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Testimonials & Interviews

The following are recollections of people who lived in Komjat. To read their interesting stories click on their name

Alexander (Blobstein) Blake 

(Families mentioned- Spiegel from Irshava)                                     

Summary of USC Shoah Foundation testimony of 26 October 1997 (Interview code 34537) 

Alexander Blake was born in 1925. His father was Herman Blobstein, born in Velikiye Komyaty in 1886. Herman sold ice blocks in the summer.  He had a wine bar and on the two market days in Komjat it was very busy.  On the other days it was slow.  There were two or three other bars in town. Alexander's mother was Tereza Spiegel, who  was born in a nearby village. Their marriage was an arranged one.

His home was like 3 houses combined, with a cellar and tenants. It had a big backyard.

From 8-1 he went to school.  In the afternoons he attended cheder, 6 days a week. There was more studying in the evenings.  The Czech government ran the school. They received a good education. In the cheder, the teacher demanded a lot.


His parent's family lived in towns nearby.  They would take a train and walk to visit them for holidays and events.  Once a year they visited his mother's family in Zariche (Irshava).

Alexander had only Jewish friends.


When the Jewish men of Komjat were sent to the Forced Labor Camps, Alexander wasn't old enough.  Some of his cousins went, some survived, some did not.  His father went to the Forced Labor Camps for 6 weeks. Alexander took over his father's bar and business during that time. Conditions got worse, yellow stars were sewn on their clothing, there was no information about what was going on.  The Ghetto was established in spring of 1944, where they stayed for 4 weeks before they were taken away.  The day they entered the ghetto they could take very little food with them.  The ghetto was in Nagyszollos.

He was in Dachau, Warschau, Karlsfeld, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, and Auschwitz camps.

After the war, and just before Komjat became part of Russia, he was able to cross the border and go to Prague.  His aunt and 3 daughters went to America.


He has photos of his mother, brothers Jakob, Moses & Louis, as well as several documents.  These can be seen on the USC Shoah Foundation Institute Visual History Archive and at the USHMM in Washington.


Yolanda Grossman Bleich

(Families mentioned- Grossman, Zelman, Engelman) 

Summary of USC Shoah Foundation testimony of 19 Feb 1997, Brooklyn, NY 


Yolanda Bleich, nee Grossman, was born on Jan 28th, 1927 in Komjat. 


Komjat was a very small town, with about 150 Jewish families and many more non-Jewish families.  It was a poor, farming town with a grocery store.  The Hebrew teacher taught at the cheder.


There were no street names. She lived in a big house with a shingle roof, walls of stucco, 2 bedrooms and 1 kitchen.


Her mother was Feyga Zelman.  They had 2 cows. Her mother was very hard working and they used the milk from the cows to make butter and cheese, which was sold it in the city. They raised chickens, corn and wheat. Feyga had a heart condition.

Yolanda's father was David Grossman.  David worked with his father who was a very nice man, and had a business in the city, but was blinded in WWI and couldn't work well after that. This grandfather lived in their home until he was in his 70's.  Yolanda remembers him well. She does not remember his wife.


Yolanda's mother's father was Hersh Avigdor Zelman. He lived in Velikiye Komyaty a block away from Yolanda's home. 


Yolanda had 5 brother's, Martin (Max or Meyer) Grossman, the oldest; Moishe, born in 1923, Avraham born in 1925, and Yitzok born in 1929.  The last child was Wolf who was 5 years old.


They attended the Czeck school.  When the Hungarians came, they stopped going to school. They were taken away.  


All of her brothers had Bar Mitzvahs. Yolanda studied at the cheder for one semester.  Moishe was the Hebrew Teacher. He died.


On Shabbat they went to shul, there was singing at home and a nice dinner.  Everyone went to the same shul.


There was one shochet. 


There were rations, stamps; yellow stars; shortage of food.   All her brothers were sent to the Munkács ghetto. 


The day after Pesach, all the Jewish people were put in the shul for one day and one night.  They were then taken to the train, by wagons with about 50 people per wagon. This trip took several hours. She had never left Komjat before. They were taken to the Brick factory in Munkács.


Their father and mother were left behind because they were invalids, and her little brother Wolf stayed with his parents.  They remained in the shul.


Her brother Max walked from Munkács back to Komjat to look for his parents.  They were not in the shul. 


They remained in Muncaks for one month and then were sent to Aushwitz.  Some of her cousins were there- Freida Engelman, Zelda Engelman.


Also some people from Komjat- Henga, Sura, Goldie.


She was sent to the following camps- Auschwitz II-Birkenau, Stutthof, and Bromberg-Brahnau. 


After the war she returned to Komjat by train and then walking.  No one else had come back.  Her home was still standing. 


She learned that her brother Martin survived, Moishe was sent to Aushwitz and never came back.


In 1951 she married George Bleich.


She had a daughter Florence Shapiro. 


The film of her testimony contains family photos.


Naftaly “Tuli” Alexander Deutsch

(Families mentioned- Deutsch, Mermelstein, Rapaport, Weisz & Gelb) 

From Conversations between Tuli Deutsch and Roberta Solit, 6/21/13 & 1/31/14

Naftali is his Jewish name; Tuli is his nickname, Alexander his given name and Sandor his Hungarian name. His Godmother was a Gelb.


The Deutsch's originally were from Frankfort, Germany. His grandfather was Zakharia Deutsch, a Rabbi in Nitra. The family was very learned. Tuli's father, Mor (Moishe) Deutsch, was born in 1892. Mor graduated from the Bratislava Yeshiva, a very prestigious school. You might compare it to Harvard or Yale today. They did "real" studying there.


Tuli's mother was Galena (Ilona, Helen) Mermelstein from Komjat. Isadore Mermelstein was Tuli's uncle. He immigrated to the United States before the Holocaust. Another Mermelstein cousin, Issa, survived the war, went back to Komjat, stayed a short time and left. He went to Vienna. He was the son of Tuli's mother's brother. He spent some money to fix up the cemetery, but it has to be maintained and isn't.


Tuli explained that Magyarkomjat was the Hungarian name for the town, Velike Komjat the Czeck name and the Jewish name was Kimyat. These were all names for the larger part of Komjat. The smaller area was Nagy Komjat or Klein Komjat (small Komjat), which started after the cemetery. Nagyszollos is 13 km from Komjat and people walked between the two towns to sell products.


Tuli's father woke each day at 3 a.m. to begin his studying and prayers. At 4 a.m. Tuli joined his father and studied until it was time to go to secular school. When school was over at 3 or 4pm, he continued his Hebrew studies with his father until late at night, stopping for dinner. It was difficult work, you studied by kerosene lamps, there was no electricity, and there was a wood-burning stove for providing heat. Delicious breads and cakes came out of that stove.


The day that Tuli was exactly 12 ½, the Germans rounded up the Jews in Komjat. It was the last day of Passover in 1944. Tuli had heard that this would be happening. There had been rumors. He was tall for his age and in good physical condition. This saved him from being selected for extermination at Auschwitz. Tuli was the youngest person to survive Auschwitz from the Carpathian area.


Right after the war, he returned to Komjat and remained there for about 3 weeks. Tuli searched for his family's possessions and found prayer books in the attic. The leather covers were ripped off. Tuli had them recovered and treasures them.


