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Satirical drawing of his prescription made by a camp inmate for his doctor, a fellow inmate

Object | Accession Number: 1989.202.2

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    Brief Narrative
    Elegant cartoon in pencil and watercolor done by Istvan Irsai and given to Dr. Bela Gondos in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp on October 17, 1944, as an expression of gratitude. It depicts an oversize thermometer stuck into a piece of bread, Dr. Gondos's prescription for his starving patient, whom he saw weekly. Both men were inmates arrived in the camp on the Kastzner rescue transport from Budapest, on July 8, 1944. Bela diagnosed Istvan with starvation and the prescribed extra portion of bread was filled by the informal organization of the Hungarian camp. Bela's wife Anna and 7 year old daughter Judit were also in the camp. The Kastzner train was arranged by Reszo Kastzner who persuaded the German SS to accept money to allow a trainful of Jews to leave Budapest. The intent was to send them to Palestine or Portugal, but not enough money was raised, so they were sent to Bergen-Belsen. The Gondos family and Istvan were sent to Zurich, Switzerland, in December 1944, after a Jewish organization raised ransom money. Istvan left for Palestine in 1945. The Gondos family emigrated to America in fall 1946.
    Artwork Title
    ORVOSI POT Bergen-Belsen 1944
    Alternate Title
    Medical Pot Bergen Belsen 1944
    creation:  1944 October 17
    received:  1944 October 17
    creation: Bergen-Belsen (Concentration camp); Belsen (Bergen, Celle, Germany)
    received: Bergen-Belsen (Concentration camp); Belsen (Bergen, Celle, Germany)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Bela Gondos and Judith Gondos Jacobs
    front, top, title, pencil : ORVOSI „PÓT” [MEDICAL POT]
    front, bottom, caption, pencil : BERGEN-BELSEN 1944.
    right side, vertically, cursive, blue ink : Hungarian text / 17 ∙ X ∙ 1944 Istvan Irsai [With friendship]
    Artist: Istvan Irsai
    Subject: Istvan Irsai
    Subject: Bela Gondos
    Istvan (Stefan) Irsai was born on October 6, 1896, in Budapest, Hungary, to Adolf and Hermine Neumann. The family was Jewish but not religiously observant. Istvan was a violinist and attended a musical conservatory. He served as a Lieutenant in the Austro-Hungarian Army, during World War I (1914-1918.) He was seriously wounded. Unable to pursue a career as a violinist, he trained as a music teacher. He also studied architecture at the Budapest Institute of Technology. He began working as an architect, furniture designer, and graphic designer. In the early 1920s, he had a position at Globus Printing House, where he experimented with large scale lithography. Istvan was active in Zionist organizations and, in 1925, he immigrated to Palestine. He became one of the leading graphic artists in the country and designed the modern Hebrew font Haim. In 1929, he returned to Budapest, where he established himself as a graphic artist, known for his posters.

    Hungary was a close ally of Nazi Germany and enacted similar anti-Jewish laws. In June 1941, Hungary joined in the German invasion of the Soviet Union. In early 1943, as the German were forced to retreat from Stalingrad, Hungary sought a separate truce with the west. In March 1944, Germany occupied Hungary. In May 1944, the Hungarian authorities, in coordination with the German Security Police, began to systematically deport all Jews from Hungary to concentration camps. In June, Istvan was selected by the Jewish Rescue Committee to leave on the Kasztner rescue train. This was a plan negotiated by Rezso Kasztner of the Relief and Rescue Committee of the Hungarian Zionist Association in Budapest to get the German SS to allow a train of Jews to leave the country in exchange for money. There were about 1687 passengers on the train which left Budapest on June 30. The passengers thought that they were bound for neutral Spain or Portugal. However, Kastzner was not able to raise sufficient funds, so the transport was sent to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany. They arrived on July 8 and were housed separately from the other inmates in the Hungarian camp. They were not allowed to work, and were treated better than other prisoners. They wore their own clothing, with a Jewish badge. Istvan was a regular patient of Dr. Bela Gondos, another Kastzner passenger, who diagnosed him with starvation and prescribed him an extra ration of bread, filled through their informal camp organization. Istvan was released in December 1944 and taken to Switzerland through the assistance of the International Red Cross. He left for Palestine in 1945. He settled in Tel Aviv and resumed his career as a graphic designer and writer on typography and design. Istvan, now Steven, age 72, died in 1968.
    Bela Gondos was born on November 25, 1903, in Erdobenye, Hungary, to an Orthodox Jewish couple, Mor and Roza Feuerlicht Goldman. Bela had four siblings: Ilona (1899-1944), Zelma (1901-1944), Sandor Shmuel (1905-1999), and Zoltan (1908-2005). His mother Roza was born in 1880 in Tenke, Romania. His father Mor was a school teacher and complied with the practice of changing the family name to Hungarian in 1904. In 1913, Bela attended a Catholic high school in Satoraljaujhely. He experienced anti-Semitism, which created an interest in Zionism. In 1921, Bela moved to Budapest for medical school. He joined a Zionist student organization. He graduated from medical school in 1926 and had a position as a radiologist. In 1934, Bela married Anna Ilona Havas, who was born on June 22, 1910, in Gurahont, Romania, to an assimilated Jewish family. She was an artist and interior designer. The couple had a daughter, Judit, on April 27, 1937. They had a prosperous life with several maids and lived in a large apartment.

