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I Once Had an Uncle

I once had an uncle. He was murdered nine years before I was born. So of course I never knew him, nor still know too much about him. The world I entered was very different from the world he left behind just a few short years earlier.

He was married to my mother's oldest sister (my mother had seven sisters and two brothers). My aunt and uncle had two children.

In 1938 Czechoslovakia was dismembered, divided into a number of parts, in wake of then British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasing the German Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler. The south eastern area of Slovakia, including Kosice where my family resided, was handed over to Hungary. For Chamberlain, this was just his participation in a game of Monopoly, but playing with other peoples' property and real peoples' lives. The "gain" for the newly Hungarian Jews was that they were not deported and exterminated with the "regular" Slovak Jews, largely in 1942; they were to survive an additional two years, to participate in the bulk, rapid deportation, and subsequent mass murder, of Hungarian Jews.

During these two years, Hungarian Jews lived in an isolated world, knowing that things were now not the same as they had been between the wars, but unaware of the mass homicide of their fellows not far away. They continued their daily lives under a new, more restrictive regime. Before these cataclysmic changes, Czechoslovakia, under the guidance of Thomas Masaryk, was the most liberal and the most democratic country in Europe.

But there was persecution during these quiet years. My uncle was arrested in 1943. I do not know for what "crime" other than being Jewish. He spent a number of months in gaol (for some reason spelled jail in America). He was confined with some Polish Jews. These co-religionists had escaped from various Nazi work and extermination camps. The Slovak and Polish languages are similar enough to allow basic communication between the parties, but anyway, most European Jews spoke Yiddish.

My uncle's new acquaintances related to him what was happening in other parts of Europe. They furnished him with exact details: places, dates, names, geography, fences, trains, railway stations, roads. They had a lot of time together and a lot of information was relayed. Uncle was very frustrated, helpless, and anyway he was locked away in a prison. What could he do?

Towards the end of that year, my uncle was released from his confinement. He went back home, to his wife and two children. He related what he now knew with certainty. He told them in the synagogue, he told them at work. He told his fellow Jews wherever he went of the impending disaster that was coming to Hungary. Already the rest of Europe had fallen to the German Nazi killing machine.

No-one believed him. No-one wanted to believe him. They all said he was nuts. He had gone crazy during his incarceration. He had had bad dreams there -- nightmares -- and now he started believing them. He was trusting his hallucinations.

But he understood the truth. He had been passed too much information, he knew too much detail. He was the only normal person in a society that was living an illusion, a society that had, in his mind, gone totally crazy. The only sane person in a community of lunatics. He couldn't stand it any more. He decided to end his own life. He overdosed. He was on his way out, perhaps the only escape from the horror, from the impending murder, from the upcoming end of the Jews of Europe.

But his wife found him. My aunt discovered him in the nick of time, as he clung to that last thread of life, just before the soul may leave its earthly body. She rushed him to hospital. They pumped his stomach. They brought him back to hell from the very entrance to the next world. Back to a world that was disintegrating, falling apart before his very eyes, but in which no-one else, his family, friends or neighbours, were ready to acknowledge the true situation. My aunt had saved her husband's life. He was alive, he was breathing, he walked out of there, back home. To another day -- a day of what?

A few months after his miraculous recovery from near demise, the Jews of Kosice were rounded up, along with most of the Jewish population of Hungary. They were sent on trains to an unknown place called Auschwitz in nearby Poland, travelling aboard cattle cars. On arrival, my aunt, uncle and their little three year old son, Robbie, were gassed, their bodies burnt in the ovens, the crematoria. Premeditated murder by people who had no idea or notion who my family members were, from where they came, where they worked, what they thought nor what they were as human beings. And these monsters didn't care -- they just didn't give a damn.

No long after this premeditated malice, my cousin, Szuzie, my aunt and uncle's five year old daughter, arrived to the same destination, by the same means of transport, with her grandparents and her five year old aunt -- my aunt. The four of them met an identical fate to my uncle.

Yes, I once had an uncle.

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