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Margo Selby papers

Document | Not Digitized | Accession Number: 2007.469.1

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    Collection consists of a manuscript, photographs, and documents.
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Margo Selby
    Collection Creator
    Margo Selby
    Magda Roth (b. 1929) was born in Debrecen, Hungary, to Erno (b. 1898) and Hermina Roth (b. 1903). Erno worked as a mechanic for the Hungarian transit authorities. Magda had three siblings: Tibor, Irene (b. 1925), and Ilona (b. 1927). In 1935, the family changed their name from Roth to Rozsahegyi.
    On March 20, 1944, German soldiers occupied Debrecen. Within two weeks, Jews were ordered to wear a Star of David badge, property was confiscated, and Jewish businesses were closed. Erno and Tibor were taken into forced labor battalions in April 1944. Tibor’s battalion was sent to Nagybanya. By the end of the month, Magda and her remaining family were forcibly relocated to the ghetto. The residents were made to erect a wall surrounding the ghetto which was sealed on June 7, 1944. Two weeks later, mass deportations began. The inhabitants were taken by Hungarian police to the nearby Serly brick yard, where they joined Jews brought from the surrounding region. Some were sent to labor camps in Austria, and the rest were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. Magda, her mother, her two sisters, and her maternal aunt, Aranka, with her two small children, Agika and Kato, were loaded into a train and deported to Birkenau. During the journey, the German guards would come to the small window demanding valuables; no one had any, so the guards took their socks and underwear. After several days with no food or water, they arrived at the camp. As they were getting out of the wagon, Irene helped one of her young cousins and was mistaken for the child’s mother, so she, the two children, her mother, and her aunt were sent in one direction, Magda and Ilona in another.
    Magda and Ilona were shaved and given rags to wear, and Magda was placed in Lager C and Ilona in Lager B. After several weeks, Magda learned that dead bodies from her camp were taken to Ilona’s camp for disposal. She got assigned to help carry the corpses one day. While she was in camp C, there was a commotion when a guard started beating a girl for breaking some rule. Magda snuck into Ilona’s section, while another girl took Magda’s place.
    On August 13, 1944, the Germans selected 1,000 young Hungarian Jewish women for transfer to Allendorf labor camp, a Buchenwald sub-camp. Magda and Ilona were not selected, but there was a miscount and while the lines were reorganized, Ilona grabbed Magda’s hand and they mixed in with the selected group. At Allendorf, Magda and her sister worked twelve hour days as slave labor in a large ammunition factory hidden inside a mountain. The factory produced grenades, rockets and bombs. Magda, at the end of her assembly line, put in fuses, stamped the bombs, and loaded them in crates. The prisoners were frequently beaten by the female SS guards, until the camp overseer intervened to end it. Magda was smaller and weaker than many other inmates and her sister began making decorative boxes and miniature furniture from scrap materials that she was able to trade for milk for Magda. After a while, Magda noticed that she and the other women were turning colors: their skin became yellowish green and their hair became orange and red from the poisonous gases that filled the camp air. Others inmates, such as her sister, Ilona, had more visible signs of sickness, such as vomiting and fever. Known as powder scabies, the gasses caused fatal blood and liver disease. Not long after this, Magda was transferred to a sewing workshop.
    In April 1945, as US forces closed in, the camp was evacuated and the inmates sent on a death march. As they walked, the prisoners noticed that there were fewer and fewer guards with them, so they split into groups, making it too difficult for the small remainder of guards to catch them, and began walking away. Magda and Ilona walked through a small forest until they reached a town where they met a man who told them that he was the mayor of Homberg. He explained that all the residents were hiding and helped the girls find a place to shelter, and other townspeople gave them food. They spent one day in the village before the American soldiers arrived. Magda and Ilona moved to Mardorf where they made themselves clothes from abandoned German parachutes and banners. After a couple of months, the sisters decided to try to return home to Debrecen. Some US soldiers helped them travel to Cham, Germany, where they received aid from the Jewish Committee. They met two survivors from Hungary who told the sisters that their father, Erno, had left the labor battalion and gone to Budapest to look for his family. He was captured by the Germans and sent to Dachau concentration camp where he died just before liberation. They learned that their sister Irene, their mother, aunts, and cousins had been killed in Birkenau.
    While in Cham, Magda met Rudolf Zelmanovics, a fellow survivor from Czechoslovakia, and they married on April 14, 1946. Ilona met Dawid Kronunberg, a survivor from Warsaw, Poland, and they married around the same time. Their brother, Tibor, also survived and, in 1946, emigrated to Palestine, where he married and had two children. Magda and Rudolf relocated to Regensburg where they had a son on February 14, 1947, the same day that they learned that they would be permitted to emigrate to the United States. Rudy had an aunt, Hermina, who lived in the Bronx in New York who sponsored their visas, and their boat fares were paid by HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society). Her sister and her husband arrived in New York a little later. Magda and Rudy settled in the Bronx and had a daughter in 1953. The family adopted the surname Selby, and Magda changed her first name to Margo. Rudolf died in 2006.

    Physical Details

    2 folders

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    There are no known restrictions on access to this material.
    Conditions on Use
    Material(s) in this collection may be protected by copyright and/or related rights. You do not require further permission from the Museum to use this material. The user is solely responsible for making a determination as to if and how the material may be used.

    Administrative Notes

    Ms. Margo Selby donated her collection to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2007.
    Record last modified:
    2022-07-28 17:50:28
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