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14 Menachem Av 5778 ‫בס"ד‬

Today I had the privilege, with my husband and little Nosson Tzvi, to travel to Bnei Brak for a
visit with Magda Neini (Klein- Rosenbaum, nee Lowe) in her home on Sokolov Street #9/2. My
mother had gone to visit during her most recent trip to Israel, and told me about her enjoyable
and meaningful visit, and I decided then and there that during my first opportunity, during Bein
Hazmanim, I’d go visit too. Shlomo agreed, and today was the day.
I knew the visit had started off well when Magda Neni complimented me on my appearance,
saying that I am so much slimmer than she remembers from the last time she'd seen me (a
number of years ago). Being that I have quite a few kilo to lose right now, it must be that she
remembers me when I was expecting!
Already on the phone this morning when I called and re-introduced myself as my grandmother's
granddaughter, she spoke of how I come from such special ‫יחוס‬, a ‫ יחוס‬of the heart, of a depth
of feeling for others that is unsurpassed, as revealed through the interpersonal connections and
chessed of not only my grandmother Gyongyi Barany, but of her esteemed husband A"H Erno,
beloved and remembered so fondly by anyone and everyone who knew him. In her words,
"they did not know the word "I", they lived only for others and cared never for themselves").
While I was there, she continued to tell of the legacy of chessed. She told of how SorI Neni, as
true members of the Bonyhadi kehillah of survivors, Boro Park branch, would go every single
day, no matter what, switching off, visiting the sick in the hospital and bringing them their
home- baked delicacies to revive the soul as well as help heal the body.
Magda’s home has the homey feeling of a Bubby’s, and adorned and furnished and decorated
very similarly to Grandma’s. She even had the ornately- framed paintings in those gold- painted
wood frames that I became so accustomed to seeing in the homes so much a part of my
childhood, of Grandma’s and Laci Baci’s and Szori Neni’s. Some of them are intricate drawings,
those of rabbinic family members (her father was a sixth generation Rav), as well as mentors of
her husband’s, while others are paintings, all being the art produced by her talented husband
Klein, Felix, as the signature on the bottom testified. Even the delicious smell wafting through
her home when we arrived, of something on the stove though not she but rather her aid was
the one cooking, as well as the heavy wooden European pieces of furniture decades old, the
china closet with the china and crystal, vestiges of a vibrant life of holidays and hosting guests,
all reminded me of Grandma’s home so familiar.
Magda and I conversed in Hebrew, since my conversational Hungarian is non-existent. She at
times used a Hungarian word, when telling about her wartime experiences, btu for the most
part I managed to understand.
Magda Neni told me that Grandma and Sori Neni were not so much friends of hers, as they were
sisters. Such is the bond, apparently, which is created by virtue of surviving together in the
deepest depths of hell on earth, when in the face of utter inhumanity and degradation one
struggles to maintain any shred of human dignity and in doing so, against all odds, cares for the
friend who is sharing in her misery, and devotes herself to her friends’ survival as much as to her
own. Such were the strong bonds of friendship between them, forged then and continued till
today. Magda Neni said that while she herself was too weak to care very much for others (she
was being modest), she reminded me of the story I had read about that she recounted in an
interview with Laci Baci and is recorded in his book: After a full days’ worth of exhausting slave
labor from before- dawn to after- dark and on precious little sleep (they would sleep on
wooden planks and packed like canned sardines with their legs twisted because the benches
were too short as well, and they would moan and groan from the discomfort and from the lice
that covered their bodies and ate them alive, while all the while shifting and trying to have any
semblance of comfort so as to be able to fall asleep, yet having her “bedmate” doing the same,
and telling this one to move her elbow and that one her knee), and even precious less “food”
(we know what this consisted of), Sori Neni and Magda’s sister Edit Lowe would sneak out of the
barracks in the cover of night and at grave risk to their very lives, in order to bury the casualties
of the day, from their “lagger”, so they would have some semblance of ‫קבורת ישראל‬, an ounce
of dignity in their death that they were not allowed while alive. These were not real graves that
they dug with the shovel they found, because they were in no way deep enough, rather shallow
yet covering the bodies enough to render it a grave of sorts. There was the story of the woman
whose arm was frozen and could not be bent to go in the graves and they feared it would be
eaten by the German dogs… so they went back out a second time and dug a new and larger
grave and covered her over completely (Laci Baci’s book).
