Alžbeta Váradiová (1924)

Photo: Alžbeta Váradiová

Biography:

“I think there was more love and harmony among people back then. We had more respect for each other. That’s what I really miss these days.”

Alžbeta Váradiová was born in 1924 in Nové Zámky into the family of a railway ticket inspector. She was raised in a spirit of Christianity and led to love people regardless of their nationality and religion. Before her hometown was ceded to Hungary in 1938, she had been unaware of any ethnic conflicts between Slovaks and Hungarians living in the town; however, the Vienna Award changed everything. After the arrival of Hungarian troops in the town, the Slovak population had to get used to new living conditions. Local clerks were replaced by the Hungarian ones, but Alžbeta does not recall any problems with communication in the offices. She attended the state municipal school, which was closed shortly afterwards, so she as well as other students had to continue studying in the so-called Flengerka. In 1944, several tragic events happened in Nové Zámky. Firstly, the Jewish community living in the town and in the surrounding villages was crammed into the local ghetto, which became their last stop before being deported to Auschwitz in June 1944. Then, in October, the town of Nové Zámky became a target for the two bomb attacks; however Alžbeta’s family managed to prepare for it at least to a certain extent and had a shelter. The last bombing occurred on March 14, 1945, only a few days before liberation. These attacks claimed thousands of victims and left the town completely destroyed. At that time Alžbeta was finishing school, so she passed the leaving examinations in 1945. Then, she left for Bratislava to study at the Pedagogical Academy and became a geography and art teacher. She successively worked at various schools around Slovakia – in Kysucký Lieskovec, in the village of Lodno, in Kysucké Nové Mesto, later in Šípkovo near Bánovce nad Bebravou, and finally in Nové Zámky, where she taught at the school for boys. She enjoys the afternoon of her life in retirement.

Greetings to the Hungarian Troops

Greetings to the Hungarian Troops (data format Flash Video)

“I was attending the Slovak school and in 1938 there was a teacher, I still remember her. Her name was Rakšányová, I even remember her name, and we got a command to go to welcome the Hungarians. She lived on Nitrianska Street, so we saw the Czech soldiers leaving the town. We waved to each other, they waved to us and we waved to them. At that age I didn’t understand what it actually meant. Well, I was fourteen. Then we went to the square, there was a sort of welcoming prepared for them. You know how a young person approaches such expressions. Then, we had a free week at school, because everything was being consolidated. And when I went to school again, because I wanted to attend it, a teacher welcomed me there and told me that our school was going to be closed. Nowadays the school is Hungarian, but back then it was the state municipal school and we had to start attending the school called Flengerka, where there is a special school now and at that time there were nuns, who taught us.”

Relationships before the Vienna Award

Relationships before the Vienna Award (data format Flash Video)

“Very good, we had no problems, I mean ethnic ones. I even didn’t experience anything like that at all. We all liked each other, you know, it was a real pleasure to live here and especially in the period of the Czechoslovak Republic, I have beautiful memories of it. And I also remember that even at school we were taught that a man could choose neither parents nor the nationality, or religion at birth. So we were like a big family. I don’t recall any inconveniences or national problems. I really don’t remember anything like that.”

Consequences of Being Ceded to Hungary

Consequences of Being Ceded to Hungary (data format Flash Video)

“It affected us because people were vetted and there was one such a wise man, you know, he was neither Slovak nor Hungarian, but when my dad was checked, he said that he was of German nationality, but he spoke Hungarian, actually he spoke four languages, Czech, German, Slovak, and Hungarian, and father said he had done his job honestly till that time, so that he wanted to continue. And there was one who said that he could say it, because he was praying with the Hungarian prayer book. And the one who vetted my father asked, ‘Is it a Hungarian book?’ ‘No,’ he says, ‘it is German one, indeed.’ He responded that he didn’t know the strange letters there. He was such a simple man, who had no idea about it, but wanted to hurt my father. However, everything ended well and my father could continue working normally, there was no problem. He felt nothing as there was no difference between him and the men who came from the mother country.”

