Was it only a year ago? Or a century?
Fragments of Isabella, the Holocaust memoir of a Hungarian Jewish woman named Isabella Leitner, was written immediately after she immigrated to the United States in 1945, but it was not published until 1978. Near the end of it, she says:
The world ended in May. I was born in May. I died in May. We started the journey of ugliness on May 29th. We headed for Auschwitz. We arrived on May 31st.
The scent of spring wasn't delicious. The earth didn't smile. It shrieked in pain. The air was filled with the stench of death. Unnatural death. The smoke was thick. The sun couldn't crack through. The scent was the smell of burning flesh. The burning flesh was your mother.
I am condemned to walk the earth for all my days with the stench of burning flesh in my nostrils. My nostrils are damned. May is damned. May should be abolished. May hurts. There should be only eleven months in a year. May should be set aside for tears. For six million years, to cleanse the earth.
Even in early 1944, Hungary seemed to be a haven of relative security for its 825,000 Jews, the last great Jewish community in Europe. Hungarian Jewish leaders had heard reports about the fate of other Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe, and they did live in a precarious situation, given Hungary's alliance with Hitler and Nazi Germany. But compared to the situation of other Jewish communities, what was left of them, their discomfort was minimal. Indeed, until March 19, 1944, when the Germans occupied the country of their faltering ally, the Jews of Hungary suffered from what Ida Fink calls "the poverty of imagination." They simply did not