’t just come over to a Jewish kid and beat him up because there were other people there. So, they came to me and whacked me in the back and said hi… and anybody around thought that there are some kids, they’re friends. They know each other. But it wasn’t just touching to say hi, it was beating up in such a way that it didn’t arouse suspicion.
“In the beginning, they made the tenement houses into Jewish buildings and marked them as Jewish houses. Then they decided that no Jews can live together with the gentiles. So, they took all the gentiles from our building and moved them into apartments of Jews in a nicer neighborhood. They brought back the Jews to our building and they lived in a little one-bedroom apartment the same as we did…. So, then things become worse yet. Now you can only go out a certain time. You can’t go shopping. You can’t go to certain schools. They started to mandate language, what you can do. I don’t know how much the curriculum was controlled.
“After a while, boom, the ghetto. Our building happened to be the last tenement house in the ghetto. So, just past the building on our street, they built a wall. Wooden, maybe 15-foot high. There was a door so you can go outside at a certain time to purchase some food. Some people organized a bakery or some kind of kitchen.
“At that time already lots of bombing happened, so we mostly lived in the basements in the old tenement houses. When the siren goes on, everybody goes down. Windows had to be covered with paper and we were not supposed to have any lights at night because Americans will come and see everything. It was tough…. And once in a while, the Fascists decided to have some fun and went into one of the buildings and beat up people…. The lower level of the buildings usually held some kind of business. One of the basements had storage for bales of really fine feathers for pillows. The Fascists came into that basement. The basement maybe had 100-200 people in it. They came into this place and cut the bales open so all of these fine feathers went all over. They locked the doors of the basement. After a while, people couldn’t breathe. It was bad news.
“By that time, all of the healthy Jewish men were in the Hungarian army in a labor unit. My father had to go…. At that time, Romania and Poland were already worse than Hungary because the Germans got there before. Lots of Romanian people that lived around Carpathia escaped because they knew that in Budapest it was better. Can you imagine all this is still better than what they lived? They couldn’t go free so, the community put them up in the Rumbach Synagogue. They locked the refugees, who were usually men, into a side building. It was like a jail basically. Police were outside and they had to be fed…. So, my father used to bring some home for dinner when Pesach came and the people had no place to go.
“My Uncle Lajos, my father’s brother, was from Romania. At that time, the refugees figured out that if you were in a hospital, then they won’t take you someplace else to work. So, they all tried to fake being sick and fool the local hospital doctors not to send them back because it’s still better to be in a hospital. But eventually, the Fascist Germans got wise to it and probably sent them back to where they came from. My uncle happened to survive and lived in Cluj, Romania.
“But before that, when times started to be bad, my uncles and my grandma from Rákospalota told my parents to forget about staying in Budapest, it’s like a ghetto, and to come and stay with them.… We never moved to Rákospalota because a couple of months later they started to take those people too…. Everybody from Rákospalota was taken to Auschwitz. Because there were not that many people, it was easy for the Germans to supply railroad cars and take those people because they could manage. It was impossible for them to manage 100,000 people…. They did take some of the people from the ghetto to a brick factory that had a railroad yard and, from there, they slowly sent them to Auschwitz.
“My youngest uncle, who was maybe five or six years older than I am, was friends with the farmers’ kids in Rákospalota. They played together. So, when it started to get really bad and they started to take the Jews, the gentile farmer who lived three houses away took a big chance and let my uncle hide on the farm in a barn. They knew that he was Jewish…. The next-door neighbor, who was a Fascist, could have probably reported something suspicious and they would have taken my uncle; but he didn’t do it.
“One of my aunts, Edit Fischer, had three small kids and arrived at Auschwitz with my grandmother. People that were already there hollered out to the aunt and told her to give the kids to the grandma. Well, my aunt didn’t give the kids to her…. But Mengele was there. Everybody went to the gas chamber. All got killed.
“The only family that didn’t get killed were three of my uncles, Ervin, Mishi, and Herman Fischer. They took Mishi and Herman to a concentration camp. They were in Mauthausen and they eventually survived. My other aunt, Csopi Fischer Andor, also was in a camp and survived.
“In the ghetto, different countries, like Switzerland, established safe houses. They put a big flag on the front and gave papers to some of the Jews that they are citizens of Switzerland or citizens of different countries…. Just so many people were able to get those papers approved. So, the Underground Jews started to make fake Schutzpass documents and just gave them to people.
“My mother and my brother and myself, I was 12 years old or 13, ended up in one of those buildings that had the protection of Switzerland. The building was a really nice place right in Budapest, overlooking the Danube…. Okay, here we are in that building, thinking we are all protected. Well, one late afternoon, the Fascists showed up. ‘Everybody, go down to the yard or street. Everybody. Don’t bring too much stuff.’ The young people all were in the labor camps or the army. So, it was all the old women and small kids…. Fascists come; we are moving to the ghetto. Walking. From that place to the ghetto it was a pretty nice walk, maybe five, six miles. Plus, everybody had a little package or something with them. They start to move us to the ghetto…. Behind us, some young Fascist teenagers follow us as dogs would. After a while, people hardly could walk. They dropped their packages, and the scavengers picked them up…. Eventually, we ended up in the ghetto. They opened one of the tenement house’s gates. Ten people go inside here. They close it. Go to the next one. Eventually, the hundreds of people in this group were inside…. All of a sudden, you end up in a courtyard of a tenement house that already has so many people in it. But they see a woman with two small kids and let us into one of the apartments.