“Life was wonderful in the Period of the Czechoslovak Republic”

“Life was wonderful in the Period of the Czechoslovak Republic” (data format Flash Video)

“I can compare it, because in the period of the first Czechoslovak Republic we lived at the station and there was such a wooden fence since the part of station was separated from the city district. And of course, there were unemployed people even it that time and I remember they were getting twenty crowns a week. But what did those twenty crowns mean? For example, ten eggs cost one crown and one corn-fed duck eight crowns. Pork was three crowns fifty halers, beef four and veal four fifty. I remember it quite well, because I always went shopping with my mother. And my mom used to bake bread at home, but I really liked brown bread, so I went to co-op store and bought such bread for twenty halers. So people who weren’t employed could afford not only one loaf of this bread, but even more, you know, and even if somebody needed, it was allowed, for example, to hire unemployed people as an auxiliary worker. And if they wanted to do so, they also got some money for it. You know, I remember, it was a wonderful life, a very good life during the Czechoslovak Republic. I wish you could experience what we experienced then. We didn’t fare badly in the era of the Hungarians either, I can’t say anything. I can’t complain as we had enough; however, it is true that the life was easier during the first Czechoslovak Republic than in the period of the Hungarian governance. Then, we had to pay tuition and buy books. In this regard it was more difficult, but there were no other inconveniences. Though, we actually had good neighbours, who were Slovaks, but who spoke German and Hungarian, and my dad used to meet those men, you know, and they usually played cards together. Well, I do not remember anybody was complaining. We had fun and we fared well. Such a comfortable and calm life we had. Nowadays, oh my God, I don’t dare to go out at midnight, but I even don’t do so at eight in the evening. Back then, everyone paid attention to everything in the town, it was not as it is now that the young go from disco and destroy everything they can. It is exactly the clam, which I would like to experience again.”

School Leaving Examinations in Slovak Language

School Leaving Examinations in Slovak Language (data format Flash Video)

“When we had the leaving exams in 1945, there were still the Hungarians in the country, and I was just finishing the secondary school, it actually was a lyceum. It was a four-year study and I was supposed to study for two more years at a pedagogical institute, so that I would gain a competence to teach. Well, I remember that when we came for the leaving exams, there was a commission and one of them asked me, ‘Do you speak Slovak?’ ‘Yes, I do.’ ‘And would you like to pass the examinations in Slovak language?’ ‘I don’t mind.’ Then, I was doing the leaving exams in Slovak. ‘Where did you learn Slovak? You speak so nicely,’ the chairman asked me. ‘We were speaking Slovak at home.’ It was no problem for us; we didn’t dare to speak Slovak, even when there were Hungarians in the town.”

Nové Zámky under Bomb Attacks

Nové Zámky under Bomb Attacks (data format Flash Video)

“You know, the bombing was proclaimed unceasingly, but we always ignored it. However, I remember that once German soldiers came. They talked to my father and as at that time I understood German quite well, I knew they told us that Americans had found out where they had headquarters and thus they would drop bombs on Nové Zámky. So, ‘You live too close to the station, so it will be great if you go somewhere else. If you hear that aircrafts are approaching, you better leave the house.’ Then, we used to go out and hide somewhere in the field. However, my dad had dug such hole, you know, it was in our house or rather in our garden, it was such a hole for potatoes, vegetables and the like, which was two metres deep and covered with a board. And I remember that it was on October 7, the weather was really nice and warm and I remember that I came home from school, my mother had cooked lunch for us, I recall we had stewed vegetable salad, and suddenly the alarm sounded. We had a cat, and the cat ran into that small cellar, which my father had made, so he said, ‘Well, an animal always feels where the safe place is, so let’s follow it.’ A family from a nearby block of flats used to go to our house, but then, I do not know why, they didn’t come. The block of flats got a direct hit and all those people died there. Well, I counted, I know that there were seven aircrafts and a black one in the middle, which glittered and I found it beautiful. I saw them throwing bombs. ‘Oh, God, if it goes this way, we all will die here.’ But the bombing stopped right in front of our house, so then we never stayed at home, we always went out into the field. We used to hide in corn.”

“Many of my friends died there.”

“Many of my friends died there.” (data format Flash Video)

“It happened here, mainly it the square. I remember that something also fell on the station, because there were some trains transporting refugees from Romania. There was a direct hit, I recall it very well. One of its parts had been bombed to that extent that there were no more bombs necessary. However, the square was still being bombed. I was far from it and I remember that I told my mother, ‘Mom, I wonder if our nuns are all right, I go to ask about them.’ Thus I went when the bombing stopped. Fortunately, the monastery wasn’t destroyed and nuns were safe, so then I calmed down and went home. But do you know what it was for me? I cried all the way home.”
“So what did the town of Nové Zámky look like after the bomb attacks?”
“Oh, terribly, such huge craters were everywhere. It was very bad, ugly, and sad. Many of my friends died there.”