She spoke of the devotion of Grandma and Sori Neni to their younger sister Rozsi A”H, fulfilling
their own work quotas as well as hers, since she was too weak to work, and saving her life many
times over at great risk to their own. She continued and remarked that the level of devotion
demonstrated nowadays by my mother towards Grandma is the reason Grandma is B”H
amongst us still, at the age of 96, BH.
From what Magda Neni told us about some of her wartime experiences, it’s clear that
performing selfless acts of chessed to help others was part of her upbringing as well. Her father
was the Rav in a town of Bataszek, I had read in Laci Baci’s book, a town 20 kilometers away
from Bonyhad, Magda said. The people of the town were brought to the Bonyhad ghetto. She
first met Szori Neni when the 2 of them were chosen to clean the homes of the German soldiers.
Their families feared sending two beautiful girls in their 20’s to the homes of the soldiers, and so
her father the Rav accompanied her to the ghetto gate, and whereupon he gave her a brocha,
and Szori Neni was accompanied by her brother Josef who gave her a brocha. They returned
unharmed from that outing. Magda recalled that on one occasion, her mother was given a
“delicacy” by a nonJ ew, a potato. And her mother went about cooking it in a pan with some
parsley she had, and the children stood around with watering mouths, already able to taste
it…Just then they got word of new arrival at the ghetto, some 20 adults who were
“meshuga’im”’ apparently from a mental hospital. Word went out that they were starving and
needed food, and so at once her mother instructed her to take the food intended to be for her
children at that moment and to give it to those deemed to be more needy. Magda Neni recalled
with a smile, how they were afraid to approach the men in order to give it to them, and they
kept inching forward and then back repeatedly, until one of them remarked that it’s hard to tell
here who is the meshugane and who is not!
When the time for the deportation came, while they were stationed in Pecs (that had been a
stopover and assembly place for the continued journey (on to Auschwitz), she and a friend of
hers, Yudit, were called upon to clean the police station- the quarters of the gendarmes. These
men locked the door and told the women that they will keep them there so they should not go
on the train with everyone else. Magda Neni says there was perhaps a spark of humanity in
their action of wanting to save them from a terrible fate, but they also may have had other less
noble intentions for them, and so when the girls looked out the window and saw their families
on the train platform being taken, and her mother looking around frantically for her, the girls
jumped out the window of the quarters just in time to load the trains and join the fate of their
families and neighbors.
Magda Neini told us the story of her husband, a survivor of Auschwitz who she met through a
shidduch after the war. After the selections, when he had been sent to the right, a man said to
him, let’s join the crowd that was chosen to go left. Her husband had answered, that the
gemara says that when you are uncertain as to which direction to go in, you should stay where
you are, and so he is going to heed the advice of the Torah. The man again suggested, but Mr.
Klein held his ground to follow the dictates of the Torah. In the end, this man went and joined
the left side, and that’s how he met his end, while her husband survived.
After a relatively short while Auschwitz, she was sent with the rest of her friends from Bonyhad,
including the three Kuttner sisters, to Stutthoff and Thorn slave labor camps. A month ago,
Magda told us, she was interviwed in her home, for a court case against Max and Barbara
yemach shmam, 2 collaborators (not sure from the story if they were German) that were
recently found, now aged 97. Her niece living nearby had seen an ad looking for Holocaust
survivors who had survived the Stutthoff camp. She told us how cruel they were. The door to
the barracks was narrow, and as they lined up to go out the door they were therefore forced to
file through single file. Barbara Y”SH would stand there with a whip, treating every girl to a
whipping on her way in and upon their return at night. No one was spared. She recalled that
Max would tell the girls he’s gonna make them into soap. They did not understand what he
meant until they learned later on that at Stutthoff the Germans manufactured soap from the
bodies of the Jews they killed. (She added that after the war a couple of bars made it to Jewish
hands and the chevra kadisha buried them). Magda told us how one night, the noise of the
women uncomfortably trying to fall asleep disturbed the sleep of Barbara the blockova, who in
her anger poured on them some disgusting sewage water sitting there. Magda Neni said that
by that point her hair had grown to about a centimeter (it had all been shaved off at Auchwitz),
and the girls laughed at the site of her hair, stuck together by the muck, and standing straight
up. I was amazed to hear of the ability to retain one’s ability to find humor in the darkest
situation to ever exist on earth, and thereby experience a tiny glimmer of light and hope for a
better tomorrow.
