Wednesday

5th Oct 2022

Interview

'They called me Hitler's error'

  • Erdelyi pictured with his father on their return to Romania (Photo: Lajos Erdélyi)

As Germany commemorates the end of WWII and recalls the horrors of Nazism, one Holocaust survivor reflects on the importance of remembering and talking about the past.

On the day he was liberated from Doernhau concentration camp – where he landed after being in Auschwitz - Lajos Erdelyi, then 16 years old, visited a German woman to thank her for the food and coat she gave him during his time in the camp.

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  • Erdelyi today in Hungary (Photo: Marta Orosz)

“My hatred of fascism soon detached from my attitude towards Germans,“ he says.

The 86-year old Holocaust survivor recalls the time after WWII ended and concentration camp prisoners, prisoners of war, and forced laborers were freed.

More than 10 million displaced persons made their way home after 8 May 1945. But for many, the homecoming was not a happy experience.

"Back home the kinder classmates called me 'little Jew', others told me I was one of 'Hitler's errors', meaning that I am only alive because they forgot to exterminate me,“ recalls Erdelyi.

While the international balance of power shifted overnight, the mindset across Europe in many ways remained unchanged in the following years.

On his way home from Doernhau to Transylvania, in Romania, Erdelyi was offered valuable jewelry by a German soldier in exchange for his prisoner's uniform from the concentration camp.

He rejected the deal, considering that the clothes, which reminded him every day of his death sentence, could be used by the German soldier to escape captivity.

After he returned to his hometown of Targu-Mures very few people realised what he, his father, and a handful of other survivors had gone through. Most people still had the view - even after 1945 - that, contrary to everyone else after the war, Jews were living well and running thriving businesses.

"The issue we should be dealing with today," Erdelyi says, "is scarcely addressed in many of the affected European countries."

“In the 70 years after coming back from Nazi concentration camps I never met anyone who asked their parents or grandparents: What did you do when Jews in your town were deported?“

“We need to assess the role our passivity plays in tolerating such irreparable crimes.”

Commenting on the ongoing trial of Nazi war criminal Oskar Groening, held responsible for complicity in murdering more than 300,000 Jews in Auschwitz, Erdelyi said there should be a moral judgement.

He said the 93-year-old “accountant of Auschwitz“ should be left to die at home rather than in jail.

Meanwhile, Erdelyi, who now lives in Budapest, observes Hungary’s present-day politics with a mistrustful eye.

“The current government – in opposition at the time – gladly saw the formation of different Hungarian national guards and erected several statues in honour of the anti-Semitic regent, Miklos Horthy," he said.

He believes this, and a suggestion put to parliament by Marton Gyongyosi, a far-right MP, that authorities should create lists of Jews who pose a “national security risk“, are small steps backward to the political atmosphere before Europe's darkest hour.

“There is no Auschwitz today and it will certainly never take place again,“ says Erdelyi, but he notes that genocide has taken place in other parts of the world since 1945.

“This means it is vital that we talk about the Holocaust.”

During the Second World War, the Nazis planned to exterminate the entire European Jewish population.

Between 1941 and 1945 they murdered over 6 million Jews. The Holocaust also saw 5 million other victims: Roma, physically or mentally disabled people, homosexuals, dissidents, and prisoners of war.

Friday, 8 May, marks the day of surrender of German forces, six days after the Second World War ended.

For German foreign minister Frank Walter Steinmeier, Hitler’s legacy means "it is precisely we, perhaps even more than others, who must today take on the responsibility for the preservation of a peacekeeping order”.

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