Little did they know that they were next on Hitler's menu, although that was quite obvious to everyone else. The Poles, before the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, were agitating for a common border with Hungary , resorting to terrorism by sending guerrillas into Verecky and kidnapping several Czech officials and gendarmes. The irony of it was that several months later, when their country was invaded, they had the unmitigated gall to call for Czech volunteers to help them fight the Germans. That was the epitome of "chutzpah." Suddenly Czechs were called brothers while Hungary, the staunch ally, decided to play the convenient role of neutral observer. So much for friendships.

It was emotional torment to watch all my Czech friends leave. They left for Bohemia to be savaged by the Nazi overlords. Several days elapsed from the time the Czechs left to the time the Hungarians arrived in Verecky. During that time a few Ukrainian nationalists appeared, ready to take charge. Those were sons of emigres that escaped during the Russian revolution. It seems that Hitler promised them as well as to Hungary possession. of Sub-Carpathian Ruthenia and left it to both parties to sort things out. The Ukrainians were led to expect eastern Poland to be added to their domain in he not too distant future and perhaps later all of the Ukraine. As soon as they arrived in Verecky, they started sorting things out by drawing up a list of the names of the Jewish elders to be executed. That was the first priority on their busy agenda. Fate, however, intervened. Time ran out. Before they could realize their plan, the Hungarians arrived and promptly started sorting things out by capturing all of them, leading them up to the border and shooting them while the Polish authorities watched.

Not far from Grandfather's house there lived a Jewish family the man of which owned a horse which was their source of meager income. He drove people to the train station twelve kilometers from Verecky. This man was fond of the Hungarians and held a healthy disdain for the Czechs. As there was no motor vehicle transportation available before the first world war when Verecky was under Hungarian rule, he made a reasonably good living. Under the Czech regime, however, most people traveled by bus or taxi, thus his living standard suffered a decline. In 1939 when the Hungarian flag was planted in the village square, he was the only Jew who walked over and kissed the flag. It was to no avail. His lot didn't improve. The reward came in 1941 when he and his family were seized and deported to the Ukraine where they all perished.

There were outpourings of great joy when the Hungarians and Poles met at the border. There were hugs and kisses, fireworks, bands were playing, trumpets blaring and army units were parading, displaying their fancy precision marching steps. The Polish nobility appeared en-masse, decked out in their best embroidered finery making speeches in French, nary a word of which the Hungarians understood. Their jubilation, however, was short lived for Poland, because in September of the same year it ceased to exist.

Sometime in September, 1939, Hitler moved to put an end to Poland. In order to find a pretext for invasion (I don't know why that was necessary), Polish provocation had to be concocted. That was accomplished by a simple, ingenious method. A squad of concentration camp inmates was dressed up in Polish uniforms, led into a German military base and gunned down. That was done at night. The next morning members of the press were assembled to view the dead Polish soldiers. This added grist to the mill of the German minister of propaganda, Dr. Goebels, who promptly set the wheels into motion, calling the world's attention to this Polish perfidious act, whereupon the right of self defense was invoked and the conquest of Poland begun. After the few military planes Poland possessed were destroyed on the ground, the invaders marched through the country like a knife through butter. In spite of spirited resistance, Poland surrendered in a few short weeks. In accordance with the agreement concluded previously by Stalin and Hitler, the Soviets simultaneously occupied Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and eastern Poland. Thus we found ourselves twelve kilometers from the Soviets.

One of the Polish army divisions stationed in eastern Poland at that time was allowed to cross the border into Hungary on their way to England. They bivouacked in Verecky for several days. That coincided with the high holidays. We were praying in the synagogue, when in walked a nice looking Polish captain. It turned out he was Jewish, as he spoke Yiddish. He was immediately surrounded and anxiously pressed for information about the Russians. Sensing that we still clung to a shred of hope that the nazis will be defeated by the red army, he quoted a famous Jewish proverb. "One mustn't wait for a new king." This saying is in reference to a sad experience of the Hebrews enslaved in Egypt. When the cruel Pharaoh died and was replaced, the Hebrews entertained the hope that the new Pharaoh would be more humane. This proved to be a vain hope as the new ruler was more cruel. Hence this proverb. Then the captain proceeded to describe the misconduct of the Russian troops. This was to us such a devastating blow that we simply refused to believe him. My experience later on confirmed the veracity of what he said.

Life under Hungarian rule although not very pleasant was tolerable in the beginning. In 1939 and the better part of 1940 Jews still served in the army. Then things changed. Hungary had no choice but to become an ally of Germany. The Hungarian Regent, Horty Miklos, was not in favor of Hitler's genocide program but in face of relentless pressure, he had to show at least a token of compliance. Thus it happened that Jewish men instead of being inducted into the army, served in labor battalions. In addition, Jews were excluded from serving in state or local government posts in any capacity. That also applied to teaching positions. Otherwise, there were no restrictions. However, bigotry on the part of most Hungarians I have met was quite evident. There were people free of prejudice of course, but those were in the minority. One day each week we underwent pre-military training. It consisted of marching, singing and rifle target practice to begin with. lLater on the rifles were replaced with shovels. We would march through the main street singing Hebrew songs. This was sanctioned by our commander when he was informed that those were Italian songs] That same commander happened to be a decent chap. He confessed that before he got to know us he was prejudiced. He said he was brought up in a small town where there were no Jews, and there was taught that Jews are evil and don't even look human. Now that I have met you, he said, I realize that you are human after all, "just like us."

We were required to salute every time we encountered a gendarme or a soldier. One pitch black evening as I was walking on the street I felt a heavy blow to my face accompanied by a sharp reprimand for not saluting a gendarme. It was so dark that I just didn't see him. I am still puzzled as to how he could have seen me under those conditions.


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Boris Segelstein