Two of his sisters, Yolan (Ilona) and Lenke also returned to Komjat. One was with her husband and the three of them decided to remain there. They remained in Komjat until the 1990's, as it was under Russian rule, and they were unable to leave. When Tuli left Komjat after the war, he did not go to America right away, but went to several other places first, one being Israel. About 10 years ago he returned to Komjat with his son Andrew and another time with his grandchildren. The last Jews to live in Komjat were his sister and brother-in-law.


I asked him about the shochet/rabbis of the area, as I am always searching for information about my great grandfather, Nachman Rapaport. Tuli had heard of Rapaport, that he was a very learned man, very humble. Weisz was the next shochet and was more Hassidic. I asked how a community chose their shochet. To become a shocket it required 3 different diplomas. It sometimes involved politics. Often the position was passed on to a child of the shochet if qualified. Rapaport didn't pass it on to a son, so it's assumed that he didn't have a son that was qualified at the time he retired. (Two of his sons had left for America in the early 1900's). To be a shochet you had to be physically capable to slaughter the animal without causing it pain. The shochet has to quit the profession when he is no longer able to perform this function.


The Weisz family was very friendly with the Deutsch's. They lived very close to them. The Deutsch home was diagonally across the street from the statue of Jesus, not the one near the church, but the one down the hill on the way to the synagogue. The Weisz' were nice people. Tuli was friendly with the Weisz's children. The Weisz son that survived did not go back to Komjat, he went to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The father was from Sighet, more Hassidic- they believed that loving G-D was more important, not studying and academia. Weisz was a student and relative of the Sighet Rabbi. Tuli's father would disagree, and offer his opinions, not in a disrespectful way. In the yeshivas in Lithuania the study was sharp, his father supported the ideas and agrees with them.


Tuli compared his life and conditions in Komjat to the fact that his great-niece was recently accepted to West Point. A second generation American "girl" gets asked by West Point to attend the school!


Tuli wrote a book, in English, entitled A Holocaust Survivor: In the Footsteps of His Past. He wrote it because he was unhappy with the way history has recorded pre and post WWII. He says his book is about Judaism, and what occurred both before and after the war. His book includes his childhood in Komjat and his experience during the war. Yad Vashem heard about his book and translated it into Hebrew for the museum. He's been told by people who have read it that it is very well done. It is the only book he has ever written.


People in the area of Komjat were good, hard working, honest, devoted, high quality people, despite the limited conditions they lived in.


Every one that he knows from Komjat, that survived the war, got back on their feet and made a good life for themselves.


Simon Gottesman

(Families mentioned- Gottesman, Neufeld)   

Summary of USC Shoah Foundation testimony of 14 April, 1995, Miami, FL 

Simon Gottesman was the youngest child of Rose Neufeld and Zigmond Gottesman.  Rose was a seamstress and Zigmond a Tailor. Simon was the youngest child and was born in 1919 in Veliké Komnaty.  He had 3 sisters and 3 brothers. His brothers were Moses (Morris), born in 1909, and a survivor of labor camps; Eugene, born in 1910, a Buchenwald survivor; Samuel survived the labor camps.


His sister Charlotte, born in 1903 died in Auschwitz; Matilde, born in 1905, her husband and 4 children were all murdered in Auschwitz; and sister Barbara, born in 1917 was living in Belgium and then sent to Auschwitz. 


The streets had no names but each home had a number.  Theirs was 380.  The population of Komjat was approximately 3,000 and there were 70 Jewish families.

He attended the Czech school till 1936.  He worked at a shoe store when he came home in 1939.

The Greek Catholic priest was anti-Semitic and said "Your time is coming, Hitler will be here too."

All three brothers left Komjat after their bar mitzvah's for schools in other cities and to learn trade.  They only returned to Komjat for the holidays.


Simon was in the following camps- Barth, Wobbelin and Ravensbruck Concentration camps in Germany, Bor-Berlin and Sachsenhausen.


After he was liberated, he returned to Komjat.  His brother Morris also returned to Komjat.  Morris had a serious talk with Simon. Simon had been engaged to a young woman who was in Kiralyhaza named Pearl.  Morris said "Either marry her or tell her it's over".  They married in the City Hall on a Sunday.  All of the survivors from Komjat attended the wedding.

The actual film of this interview contains some wonderful photos, including a class photo.

Martin Grossman was a very close friend of Simon's.

Joseph Grossman

(Families mentioned- Grossman, Engel, Zelmanovitz, Angerman, Weiss, Mermelstein, Gottesman, Gelb, Berger)

From Interviews between Joseph Grossman & Roberta Solit, spring and summer, 1997

Joseph standing under the grape arbor at #78, his former home in Komjat, in 1997
(note- in 1944 the address was 378)

Joseph Grossman, a Holocaust survivor from Komjat and, a very sweet and gentle man, joined me and other genealogists in Budapest in 1997 for a trip to his ancestral village.  It was a very difficult experience for him as it was his first trip back since the end of WWII and it revived memories, many unpleasant. We had the opportunity to talk about his life, family and Komjat, particularly during the years prior to the war.

Joseph’s father was Benjamin Grossman.  Benjamin, his siblings and his parents were all  born in Magyarkomjat. Joseph believes his family originally came from Poland, and because conditions for the Jews were difficult there, they migrated into what was then Hungary.  Joseph’s mother, Malvine (Malka) Engel, and her parents Yehuda Zvi and Freida Engel, were from Volovets, a town about 10 miles from Komjat.  In the early 1900’s Malvine traveled to America, found it was not religious enough for her, and returned to her ill father in Volovets.  She married Benjamin Grossman and moved to Komjat. Joseph had an older sister, Raisa (Rozalia), born in 1913, who was married before WWII to Moishe (Mor) Zelmanovitz.  They had a little girl named Rifka (Ibolya) who was born in 1938.  All three names appear on the list of persecuted from Komjat. Joseph’s sister Yitta (Sharolta), born 1915, married Herman Angerman from Komjat.  Joseph was born in 1917.


Malvine Engel Grossman

(Joseph’s mother)

    Joseph's sister Sarolta or Raisa, in Komjat

Komjat was a very poor area.  The people were very poor.  There were no factories, no industry.  The closest “big town” was Szollos, today Vynohradiv.

There were three synagogues. We saw two of these, next to each other in Big Komjat.  The larger of the two in Big Komjat was used only for dovening (praying).  There was no heat in the building, so it was only used in the summer. He thinks there wasn’t a mezuzah on the door, as the whole place was holy. The other building was smaller and was a Beit Midrash, (a house of learning or interpretation), a school. This building, which he referred to as the Cheder, had a mezuzah and was heated and used in the winter. There was another synagogue that we didn’t see.  It was in Little Komjat, about 1 mile west of the cemetery.  People who lived on that side of town went to that synagogue.

There was only one shochet, he was the rabbi for both synagogues. The shochet dovened for the High Holidays.  His name was Avrum Chaim Weiss, and he had two sons, Sruel (Yisroel) and Rafuel. He was also the shochet for Onok, 2 miles away, Sil’tse 5 miles away and Zarichchya (Alsokaraszlo), 6 miles from Komjat. The shochet would visit each town on a particular day of the week.  The Jewish people from the town would bring their chickens and other live animals for slaughter.  He would also teach the children of those towns. He was the shochet for all those towns, but not the rabbi.  He was only the rabbi for Komjat. Girls did not attend Cheder.  They were taught by their mother’s at home. Joseph described his bar mitzvah.  “They gave you an aliah and a little schnopps and they baked.  That was it.  Nothing big like they do here.”