When the Russians Were Liberating Nové Zámky

When the Russians Were Liberating Nové Zámky (data format Flash Video)

“Well, let me tell you about it. We lived on Železná Street and on the corner there was a small shop with a big basement as the owners had to store the goods there and they told us, ‘You know what? You all from the street can come here.’ We got along well with them, so they suggested ‘Come to our basement, it’s a good place to hide.’ Then, I was just reading a book and it was, oh my God! I remember my mother had cooked and she left a bottle of pickles on the stove, because we didn’t stoke then, and she wanted to prepare them for lunch, but suddenly an alarm sounded and soldiers arrived almost immediately. Thus we hid there and I know I smeared my face with coal, I put a black scarf on, you know, I was dressed like an old woman. However, the man who gave us the shelter said that they had raped and as he had coal in the cellar, I and my aunt covered ourselves with the coal and he also put certain things on us. When they came, the old lady, his mother was just cooking some spinach as it was Holy Thursday, I remember it was a custom to cook spinach on Holy Thursday and the soldiers came. However, she also prepared some meat and she offered it to them and one of the soldiers said, ‘Don’t you know it is Holy Thursday? We shouldn’t eat meat.’ Well, it actually was the better group, but then also other very unpleasant group came, but we managed to survive. Then, there were many people hiding in the basement. As there we were so many of us, we survived. However, it was such a terrible feeling, which I would never wish on anybody. I have no enemies, but if I had, I wouldn’t wish it on them either.”

People Who Were Displaced in a Post-war Period

People Who Were Displaced in a Post-war Period (data format Flash Video)

“My husband used to live on Jeruzalemská Street, which was near Gúgska Street, it actually crossed Jeruzalemská Street. Well, there lived such rich big peasants in their neighbourhood and once a truck was driven up in front of their house. Then, they loaded everything they could and what they couldn’t, they simply left there. However, there also were such people, who opposed, so they were tied to a wardrobe and left there. But look, if someone was reasonable, it is my opinion, if someone was wise and saw that other people were leaving... They were Hungarians, so they only were sent home. However, it wasn’t correct, because people who came here actually went from a real poverty to a palace. You know, next to my mother in law there lived a family, very kind people they were, I had no problem with any displaced people or with anybody else, we liked each other, but she told us, ‘Oh, my God, what will I do in such a big flat?’ It was a flat with two bedrooms or rather one small room and two big rooms. ‘What will I do here, in this big flat? I have no furniture, nothing.’ Later, they pulled themselves together and it was all right. There was no difference between native and displaced people. At least I don’t remember that anybody was complaining. In fact, there are always people who complain about everything, people who don’t like anything and can’t adapt, but also people who understand that it’s the life. If somebody doesn’t hurt me, why would I hurt him? I was happy to live in an environment where I didn’t experience such problems.”

“Nobody is responsible for whom he/she is at birth”

“Nobody is responsible for whom he/she is at birth” (data format Flash Video)

“We had good acquaintances, it was Bárdoš family, and they were Jews. Near the school there was a ghetto, these days there is a secondary school of nursing, and there was such a long yard at the ghetto. I remember they let us know where they were. And my mom said, ‘You know what? I will cook something and you will bring it to them, I doubt that they get some food there.’ Well, we went there together, I was carrying the food. I absolutely wasn’t aware of what I was doing. I could have been caught and imprisoned there and also sent somewhere along with them. I don’t know maybe it was due to my youth, you know, I was prettier than I am today, simply, I was allowed to visit them. I left the food there and left. I refused talking to them. I only told them that what we would do everything we would be able. But we couldn’t do anything because they were taken away soon afterwards. Yes, I remember it, you see, I have nearly forgotten about it.”
“And what did it look like in ghetto?”
“Well, people were squashed there in such big rooms. There were no beds, so they slept sitting or lying down on the ground or the like. It was miserable, it was really horrible. I don’t understand how people can be tortured and tormented even when nobody is responsible for whom he/she is at birth.”

The story and videoclips of this witness were put together and published thanks to the financial support of EU within the programme Europe for Citizens – Active European Remembrance.

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