Chapter 12: If Only
By Eszter Gombosi, daughter of Julianna (Juci) and István (Pista) Gárdos
My father used to say: “If only the Americans had been more helpful, the family could have survived.” It almost sounded as if he blamed the Americans for the murders of his parents, in-laws, and child more than he did the Germans, or the Hungarians for that matter. I think he considered the complicity of his fellow citizens and the atrocities committed by the Germans as a given, but held the Americans responsible for not taking a more active role in rescuing and helping the victims. I would agree, and history agrees as well.
I don’t have any statistics for this, but my belief is that the vast majority of Jews who survived the Holocaust did so by accident, sheer luck, by totally random circumstances, not because they were helped by righteous people. The masses were Nazi sympathizers, and even if they didn’t openly cheer the grave fate of their countrymen, they turned a blind eye or agreed silently with what was going on. This is well documented in the literature. While there are examples of people saved in monasteries or other religious institutions or hidden by brave Gentiles, for each saved Jew there were many who had been betrayed and sent to their death by their Nazi sympathizer neighbors, former business partners, and others.
In their hometown, my parents’ friends had a newborn baby just when the Nazis overtook Hungary. The mother, in her desperation, took the baby to the nuns and begged them to take her, but the head nun slammed the door in her face. The mother, the baby, and their older son perished in Auschwitz. The father survived and was a deeply scarred person for the rest of his life. When I was growing up, I heard this story from my parents over and over again. They also told me the story of how the population of the town lined the streets cheering as the Jews were herded into the ghetto. Before all this happened, these people had been their fellow citizens, clients, business partners, and acquaintances. Nobody stepped up to say anything, let alone offer a glass of water or a piece of bread.
There is no positive or uplifting message to be taken from the Holocaust. It happened to millions of Jews, to our families, for no reason other than that they were Jews. I worry that some of the sentiments that allowed the Holocaust to happen are present today, are present in America. It is of utmost importance to stand up against the forces of discrimination and persecution, the vilification of groups considered “other.” So, here is another chance, America. Let no father rightly tell his child down the road that if Americans had acted to stop the pain of someone considered “other,” everything would now be different for their family.
ADDITIONAL FAMILY RESOURCES
[by Eszter’s husband] Gombosi, Tamas I. Phoenix. Self-published, 2013; Third edition, 2018.