Coping with Life and Death: Jewish Families in the Twentieth Century

By Peter Y. Medding | Go to book overview
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Antisemitism, Holocaust and Genocide
Randolph L. Braham (ed. ), The Wartime System of Labor Service in Hungary:
Varieties of Experiences
. New York: The Rosenthal Institute of Holocaust
Studies Graduate Center, 1995. xi + 154 pp.

Very little has been published in English about the plight of the men who were drafted into the Hungarian labor service system. Randolph Braham published what is considered an excellent scholarly introduction to the subject nearly twenty years ago, the memoirs of many Hungarian Jews contain chapters about time spent in the labor service, and Szabolcs Szita has written about the subject in Hungarian. 1 Yet a serious comprehensive scholarly study of this chapter in the history of the Holocaust in Hungary has yet to appear in English. This volume, then, comprised of three eyewitness accounts and one report, is an important contribution to the subject.

The testimonies and the report contain considerable detail that supplements what is already known about the plight of the forced laborers. The terrible treatment meted out to the men by their Hungarian guards and officers, especially in Ukraine and at Bor (in former Yugoslavia), as well as the high death rate, were duly marked by Braham in his study twenty years ago. Here the words of the men provide additional gruesome descriptions. Zoltan Singer's recital of the burning alive of forced laborers at Doroshich is very powerful:

These were the circumstances in which we came to the last day of Passover, April 30, 1943. On that night, etched into our memories, one of the outbuildings, in which some 800 people, myself included, were crammed together, burst into flames at all four corners. The fire started at four separate points, so it is certain that it was no accident. The outbuilding had been deliberately torched by the guards. We also discovered that the doors had been closed with wire from outside. The flames spread in an instance [sic] across the dry straw and up the wooden walls. Within seconds the silence of the night was shattered by desperate shrieks and wails. The fit and the conscious broke out through the collapsing plank walls like flaming torches but the guards were waiting outside and started firing on them. This hell lasted only ten minutes but it was ten endless minutes. The building and most of the people in it were consumed by flames and the charred corpses were lying there in piles until the next morning. Most of those who got out were mown down by machine gun fire and many others were saved further suffering when they died a few hours later as a result of burns and bullet wounds. Only a few of us escaped this massacre. As I broke through the flames, a machine gun bullet passed through my right leg and I crawled to a nearby open outbuilding where I lost consciousness due to loss of blood (pp. 44–45).


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Coping with Life and Death: Jewish Families in the Twentieth Century
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