Nov 2008 Journal
Supping with the Devil: Auschwitz, Kasztner and Samu Stern
I have long intended to correct some of the information contained in writings about what happened in Hungary in 1944 following the German occupation on 19 March. Recent correspondence in the AJR Journal makes this even more essential.
In the spring and summer of 1944, I worked as a 15-year-old in the Judenrat offices in Budapest’s Sip utca as a messenger boy. My mother, Friederike Konrad, previously chief proof-reader with the Pester Lloyd German-language newspaper, was employed as interpreter in these offices.
One day in April I was sitting in my usual position on a bench opposite the door to the office of the head of the Judenrat, Samu Stern, when I became aware of a commotion in the building. Eventually, two young men were shepherded into Stern’s office, where they remained for a while before being whisked away to safety. Some time later, Eichmann arrived with one of his fellow officers, perhaps Krumey or Wisliceny. They entered Stern’s office and soon my mother was called in to interpret. After about an hour the German officers left and a little later my mother came out, tears streaming from her eyes. I asked her what was the matter, but all she replied was: ‘I can’t tell you!’
In the evening, at home, I kept asking her. In the end she told me the then unbelievable story of the existence of Auschwitz and the gas chambers, adding: ‘We are all destined to die there.’ Apparently, Samu Stern had confronted the German officers with the information received from the two young men, who were either escapees from Auschwitz or their emissaries sent to Budapest. Eichmann denied everything. Deportations from Hungary had not yet begun.
After the German officers left, Samu Stern made the decision in a hurried meeting not to make public the information received and everyone present was sworn to secrecy. This decision was made to ‘avoid a panicky reaction’.
It was after these events that Kasztner started to negotiate free passage first for one train, then for a second train, to take wealthy Jews to safe Switzerland. My mother tried desperately to get seats for at least me and my sister Angela (later killed in Belsen) if not for herself, but she did not have the necessary funds and was rejected again and again.
In my view, the main responsibility for the meek way in which the Jews allowed themselves to be deported to Auschwitz lies with Samu Stern and his policy of ‘appeasement’. Had we all known our planned fate, there would have been resistance. This might have killed many of us, but it could eventually have led to a halt of the deportations to save German casualties.
Thomas Edmund Konrad