Rescue and self-rescue during the Holocaust
Manual dexterity inherited from a grandfather, a couple of square meters of linoleum flooring, a good deal of coolness, and huge amount of luck are all that a twenty-year old needed to challenge destiny and prevent persecution, or even the extermination of his family.
During the Holocaust, self-rescuing often paved the way for the possibility for actual rescuing, for instance, when a deported person ran away from the labor service or escaped a death-march, to be rescued by others. In the case of Endre Káldori, it was the people living around him who paved the way for his rescue activities. From his story it becomes clear that self-rescuing was supported by the actions of many others, including civilians and military personnel, who has warned him of the imminent danger, acted bravely if needed, or looked away and kept silent to save him and help him rescue others.
These endeavors, however, remained isolated until significant levels of collaboration occurred. At the same time, at a grass-roots level, whole families, circles of friends or even ad hoc groups of unknown people allied for long and short periods of time. Those with compassion and courage alleviated the suffering of the persecuted in many different ways which included providing shelter and documents, smuggling food, conveying messages, or – as mentioned above – by just keeping silent and not reporting these rescue activities. Except for a few attempts of rescuing Jews who were forcibly gathered in ghettos in the countryside, Christian rescue activities were limited mostly to the capital city of Budapest. The rescue activities between Budapest and the countryside differed not just in their scope, but also in their character; during the large-scale deportations from the countryside Jews were usually hidden for a short period and subsequently smuggled abroad, while during the Szálasi-period, in most of the cases, they were hidden in the apartment of the rescuer, often with falsified documents.
Among the instruments of rescue, documents were of vital importance. One of the possible ways was to be put under protection, holding some of the various protection letters issued by the neutral states or international organizations. In case of the forced labor service, possessing a certificate of exemption or incapacity for military service was a way out. Escaping the authorities was also possible by going underground, by obtaining fake identification.
Fourteen diplomats active in Hungary during the Arrow Cross rule later received the Righteous Among the Nations award. They were delegates of the neutral states (including Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the Vatican) or from international organizations, like the International Committee of the Red Cross or the Swedish Red Cross. They started rescue activities in the spring of 1944 within the legal framework and tried to enlarge the circle of the rescued people as much as possible.
Circumstances and motivations of document forgery
To reveal the motivations behind Endre Káldori’s rescue enterprise and the dangerous situation of his family, the conditions contributing to his falsification and rescue actions must be examined. Endre was born in 1919 and grew up in a family of merchants. Financial difficulties forced him to leave school at age 14 and to start apprenticeship in his uncle’s fountain pen service. In 1941 he married Magdolna Kásznár at the status ante quo synagogue in Csáky (today Gyula Hegedűs) Street in the 13th district of Budapest.
At the left side behind the bride stands her father, Ignác Kásznár, who didn’t survive the Holocaust. On her left is her mother in law, Mrs. Sándor Káldori, leaning on her husband, Sándor Káldori, standing behind her. On the left edge of the photo, only partially visible is the uncle of Endre Káldori, Miska Kuttenberg, saved by Endre from a boxcar before being deported. Second from the right in the back row is Mrs. Ignác Kasznár, mother of the bride, who became Mrs. Kiss by the end of 1944, as the result of Endre’s endeavor.
When Endre reached the age to be drafted into the army, the Hungarian government excluded the Jews from armed service. He commenced his forced labor service in Hódmezővásárhely, later to be transferred with his company to Transylvania on the construction of the Déda-Szeretfalva railway. This 20-year old, optimistic young person tried to maintain a positive attitude. He had many old friends in his company during the unarmed service, most of whom he had met in the Jewish boys scout unit. They perceived these months as an adventure, and although the work was hard, the food supply was solid and they had the spirit for practical jokes among themselves and even sometimes with the guards.
On the first page Endre put the demobilization card that released him from the service so that he could attend the wedding. Beside the card is the consent certificate of his parents for the wedding since at that time he was not yet 21,and therefore considered a minor according to the law.
In spite of this happy development, Endre must have already anticipated as early as 1940 the hard times ahead. His father in law has received a mobilization ticket, although he was more than 50 and suffered from diabetes. Several of his uncles were also mobilized.
He spent 1944 in Budapest, and if he was granted leave for the weekend, he used the opportunity to fix the fountain pens collected by his wife. It was the source of revenue for his family, which by that time included a daughter Zsuzsanna, born in September 1943.