Yiddish was spoken at home. Joseph’s parents and grandparents didn’t speak Hungarian, they only spoke Yiddish.   The Russian school was across from the large church. The Jewish children attended the Czeck school, which was further down the road,  from 9 to 3 and learned the Czeck language. There were 8 grades in the Czeck school. “We went to Hebrew school after the Czeck school, every day until 7pm.  It was held in someone’s home.  Every month it was in a different home.”  If you wanted to contuniue your education and attend a High School, you had to have good grades.  High School, which might have been in Szollos, offered additional educational courses but no training in trades was given. Joseph completed 8 grades.  He went on to the Yeshiva in Szollos.  Only two people from Komjat that Joseph knew went on to High School, Simon Gottesman and Leah Mermelstein, a sister of Iszidore.  Leah had an aunt who lived in Szollos (Vinohradiv) and didn’t have children, so she stayed with the aunt.

“In the 1930”s there were about 75 Jewish families in Komjat. My house was about 3 minutes from the cemetery in Nagy Komjat, which means Big Komjat.  The Jewish people called it Magyarkomjat, meaning Hungarian Komjat.  When it was Czech they used to call it Velike Komjat, that means big Komjat. If you wanted to take a train you had to walk or go by cart to Szollos or Shalank. “

He recalled that the girls would pluck the feathers off the chickens and the boys would go there to watch and socialize with them.  He remembered the Kimyater Society and the money that was sent from America.  It was not a huge amount.  There was some anti-Semitism in Komjat prior to WW II.  The non-Jewish little boys would shout, “Jews, go to Palestine”.
The old priest was very kind to the Jewish People.  At Passover time, the old priest gave matzos to the poor Jewish residents including the old lady with the lazy sons that are described below.  The priest’s son, on the other hand, was very anti-Semitic.  The old priest owned the Mill.  The little river near the Mill was a big river when Joseph was a boy.  It was the only place in Komjat to have electricity. The waterfall turned the wheel that produced the power.  It was a beautiful waterfall.  The girls would hide behind the bushes when they swam or bathed in the river.  Unlike the girls today, they were very modest. There was a mikvah about 1/2 mile from the large church, not far from the synagogue.  There was a butcher near the mikva. Joseph remembers all of the chickens at the butcher shop.  Chicken was the predominant meat eaten by Komjaters. 

The Gelb family had a bar, near the mill. They were well off, compared to most other Jewish residents.  Their bar was located just after the sign with “Komjat” on it. Joseph was named after Gelb’s father.  They were not related, but Joseph’s mother, while pregnant with Joseph, had a dream in which she named her child after a “big Rabbi” named Yosef from a big city not too far from Komjat.  The city was Koson, about 23 miles away. Joseph’s father said that the child should be named after Gelb’s father Ari. When the baby was born, the parents went to the Rabbi and asked for his opinion.  He told them to name the baby Josef Ari, using both names, which they did.

He remembers a widow by the name of Feige Leah, a widow with 5 or 6 sons who were 20-25 years old.  She couldn’t work and they were very poor.  They had nothing.  Two of her sons went to Vynohradiv to work. Feige Leah came to Joseph’s home to ask for the liquid that came out of the cheese as it aged.  This was generally discarded. His mother gave it to Feige Leah. Joseph did not have a large appetitive.  He remembers that his mother would say, “I’m going to sell you to Feiga Leah if you don’t eat”. Joseph thought the sons should have gone to bigger cities to find work. All of Feiga Leah’s family died in the Holocaust. 

His best friend in Komjat was Isidore Mermelstein,the person who paid for the construction of the wall around the cemetery and for the groundskeeper who takes care of the cemetery. This was done in approximately 1990. Mr. Mermelstein now (1997) lives in Vienna, Austria.

He showed me a few small photos of his family which he was able to smuggle out of Komjat and hide in the lining of his coat. Shortly after the Holocaust, Joseph returned to Komjat and visited the cemetery.  All of the stones were there at that time.  Today many are missing and those remaining are in very bad condition. Joseph’s parents died before the Holocaust and are buried in the Jewish Cemetery in Komjat. His mother died just one month prior to the deportation of Jews to Auschwitz. Joseph remembered the location of his family’s stones, but none could be found in 1997.

He remembers that there was a small town hall.  He thought that certificates of vital records, birth, marriage and death were written on “humus”.  He thought it wasn’t taken very seriously as he remembers that a friend of his has his mother’s maiden name as his last name.  (This was because if a couple was only married by a Rabbi and not by a government official, the marriage wasn’t recognized and hence the child born of that marriage had the mother’s last name.)

In 1939 Joseph was sent to Mukacheve (Munkacs) in the forced labor camp. It was there that he learned Hungarian.  Joseph thought there were about 70 Jewish families living in Komjat at that time. Joseph knew all of them.  He estimated that the rest of the population of Komjat numbered around 1,000.
Joseph was in Mauthausen-Gusen II, a labor camp in a forest.  The camp was liberated by the Americans on May 5th, 1945, and Joseph was very ill.  He was then in a DP (displaced persons) camp, until he felt better.  Then he returned to Czechoslovakia to his home in Komjat, looking for and hoping to reunite with family.  The Czecks were very nice to the Jewish people.  The non-Jewish people in Komjat were okay, not beligerent. The survivors understood the dangers if the non-Jewish people helped them. He did remember that before the war, the little boys used to say – Jews, go to Palestine. The Russians had taken over Komjat.  He didn’t want to stay there, so he, his sister, brother-in-law and a friend traveled by foot and by wagon to Romania and then Hungary by foot and wagon.  They had some money and finally reached Vienna where they were able to obtain an American visa.  Joseph, a sister, her husband and two children came to America in July 1949.

Joseph married Regina, also a survivor, from the town of Chust.  She was liberated 2 days before the war ended.  She was taken to Sweeden.  Someone had taken a photo of her, a cousin of hers and another woman from her town, as they were taken off a cattle car.  She was unaware that the photo was taken.  The picture appeared in the Jerusalem Post. Her sister recognized her. I visited Joseph and Regina in their home in Brooklyn in December 1997.  Joseph showed me some photos he was able to smuggle out of Komjat, in the lining of his coat.  They included a photo of his mother Malka Engle in Volovitz, her parents  and photos of his siblings. After Joseph and Regina married he went to fashion school and became a pattern maker and designer. At first he worked as a tailor and eventually had his own factory in the garment district of New York. His company produced ladies coats and suits.

He is in touch with his landsman from Komjat. He recently attended the Bat Mitzvah of a member of the Berger family from Komjat.  Berger remained in Komjat until about 1990.  Joseph once attended the Komjater Society meeting in Brooklyn, but it is no longer functioning.

As the train traveled towards the Ukraine we asked Joseph if the countryside looks the same as it did so many years ago. He said, “Over there (Komjat) the corn grows bigger.  The grapes are very sweet. The sunflowers are so big. Over there, the people were very poor, but everybody was very satisfied.  They didn’t complain, they took it that this is the way life is supposed to be.  They didn’t look to make a lot of money.”
“ I always said to myself, if I get the opportunity to go back, I would go.  Until now, it was very difficult to go.  Now it’s easier. The opportunity came and I want to go home.” 

