György (George Pick) was born March 28, 1934 in Budapest, Hungary. He was the only child of middle class Jewish parents. György’s father, Istvan, was an engineer responsible for producing hydraulic grape presses for wineries. His mother, Margit Pick (née Kornhauser), worked as a legal secretary. The Pick family could trace its history in the Austro-Hungarian Empire back 230 years, and György had many close relatives in the city.
In the 1930s, Hungary’s authoritarian government pushed the country into close alignment with Nazi Germany. Hitler’s speeches were broadcast on the radio, and even though György could not understand German, he was disturbed by the anger he heard in the dictator’s voice. Hungary’s anti-Jewish laws were passed between 1938 and 1941. Modeled after Germany’s Nuremberg Laws they defined Jews in racial terms, excluded Jews from various professions, and severely restricted their participation in economic life. As a result, György parents lost their jobs.
In 1940, Hungary officially allied itself with the Axis powers. György’s father was conscripted into a labor battalion and sent to the newly annexed territory of Ruthenia, where he was forced to build roads for the military. He was released after three months, but was reconscripted in 1943 and again in 1944. György attended school until March 1944, when German troops occupied Hungary.
In mid-May 1944, the Hungarian authorities, in coordination with the German Security Police, began to systematically deport the Hungarian Jews. In less than two months, nearly 440,000 Jews were deported from Hungary. Most were deported to Auschwitz, but thousands were also sent to the border with Austria to be deployed at digging fortification trenches. By the end of July 1944, the only Jewish community left in Hungary was that of Budapest, the capital.
In June, the Picks, along with other Jews in the capital, had to move into special buildings marked with yellow stars, and all of their belongings were confiscated. That October, the Hungarian fascists, known as the Arrow Cross Party, took power, and began to depart the remaining Jews to various concentration camps. György’s father was able to save the family from deportation by hiding them in a vacant building disguised as a uniform factory. A month later, they, along with the 160 to 170 Jews hiding there were discovered. György was placed in a Red Cross orphanage with 500 other children, but he soon escaped and returned to his family. He later learned that the children who had remained in the orphanage were killed. Two weeks after this incident, the Picks were sent to the Ghetto in Budapest. György and his family remained there during the final siege of the city which lasted from December through January.
In January 1945, the Ghetto was liberated by Soviet troops. Approximately 130 of György’s relatives had been killed at Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. After the war, György remained in Hungary, where he earned a degree in engineering. In 1956, he came to the United States as a refugee. He earned his Ph.D. in 1965, and then worked for the United States Navy as an aerospace engineer until his retirement in 1995. He and his wife, Leticia Flores Pick, live in Arlington, Virginia.
Malvina Spitzer (Kornhauser) was born in 1874 in Austria-Hungary. She had two sisters, Ilona and Gizella, and a brother, Bela. Malvina married Samu Kornhauser, an engineer, and the couple settled in Budapest, Hungary. They had four children: a daughter, Margit, and three sons, Laszlo, Charles, and Karoly. In 1933, Margit married Istvan Pick, an engineer. They had a son, Gyrogy, on March 28, 1934, who was Malvina and Samu’s first grandchild. After Samu’s death on July 19, 1935, Malvina went to live with her son Charles. He emigrated to the United States in 1938, and she went to live with Margit’s family. In 1938, the Hungarian fascist regime adopted discriminatory anti-Jewish laws, similar to those of their ally, Nazi Germany. Istvan lost his job in May 1939 because he was Jewish. He paid the superintendent of their building, Gyorgy Dudek, to take out a business license in his name. Istvan and his business partners then set up scrap metal business. Margit continued to work as a legal secretary for her uncle Pal Kornhauser, who was exempt from the Jewish laws because of his distinguished service during World War I.
In 1940, all able-bodied Jewish males were required to perform forced labor. In September, Istvan was conscripted into the Hungarian labor service and his labor battalion was sent to Raho, in Ruthenia, to build roads for three months. Malvina, Margit, and Gyorgy remained in their home in Budapest and Gyorgy attended the Jewish Boys' Orphanage School. In November, concerned about continuing German support, Hungary became a member of the Axis alliance, and in spring 1941, joined Germany in the surprise attack on the Soviet Union. The labor battalions were placed under the control of the Hungarian Army and deployed on war related construction work.
Malvina’s nephew, Gabor, and his parents Ilona and Jeno Halmos, had escaped to Budapest from Slovakia in 1942, and her extended family and the Pick’s helped hide the family. In April 1943, Istvan was conscripted for a three month road construction project, this time in Cluj, in the area of Transylvania taken from Hungary and given to Hungary in 1940 through the German mediated Second Vienna Award.
Following the German defeats in Russia in 1943, Hungary sought a separate armistice with the western Allies. On March 19, 1944, Germany invaded Hungary. Previously Hungary had not acted on German demands to deport its Jews to concentration camps. Now, Hungarian authorities began to round up all Jews not living in Budapest gathering them in regional centers. Jeno Halmos, who was still living in hiding, turned himself in, while his wife and son escaped back to Slovakia. By April 5, all Jews were required to wear yellow stars on their clothing. In April, Malvina’s brother-in-law Pal Kornhauser was deported. Istvan’s labor battalion was sent to western Hungary to build anti-tank fortifications. In June, Malvina, and her daughter and grandson, Margit, and Gyorgy, were forced to move to a specially designated "yellow star" house for Jews. Malvina’s sister, Gizella, and her family, already lived in one of these houses, and they moved in with them. During May and June, Budapest was a frequent target of allied bombing raids. In September, Istvan's battalion moved to Budapest. In early November, his commander warned the unit that they would be sent to Germany the following day. The men were given a 24-hour furlough and Istvan went into hiding with a friend.
On November 22, 1944, Margit and Gyorgy left the apartment without telling Malvina where they were going. The apartment building was raided the following day, and Malvina, Gizella, and her family, and everyone else in the building were taken to transit camps in the brickyards along the river. The building superintendent knew that the women had a brother, Bela, living in one of the “safe” houses in the international ghetto protected by the efforts of the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg. This ghetto consisted of buildings held by neutral nations, particularly Sweden and Switzerland, and many were reserved for Jews and their families that held certificates of protection from those nations. The superintendent found Bela there and explained what had happened to Malvina, Gizella, and her family. Bela went to Wallenberg and asked for certificates of protection for them so that they could leave the brickyard and be allowed into the ghetto. Wallenberg was successful and they went to live in the Swedish safe house with Bela.
The city was liberated by the Soviet Army in February 1945. Malvina left the ghetto and walked back to the Pick’s original apartment, where she found Margit, Istvan, and Gyorgy. Malvina learned that Istvan had hidden his family in a textile factory on Csango Street, eventually ending up in the central ghetto. The war in Europe ended on May 7, 1945. Malvina’s immediate family survived, but more than 90 members of her extended family perished in the Holocaust, including Pal Kornhauser and Jeno Halmos who were killed in 1944 at Auschwitz concentration camp. Malvina and the Pick family remained in Budapest. Malvina, age 76, died in 1950.