- Steven Joseph (Joska) Fenyves is the son of Lajos (Louis) Fenvyes and Klari (Claire) Gereb Fenyves. Steven was born in Subotica, Yugoslavia, on June 6, 1931. He has one sister, Estera (Eszti), who was born on April 16, 1929. His father, Lajos, born October 1889 in Mako, Hungary, was the manager of a printing plant owned by his older brother Ferenc and his wife, Elizabeth Baruch. Ferenc and Lajos changed their name from Friedman to Fenyves when Ferenc enrolled at the university in Budapest. Ferenc was the editor of a Hungarian-language daily newspaper, Naplo. After Ferenc's death in 1935, Lajos became the editor of the newspaper. Steven's mother, born May 1897 in Subotica, was a graphic artist who had studied in Budapest, Vienna, Dresden, Paris and Florence. Steven's family was assimilated and belonged to the Neolog (Reform) congregation. They attended the synagogue regularly but did not keep Kosher. He attended public school and went three times a week for religious training. Steven spoke Serbian in school, Hungarian at home and German with his governess. His language skills later helped him enormously during the war.
In 1941 Germany attacked Yugoslavia and its ally, Hungary, reoccupied the former Hungarian province. On the first day of occupation his father was forced out of his office at gunpoint, and an Aryan administrator took over the plant. Two thirds of their apartment was taken over by Hungarian officers. Their governess, cook, maid and chauffeur all left. That summer Steven finished 4th grade and was ready to enter gymnasium. In order to do so he had to pass a stringent exam as only eight Jews were admitted under Hungary's strict Numerus Clausus laws. Since his father was no longer employed, he spent the summer coaching Steven, who passed the exam. From September 1940 to May 1944 the family remained in one corner of their apartment. Steven's mother knitted and wove shawls for a meager living. In addition the family sold Steven's stamp collection as well as their gold and silver.
In May 1944 Germany occupied Hungary. Within one week Steven's father and most of the Jewish men were deported, first to Backa Topolja and then to Auschwitz. Steven, his sister, his mother and his maternal grandmother were forced to go to a makeshift ghetto in Subotica near the railroad station. As they left, townspeople ransacked their apartment, cursed and spat on them. They remained in the ghetto until the end of June, squeezed into a tiny room. Steven, however, had a pass to work in the machine shop of a former employee of his father and was allowed to leave the ghetto during the day. Around the end of June Subotica's Jews were rounded up and sent in boxcars to Bacsalmas, a small village that had been converted into a ghetto. Steven and his family remained there for a week, and then Hungarian gendarmes deported them by cattle car to Auschwitz. At the selection line, Steven saw his mother for the last time. He was waved to the right by the SS officer making the selection and sent to Camp D in Birkenau, which was known as the "Gypsy compound, as it housed several barracks of Romani families. German criminal Kapos, wearing green triangles on their chests, supervised the barracks. Steven, who was fluent in German, was picked by them to become an interpreter and he became entitled to scoop out the bottom of the soup barrel after the inmates were fed.
The day after all the Gypsies were gassed, a new set of Kapos took over the supervision of the compound. They were Polish political prisoners, wearing red triangles. One of them, Tadek, took Steven as his interpreter; with his knowledge of Serbian, he quickly became fluent in Polish. Through the Polish Kapos, Steven became part of the resistance in Auschwitz. Working on a roof repair detail with Polish political prisoners, Steven went from compound to compound in Birkenau as they smuggled lists of prisoners and black market goods. Steven met his sister in one of the women's camps and brought her a scarf and sweater, bartered on the black market, before she was shipped out on a transport. In late September 1944, as conditions in Birkenau worsened, the Kapos managed to smuggle Steven out on what was considered to be a safe transport. Prior to his departure he was tattooed, and the Kapos gave him some warm clothes and a pair of ski boots. Previously, a foreman from the Messerschmitt factory in Nieder Orschelhad had come to Birkenau to pick 200 inmates as workers; Steven translated for him. When the transport arrived in Nieder Orschel, the foreman recognized Steven and asked him why he was there, as he had not selected him. Steven quickly responded that he was sent to serve as translator for the new prisoners. That night Steven was interrogated at length by prisoners: how did the foreman know him, why was he better fed than the other inmates, where had he acquired his warm clothes? At the end of the interrogation he was accepted into the camp resistance organization.
The camp at Niederorschel had about 800 inmates, mostly Hungarian and Polish Jews, with around 100 Soviet prisoners of war. There were a few dozen German civilian workers in the factory, and elderly Wermacht guards patrolled the barbed-wire fence. The inmates worked 10 hour shifts, 6½ days a week on the assembly line, every 15 minutes a new fighter plane wing advancing from work station to work station. At night, artisans and craftsmen busied themselves with clothing and shoe repair, making engraved boxes out of scrap aluminum to be traded with the Germans, and countless other crafts. There were even lessons in French, mathematics and history for the handful of youths of Steven's age. The camp organization consisted of two Kapos, both German political prisoners, the Polish and Hungarian translators, and the leaders of the three resistance "brigades" composed of the Soviet POWs and the Hungarian and Polish Jews. Despite frequent hangings and shootings, sabotage was attempted in many ways, tools and metal scraps were smuggled out of the factory and converted into weapons, and the brigades surreptitiously trained.
Steven remained in Niederorschel until April 7, 1945, when the inmates were sent on a death march to Buchenwald. They entered Buchenwald late on April 10 and were liberated by the Americans the next morning. Steven stayed in a US Army field hospital for several weeks, and after four months was repatriated to Subotica. Estera came back as did their father, who had been sent to a Silesian coal mine. However, Lajos was totally broken in body and spirit and died on February 6, 1946. Steven resumed his schooling, but as there was nothing to keep them in Subotica; Steven, his sister, their two surviving cousins, and the cousins' fiancées escaped by different routes and were reunited in Paris. They were not successful in finding a country that would take all of them; the cousins with their new wives went to Venezuela, and Steven and Estera came to the US in 1950 to live with their maternal uncle. After 1½ years in Chicago, Steven was drafted into the US Army and sent to Germany in the Corps of Engineers. After his discharge, Steven entered the University of Illinois, met his wife-to-be Norma and married in 1955. Steven entered the computing field in the mid-1950s, and became a professor first at the University of Illinois and later at Carnegie Mellon University. He is an Honorary Member of the American Society of Civil Engineers and a member of the National Academy of Engineering.