Hinda Hoffman (Berger) Papp

(Families mentioned- Berger, Hoffman, Kreisman, Leibowitz, Gelb, Grossman, and Smilovics)

From Conversations between Hinda Hoffman Papp and Roberta Solit, September 2013

Hinda was born in Komjat around 1925.  When her parents, Moishe Yankel (Moricz) Berger & Ruchel Hoffman married, Komjat was in Czechoslovakia. They were married by a Rabbi and not registered in the court or City Hall, so when Hinda and her older brother Nathan were born, they were given their mothers’ maiden name as their last name.  Later, the Hungarians made her parents marry in the court, and all of Hinda’s younger siblings have their father’s last name, Berger. As a child, she never realized she was using her mother’s maiden name.  She found out when her brother enlisted in the army.  Her 4 younger siblings were all Berger’s.

Hinda’s father, Moricz Berger, was a shoemaker.  He was born in Komjat.  His parents were Nathan (Natan) Berger and Sarolta (Zlata) Kreisman Hoffman.  Hinda never met her grandfather Nathan.
Hinda’s mother’s family, the Hoffman’s, were from Danilovo, near Khust.
The Ruthenians (the Russians that lived in the area around Komjat – called sub-Carpathian Ruthenia) and the Jewish people got along. In 1938, when the Hungarians came into Komjat, everybody started going to Budapest.
At the age of 17, in 1942, Hinda and her brother David left Komjat and moved to Budapest.  Through the war she remained there, hiding and trying to survive.  During this time she married.  She stayed in Budapest until the Soviet Revolution in 1956, when she left for Canada.  Hinda, her sister Rise, her brother David and one other brother survived. Hinda’s parents and two sisters perished in the Holocaust.

The Synagogue in Komjat was a small building.  Then they built a new one.  The shochet lived in the same court as the Synagogue building, close to where Hinda and her family lived.
Hinda attended the Czech school.  There was no Hebrew education for girls. Komjat did not have a theatre.  Hinda saw her first movie when she was 16 years old and went to another town to see the movie.

At the end of the war, she returned to Komjat, hoping to find family and friends.  She had 3 or 4 friends from Komjat that she was in contact with after the war.
Suri Leibowitz, from Steve Lawrence’s father’s side of the family.
Another Leibowitz, whose father was Sruel.  She thinks 2 survived.  One son in is Israel. 

Some of her childhood friends, from school in Komjat, were
Henie Leibowitz
Suri Leibowitz (not related to Henie)
Lia  - Lia went to Israel
Gelb-  there was a sister Rifka and brother.  Their family had a restaurant, like a tavern, for drinking, across from the Mill in Komjat.  They lived in a house right there near the tavern.  Rifka Gelb survived the war and lives in NY.  A son was in hiding with 3 other young men in the bushes.  In the last few days of the occupation, they were found and shot.
Rifka’s sister-in-law, Esther Gelb, survived the war and lived in Brooklyn. I asked her about some of the other people from Komjat and if she remembered them-
Grossman, she remembered that there were Grossmans in Komjat.
Smilovics- yes, she remembered, one had a son the same age as her brother.

A second cousin, Mary Berger, came to Komjat in the summers.  She survived in war, went to Belgium then to Canada not knowing that Hinda was living there.  One day, Aggie, the daughter of Hinda’s brother who lives in LA was in a butcher shop in Los Angeles.  There was a woman in the shop who was from Russia and was having difficulty with English.  Aggie, being a language teacher, helped her.  Aggie asked her where she was from and she replied “Beregszasz”.  Aggie said that Beregszasz sounds familiar and she would ask her father about it. Her father realized that Aggie is a cousin.   She lives in Toronto, as does his sister Hinda.  Hinda was shocked to find out that this cousin survived, as she always thought she perished in the Holocaust.  It turns out that they both used the same hairdresser in Toronto. Hinda met Aggies daughter and said she looked exactly like Aggie did so many years ago. As far as she recalls, none of her Berger ancestors had come to America before the war.  Her grandfather on her mother’s side, the Hoffman’s did immigrate but they were not from Komjat.
I asked Hinda if there were any photographs of her family taken in Komjat, or any memorabilia that could be added to the Komjat website.
When she left Komjat in 1942 to go to Budapest, she did not expect that to be the last time she would see her family.  She thought it was a temporary move and did not take any photos with her.  When she returned to Komjat, for a few days after the war, and went to her family’s home, all that was left were the 4 walls.  Everything was taken.  There were no photos.

Hinda said, “We were happy.  We were poor.  But everybody was poor”.

Eugene Lebovits and Irene Mermelstein Lebovits

(Families mentioned- Lebovits, Mermelstein, Deutsch, Kreitenberg, Dunai, Steinmetz, Siegel)

This story was written by Justice Gerald Lebovits. His mother Irene Lebovits, a Holocaust survivor was given the honor, with her family, to light a memorial candle at the annual Holocaust Remembrance Program. This program is sponsored by the Jewish Lawyers Guild and the Gender Fairness Committee of the Civil Branch of the Supreme Court, New York County Clerk's Office. The candles are lit to honor the memory of those who lost their lives in the Holocaust and to remind us to protect the rights of all people.

The New York Law Journal covered the
Remembrance Ceremony.

Candle Lighters: Irene Lebovits, Justices Gerald Lebovits and Margaret Chan, Natalie Lebovits, Kenneth Lebovits, and Or Zaidenberg

[This remembrance, written by Justice Gerald Lebovits, is a highly condensed version of his forthcoming book, Holocaust Houdinis. It will be published in 2019.]

It wasn't mere bigotry. Or prejudice. Or anti-Semitism or racism. It was genocide.

More dedicated were the Nazis and their collaborators to exterminating Europe's nine million Jews than they were to winning WWII. Given their effort to rob from, enslave, and annihilate the Jewish people, less surprising is it that six million Jews died than that three million Jews lived. Every survivor suffered unspeakable horrors from 1933 through 1945. No survivor fully recovered. The survivors must be honored for who they were, for their will to live, for what they went through, for how bravely they endured. This is the story - much of it a secret, untold until now - of two Central European Holocaust survivors and their family members who lived and died. The first survivor, Irene Lebovits (b. Sept. 12, 1925), is nicknamed Maca, like the unleavened bread. Born Irene Mermelstein, she lives in Florida. The second is her husband, Eugene Lebovits (b. Aug. 7, 1921), who died on December 1, 1994.

Only the luckiest survived the Holocaust. But it helped to be smart. Eugene and Irene were lucky and smart. Eugene spoke 12 languages, drew like an architect, and computed collegelevel math in his head. He was a charismatic man and a tough Jew. Irene spoke five languages and was beautiful: blond and blue eyed, a blessed child whose father owed vineyards, a distillery, a dairy farm, and a general store. Irene and her two sisters and four brothers - all of whom had their own servants - were proud ethnic Hungarians. So were Eugene and his family.

Irene's brothers, Ernest (left) and Arnold, were burned to death on the Eastern front.

Irene and Eugene were born five miles from each other in a province then called Subcarpathian Ruthenia. Irene was born in Komlos (Chmil'nyk). Eugene was born in Komyat (Velikiye Komyaty). Eugene's paternal ancestors, beginning with patriarch Mark Leibovitz, had lived in Komyat since at least 1728; on his mother's side, some came from Nitra, now in the western part of the Slovak Republic.