She told us the story that is recorded in Laci Baci’s book about how on the holiday of the
Germans’ they had a break from work except that she was assigned to clean the barracks and
since there were no latrines, “when nature called one went, wherever they were”. As the sun
came up and the frozen piles defrosted, she became bitter (though at the beginning she had
been humming a tune to herself as she worked), and eventually passed out, lingering between
the two worlds. She described to us, as I had read her description of, that peaceful feeling that
overcame her where she felt no cold, no pain, no exhaustion, no hunger and no misery. (She
was subsequently called back to life and promised her hysterical and wailing sister Edit that she
would live and not leave her.) I mentioned how Grandma had told me that it took about a year
of rehabilitation into normal human society (what was “normal” at that point?), including sitting
to eat on a chair by a table. Having been herded and whipped like cattle, they were fed pitifully
less than allotted to livestock, and chairs and tables were nonexistent in concentration and slave
labor camp life (death). I mentioned how Grandma made it back to Budapest where she was
greeted warmly by Dora Weiss (if I remember correctly). Magda Neni told us about how, after
the war, their group of nine girls also made it to Budapest, where she had three aunts.
However, she was not received warmly to say the least. She said they were ‫אגואיסטים‬, self-
centered. They claimed, “we suffered too!” She said their “suffering” was that they could not
find their pesach forks while in the ghetto. I found it so hard to believe that Jews who were
literally the only ones miraculously spared in the entire Europe, could have not known the fate
of their brethren, the entire European Jewry. Those were the days before social media,
internet, even cell phones. But still…one look at the emaciated and starving and beaten, shaved
women at their doorstep…seems to have not aroused their mercy. Hard to understand.
Magda, is forgiving, and says the sisters had maintained connections with the aunts for years
after the war and went to Hungary and visited them.
Having nowhere else to turn, she and her sister turned to the makeshift Jewish relief agency
operating there for returning survivors, and since there were no beds left, were given a table to
share (if I understood her correctly).
Magda found gracious hospitality in the home of a Jewish war veteran who had lost an arm in
battle for his country, who had lived in the town of Bataszek, I think she said, where they’d
grown up, and who for some reason this man not deported. She described the warmth with
which he welcomed them into his home after the war’s end, and provided them with what they
needed. It was there that she was married and began to rebuild her life.
She also recalled how in one home, I can’t remember if the man mentioned above or a relative,
when they had just arrived from their journey from the camps, which in some cases took weeks
of months as a result of the railways not functioning, they sat on the floor, though the home was
opulent and they were welcomed to sit at the table….she described that when they got up from
the floor to leave, they lingered, noticing that the lice that covered them from head to toe had
also fallen to the floor, and not wanting to leave a mess, they began to gather them up in their
hands…..She says it while smiling now, remembering those initial days after being liberated.
Magda Neni asked about Shlomo’s work and about his parents, and she asked me what my work
is. When I told her, she said that such a chosen profession befits the chessed so characteristic of
my family, devotion towards helping others.
We spoke about her children and grandchildren, two of whom were our neighbors for a few
years when they lived as newlyweds in Arzei HaBira and we lived in neighboring Maalot Dafna.
Both brothers Chezki and Yanki have since moved back, Yanki to Montreal where he is the CEO
of his FIL’s contractor company “Azorim” that builds in Yerushalayim, and Chezki residing in
Lakewood and owning his own contracting business. Both Magda’s son and daughter continue
to reside in BP, Brooklyn. They were born in Hungary, and Magda Neni told me how the three
girls were born after the war in Bonyhad as they were rebuilding their lives and trying to recover
from the untold destruction, and they’d play together. She told me about the legendary
chessed of my grandfather Erno, written about in Laci Baci’s book and told to me by my mother
while growing up, where he provided basic living necessities to every couple returning,
marrying, etc.- clothing and bed linens, all the basics to begin a household. From where he had
it she was not sure….I filled in here the bit that I knew, that he had a department store before
the war, some items he hid and now recovered, and for the rest of the items he turned to the
gentile community of Bonyhad to contribute their fair share towards helping the Jewish
survivors. (I think I read this in Laci Baci’s book). (He also set up a sewing shop in their home
and his talented wife Szori Neni would sew dresses for the women who returned).
After the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, Magda and her husband settled in Eretz Yisroel. While
her children grew up there, her son subsequently married an American girl and moved to Boro
park, and then for parnassa reasons, her daughter and her husband followed suit. Her
grandchildren live in various locales spread out, as mentioned. Magda Neni told me that her
children do come and visit. Her son comes for the yomim tovim so that she will not be alone.
