Viera Gordonová (1923 - 2018)

Photo: Viera Gordonová

Biography

“If there was some relative luck in concentration camp, we definitely had it.”

Viera Gordonová was born on February 28, 1923, in Lučenec in the family of a trader. Radical turn of events in her tranquil life came with the Vienna Award in 1938 when her hometown was awarded to Hungary. Not only her family, but also the entire Jewish community living on the ceded land felt worsening of their living conditions almost immediately. They not only excluded Jews from the public life and curtailed their fundamental human rights, but they also deprived them of their enterprises and trades. Father of Viera Gordonová was after the Aryanization of his shop transported to the labour camp; however, he was released soon because of his old age. After finishing her secondary school studies, Viera started to study pedagogy in Budapest where she also worked till the year 1944. She came home after the March 19, 1944, when German army invaded Hungary and deportations to concentration camps were about to begin. After a short stay in Lučenec ghetto, she was transported to Auschwitz concentration camp along with her parents. Her father died there in a gas chamber on June 13. In September 1944 they transferred her to Bergen-Belsen and later to the plant in German town of Duderstadt. At the end of war she got to the Theresienstadt where she experienced the liberation of concentration camp by the Soviet Red Army. When she came to her hometown Lučenec, she was working for Jewish community for a short period of time; however, yet in 1945 she left for Prague where she studied English and French language.

The End of Tranquil Childhood

Viera Gordonová - The End of Tranquil Childhood (data format Flash Video)

“Everything was all right until Hungarians arrived in the town of Lučenec. We were community of young people and we simply belonged to Hungarian minority. When I was growing up, we used to speak Hungarian, at the Jewish elementary school there was Hungarian language of instruction and I also attended Hungarian grammar school. It wasn’t important whether I was Jewess or other religion. We all were together, we were friends. It was the first time in my life that I heard something like ‘beefing about Jewishness’. It was when some Hungarian seminarian from the Protestant institute had a ceremonial speech on the balcony. We knew that various things occurred at that time, but they didn’t touch us, so we were pretty shocked back then. And later it all began. Our memories from Czechoslovakia were only best ones and I had never thought that I could be anything else than a citizen of Czechoslovakia who spoke Hungarian. However, suddenly we became Hungarians and everything changed.”

Arrival of Hungarians in Lučenec

Viera Gordonová - Arrival of Hungarians in Lučenec (data format Flash Video)

“Hungarians were very happy. Before the Slovak State came into existence, all the Czechs went away at once, I don’t know whether they did it voluntarily or were forced to do so. It was our first horrible experience, though it wasn’t as brutal as when they deported us. They had to leave everything, take just the most necessary things and then we saw just some wagons moving away. It was really sad because they were our acquaintances and very polite Czechs, so we understood it as the portent of that nationalistic grudge. What else have you asked me?”

Interviewer: “What that arrival of Hungarians in Lučenec looked like and whether you saw it or not.”

“It was successive. There were people who called the tune and had the upper hand, so we didn’t interfere between them.”

Interviewer: “I see. Did some violence occur when Hungarians came? I mean against Jews or not Hungarians in general.”

“No, I don’t remember it and I would surely know about it.”

Interviewer: “So they simply invaded the city and occupied it…”

“Of course, there lived many happy people; there were a lot of Hungarians. There weren’t many Slovaks, many left for Slovakia as well.”

The First Anti-Jewish Measures

Viera Gordonová - The First Anti-Jewish Measures (formát Flash Video)

“Firstly they took away trades from us and then they passed anti-Jewish laws. Later they took also other property from us, not only our shops. At least they didn’t expropriate our houses. Simply said, Jews were edged off the public life.”

Occupation of Hungary by the German Army in 1944

Viera Gordonová - Occupation of Hungary by the German Army in 1944 (data format Flash Video)

“On March 19, I was still in lodging in Pest along with another two girls. One of them had some relative at the Yugoslavian embassy. On Sunday morning at about 8 o’clock they noticed her that Germans were invading our country right at that time. Thus I was among the first people who knew it and my only thought was to go back home, so I went and gave in my notice. I got on the first train and travelled home. Jews from the next train were all taken and interned in Kistarcsa, but finally they sent them to Auschwitz; even though there wasn’t a big difference. Finally I managed to come home and be with my family. This way we experienced everything together – ghetto, brickfield, being herded to cars and sent to concentration camp.”

“Ghettoization”

Viera Gordonová - “Ghettoization” (data format Flash Video)

“We had to pack just the most important things. We went through the town, but it wasn’t like in The Shop on Main Street movie, there were no wagons or cars, there were only people standing on both sides of the street and staring at us just like in some circus. Nobody either shouted boo or got in touch with Jews. They just stood there and stared. And this way we went through the town to ghetto. Everyone had one room to stay in. At least I think that we didn’t look for a flat there.”