Subcarpathia was Austro-Hungarian through WWI. Then it was in the Slovak part of Czechoslovakia. Hungary retook the province in 1939. After WWII, it became part of the Soviet Union, the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Now it's in independent southwestern Ukraine, in a province called Zakarpattia.

Lili, Irene, and Elizabeth Mermelstein

Irene and Eugene's fathers were Austro-Hungarian soldiers in WWI. 50,000 Jews died in WWI fighting for Germany and Austro-Hungary. Irene's father, Ludwig, lost his hearing in an ear. Zoltan, Eugene's father, almost drowned in the June 1918 Second Battle of the Piave River fighting the British, French, and Italians. 20,000 Austro-Hungarians died in that bloodbath. Nobel Laureate Ernest Hemingway wrote about that battle in A Farewell to Arms, his 1929 masterpiece.

Some of Irene and Eugene's relatives left Europe between WWI and WWII. Eugene's cousin Hannah Senesh, a Palestine Mandate poet and spy originally from Budapest, parachuted behind German lines to help save the Hungarian Jews. The Hungarians captured, tortured, and shot her dead at age 23. Reinterred in 1950 in Mt. Herzl's military cemetery in Jerusalem, hundreds of thousands lined the streets for her funeral procession.

Four of Irene and Eugene's uncles moved to America and had children. Had they remained in Europe, they probably would've been murdered because of their faith.

Steve Lawrence, Eugene's first cousin, was born Sidney Liebowitz in 1935 in Brooklyn, U.S.A. Steve married Eydie Gormé. Together they were American singing sensations. Regulars on the Ed Sullivan Show, Steve and Eydie performed with the likes of Frank Sinatra, who always credited Steve as the greatest singer he'd ever heard. A younger generation of fans might recall Steve as Maury Sline from the 1980 Blues Brothers movie or as Morty Fine, Fran's father's voice from TV's The Nanny.

Eugene's first-cousin Sheldon Mermelstein, married to Fran Greher, was born in Brooklyn in 1944. A long-time Manhattan Lower East Sider, Sheldon retired as the Director of Investigations at America's largest socialservices agency, the New York City Human Resources/Department of Social Services Administration. Fran retired as the Preschool Director of the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey.

Irene's first cousin Milton Mermelstein, from Newark, New Jersey, was an intelligence officer on a U.S. warship that landed with the first wave at Utah Beach on D-Day. An esteemed New York City lawyer, he became chairman of board of the Alexander's Department Stores. Though Jewish, his passion was Catholic charities. He received an honorary doctorate from New York City's St. John's University, a Vincentian institution that teaches how to find God and oneself in public service. A leader of the Knights of Malta, Milton was knighted by the Pope.

Seymour (Cy) Mermelstein, another of Irene's first cousins from Newark, New Jersey, fought in WWII with the Devil's Brigade. This 1800-man unit, 463 of whom died in combat, killed some 12,000 German soldiers and captured another 7000. The Devil's Brigade was featured in books, TV, and movies (Devil's Brigade (1968); Monuments Men (2014)). In 2013, the Devil's Brigade received the Congressional Gold Medal. The Speaker of the House called Cy and his comrades-at-arms "the finest of the finest." Cy also helped liberate Germany's Buchenwald Concentration Camp, where the Nazis crucified priests upside down.

Above, a dog tag Irene Mermelstein wore while in slave labor at the Lorena factor. One side was inscribed with her number, on the other she engraved her nickname, Maca. Right, Irene after liberation

550,000 American Jews fought in WWII. 38,338 died. 52,000, including Milton and Cy, earned military honors. For these GI Jews, fighting the Germans was a personal affair. So was defending America, their home.

Unlike the handful who escaped to America, most of Irene and Eugene's relatives remained in Europe. The Holocaust destroyed their world.

In 1922, Eugene's family moved from Komyat in the newly formed Czechoslovakia to Satmar (Satu Mare) in Northern Transylvania, Romania, because Benjamin Lebovits, Eugene's grandfather, was murdered by two Ukrainian brothers who owed him money. Everyone knew who did it. The authorities did nothing.

The Hungarians retook Satmar from the Romanians in 1940 in a deal Hitler imposed on Romania. Eugene was drafted into the Hungarian Labor Battalions in October 1942. It was slave labor enforced by military discipline. He heard that his Battalion was going to the Eastern Front. No Jew who went was ever heard from again. Eugene escaped in September 1943. He was lucky. The German and Hungarian armies used the Jewish Battalion slaves as human mine sweepers. Two of Irene's brothers, Dr. Arnold Mermelstein, a lawyer, and Dr. Ernest Mermelstein, a dentist, both Battalion slaves, lived through the mines but perished on the Eastern Front when the Nazi SS or the Hungarians locked them inside a barn and burned it down. Arnold and Ernest were married. Their spouses, Ettu and Rachel, survived the camps and moved respectively to Israel and Canada after the war.

Eugene eluded the fate of Irene's brothers by hiding in Budapest in September 1943. The Hungarians put a price on his head for de-sertion. His face was on wanted posters. And Budapest was unsafe. The Hungarian Arrow Cross fascist militiamen - the Nyilas - spent their days lynching Jews from lampposts and shooting 20,000 of them into the Danube.

One day, Eugene wore a monogrammed shirt with his real initials on it. Another Jew caught him and demanded hush money. Eugene refused, saying, "You're a Jew. You'll never turn me in." But he did, and Hungarian counterintelligence arrested Eugene. Eugene was imprisoned and tortured in the Buda Castle, the Gestapo headquarters, and then turned over to the Hungarians for a court-martial show trial. He was tried in Kolosvar (Cluj) for desertion before Hungarian military judges, who sentenced him to death by firing squad. By day during the trial, the firing squad was practicing in the courthouse yard. By night, Jews, including Eugene's family, held candlelight vigils outside his prison.

Three months before the near-total annihilation of the Northern Transylvanian Jews, the rabbis and the governing Jewish Council placed a tax on every relatively rich Jewish family in three cities to bribe Hungarian Col.-General Lajos Veress de Dálnok, the Deputy Regent of Hungary, to commute Eugene's sentence. Redeeming Jewish captives is a religious commandment called pidyon shvuyim. Izrael Lieb Berko, later martyred in Auschwitz, collected the bribe to save Eugene. (Izrael's grandson is a Legal Aid Society lawyer in New York City.) The court resentenced Eugene to 10 years' hard labor.

Eugene didn't complete his sentence. He escaped from hard labor after a few months and hid for a few months on the estate of Count János Esterházy, a righteous gentile. By then the Soviets had liberated the area. But the Soviets captured and jailed Eugene in Debrecen, Hungary, pending his deportation to Siberia as a stateless person. Eugene talked his way out of jail after two months by befriending the prison's Soviet commanding officer, a Jewess.

Irene and Lili's train transport from Auschwitz II-Birkenau to Lorenz on September 12, 1944, Irene's 19th birthday

He then returned to Satmar in late 1944 and joined the Siguranța Statului, King Michael I's Romanian secret police. (King Michael had led the August 1944 coup that caused Romania to switch sides and join the Soviets against Germany and Hungary.) Part time Eugene co-owned a textile store in Satmar and made a fortune smuggling people and things. He quickly went from slavery, prison, and destitution to having a beautiful apartment, a car, and a Harley Davidson motorcycle. His best friend was Satu Mare County Siguranța Chief Lt.-Col. Ludovic Weiss, a survivor whose wife was murdered. After Romania's Soviet occupiers demanded that secret-police commanders have a college degree, Eugene forged for Weiss an entire academic record, including a doctorate-of laws diploma.

