August 20, 2021

A Personal History by Professor Árpád von Klimó

Dr. Árpád von Klimó is an Ordinary Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of History at The Catholic University of America. His research interests include Modern Central Europe, nationalism, Hungarian, Italian and German history, and Catholicism. This story, both personal and historical, is a product of Dr. von Klimó’s time in Budapest during the summer of 2021 while he was conducting research.

Since 1903, members of the Klimó family lived in an apartment in Budapest. In the summer of 1944, something dramatic happened there: the house (Hernad street 23) was declared a “Yellow Star House” to prepare for the deportation of the Jewish population to Auschwitz. In June 1944, a few days before this, my Aunt Sári moved into the apartment (she would live there until to 2002 when she passed away). Before she died, Aunt Sári had told me that she came home one night from work – in 1944 she worked as a secretary for the supreme court of Hungary – and found “the house empty.” Doors were open and there was no trace of the tenants. But, she continued, “after the war, they all came back”. What my aunt had witnessed, in November 1944, was the deportation of the Jewish tenants from this “Yellow Star House” to the ghetto of Budapest where thousands of Jews were murdered.

Deportation of Jews in VII District, Budapest

Photo: Deportation of Jews in VII District, Budapest (Fortepan)

In order to find out what really happened with the Jewish inhabitants of this house, I consulted the census lists of April 1941, the last census before the war, and of April 1945, the first census after the war. (I would like to thank András Lugosi from the Budapest City Archives for his help in this research.) The question I wanted to answer was simple: how many Jews lived in the house before the Holocaust, and how many survived and came back? By the time when the Mayor of Budapest had ordered that Jews had to move to “Yellow Star Houses”, on June 16, 1944, half a million Jews from the Hungarian countryside had been deported and murdered within a few weeks. Only in Budapest, around 250,000 Jews and converted Jews were still alive, a quarter of the population of the Hungarian capital. Between June 1944 and January 1945, more than 100,000 of them were killed.

Why was Hernad street 23 added to the list of Jewish houses? Probably because most of the 54 tenants were Jewish, and the house was owned (since 1926) by a Jewish baker named Dávid Monath (1871-1952), a very successful businessman. (Monath and his family survived the war and the Holocaust. In 1952, the Communist regime took away his bakery and the house. Both became “property of the people”; the bakery closed in the 1990s.)

Dávid Monath’s super-modern bakery in the 1930s

Photo: Dávid Monath’s super-modern bakery in the 1930s

On June 13, 1944, my grandfather’s older brother Jenö passed away. Because his daughter Teréz remained alone, my Aunt Sári decided to move in with her cousin. They could stay in the “Yellow Star House” as non-Jewish Hungarians (Catholic and Protestant) because the idea that all non-Jewish tenants would find apartments in other houses was not practicable during the war, and also because Budapest had become a target of Allied bombing campaigns. My father, who was 25 years old in 1944, would soon be drafted into the Hungarian army which was fighting on the side of Nazi Germany while the Soviet Red Army had already begun the invasion of the country. He fled to Germany and never returned.

What happened to the 54 tenants who had lived in Hernad street 23 before the war? On the census list of 1945 from after the war, 18 names are missing. From the five families (four Jewish plus the Klimós) on the second floor alone, no fewer than 10 names were missing in 1945. The floorplan below illustrates this.


Three families came back after the war, as my aunt had said 60 years later, but none of them complete, and the Neumann family did not come back. I tried to find out what had happened to those ten former tenants. Most probably, some of them were murdered.

Klimo family

Photo: (late 1930s) Great Uncle Jenö Klimo (center), my Aunt Sári Klimó (center background), her cousin Teréz (right, background), Jenö’s wife Zsófia (left background), unknown (maybe Magdolna Jager, the German housekeeper?)

In the lists of victims of the Holocaust of Yad Vashem (available online), I found some of the names of the Jewish tenants: Pál (born 1911), Sándor (born 1914) and Miklós Löwy, three of the four sons of Rosa Schwarzer, the widow of Ödön Löwy. Their names are on the list of victims from Budapest. However, we cannot be sure that it was the tenants from Hernad street 23, because the list of victims does not have their birth dates or other information which would make it possible to identify them. The names were common, so it is possible that other Löwys perished in the Holocaust. The same is true for József Neumann (born 1888), who had lived there with his wife and daughter. His name without birth date is also on one of the lists of Holocaust victims but we cannot be sure that it was the same person. The same is true for Ernö and László Pollák, who appear on a list of victims but without birth dates. One of the former tenants who had lived in the house in 1941 did survive war and Holocaust: the textile worker Sándor Vajda (born 1923) was on a list of Displaced Persons of the International Tracing Service of the Red Cross (in the Arolsen Archives, available online). According to the record of the UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration), Sándor Vajda had survived a camp in Germany and wanted to emigrate to Palestine.