John Dobai’s testimony

09-01-2012 , by John Dobai

I was born in January 1934 in Budapest and for the first few years I was brought up as a Roman Catholic as my parents converted to Catholicism in the mistaken belief that it would save us from persecution. Many people did the same at the time.

In 1941 my father was sent to a camp in NE Hungary where he, with hundreds of others were made to build airfields etc. and I did not see him for 3 years.

Later I was told I could not attend school because my family was Jewish; when I protested I was Catholic my mother had to tell me that all the family were Jews. After the Germans occupied Hungary on 19 March 1944 the persecution intensified. We had to wear the star of David and many of our possessions were confiscated. A little later the Jews living outside Budapest were deported to Auschwitz; we lost two aunts and a cousin; one cousin survived Auschwitz.

My mother and I were forced to move in with a number of others into a house as the process towards deportation began. As the Red Army was nearing Budapest the camp where my father was dissolved and he made his way back to us.

When we met up my father heard about the passports which were being issued by the Swedish Embassy, a scheme instigated and daringly carried out by Raoul Wallenberg. My father obtained the passports for us and accommodation in a house which was bought by the Swedish Embassy and/or Wallenberg. Very frightened we crossed the Danube to this house, worried if the new passports would be recognised at the many checkpoints. We reached the house safely.

By this time the siege of Budapest was under way although the deportations continued. Even though the war was clearly lost the killing of Jews continued and around New Year 1945 the German and Hungarian Nazis were taking away the people who were living in the ‘protected’ houses (there were houses owned by Sweden, Switzerland, Spain and the Vatican).

The people from these houses were marched to the west – many died on the way – or taken down to the banks of the Danube and shot.

Fortunately for us the Russians reached the house we were in before we met the same fate. As you know, a few days later Raoul Wallenberg drove to Russian HQ to arrange for food supplies to the starving people of Budapest; he was arrested and not seen again.

My family came to England in 1948 and got on with our lives while reading about the efforts to obtain news of the fate of Wallenberg. It was only in the early 90s I started to take a greater interest and recognised the immense bravery of Raoul Wallenberg who saved the lives of over 20000 people.

My wife and I were invited to be present at the unveiling of the statue in Cumberland Place London. My cousin who survived Auschwitz and I promised we shall speak of our experiences especially to young people. She did this almost till she died and I continue, talking of the heroism of Raoul Wallenberg.

While the number of survivors is decreasing you can be certain that the name of Raoul Wallenberg will live on.

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