Eugene's return to Satmar was punctuated with the knowledge that most people he knew were now dead. Eugene's mother Toba, father Zoltan, and sister Katie were deported to Auschwitz in May 1944 and murdered. Eugene's brother, Carol, went to Melk, a Mauthausen Concentration Satellite camp, to dig tunnels in an extermination-through-work program. Carol complained about a kapo's cruelty to Jews. To avenge that slight, the kapo, a Jew from Satmar named Spitz, beat Carol to death in front of other inmates. A memorial with Carol's name on it is all that's left of him. Eugene was the only member of his immediate family who survived the Nazis and their collaborators.

As badly as Eugene suffered, Irene suffered more.

In 1941, the Hungarian police arrested 20,000 Subcarpathian Jews - Irene and Eugene's neighbors - on the pretext that they were aliens. They were handed over to the Ukrainian Auxiliary Police and the Einsatzgruppen, the German mobile killing units, who shot them into pits in Kaminets-Podolsk over three August days. It was the Holocaust's first industrial-scale murder.

Irene attended a Ukrainian-Hungarian gymnazium, a high school that prepares students for university. She had to quit school at age 14. Hungarian law forbade Jews to attend school.

But things got worse. In April 1944, Irene and her family were arrested and herded into two of Subcarpathia's 17 Jewish ghettos. A month later, Irene and her entire immediate family, together with 90,000 other Jews, were deported to Auschwitz II–Birkenau from an obscenely teeming and filthy brick factory in Munkachevo that served as a ghetto. (Among those in that factory awaiting deportation was Israeli actor Gal Godot's grandfather, Abraham Weiss, who survived Auschwitz.) Irene's sister Lili met a young dentist, Dr. Harry Katz, on the three-night train ride to Auschwitz. They fell in love in their cattle-car.

Gassed and cremated the day they arrived in Auschwitz were Irene's mother Rose; father Ludwig; and one-year-old Leah, Edmund and his wife Matilda's baby. (The Zyklon B (hydrogen cyanide) gas that killed them was made by the same company that made Bayer Children's Aspirin.) The story of Leah's murder is told in Matilda's sister Gaby Kramer's book, Andor Kept His Promise from the Grave (2006).

The SS transferred Edmund and Harry to Gross Rosen and from there to other camps. Edmund escaped during a death march by rolling down a mountain and was liberated in April 1945 by American troops in Plauen, Germany.

Inside Auschwitz, Irene was marching one day with Lili and Elizabeth, her two sisters, when the SS told her to take a path away from her sisters. Dr. Joseph Mengele, the angel of death, stood guard at this selection. He beat with his riding crop anyone voicing discontent. But he granted Irene's plea to go with her sisters. Irene says it was because she was blond with blue eyes and thus to Mengele not a Jew. That's how the three sisters went to Birkenau, taking the path now traversed in the annual March of the Living at Auschwitz as Israeli fighter jets scream overhead.

Irene's parents Rose and Ludwig's 1905 wedding photo

Irene and Eugene in the mid-1970s

In Birkenau the sisters lived outside, in the mud. After a month, Mengele selected Irene and Lili, because of their perfect eyesight and good hands, for slave labor at a German Sudetenland munitions factory in Ober-Hohenelbe at a Gross Rosen subcamp. The train to the factory arrived on September 12, 1944, Irene's 19th birthday. The factory, operated by a company called C. Lorenz AG and owned today by Nokia, built V-1 rockets that rained over London. Lorenz, which used 24,000 slaves during WWII, also invented and built the Lorenz Cipher, known as the Enigma Machine. The V-I rockets from Irene's factory were duds. Two German Jewish sisters, both kapos, sabotaged every rocket, with the help of Irene, Lili, and the other Jewish women inmates.

The Mermelsteins brothers and sisters: Alex, Lili, Irene, Elizabeth, and Edmund

Irene and Lili weren't the only German captives in slave labor during WWII. Germany profited during the war from its 12 million slave laborers, including children. As to the Jews, the same companies that fired their paid Jewish employees because they were Jews later rehired them as slaves and then often worked them to death. More than 2000 German companies made fortunes exploiting the slaves assigned to them, including Krupp, IG Farben, Bosch, Henschel, Deutsche Bank, Siemens, Daimler- Benz, BMW, Ford, Opel, and Volkswagen. German pharmaceutical companies made double profits: free slaves - and an unlimited number of non-consenting victims on whom they experimented with their drugs and vaccines and on whom they performed unsanitary, murderous surgery without anesthesia.

Irene on her 93rd birthday

As the Soviets got closer to Lorenz, the Germans left. Irene and Lili went home. Their sister, Elizabeth, remained in Auschwitz almost until Soviet liberation. One time during a roll call Mengele kicked Elizabeth in her emaciated stomach with his jackboots while calling her "Jude!" (meaning Jew). He then sent her to the gas chamber. But it was full, and she returned to her bunk.

Elizabeth's first husband, Dr. Eugene Klein, a lawyer, was deported to Auschwitz and never heard from again. In Satmar after the war she remarried blond and blue-eyed Joseph Zelig, whose first wife and two sons were murdered. Joe, hiding in Budapest during the war, lived in the Swiss embassy and worked with Swiss Vice -Counsel Carl Lutz, who saved 62,000 Jews. Eugene courted Irene. On September 11, 1945, they married in Satmar. Irene would turn 20 the next day; Eugene had turned 24 five weeks earlier. They had a daughter, Agi, named after Irene's best friend, who never returned from the camps. Lili married Harry upon their liberation.

Many Jewish survivors after the war tried to go Mandate Palestine to break the British blockade, in place until Israel's independence in 1948. As a Siguranța agent and smuggler, Eugene was in charge of a few hundred displaced Jews who traveled from Hungary through Romania on their way to sail to Palestine as part of the Aliyah Bet movement.

He also saved the remnants of Irene's family, including Lili, Harry, Matilda, and Edmund, by leading an armed rescue mission across the Iron Curtain from Romania into Tisza -Újlak (Vylock) in Soviet Subcarpathia (now Zakarpattia, Ukraine) and back.

(After Irene's sister-in-law Matilda passed away at age 38 in Montreal, Edmund married Polly Baron from Radom, Masovian Voivodeship, Poland. Polly had witnessed the murder of her parents Israel and Blima Baran and brother Shaiyeh Yossle Baran, three among the 3.2 million Jewish Poles murdered in the Holocaust. Polly went to Auschwitz at age 13. She, brother Albert, and sisters Manya, Shayva Rosner, and Chava Ita survived the Holocaust.)

After paying a fortune in bribes and for his service to the Kingdom of Romania, Eugene in late 1947 secured valid passports and exit visas in Bucharest, Romania's capital, to escape from Communist Europe. (In August 1948, eight months after Irene and Eugene left Romania, the Siguranța became the Departamentul Securității Statului, the vicious and Soviet NKVD-controlled Securitate protecting Communist Party Secretary Nicolae Ceaușescu with hundreds of thousands of informants.) From Romania, Irene and Eugene went to Belgium, where Eugene forged residence and work permits to be in Antwerp. Irene graduated from an ORT fashion school, summa cum laude. Canada accepted them in 1950 because of the WWII service to the British Crown of Irene's elder brother, Alex Mermelstein.

