How Hungarian Sisters Outwitted the Nazis To Create Haven for Jews

Bringing To Light the Heroism of a Family

Mother and Child Reunion: Eva Eismann poses with her mother, Sarah, after the two reunited after the war.
Courtesy of Susan J. Gordon
Mother and Child Reunion: Eva Eismann poses with her mother, Sarah, after the two reunited after the war.

By Susan J. Gordon

Published March 16, 2014, issue of March 21, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 3 of 5)

Forthwith, the eternally grateful sisters moved into a third-floor apartment under Swedish protection at Rakoczi utca 12. Their apartment would be a perpetual godsend and safe harbor for 20–25 homeless Jews who slipped in, ate, slept and tiptoed out silently, lest nosy neighbors question excessive noise.

Around the corner was Sip utca 12, the local Jewish community center. Until December, when the Nazis sealed the ghetto, Eva and Alice shepherded Jewish children from the ghetto to the center for hot food and a safe place to play in the interior courtyard.

Wallenberg arrived at the legation in early July, around the same time that the roundups stopped. After they resumed in late summer, he began distributing Schutz-passes (special Swedish passports) to Jews onboard trains heading to the death camps. German soldiers accepted the official-looking passes, and thousands of Jews were let go. “To get a Schutz-pass, all you had to do was show Wallenberg a document — any document,” Eva said. “If you gave him a receipt for your dirty laundry, he accepted it.”

By late fall, “everything was breaking down,” she said. “You could go outside to buy bread and be shot to death. That happened to my dear friend, Teri.” Aerial attacks drove terrified inhabitants to basement shelters repeatedly. Food supplies dwindled, and dead bodies lay in the streets. The top floors of Eva and Alice’s building were bombarded; windows were shattered, and there was no electricity or heat. Water came from only one pipe in the building basement. The sisters dragged home splintered wood they found and burned it indoors.

In early December they heard the cries of an abandoned baby outside their windows. The infant lay on the freezing pavement all night, but they couldn’t save it, because Arrow Cross (Hungarian Nazi) soldiers blocked the building exits. “By morning it was dead,” Alice said. We could tell she still was sad about this.

“On Sylvester night [New Year’s Eve], there was great chaos in the streets,” Eva said. “Germans and Arrow Cross were fighting the Russians, and our building was at the edge of two fronts. Alice and I rushed to the shelter, but this time we forgot our identification papers. About 150 people — mostly Aryans, some Jews — were crowded in.

“Into the shelter came two Arrow Cross soldiers — young thugs with weapons, wearing heavy warm uniforms and big boots. ‘Out with the exceptions when good Hungarian blood runs in the streets!’ they yelled. ‘We came for the stinking Jews with the exceptions!’ Carefully, I felt in my braided hair for two cyanide capsules I had hidden there; if necessary, Alice and I would use them now.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.