Interviewer: “Was ghetto located in some part of the town?”

“It was one special part of the town, really poor one and there were such big houses, so we lived in one of them. On the porch or passageway, you know, on that corridor there was our room. But it took just a short period of time and then everything went very quickly.”

“We were so naive…”

Viera Gordonová - “We were so naive…” (data format Flash Video)

“After the March 19, various regulations were passed and words said. They used to beef about Jews. They wanted to make an atmosphere, but then they escorted us to ghetto. Some people managed to escape, but the most of us were very naive and didn’t know much about the world, we didn’t know what it meant for us to be in a ghetto. We were told that this was just a temporary situation and we were really naive for the whole time, but actually we didn’t know what was going on in neighbouring countries at all.”

Deportation to Auschwitz

Viera Gordonová - Deportation to Auschwitz (data format Flash Video)

Interviewer: “Were you deported after several days spent in brickfield?”

“Yes, we were deported right away. There were cars, you have probably heard many times how it had happened, but there were also some differences. I can’t recall how it was possible that we weren’t thirsty at all. We surely had some opportunity to drink. I don’t remember whether there were some buckets or not, I have a kind of blackout. And I also know that there were some windows on that cattle car where we sat. But those windows were really small, so the door should be open at night. Simply said, when I now listen to all those horrors that people had to experience during that way, it was horrible. For example, one man went mad in our car. Even though nobody died there, it wasn’t as people usually hear about it. It depended on some relative luck where you were placed. We were sitting there for four days and on June 13, we finally arrived in Auschwitz.”

Our Arrival in Concentration Camp

Viera Gordonová - Our Arrival in Concentration Camp (data format Flash Video)

Interviewer: “What followed after your arrival into Auschwitz?”

“You know it, don’t you? We were sent to the ramp, I was with my mother. And as we were getting out of the train, my father noticed our uncle from Valašské Ďarmoty in the neighbouring car. He was old, so my father held him tight, and, of course, men had to go on one side and women on the opposite one. Later we came to know that everyone with a child or an old man was immediately sent to a gas chamber. These people weren’t sorted any more, it was automatic. Thus I know that my father died on June 13. I went with my mother; she was quite young at that time. In Auschwitz we didn’t get to any commando. It was said that these people, you know, we had to be liquidated automatically because they even didn’t tattoo us. There was one block where we had to lie on the floor. We got such a metal basin and we were five people who should eat out of it. We had to stand in one row, we got some meal and then we ate it like this. We used to lie there on the floor, but those blocks were, of course, overcrowded. Later they started to do something, they usually said: ‘Transports are going to work.’ Some of them really went to work, but for example that transport from Valašské Ďarmoty where my relatives and my friend were, they all were sent to the gas chamber right away. Nobody came back; they even dressed them up, gave them some scarves and took them to the gas chamber. And we stayed there unable to do anything.”

Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camps

Viera Gordonová - Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camps (data format Flash Video)

“As soon as we arrived there, they shaved us and gave, or rather, threw us some clothes. It was another chance event. It was so-called Kleiderkammer (cloakroom), where some men were imprisoned. They had been for many years there, so they managed to gain this position. And I got in touch with a man there, with one Polish ‘Häftling’ (prison inmate). I don’t know whether he was Jew or not. I found him by chance and ran across that area of nobody to him. He usually gave me some food and I ran with it back and gave it to my mother. She was quite weak because she had suffered illness. On September 18, they sorted us. I want to mention my very good friend who was married and already eight months pregnant. Her sister-in-law led that block and thus she managed to hide her until the moment when we had to go to ‘Appelplatz’. We were forced to do that everyday and in any weather, so we were lucky that it was June; however, we had to stand there for hours and hours also in January. They counted us, probably to check whether we were all there. Later when transportation began, Mengele himself came and when he saw my friend with her belly, he said: ‘You will be beheaded for this!’ and he placed her to the side of all those who were singled out. But she managed to get to the block. I don’t know how she could know what would happen to her, she just jumped out of the window at night and managed to integrate into the group of people to be transported. It was a very suspenseful story. On September 18, we were transported to Bergen-Belsen but as I say, if there was some relative luck in the concentration camp, we definitely had it. We were the second transport, so those huge transports were only about to come. There was some military, I don’t know what, maybe base or barrack. People didn’t know what ‘Appelplatz’ meant so they were surprised. Even in the first evening we got quite decent military dinner. We spent a month there with almost nothing again and at the end about 2000 Polish ‘Häftlingen’ and Jewesses arrived. Then Bergen-Belsen changed. We were fortunate that we didn’t experience it because we left for Duderstadt near Hannover. It was almost on the border and we worked there in the munitions plant Polte-Werke Magdeburg.”

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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