Alex had fought for the Free Czech forces, stationed in Warwickshire, England, where in 1940 he married his wife Sofie Barr, a Jewish orphan from Germany. In May 1942, a team of Alex's Czech co-soldiers from Warwickshire assassinated, in a Prague suburb, SS General Reinhard Heydrich, head of the German Security Service. Heydrich was the architect of the January 1942 Wannsee Conference plans for the final solution to the Jewish question - the extermination of Europe's nine million Jews. Adolf Eichmann, later hanged in Israel as a war criminal, prepared the Conference minutes. Among Heydrich's other jobs, he commanded the Einsatzgruppen, which, trailing the German armed forces, murdered 1.3 million Jews by mass shooting and gassing. The Heydrich assassination, documented in the movie thriller Anthropoid (2016), was the only time the Allies killed a top Nazi.

From Canada, Irene and Eugene moved in 1979 to Hallandale Beach, Florida, where Irene lives happily and is planning no more great escapes. Of the seven Mermelstein siblings, only Irene, the youngest, still lives.

Most of Irene and Eugene's uncles, aunts, and cousins were murdered in the Holocaust. [Their lives and deaths will be told in the forthcoming book, Holocaust Houdinis.] But some survived. Here are a few of their stories:
Eugene's first cousin Naftali (Tuli) Deutsch, deported at 12½ years old, survived Auschwitz and four other camps. After the war he served in the Israel Defense Forces before moving to California. In 2008 he published A Holocaust Survivor in the Footsteps of His Past. His parents and two of his brothers were murdered. His four sisters and a brother survived.

One sister, Eugene's first cousin Irene Deutsch, endured Auschwitz and Bergen- Belsen. Married to the late Sam Kreitenberg, another Subcarpathian Holocaust survivor, she died in 2016 in Beverly Hills. In April 2018, during the West Point Club's 2018 Holocaust Days of Remembrance, 1st Lt. Zoe Kreitenberg, a 2016 West Point alumna and Irene and Sam's granddaughter, spoke with honor, love, and pride about her grandparents' Holocaust experiences. With her was Lt.-Gen. Robert L. Caslen, West Point's superintendent.

Tuli's surviving brother was Eugene's deaf-mute first cousin Harry Dunai. Harry had numerous near-death encounters in Budapest until the Soviets liberated him at age 11. With his daughter, he published, in 2002, Surviving in Silence: A Deaf Boy in the Holocaust: The Harry I. Dunai Story.

Isser Mermelstein, Eugene's first cousin, hid in the forests of Subcarpathia. Isser's brother was shot by Jew hunters who were tracking them down; three other brothers, one sister, and his parents were also murdered. But Isser and a sister survived. With Eugene and two other partners, Isser made a fortune after the war smuggling people and goods between Romania and Hungary.

Eugene's first-cousin-once-removed Jack Steinmetz was deported from Subcarpathia directly into Birkenau in May-June 1944. His parents (Eugene's first cousins) and siblings were murdered in the camps. Jack was 15. He was in a bunk for youths when, during a roll call, Dr. Mengele stuck out his riding crop. The boys' heads had to reach it while walking below it. Jack wasn't tall enough to reach the riding crop. So Mengele sent him to the gas chamber. He was in the chamber's ante-room, watching SS officers stuff Jews into the gas chamber, when a German officer saved him: The officer came into the ante-room and took Jack and 13 other Jewish boys away for work details, in a story told years later in the Canadian Jewish News. (Eugene saved Jack by smuggling him to and from Romania and Hungary after the war and paid for him to be smuggled into Germany.)

A cousin common to Irene and Eugene is Aranka (Meyer) Siegel, later married to Gilbert Siegal, a Harvard Law School graduate, New York City lawyer, and World War II United States Airforce officer. Aranka was deported at age 13 from Subcarpathia to Auschwitz, to Christianstadt and, following a five-week winter death march, to Bergen-Belsen. All of Aranka's siblings but one were murdered at Auschwitz. Aranka wrote a children's book about Feige Rosner, her grandmother from Komyat: Memories of Babi (2008). She also wrote two other books about the Holocaust: Upon the Head of the Goat: A Childhood in Hungary 1939-1944 (1981), and Grace in the Wilderness: After the Liberation 1945-1948 (1985).

Despite the evil they witnessed, Irene and Eugene always looked for the good in people. They were defiant toward their German and Hungarian fascist tormentors. Otherwise, they were optimistic and resilient. In their hearts was love, never hate. They were filled with character and courage. And heroism. More than luck and smarts, that's how they survived the Holocaust and the years that followed.

Here to light a candle are Irene Lebovits; her son and daughter-in-law Justices Gerald Lebovits and Margaret Chan; and her grandchildren Natalie and Kenneth Lebovits and Or Zaidenberg.

Sabbath candlesticks owed by Eugene Lebovits's family, the family's only possession that survived the war

Sara Herskovitz Leibowitz

(Families mentioned- Herskovitz, Leibowitz, Gelb)

Notes from various e-mails between Roberta Solit & Eti Elboim, daughter of Sara Leibowitz, 2012-2013 

Sara Herskovitz Leibowitz and her daughter Eti in Velikiye Komyaty

Sara Herskovitz was born in Veliki Komjati in 1928, to Jacob and Blime Gelb Herskovitz.  Jacob and Blime had 7 children. The names and ages (in 1944) of the 3 sons were Eliezer 12, Yosef-Shalom 10,   and Azriel-Zvi 6. Their daughters were Sara 15 ½, Rachel 14, Feige 8 and Pesi 9 months. Baby Pesi did of pneumonia before the deportation. Sara was the sole survivor of her immediate family. She lost both of her parents, 3 brothers and 2 sisters, of blessed memory.

The Herskovitz family lived at Masricova 470. The name of the street was changed to Miklos Horthy and today is Vatutina Street. Their home was just down the street from the cemetery. Near their house they had fields of corn and wheat. My mother's house no longer exists today. On the court is established a large grocery store that was built two years ago. It is marked on the map, on the street of the Jewish cemetery.

A grocery store is now at the former location of Herskovitz home

This map, mostly of Big Komjat, shows the location of synagogue and shoycet's home, the location of former Herskovitz home, and the Jewish Cemetery.  City Hall, School, and large Church are in upper right.

Sara says she remembers everything about Komjat, where each family lived and where everything was.  She remembers the Gelb’s family’s Inn, run by Esther Gelb and her brother Solomon-Avrum Gelb.  They were cousins of Sara’s mother. Esther Gelb survived the holocaust and moved to the United States.  She is no longer alive today.  The children of their Gelb cousins are living in Israel.  They have grandchildren and great-grandchildren. 

There were so many family members from her mother and father’s sides, Leibowitz’s, Gelb’s, and Herskovitz’s that probably one quarter of the population of Komjat were related to her. Sara married Shalom Leibowitz (God rest his soul) who was a cousin. He was from Satu Mare, but his family came from Komjat. Most likely many of the Leibowitz’s in Komjat are relatives of Sara’s.  Sara is in touch with relatives in Israel and abroad.

When the war was over, in 1945, Sara was just 16 ½.  She returned to Komjat in hopes of finding family. She found none, and another family was living in the Herskovitz home.  Sara left.