    Hungary was governed by a fascist regime, allied with Nazi Germany, with antisemitic racial laws modeled on the Nuremberg Laws. From 1939, Jewish men were forced into the Hungarian labor service, which was put under army command in 1940. In spring 1941, Hungary joined the German invasion of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. Bela was conscripted into forced labor two to three times in the early 1940s. In 1942, he was in a labor battalion in Szentkiralyszabadja and then was released from labor service because he had a notice that, as a physician, he must report to the bunker of the Hungarian regent. Bela returned to his practice but had fewer patients because non-Jewish patients would not see a Jewish doctor. On March 19, 1944, Germany occupied Hungary. Anti-Jewish restrictions were implemented immediately. On March 31, Star of David badges were required for Jews. Bela’s clinic was shut, Judit was no longer allowed to attend school, and they had to turn over their valuables. They could leave their apartment for only 2 hours a day, but it was dangerous because the Gestapo would take Jews from the street. Bela left home daily to get news from the Jewish community center, although Anna did not want him to go. In April 1944, their apartment building was designated a yellow star Jewish house and several relatives came to live with them. Bela and Anna discussed sending Judit away to Anna’s parents in Bekes, or hiding her with a Christian neighbor, but Anna insisted on keeping her with them.

    In mid-May, Bela was informed about a rescue train to Spain or Portugal that was being organized by the Relief and Rescue Committee of the Hungarian Zionist Association in Budapest. Because of Bela’s participation in the Zionist movement, the Committee selected Bela and his family to leave on the Kasztner rescue train. The transport was a plan negotiated by Rezso Kasztner to get the German SS to allow a train of Jews to leave the country in exchange for money. Bela and his family reported to assembly camp in mid-June and waited for several days. Bela’s brother Sandor was a forced laborer, but his wife, Margalit Koves Gondos, and their daughter, Nomi, were on the transport. On June 30, the train left Budapest with 1686 passengers. They traveled on a cattle car with no sanitary facilities and were not given any food or water. Kasztner was not able to raise sufficient funds, so the transport was sent to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany. They went to Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, then stopped briefly in Linz, Austria. There was an air raid and the German guards made them stand exposed on the train platform until it was over.

    On July 8, they arrived in Bergen-Belsen. They were housed separately from the other inmates in the Hungarian camp and did not work. They wore their own clothing, but had to display a Jewish badge. The prisoners were permitted to have religious services and observed the High Holidays. They were not physically harmed by the guards but were verbally abused. Their rations were meager and Bela and Anna both gave some of their portions to Judit. Bela functioned informally as the camp physician and had some medical equipment with him, including a stethoscope and an injection and sterilization kit. Among his regular patients was an artist Istvan (Steven) Irsai. Bela diagnosed him with starvation and prescribed an extra ration of bread, filled through their informal camp organization. As the weather grew colder, their clothing and shoes began to wear out. On December 7, the prisoners were taken from the camp and walked to the train station. They boarded a heated passenger train with sanitary facilities and were sent to a collection center in St. Gallen, Switzerland. Jewish aid organizations had raised enough money to ransom the prisoners. After a few days, they were taken to Caux sur Montreux and lived in a resort hotel. The war ended when Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945.

    Bela, Anna, and Judit learned that most of their family had perished in the Holocaust. Bela’s mother, Rosa, his sister Ilona Rechnitz and her daughter Lidia, his sister Zelma, her husband Lajos Adler, and their children: Andor, Peter, Tamas, and his maternal aunt Sarolta Feuerlicht had all been killed in Auschwitz in 1944. Bela’s brother Sandor was taken by the Hungarian Labor Service and was presumed dead. His brother Zoltan, who had emigrated to the United States before the war, was his only surviving relative. Anna’s entire family also perished. Although they had planned to go to Palestine, Bela and Anna decided to emigrate to the United States to be near Zoltan and applied for visas. Bela and Anna sent Judit to boarding school near Fribourg and moved to Zurich. Bela worked as a volunteer radiologist at the university while Anna cleaned vegetables and peeled potatoes at the Canton hospital to support the family. In summer 1946, they moved to the Home for Intellectuals in Geneva with Judit. On October 21, they sailed from Genoa on the SS Matthew O’Brien, arriving in Gulfport, Mississippi in November. They joined Bela’s brother Zoltan in Falls Church, Virginia. Bela earned his US medical certification and began a successful career as a physician and professor. They learned that Bela’s brother Sandor had survived the Hungarian labor service and emigrated to Palestine in 1947 with his wife Margalit and their daughter Nomi. Judith married David Jacobs in 1957. The couple settled in Kansas City, Kansas and had four children. Judith earned several degrees, including a PhD in educational administration. Bela’s wife, Anna, died on December 20, 1985, at age 75. Bela, age 99, died on October 31, 2003.

    Physical Details

    Physical Description
    Drawing in pencil with watercolor on brown cardboard of a large cylindrical thermometer with a numbered scale piercing a red block of wood resting upon an oversize slice of brown bread. Below this is a green painted guard tower and a barrack with a white sign with 11 behind a wire fence. The title ORVOSI PÓT is written in pencil in the top left corner and BERGEN BELSEN 1944 is across a red rectangle along the lower edge. There are inscriptions along the right side.
    overall: Height: 6.625 inches (16.828 cm) | Width: 4.500 inches (11.43 cm)
    overall : cardboard, watercolor, graphite, ink
    front, right, pencil : irsai
    back, red pencil : 3 (encircled) 2.5

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    No restrictions on access
    Conditions on Use
    No restrictions on use

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    The drawing was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1989 by Bela Gondos.
    Funding Note
    The cataloging of this artifact has been supported by a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
    Record last modified:
    2023-05-26 09:57:27
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