“In the meantime, my father saw that it’s not going to be any good and was going to try to escape from the labor camp. But all of a sudden, the Germans decided to take all these Jews in the labor camp and put them in wagons and take them to Auschwitz. So, they took his group, it’s already dark, to the railway station. Everybody goes into wagons. But instead of going into the wagon, my father went underneath and ended up on the backside of the train.
“My father knew about the ghetto, got in, and looked for us. We weren’t in our old apartment but somehow the people that lived there knew that my mother and the kids are in the ghetto. So, my father found us…. Then he took us back to our building and found us a place that was big enough. Now my father was there, my mother, and the kids. Not that we have anything more.
“My father was a young man and became the organizer in the building…. The community in the ghetto, whatever food they can get, they tried to make up some kind of food for people, basically for kids. There are a lot of kids all over the ghetto and kids are hungry. So, they had some material and they made some kind of a thing that looked like bread. They divided it into portions. Each building had a person like my father and every day, I and some other kids would run around in the streets, go over to this place, pick up some portions of whatever, and bring them back to the building so at least they could give something to their kids.
“Somehow the organizers got to some farmer who had lots of carrots and had him drop off the carrots in the courtyard of the Dohány Synagogue. So, now they had carrots to distribute but there was no water to wash off the dirt. Lots of people got sick and died from dysentery…. Luckily it was already winter, cold. My father and some other people piled the dead people in the assistant caretaker’s apartment under the back stairway…. I’ve seen it, five dead people like cords of wood. They were all half frozen.… Other places too, like the mikvah, they did the same thing. Dead people all over where they could store them.
“When the Russians were coming really close and the Germans knew that this is it, they started to run away. That was the luck of the people in the ghetto. They couldn’t afford to use the railways and the wagons to take Jews to the concentration camp because they had to take their own stuff to run away from Russians…. When the Russians came to tell the Germans to give up, the Germans killed the Russians. The Russians got really mad and started to bomb Budapest. They didn’t care about Jews or anything.
“But we’re still in the ghetto. The Fascists still were active and they could come in and kill people. So, there was nothing you could do about it. The Russians were as bad as the Fascists. When they came in, first they stole everything they could. Any valuable. They robbed. Women raped. Lots of bad things…. The streets were full of dead people, a man, a woman, and three kids, shot right there on the street…. Dead horses, frozen. It was cold. People were out there with a knife and carved into the dead horse to have food to eat. That’s what the people did from the ghetto with no food.
“Once we could go out, I went with my father to any places, any stores, any factories, any warehouses figuring that we maybe are going to find some food. In one place we were just lucky. It must have been a candy factory or something; they had raw chocolate…. Another place was a warehouse and there were thousands of packages of needles for sewing machines. You can’t eat them, so we went out to the farmland where the farmers still had vegetables. And we gave them a couple of packages and maybe we got some food.
“I went to a Jewish high school…. The shlichim from different organizations, Hashomer Hatzair and Hanoar Hatzioni, wanted to bring people to Israel. So, they started to organize us like scouts. I belonged to Hanoar Hatzioni and some of my friends belonged. So, we got together and sang Hebrew songs on the weekend and went hiking in the mountains…. Now we already know what we wanted to do. We are 14-year-old teenagers. We all said we want to go to Palestine. We want to go to Israel. So, we were organized and that was our goal. We are going to go. But we couldn’t do it then because, first of all, there’s no passport. You can’t leave the Russians and just go to the border and say goodbye and leave. So, the organization did the groundwork for us to leave.
“One day, a grownup came to my parents and asked them if they would have any objection to letting Tom try to illegally cross the border and try to get to Israel. My parents knew there was no future in the schools under the Russians; you had to learn Russian, be a Communist. And they said, okay. ‘Don’t tell anybody. Don’t pack suitcases. Somebody will come and tell you where to be at a certain time. Don’t come up with a whole mishpocha and crying that you are leaving. It’s just a regular normal thing.’
“One day, sure enough, somebody showed up. He says, ‘Be dressed up normally, no packages, no nothing. Be at the back of the Budapest Opera. There will be two cars there. Don’t ask questions. Just sit in the car and that’s it.’ As I leave, I grab my soldering iron that I figured I don’t need and give it to my friend Tibbi, who lives upstairs. He takes the thing. In the evening I go behind the Opera, sit in the car. Guess what? Tibbi is there….”
They drove 30 miles or 40 miles to a river and eventually got across to Czechoslovakia, where they were met by a Jewish family and served a holiday dinner. A day or two days later, they took a train to Nové Zámky, Czechoslovakia, and then to Vienna. After a while, they went to a port city in Bari, Italy. “They had one passport for the whole trainload of people…. A couple of days later, a ship came and we ended up in Haifa as refugees. We were from Hanoar Hatzioni and were assigned to Kibbutz Tel Yitzhak.”
Tom continues his story and shares many anecdotes from his life on the kibbutz; joining the Israeli Air Force, then working for El Al airlines; coming to Detroit in 1959; working at Chrysler as an engineer; marrying his wife Judi Koenig and raising their three children, Jeffrey Fox, Sandi Fox, and Lori Fox Rodner; and becoming an artist.
Tom and Judi have five grandchildren, Jack, Daniel, Hannah, Joshua, and Zachary. “They are fascinated with some of the stories from the little bit I told them and want to know more…. I would like them to like Israel and have the same feeling about Israel as I do.” He shares his story because “I am not unique but I can tell people that here is a person that has seen the killing. Whatever you see on TV, you watch a show; but I have seen it physically. And it’s important for people to understand that.”
Date of Interview: March 5, 2020
Length of Interview: 157 minutes
Interview & Synopsis by: Zieva Konvisser
Videographer: Mark Einhaus