“Even though we only had one year of the troubles, instead of three or four like in Poland and Czechoslovakia, the end product was devastating. They did everything very fast and very efficiently.”
Ibi was born in Hungary and brought up in a strict, religious family. She lived in a comfortable home, in a community where people of different religions and backgrounds lived harmoniously side by side, hoping that the war would pass them by.
On 19 March 1944 the Germans invaded Hungary. Immediately the Jewish population were ordered to wear yellow stars. Within a couple of weeks, Jewish people were rounded up and made to live in crowded ghettos. After two weeks in the ghetto, people were told to prepare food for a three-day journey because they were being taken into Germany to work.
Ibi’s family packed for the journey with no idea where they were being taken. On arrival at the deserted station, they and thousands of other Jewish people were packed into cattle wagons with no furniture other than buckets for water and sanitation. They soon realised they were not heading towards Germany. After a three day journey, the wagons arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Ibi remembers being helped from the wagons by men in striped uniforms and being made to wait in a queue with her family, surrounded by other disorientated people. The family was separated. Ibi’s father was taken from the family first, then she and her 13-year-old sister Judith were led one way, and their mother and two younger sisters went in a different direction. Ibi later learned that her mother and sisters had been taken immediately to the gas chambers.
Ibi and Judith were then taken to a different part of the camp. They had their clothes and possessions taken away, all their hair shaved off, and were issued with camp uniform. Their barracks was a wooden building with a concrete floor and bare wooden bunks to sleep on. There was barely any food, and every day they had to stand for hours while the guards counted the thousands of prisoners in the camp.
After three months Ibi and Judith were taken out of Auschwitz to work in a forced labour camp in Germany. They kept going in the knowledge that the war was going badly for Germany. Ibi says, “We were constantly hungry, humiliated, we worked, but we knew that the end was coming… We just hung on to life”. In the dying stages of the war they were taken on a forced march to a concentration camp, where they were finally liberated by the Americans on 1 May 1945.
Ibi, her father and sister survived the war. Ibi was taken into hospital, and when she was well enough she began to work in the hospital administration. It was here that she met Val who was recuperating from his experiences in German concentration camps. Val and Ibi married, but neither of them wanted to go back to their home countries in the knowledge that so many of their friends and family had not survived. They got an invitation from Val’s cousin, Margaret Kagan, to move to England and work in the textile industry and came here in 1948. They brought their two children up in West Yorkshire and remained a devoted couple for over 60 years, sharing a passionate commitment to Holocaust education.
Sadly, Ibi passed away in February 2010. She is greatly missed.