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Studio portrait of Oskar Russ (step-father of the donor) wearing his concentration camp uniform shortly after liberation, .

Photograph | Digitized | Photograph Number: 54819

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    Studio portrait of Oskar Russ (step-father of the donor) wearing his concentration camp uniform shortly after liberation, .
    Studio portrait of Oskar Russ (step-father of the donor) wearing his concentration camp uniform shortly after liberation, .

    Overview

    Caption
    Studio portrait of Oskar Russ (step-father of the donor) wearing his concentration camp uniform shortly after liberation, .
    Date
    1945
    Locale
    Poland
    Photo Credit
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of John Kovacs

    Rights & Restrictions

    Photo Source
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
    Copyright: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
    Provenance: John Kovacs

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    Biography
    Janos (John) Kovacs is the son of Livia Vermes and Geza Kohn Kovacs. He was born on September 14, 1932 in Nyiregyhaza and grew up and attended school in Miskolc. Geza was a textile engineer and ran a small textile factory. Livia Vermes born on January 18, 1911 in Budapest) ran a dancing school. She and Geza Kovacs later divorced. Livia married Bela Reiner in 1938 and gave birth to a second son, Istvan Reiner in 1940. Given the political climate Bela converted to Protestantism, and Istvan was never circumcised. Following German occupation of Miskolc an Austrian officer with the German army stayed in their home. After he left,the family was told they had to move to a ghetto. Bela wanted Istvan to go Budapest to stay with Ilona Vermes, a Roman Catholic and aunt by marriage. However, despite the fact that he was technically Christian, she did not want to risk harboring a Jewish child. Rather than move to the ghetto, Bela arranged for the family to work as laborers on a farm. Their life there was acceptable, but after two weeks, they had to join all the other Jews in the final Miskolc ghetto. This last ghetto was located on the site of a brick factory next to a railroad siding and was guarded by Hungarian guards with machine guns. One day there was an announcement that all men between the ages of 15 and 45 should report to a staging area. Though Janos was only 11, he went with Bela. The men were sent to the Jolsva labor camp on the Slovak border. They wore civilian clothes with Hungarian military caps. Jewish workers also wore yellow arm bands and those who converted to Christianity wore white arm bands. Janos and Bela were both assigned to the medical company. There was one other boy Janos' age in the camp. Janos was given work as messenger and managed to get additional food. However many adult men were not treated as well and were brutalized by the guards.
    Janos did not know at the time what became of his mother and half-brother. Both were deported to Auschwitz. Upon arrival other prisoners told Livia to give Istvan to his grandmother and to go through the selection alone. Livia told the SS men that she was four years younger than she really was and was selected for forced labor. She worked in a factory, was in the Allendorf labor camp and later sent on a forced march. She was liberated in either Bergen-Belsen or Mannheim. Istvan, then only four years old, was murdered together with his grandmother.
    In September 1944 the Hungarians ordered all the prisoners to prepare to leave Jolsva. The following day they boarded a freight train. When the train was a few kilometers from Budapest, Bela told Janos to jump off and escape. Janos removed his armband and cap and was dressed in normal civilian clothes. However a guard spotted him and escorted him to Budapest to rejoin the train. When they arrived, the guard looked for their train and left Janos on his own thereby giving him a new opportunity to escape. It is uncertain whether or not the guard deliberately allowed Janos to escape. Bela continued on the train with the other members of the Jewish labor servicemen. He survived the war. However many other men who had been with the medical company in Jolsva were killed by the Arrow Cross in October 1944 in the town of Pusztavam.

    After his escape, Janos went to the apartment of his mother's brother Laci Vermes and his Catholic wife Ilona. Ilona was afraid to harbor a Jew, so Janos went to live with his mother's older sister and brother-in-law, Gigi and Geza Weisz. They were living in an apartment designated specifically for Jews. In late September Janos received a message that his father Geza Kovacs had also come to Budapest. Geza had spent the past years in a Hungarian labor battalion near the Russian front, and Janos was delighted to reunite with him.

    In October 1944 the Hungarian Regent, Miklos Horthy was overthrown and replaced by Ferenc Szalasi of the Arrow Cross Party. Immediately a reign of terror was unleashed against Budapest's Jews. A gang of Hungarian Nazis hunting for Jews entered their apartment building and arrested Geza, who was then 60 years old and had been a Hungarian officer during World War I. They held him for a few days and then sent him home. A few weeks later, other Arrow Cross members seized Aunt Gigi. She was also released after a few days. In November Gigi and Geza received protective passes from the Swiss consulate which allowed them to move to a safe house. Janos and father moved into the Jewish secondary school which now housed a large number of Jews protected by members of the German army who stood guard outside. One day about three dozen Hungarian Nazis entered the school and ordered all the Jews into the school's courtyard. Janos could not find his father and being alone was convinced that this was the end. Then suddenly the Hungarian Nazis backed off and they could stay in the school and afterwards Janos found his father in the crowded courtyard. They were liberated by Russians in January 1945. After the war, Janos reunited with his mother and joined her in the Feldafing DP Camp in Germany. There she married Oskar (Osias) Russ in 1945. Oskar Russ was born in Drohobycz Poland on May 20, 1907 and survived incarceration in Dachau concentration camp. Livia, Oscar and Janos immigrated to the United States in 1947. Geza Kovacs remained in Hungary working in the food business until his death.
    Record last modified:
    2011-11-14 00:00:00
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