His unit, with all his old and new friends was engaged in a military plant dealing with corrosion protection. Though dark clouds were gathering over their heads, the members of the jolly company maintained their optimism and love for life. The funny young men slowly won the sympathies of their commander, Károly Somogyi. Their superior officer had a very decent attitude, often granted them leave, and - following the Arrow Cross takeover - simply dismissed the entire unit. To top it off, Somogyi gave the ID documents of his parents to the original Jewish owners of the plant where his unit was engaged, and hid persecuted persons during the Arrow Cross government. His engagement was recognized with the Righteous Among the Nations Award by Yad Vashem.
When Ingenuity and Courage Are Joined to a Piece of Linoleum
It seems that good fortune followed Endre, but this would have been insufficient to execute his plan of action. For this, one more essential element was needed. It became clear soon enough that he was technically capable of performing forgery. The young men in his circle were truly tough, and tried their best to fight off the threats, they did not sell out, and worked hard to protect the lives of their families in every way. Coming from this circle, Endre gained the necessary courage to start his home-grown falsification workshop. The basic material for this work was linoleum flooring. With knife and razorblade, he carved the text and pattern of the documents directly into the material to make rubber stamps. He was well prepared, and made many varieties, forging rubber stamps of ministries, Arrow Cross and military units.
People who were in hiding and had illegal status in 1944 had to be able to prove first of all that they were not Jewish. And, a man had to prove that he was not a a deserter. The primary threat to men were ID checks on the streets. If the Arrow Cross or police unit paid a visit to someone’s home, there was little chance to get away. Therefore, it was imperative to leave one's own flat and move elsewhere. This was not a small task for men, as they needed a form rubberstamped by the relevant district police and submitted to the caretaker of the building. One approach to dealing with this problem was to adjust women’s registry forms.
Because identification cards were not used in this period, and only the privileged few had passports, individuals needed to use birth certificates to prove they were of non-Jewish origin. In anticipation of sudden ID checks, many carried these documents with them at all times. The forgers had to redesign the orgin of each and every person's family members and ancestors. The children remembered well the nights when their parents studied their new family tree to the extent that when they were awakened from a deep sleep they could declare their new learned names and dates of birth without hesitating. The best case scenario was if the papers of the ancestors were original. The forgers preferred to use stamps from Transylvania, as the authorities were unable to check their authenticity. “I ask the reader that if he encounters a marriage certificate from the Priest’s office from Maroscsúcs (Stâna de Mureș in Romania), to consider the marriage with due suspicion.” remembers one of the falsifiers.
It was dangerous for men of military age to appear on the streets in civilian clothing, especially after the summer of 1944, a period of mass-mobilization for the forced labor service. The fact that ID documents for Jews and non-Jews were identical made the forgery easier. Out of the military documents, the pay books and deferral certificates were the most important. The former was considered to be safer, as one could lay low as a soldier, while the deferral certificate could have been disregarded. These necessary documents were supplemented by unofficial ones that were used in ordinary life and supported the authenticity of the ID. A pawn ticket or a tag from the cleaners with a name on it contributed to legalization similarly as an official ID document.
These actions represented several counts of forgery of official documents, however according to one of the culprits, this “haven’t caused any remorse or moral scruple. The laws of human assistance, the universal right to evade the regulations of the power based on destruction have prevailed.”
Endre worked alone, he had no connection with the Zionists or undercover groups. According to the family tradition, only the KISKA groups (auxiliary law enforcement groups) had contact with him and supported his activity. Some of the rubber stamps that were not produced by him might have been received from these units. Apart of this, contacts with other falsifier were limited to occasional encounters with the aim of barter false papers and stamps.
Balance of the Rescue and the Life of the Rescued in 1944
Endre’s “Family Rescue Service” was limited to the capital, he didn’t know his relatives from the countryside, and steps in this direction would have probably exceeded his power and possibilities. Out of all his close relatives, the only one he failed to save was his diabetic father in law – Ignác Kásznár, visible also in the marriage photo. The Arrow Cross dragged him to Pestszentimre, and because he could not march onwards due to the lack of insulin, they murdered him at the spot. Endre rescued three of his uncles from the forced labor service, taking them off the boxcars one by one with forged documents. In these cases the documents were verified by a the stamp of the Hungarian Royal Army Engineering and Railways Depot Technical Department, which entitled him to approach the trains using the pretext of controlling various parts. As an alleged employee of the military, and an expert of the Depot, he grew a huge mustache and dressed in breeches and boots. Wearing these garments he escorted his uncles across the city, and although the scene of a young soldier with elderly trembling forced labor serviceman attracted attention, he nonetheless successfully completed each of these missions.