Her daughter calls every day at 12 PM, when she awakes in NY before going to work to keep an
elderly home-bound woman with no relatives, company. Magda’s son calls every day at 6 PM.
Magda Neni says it has been years since she has been able to leave her home to travel to a
family simcha or otherwise, like to the Bonhadi hazkarah, which is where I remember seeing her.
When I asked her, she said that there are kind individuals that come to visit her but at times she
does not feel well, or is tired. She attributed this to her age, saying that it happens at the age of
94, and after surviving the war, that one feels like they have no ko’ach, and she laughed and said
that she sometimes forgets things, and does not remember as well as she used to. (Halvai we
should all be in the shape that she is at that age!!! And without having had to survive what she
did!)
Magda recalled that she’d frequently visit the US after her second husband passed away and
before she married the third (a Swiss man, who passed away a few short years after they
married, 18 years ago. It sounds like she was devoted to him and helped care for him when he
was sick. One of her husbands, maybe it was the second?, has a son named Akiva something or
other, and lives in Bayit Vegan, Yerushalayim, where they had lived when married, and she
regards him quite highly.) On those visits, she recalled fondly and with a smile, she and
Grandma and sometimes also Szori and Laci, would get together. She loves to shop like
Grandma, she said, and they would go together on 13th avenue, and meet for pizza and enjoy
each other’s’ company, every morning, until 1 PM when she’d return to her host/ess (son or
daughter where she’d stay).
We asked Magda Neni for a brocha before we departed. I felt bad…when I called to ask if we
can come and she asked what time, she told me that at 12 PM she lies down to rest (“because at
the age of 94, one sometimes feels weak and the need to rest, she explained!). To my
consternation, we managed to arrive only at 11:30 and I thought what a shame that we’d have
but a mere half hour before we’d need to leave in order to let her rest. Yet the time flew by
and she sat with us, until before I knew it and looked at my watch, it was 1:15 PM! When her
daughter had called at the regular time, a few minutes after 12 PM, Magda asked the aid to
relay the message that she has guests- the granddaughter of Gyongyi, and she will speak to her
later! Magda Neni was having phone trouble- her cor‫ג‬less was not working, creating real
difficulty for a woman who cannot ambulate easily to reach the phone with a cord, and whose
connection to those she loves and who love her, is through the telephone. It instantly reminded
me of Grandma, who was, as I remember her in her younger and stronger and hearing years, a
huge fan of that popular invention called the telephone! Grandma, who- not so long ago though
it seems like ages ago, would be on the phone with her friends and family ALL DAY LONG!!! It
was not uncommon for her phone to be constantly busy, and she’d speak to them mainly in
Hungarian and remained connected, and that human connection offered so conveniently by way
of the telephone, was a lifeline of hers, being alone as widow for so many years. (Of course she
was NEVER really alone, having her sister and brother in law one flight up from her, in the 2-
family home they shared). I thought back momentarily and wistfully to those days, when
Grandma could still hear well, and I was able to place a long distance call to my beloved
Grandma and have long daily conversations with her, telling her all about my settling in to
married life in Israel.
Eventually, though we were so thoroughly enjoying and Nosson Tzvi was so fabulously behaving
(he must have sensed the security she radiated, as well as how much this visit meant to us- we
told him we were going to see “Boby’s friend”- and remained in his best behavior throughout
the entire almost- 2 hour visit!), I felt we just had to let her go rest finally, so we all said how
much we enjoyed the visit and then Shlomo asked her for a bracha. She said, not for the first
time that visit, that she has no doubt that the legacy of my family’s, my ancestors’ chessed and
devotion to others is surely part and parcel of my being, and a Brocha is superfluous. But we
naturally would not easily forego the merit of her blessing, and so we insisted, for us and for
Nosson Tzvi, and she graciously wished us hatzlochoh and kol tuv in everything, for us and for
our families. Before leaving, I told the sweet aid that lives with her and cares for her, that she
has a “treasure” who she is privileged to care for, and thanked her for her graciousness (we did
enjoy the ice cream she had served us- in true Hungarian style, brought out in glass bowls and
spoons, on a tray- no disposable dishes in this home!)
It isn’t every day that one has the opportunity to connect with a piece of history and holiness,
especially on such a personal level, to connect with a living embodiment of the bridge between
past and present, a remnant of a precious world destroyed, herself a witness to both the
destruction, as well as to the rebirth of a nation. As we left her apartment at 9 Sokolov Street
with little perfectly- behaved Nosson Tzvi in tow, we could not but help feel ourselves to be truly
privileged.