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Steven Fenves papers

Document | Digitized | Accession Number: 2010.453.1

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    Steven Fenves papers

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    The Steven Fenves papers consists of materials related to the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Buchenwald and Dora-Mittelbau concentration camps. The papers include a commemoration booklet published in German and English by the Stiftung Gedenkstätten Buchenwald and Dora-Mittelbau, containing photographs, statements by public officials, and the itinerary for the commemorative events. Also included is a color photograph of survivors of the Buchenwald concentration camp who attended the 65th anniversary events, April 11, 2010.
    creation:  2010
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Steven Fenves
    Collection Creator
    Steven J. Fenves Ph.D.
    Steven Joseph Fenves was born on June 6, 1931, in Subotica, Yugoslavia (Serbia), to Lajos and Klari Gereb Fenjves. Lajos was born in October 1889 in Mako, Hungary, to Ignac and Carolyn Friedman. Klari was born in May 1897 in Subotica to Miklos and Maris Gereb. Steven had an older sister, Estera, born on April 16, 1929. Lajos and his older brother, Ferenc, changed their name from Friedman to Fenyves when Ferenc enrolled at the university in Budapest; their name was changed to Fenjves after World War I (1914-1918). Lajos was an officer in the Austro-Hungarian Army during World War I. He was the manager of a printing plant, Minerva, owned by Ferenc and his wife, Elizabeth Baruch Fenjves. After Ferenc’s death in 1935, Lajos took over his role as editor of a Hungarian-language daily newspaper, Naplo. Klari was a graphic artist who had studied in Budapest, Dresden, Florence, Paris, and Vienna. The family had a live-in governess and employed a cook, maid, and chauffeur. They were assimilated and did not keep kosher, but regularly attended the Reform Jewish congregation. Steven attended public school, and went to religious training three times a week. He spoke Serbian in school, Hungarian at home, and German with his governess.

    On April 6, 1941, German forces invaded Yugoslavia; the country was divided and the northern region which included Subotica came under the control of Hungary. On the first day of the occupation, Lajos was forced from his office at gun point by a Hungarian officer. The plant and newspaper were confiscated; a non-Jewish administrator was appointed to manage the plant. Three Hungarian officers moved into the family’s apartment, and the family was forced to live in only two rooms. To make money, the family sold their valuable possessions, including their silver and gold and Steven’s substantial stamp collection; Klari knitted and sold scarves and shawls. In fall 1941, despite anti-Jewish laws, Steven passed the stringent exam and was one of only eight Jewish students permitted to attend gymnasium. During school breaks, Steven worked at a machine shop managed by his father’s former employee.

    On March 19, 1944, German forces occupied Hungary. Within days, Lajos was deported to Backa-Topolja transit camp, and then Auschwitz concentration camp. In May, Steven, his sister, his mother, and his maternal grandmother were forced into a makeshift ghetto in Subotica. As they left their apartment, people cursed and spit at them as they waited to enter the home and strip it of its contents. Steven had a pass to leave the ghetto during the day to work in a factory. In mid-June, all the Jews were sent to the Bacsalmas transit camp; the church bells rang and masses were held to celebrate the forced departure of the town's Jews. About a week later, they were deported by Hungarian guards on cattle cars without food, water, or sanitary facilities, to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Steven was sent to the children’s barracks in Camp D in Birkenau. Under the camp’s brutal conditions, the boys were turning into Muselmanner [walking corpses] to be carted off to the crematorium with the dead. The boy’s barracks were supervised by German criminal kapos identified by green triangles on their chests. Steven was picked by them to become an interpreter because he was fluent in German. The kapos allowed him to scoop out the bottom of the soup barrel after the inmates were fed.

    After the Roma camp was liquidated in August, Polish political prisoners wearing red triangles took over supervision of the compound. One of them, Tadek, made Steven his interpreter, and he quickly became fluent in Polish. Through the kapos, Steven became part of the camp resistance. He was put on a roof repair detail that went from compound to compound as they smuggled lists of prisoners and black market goods. In September, Steven met his sister, Estera, in one of the women’s compounds. She told him that their mother and grandmother were dead; they had been sent to the gas chambers upon arrival. Steven traded on the black market to get her a scarf, sweater, and gloves, before she was transported to another camp.

    In mid-October, as conditions worsened in Birkenau, the kapos smuggled Steven out on a transport to Niederorschel concentration camp, a satellite camp of Buchenwald where conditions were supposed to be better. Before his departure, Steven was tattooed, B13174, and a kapo gave him some warm clothes and a pair of ski boots. Previously, a foreman from the Messerschmitt aircraft factory at Niederorschel had come to pick 200 inmates as workers; Steven had translated for him. When the transport arrived, the foreman recognized Steven and questioned him as to why he was there because he had not been selected. Steven quickly responded that it was decided in Auschwitz that he should be sent as an interpreter because there were so many new prisoners.

    The camp had about 800 inmates, primarily Hungarian and Polish Jews, with around 100 Soviet prisoners of war. There were a few dozen German civilian workers in the factory, and elderly Wehrmacht guards patrolled the barbed wire fence. The prisoners worked twelve hour shifts, six and half days a week on an assembly line producing wings for fighter planes. At night, they repaired clothing and shoes and made engraved boxes out of scrap aluminum to trade with German civilians. Steven was thirteen years old, and there were lessons in history, mathematics, and French for inmates of his age. After being interrogated by some other prisoners about why he was on the transport and had warm clothes, he was accepted into the camp resistance. The underground brigades smuggled tools and metal scraps out of the factory to convert into weapons and participated in secret training activities. There were frequent hangings and shootings. On April 1, 1945, the inmates were sent on a death march to Buchenwald via Berlstedt concentration camp. They entered the camp on April 10, and were liberated by American forces the next day.

    Physical Details

    English German
    1 folder
    1 oversize folder
    System of Arrangement
    The Steven Fenves papers are arranged in a single series.

    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.

    Keywords & Subjects

    Personal Name
    Fenves, Steven, 1931-

    Administrative Notes

    Steven Fenves donated the Steven Fenves papers to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in June 2010.
    Funding Note
    The cataloging of this collection has been supported by a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
    Record last modified:
    2022-07-28 21:55:42
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