03. 21. 2012. 06:47

Éva Fahidi's Anima Rerum

More than eighty-five years old, Éva Fahidi lives in the inner city of Budapest, her memory is crystal clear, her manner of expression sharp as a razor. She had just passed her eighteenth birthday when on June 27, 1944 she was crowded into a cattle car in her native town of Debrecen in eastern Hungary and was deported to Auschwitz.

Of her immediate family she was the only survivor. If we count her uncles, aunts, and cousins of both sexes, about fifty of her relatives became victims of the Holocaust.

“Anyone who has been in Auschwitz has two lives,” she writes in her inimitable, wry style, “a life before Auschwitz and a life after it.” This is what makes this book special. The author does not treat this – considering its length, brief period of her life, a period that was defined only by persecution and which, apart from small, vital playing fields became the object of German racial policy – as something separate from the rest of her life’s journey. The feeling of safety and normalcy, taken for granted, is the “before”, everything else is “after”. Éva Fahidi does not tell her story chronologically. The force and emphatic nature of her “true stories” lie in the fact that on the surface, looked at formally, she does not speak systematically, but keeps drawing parallels. To give you an example, Éva Fahidi describes the reality of Auschwitz from the perspective of July 1, 2004, when she visited today’s memorial. She’d arrived in Birkenau on the same day fifty-nine years previously. She asks, puzzled, “What has become of ‘our’ Birkenau, where we were crowded together, where we could not move, because we bumped into each other at every step? What has become of the air heavy with the stench of burning bodies? What has become of the never ending shouts of the Aufseherinen,  the commandants, the transports, the constant rumbling of the trucks?”

Anyone who visits the Auschwitz Museum today and walks around the area of Birkenau will be shocked to see human bones scattered here and there that the rain is still washing out of the ground. Still, today’s visitor cannot get a realistic picture of what was once there – the humiliation, the starvation, the thirst, the latrines and the unrelenting presence of death. Éva Fahidi has the following to say about this: “In the place where not a single blade of grass could survive [between] the Lagerstrasse and… the Appelplatz, nature today is predominant.”

Gili (Ágnes), the author’s eleven-year-old sister, was killed upon arrival in a gas chamber and her body, like hundreds of thousands of other bodies from the Hungarian transport, was incinerated the same day. Her mother, the thirty-nine-year-old Irma, suffered the same fate. The momentary hesitation that she shouldn’t leave her child alone was enough for the SS doctors responsible for the selections to decide that rather than having her do forced labor, it might be advisable to prevent any possible consequences of the pain she might feel over the separation from her child by sending her to her death instead. The forty-nine-year-old father, the lumber merchant Dezső Fahídi, became a victim of “annihilation through labor”. He endured the suffering doled out to him for only a couple of weeks.

This is how the middle-class Fahidi family disappeared from Debrecen. They were Jews who spoke German at home, and they were proud Hungarians. The family’s love of their homeland has survived in the passage where the author speaks about the terrible injustice of the Treaty of Trianon. The Fahidi girls attended a convent school, learned to play the piano, and enjoyed playing tennis. Granted that the semi-Parliamentarian, semi-dictatorial Hungarian government had passed a number of stringent anti-Jewish laws in 1938 and thereafter, most of the Jews living in Hungary – including the author’s own family – felt that they were living “on an island of peace and security, and not in a country under German occupation.” Theirs was a respected family, and the girls were attending a school where the steadily growing Jewish persecution was “elegantly glossed over”.

After a six-week stay in Auschwitz, Éva Fahidi was deported along with a thousand other Hungarian Jewish women to one of the outlying Buchenwald camps, the Münchmühle work camp located in Allendorf, Hessen Province. The change in camps played a vital role in her survival even though she and her mates were forced to work with highly toxic materials in the munitions industry located in Allendorf, and were no better than slaves toiling without benefit of safety equipment or clothing. Some of the German guards demonstrated their sympathy, or at least were not sadistic. Although the imprisonment and the forced labor in Münchmühle was terrible, the chances for survival were still better there than in the death camp of Auschwitz. Survival also required luck, and Éva Fahidi and her mates were lucky because they retained their human dignity despite the odds. They observed the rules of personal hygiene, recited poems, and when the need was greatest, they evidenced true solidarity and aided each other as best they could. “We refused to be demoralized.” But this would not have sufficed if the American army had not liberated the camp on March 31, 1945.

Éva Fahidi writes about the unparalleled mass annihilation, the Holocaust, in a manner that a historian would not be capable of. A historian provides a dry, objective account of the innumerable anonymous victims of the state-directed annihilation machine. Thanks to the author’s stories, the world whose annihilation was the “final solution” of the Third Reich comes to life once again. Éva Fahidi portrays individuals who died only because they were Jewish with true sympathy and understanding, and she does so while describing their weaknesses and strengths, their customs and amiable qualities, too. In the camp Éva Fahidi was still dreaming of seeing her parents and younger sister again. But after her liberation she had to face the fact that cannot be faced – the “cruel truth”.

Götz Aly is a highly respected German historian and Holocaust researcher who gained popular success with his book Hitlers Volksstaat (Hitler's People's State, 2005) in which he characterizes Hitler’s Germany as a “convenience dictatorship”. His book, Das letzte Kapitel. Der Mord an den ungarischen Juden (The Last Chapter, 2004), co-authored in German with Christian Gerlach, treats Hungary under Nazi occupation.
This piece was published in German as preface to the German edition of Anima Rerum (Lukas Verlag, Berlin, 2004) with the title Anima Rerum. Meine Münchmühle in Allendorf und meine wahren Geschichten. [Translator's notes]

Translated by: Judith Sollosy

Tags: Éva Fahidi