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Oral history interview with Sophie Cook

Oral History | Accession Number: 2018.221.1 | RG Number: RG-50.106.0269

Sophie Cook (née Zsofi Katherine Koch), born on November 10, 1937 in Budapest, Hungary, discusses her childhood; her father Emery Koch, who was in the heating equipment business selling tiled stoves with iron doors; her mother Maria, who was a secretary for a trading company; their household, in which her grandmother and aunt lived as well as a nanny and a maid; growing up more secular than religious; her younger brother Michael; gentiles taking over her mother’s job in late 1943; learning as a child that it is permissible to lie in order to save your own life; learning the Lord’s Prayer and how to cross herself; being given the false name Sofika Mueller; her parents’ friends taking her and her brother to the villa of the Secretary of the Swedish Embassy; going into hiding with another Jewish family; being unhappy as the maid and the cook were very unpleasant; going to the Convent of the Sacred Heart where there were eight Jewish children; having no connection to her parents; not believing in the Virgin Mary but liking the smell of incense; not being urged to convert; the convent being raided in November 1944 by the Arrow Cross, who warned the nuns not to shelter Jews; pretending to be sick while the Arrow Cross was there; leaving the convent with the other Jewish children and walking during the night to the ghetto while being led by a nine year old boy; her brother staying behind and living in the convent kitchen; knowing about death even at the age of seven because she had read about a child being shot; identifying with a girl with a bleeding arm holding a doll in a Nazi propaganda poster; the numerous adults in the ghetto; the apartment building having a yellow star on the roof to warn the Allies not to bomb it; her mother having false papers and her father being in a slave labor camp (he and two friends escaped to Budapest); her mother finding a family willing to shelter Sophie and her brother; the bombing getting heavier and going into the shelter; the Russians coming in 1945; finding out that her grandmother, great-aunt, and grandfather had been murdered; moving into an apartment in the spring of 1945; going to a Jewish girls’ school; moving into Pest in the center of the city when the communists took over; her mother not talking about her aunt and grandmother and not going down to the Danube; going to a boarding school in the Swiss Alps with her brother; the school closing in January 1946; moving with her family to Paris, France in 1949; getting visas after waiting six years and arriving in the United States in May 1951; attending high school and studying the violin; living in Manhattan and not talking about her background; her father setting up a welding company with a man from Budapest who had been in Auschwitz; her mother and aunt working for the Justice Department; going to Radcliffe and Columbia Law School; getting married and having two children; her brother attending Yale and becoming a teacher; her feelings about Germany and Hungary; returning several times to Hungary to see her paternal grandmother; her novel and memoir about her mother and grandmother; working for the Civil Rights Division within the Department of Justice; being the director for the Committee of Concerned Scientists advocating for Russian scientists; how hearing classical music brings back memories of her childhood; feeling she is American; and her thoughts on communism.

Interviewee
Ms. Sophie Cook
Interviewer
Gail Schwartz
Date
2018 June 11  (interview)
Geography
creation : Rockville (Md.)
Language
English
Extent
1 digital file : MP3.