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Oral history interview with Thomas Detre

Oral History | Accession Number: 1990.8.4 | RG Number: RG-50.063.0004

Thomas Detre, born May 17, 1924 in Budapest, Hungary, describes his family; living in a small town outside of Budapest; learning German and Hungarian as a child; being taught in a strict Catholic order and receiving lessons from a local rabbi; his Bar Mitzvah; not experiencing discrimination until he was a teenager; how his family was protected by early antisemitic laws because his father fought in WWI; how people disregarded the German invasion of Poland and how he was unaware of the anti-Jewish laws being passed; not being able to register for certain classes because he was Jewish; auditing medical courses in Budapest; different expressions of Judaism that were practiced in Hungary; how his family was integrated into Hungarian society and disdained the more cloistered orthodox Jews; how in 1942 the Arrow Cross became more violent and destroyed more Jewish property; how his cousins were drafted into the forced labor battalions; working in a Jewish hospital in Budapest in 1943 and learning from Jewish refugees about the camps and atrocities occurring in Nazi-occupied areas; the loopholes in the antisemitic legislation; being only vaguely aware of the ghettoization of Hungarian Jews; being arrested in 1944 and sent to a work compound; escaping with 100 other inmates and being captured later; being detained and correctly diagnosing a guard, who fell ill; feigning suicide and being sent to a rehabilitation hospital as required by Hungarian law; escaping the hospital and being recaptured; being sent to a detainment hall in Óbuda, where people were either sent to a Swiss safe house or a death camp; sneaking into the group of people going to the Swiss safe house; obtaining legal papers from a cousin and living in a safe house in Budapest; living with hundreds of others in cramped conditions; how in May 1944 his entire family was deported to Auschwitz and only one uncle survived; his reflections on the reasons for decreased Nazi cruelty in the last months of the war; his contact with the Zionist underground during his months in the safe house (he mentions Raoul Wallenberg); a Yugoslav partisan he lived with in the safe house; coming down with typhoid fever in the safe house; being liberated by the Russian Army in February 1945; learning about his parents via the bulletins issued by the International Red Cross; retrieving family jewels that friends had safeguarded and selling them for food; beginning his medical training three weeks after liberation; going to Italy to get his medical degree; immigrating to the United States in 1953; not experiencing survivor’s guilt and how it was luck that kept him alive; his belief that many Americans participated in denial en masse during the war; his questions about the effectiveness of widespread education on the Holocaust; and his belief that there should be more study of the psychology and behavior of groups.

Some video files begin with 10-60 seconds of color bars.
Thomas Detre
interview:  1990 March 16
1 videocassette (VHS) : sound, color ; 1/2 in..
Credit Line
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, acquired from Holocaust Center of the United Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh
Record last modified: 2020-03-26 09:32:28
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