After the German occupation Endre had to harness his courage and inventiveness in more difficult and risky circumstances. He didn’t aim at rescuing “only” his family, but also wanted to secure his much-loved library. For this, he devised a genius scheme.
Endre’s wife and the couple of months old Zsuzsanna lived in the Csanády Street, in a house marked by yellow star from June until mid-October 1944. The father made a special album for his daughter, where the firs pages were filled with photos and texts soon after the birth of the girl. The album tells the story of moving to the yellow-star house, hiding, liberation and the fresh start after the war with Endre’s specific humor and optimism. Plenty of small details and events were recorded from the daily life of the family. Among others, a photo series was taken of the baby sunbathing in the inner corridor, as the parents were not able to take her to the street due to the curfew. The album contains many photos, plenty of drawings made by various techniques and creativity, little poems and also notes of the events during the years 1943-44.
From Zsuzsanna’s narration we also know that the tenants of the yellow-starred house were so happy after the broadcasted proclamation of Governor Miklós Horthy on 15 October 1944 that they danced in the courtyard, tore the yellow stars sewn on their clothes, and threw them away. The happiness lasted until the evening, and yet, this time it proved to be premature.
Endre brought out his mother in law by a fake order from the brickyard in Óbuda, where the gendarmerie gave her a lasting “souvenir”: they knocked out all of her teeth. Subsequently he placed her in a house with a false identity, as “Mrs. Kiss”, a Christian bombed out from her home. During the Arrow Cross period caretakers of the houses could have been only “reliable” persons. Many of them sympathized with the Arrow Cross leader Szálasi and kept on reporting to the authorities every “irregularity”, for instance hiding Jews, illegal Communists or deserters.
Endre placed his mother-in-law as a “sub-janitor”. Although the caretaker sniffed the fraud, the only sign of his suspicion was that during the air raids, when everybody headed to the shelter, he sent “Mrs. Kiss” to wash up the stairs. He gave the signal that he was aware of some swindle, but he didn’t report it. People sitting at the shelter had also their doubts about the other persons hiding among them, but they also skipped contacting the authorities, which was the best support they could provided at that time.
This was not the only example of following the tactics “Who dares wins” and “Suspicious is what is not suspicious” in the family. One of Endre’s uncles was, in spite of being a Jew, a civil defense commander, which would have been impossible using his own identity.
Endre acquired accommodation for his mother, Mrs. Sándor Káldori, and for his grandmother, Mrs. Zsigmond Kuttenberg as for Transylvanian refugees. The attitude of the family is well described by the fact that the grandmother, disregarding the circumstances, refused to give up the kosher food.
This self-confidence was present with Endre’s father, Sándor Káldori too. He has also been mobilized to the forced labor service. He brought a fixed typewriter with him to the barracks where he had to report himself. When showing up he read a name of one of the officers from the wall and claimed that he was sent to hand over the typewriter to that person. They believed him, he received the permission to leave the facility and he was free to go. After a while he was sorry for leaving a good typewriter, hence he went back and claimed that he had delivered the typewriter to the wrong person. He claimed it back, received another permit to leave the facility and was again – this time with the typewriter – a free man.
After the Arrow Cross takeover in October, the family evaded moving to the ghetto at the end of November and went hiding with their Christian relatives. Somewhat later Zsuzsanna and her mother stayed at one of their acquaintances in Nagytarcsa, a village northeast from Budapest. As the little girl cried and screamed a lot the host family asked them to leave. Zsuzsanna was separated from her mother and stayed with one of her Christian aunts. Immediately before the siege of Budapest the family stayed a couple of days at the home of a retired military officer in Falk Miksa Street, mentioned in the family just as “Uncle Sandor”. There were some forty of them in the flat. According to the family legends, the temporary tenants returned to the apartment several times after the liberation, and put some money into “Uncle Sandor’s” letter box.
Freedom at last
In the days following the liberation the Káldori family stayed at their home in the Kresz Géza Street, they took refuge in their own home in that period. Endre and his wife – based on their positive attitude toward life – described Hungary of 1944 as a place where, in spite of thousands of dangers lurking at persecuted persons at every corner and doorway, there has always been somebody to help, provide assistance, or just look away. Thanks to this, they survived these dangerous months.
Endre earned his living as stationary merchant after the war, as a private entrepreneur for a while, and in a cooperative after the nationalization. He has displayed his human attitude at his workplace by employing former officers of Governor Horthy, who were in “tight” position in the new regime.
Curator — Heléna Huhák, museologist
Curator — András Szécsényi, museologist
Translator — Zoltán Tóth-Heinemann, communication officer
Photograps — Rita Botka, Budapest