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Oral history interview with Steven J. Fenves

Oral History | Accession Number: 2014.428.3 | RG Number: RG-50.822.0003

Some video files begin with 10-60 seconds of color bars.

Steven Fenves, born on June 6, 1931 in Szabadka, Yugoslavia (now Subotica, Serbia), describes his family, including his older sister Estera; his father Lajos, who was the manager of a publishing house and a newspaper; his mother Claire Gereb, who was a graphic artist; having a very conventional, affluent childhood; his governess Fräulein Schmidt; the importance his parents placed on speaking “Hochdeutsch” (“high German”); speaking Hungarian at home and German with his governess; the economic differences between the Jews in the community; attending a state school called the Queen Mary School (it was informally referred to as the Jewish school); having a few Gentile friends but being mostly friends with Jews; antisemitism in Yugoslavia; his lack of awareness of antisemitism until April 1941 when Germany attacked Yugoslavia; his father’s expulsion from his job; being one of the nine Jews allowed to attend higher education; experiencing antisemitism in the classroom; the financial difficulties experienced by his family; the German occupation of Hungary in 1944; his parents’ decision not to leave; the requisitioning of rooms in their house for Hungarian soldiers; the deportation of his father and most of the town’s intelligentsia; being forced to leave their home and move into the ghetto; being jeered at by their non-Jewish neighbors as they left; the looting of their home after they left; turning 13 years old in the ghetto and not having a bar mitzvah; being in the ghetto for two weeks and working at a machine shop outside the ghetto; hearing about the Normandy invasion on a hidden radio at the machine shop; being sent to a camp in Bácsalmás, Hungary for a week before being transferred to Auschwitz; the six day train journey to Auschwitz; the terror they experienced upon arriving at Auschwitz; being separated by gender and never seeing his mother again; his sister’s fate (she remained in Auschwitz for some time and then sent to Bergen-Belsen, where she was liberated in 1945); going to the boys’ barracks in Compound C, where he stayed for four months; daily life in the camp; witnessing many deaths; being selected as an interpreter for the kapos in the camp; the extermination of many Roma in August 1944; working with a Polish kapo; being an interpreter for the German foreman and camp commander; the black market and the resistance in the camp; being part of a roof repair detail and being able to visit with his sister; managing to buy a sweater and scarf for his sister before she was sent to Bergen-Belsen; the communication between the resistance inside and outside the camp; being smuggled out of the camp with the help of the Polish kapos; arriving in Niederorschel; his work and sabotage efforts in the camp; being sent on a death march in April 1945 to Buchenwald and the deaths of prisoners along the way; being herded into a small camp in Berlstedt; arriving in Buchenwald; the Americans arriving in Buchenwald soon after; his convalescence; his decision over where to go after liberation; his search for surviving family members; finding his aunt in Budapest, Hungary; going home and reuniting with his sister and father; his father’s death on February 6, 1946; returning to school; life under the communists; leaving with his sister in 1947 and going to Paris, France; going to the United States three years later; being drafted into the army; qualifying for the GI Bill and earning his doctorate; becoming active in a survivor organization in Pittsburgh, PA; and his thoughts on Germany and antisemitism in Europe.

Interviewee
Steven J. Fenves Ph.D.
Interviewer
Hannes Ravic
Date
2014  (interview)
Language
English
Extent
1 digital file : MPEG-4.
Credit Line
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Hannes Ravic for BILD TV
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Record last modified: 2018-04-09 11:40:49
This page: https://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/irn100930