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.
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Six months later, she and Alice were reunited with their family in Denmark and Sweden. They lived together for a while, until Eva went to Palestine in 1948 to fight in Israel’s War of Independence. Eventually she moved to New York; in 1979 she made aliyah and “came home” to Israel. But she never went back to Budapest.

Alice died in 2006, a few months before our trip to Budapest. Eva died in 2010, at the age of 92.

Before Ken and I left my cousins’ building, I wanted to climb upstairs to see if the mezuza or its indentation still marked the doorway. I wanted to go down to the basement, too, but Ken was apprehensive. “We’re in a country that was long under Communist rule,” he said. “We must be careful not to overstep our bounds.”

A middle-aged man walked into the building. He approached us slowly, and when I gestured that we didn’t speak Hungarian, he nodded and asked, in broken English, who we were and what we wanted.

I explained that we were curious to see where my cousins lived long ago. “Do you know the building’s history?” I asked. “Well, I’ve lived here 30 years,” he said. I paused: “Oh, I mean before, in 1944.”

His face was closed. Now, it seemed, he had nothing to say. “No,” he said curtly, and left. But his behavior made us uneasy and reluctant to explore.

We headed out and walked to Sip utca 12, the local Jewish community center where Eva and Alice helped other Jews. We climbed to the top floor and looked down at the interior courtyard. Set in the middle of the 19th-century brick floor was a well-worn, large Star of David; I wished I could tell Eva it was still there.

Susan J. Gordon has recently completed “100 Kisses,” a memoir that combines World War II and Holocaust history with modern family tree research and the breakdown of family ties after two generations of divorce.

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