In the summer of 2012 Sara returned to Komjat for the first time in all these years.  Along with her on her return home, were her daughter Eti, and 5 grandchildren.

These are some of the comments made by Sara’s daughter Eti after their trip to Komjat-

“Komjat looks like a small village. Simple houses, cobbled streets, no sidewalks. Courtyards of the houses grow grapes. People who live there are very curious, and many left their homes to see who we are and why we came. There were those who wanted us to give them money.

We were in the synagogue. It looks exactly like in the pictures on your site. Outside it has a coating of the timber and the inside is kind of storage. My mom says it was the small synagogue. Beside it was another synagogue, much larger and more luxurious, with an attic women's prayer. Instead there are today greenhouses. Near the synagogue, where today there is nothing, just a concrete frame, was the home of the butcher and rabbi.

We visited the cemetery. We found the grave of my great-grandmother, Hannah Deborah Gelb who died in the year 1942. The tomb has a new position. The tombstone was prepared a few years ago by our relatives from the United States, who are also the grandchildren of Hannah Deborah. We conducted a very exciting ceremony there. We said Tehillim and we renewed the letters on the tombstone. By the way, my mom says that everything changed in the village. She was there last time in 1945! She says that the houses look quite different. No house looks like she can remember!"

Eti wrote, my mother wanted to return to Komjat To close the circle and commemorate all those who did not return.”

Shirley Rottenstein Krotki

(Families mentioned– Rottenstein (Rothstein), Schwartz, Berger, Weiss, Grunberger, Gelb, Schoenfeld)

Recalled by Shirley Rottenstein Krotki during visits to her home by Roberta Solit, on January 6, 1998 & February 25, 1998


My paternal grandfather was Benjamin Simon Rottenstein, of Komjat, in whose honor the B'nai Simon Komjater Society was named. Benjamin Shimon was called Shimon. He married Henya Schwartz.  Shimon's father lived in Onik.  Benjamin & Henya's children were Schmiel, Gitel and Zalman Leib. Schmiel married, and his children live in Israel. Gitel married Szender (Sandor) Berger.  They had 4 children, Hana who married a Weiss, a son who died young, a son David who died aboard a ship coming to the US (see artlcle in Miscellaneous section) and a son Moishe Meyer Berger. Moishe lost his family in the holocaust- a wife, children and a sister from Szollos (a Weiss).

               Shirley in 1998    

Zalman Leib

My father, Zalman Leib Rottenstein, was born in Magyar Komjat in 1885. He went by many names. Zalman Leib was his Jewish name, Lipot was his Hungarian name and Leopold and Louie were names he was called in the US. Zalman and his brother went to school in Sighet. He served i WWI in the Austro-Hungarian army, for 4 years from 1914-1918.




Zalman Leib Rottenstein in Austro-Hungarian army uniform- He served for 4 years from 1914-1918.


Emma Grunberger, also known as Serena, Szerenke & Sima, was born in Shalank, a small village next to Komjat. Her parents were Avram Yitzchak Grunberger and Dvora. Emma was orphaned and went to live with her mother's sister in Komjat. When she was just 16 years old she went to America. Emma remained there, for a short time, then returned to Komjat to one of her aunts, a Weiss. Her mother had 7 sisters and this was one of the sisters. In 1908 Lipot and Emma (Szerenke) were engaged.

Zalman Leib (Leopold) Rottenstein in Beregszasz



Engagement announcement

Grunberger, Szerenke to Rottenstein, Lipot

Magrarkomjat, June, 1908

In 1910 they were married.

Their first child was Dorothy, also called Devora or Dora. Three years later, in 1914, Shirley was born. Shifra was her Hebrew name and she was also called Sara. Her father was a Hebrew teacher in a town in Hungary.  He left for America in 1921 and in 1923, Shirley, her mother and sister left Komjat and joined him in New York.

Leopold Photo on left- Dorothy on the left, Shirley on the right with Nutan Grunberger, their mother's brother, taken in Nagyszollos, ca. 1916.  Photo taken by Kosa Janos, Nagyszollos.

Shirley's Recollections-

Though she was only 9 when she left Komjat, she had many recollections about the town, it's residents and life in that area.

The home of her family, her grandfather's house, a Berger family house and a school were all in the square diagonally across the  hill from the big church in Komjat.  In the center of the square there was a statue of Jesus. They came from all over to go to that Church.  The head of the church was very friendly with her family.  Shirley's mother had tuberculosis just before she traveled to America.  The church invited her to sun on the grounds of the church to recuperate.   The "papa" of the church waved across the square to her parents, and shouted "good morning". Their home was the closest one to the church. The back of their home faced the back of the school.  Shirley didn't attend school. The language spoken at home was Yiddish. Most of the Jewish people were Orthodox.  The head of the community was her grandfather, Rav Shimon Rottenstein.  Her family lived in a single home.  Another family member lived in a double home next to them.  A doctor also had his office in that square. Tuberculosis was very prevalent in the Carpathian Mountains. When they left Komjat they went to a spa somewhere in Hungary. Her mother continued her recuperation there.  From there they traveled to Vienna and then to the states.  A little further up, going towards Szollus, was the government office.
Going the other way, down the hill, was Magya Komjat, which had a lot of Jews living there.

"From the church which is in Velikiye Komjat, or big Komjat, you went down the road (a hill) and came to the synagogue on the left.  Further down was the cemetery on the right.  Past the cemetery was Magyar or small Komjat.  Velikiye Komat had the mill and government building.
There was a butcher on the right side of the street, just before the cemetery.
The houses had straw roofs.  The floors were dried mud, and to renew them, you had to make a solution of water and mud and apply it to the floor, make it smooth and when it was dry you had a beautiful new floor.
The school was opposite the church."

Shirley couldn't recall everyone's last names, they called everyone tante and … and as a child, she didn't know who were her real relatives.

There are now paved sidewalks, there were none then.  The school-  the Jews didn't really make a part of going.  Her mother was so friendly with teachers she didn't have to go.  Most people had a plot of land, going towards Szollus. Everyone had trees in their yard, plum and other fruits. Everyone had gardens with vegetables like corn and potatoes.  Traveling troops of entertainers visited the town from time to time and performed in the square near the church.

When they visited other towns near Komjat it was by means of horse and wagon.  She did visit Szollos and Beregszasz.

The Mill- They ground flour at the Mill. The mill was the only place in Komjat that had electricity.  The Gelb's, a prominent family in Komjat,  had a tavern at the Mill. Drinking was the big industry. There was a shower under the Mill.

They called the River Rika. They would go swimming there in summer. They used to bathe in the water at the Mill.  There was a Mikva, a butcher, and a shoemaker.  Everyone was poor, there were no wealthy people. All social events in Komjat were for everyone.  All religious people who went through Komjat had a place to stay at her grandfather's home. 

In America, her mother had an open-house for all the young people from Komjat, the seamstresses etc.  She would let the young girls from Komjat stay with her and she tried to make a shiddach for them and married them off.  She was a matchmaker. She introduced a woman named Helen to Lipshitz, the pickle man.  They married and moved to California.

Most people left Komjat before the war.  Lots of young people came in the 20's and 30's.  The other's were there for the Holocaust- her Aunt died, and a cousin with all her children,  The Berger's lived in Komjat.  A daughter lived in Shalank.  She had two boys.

Her father organized the Kimyater society in honor of his father, Benjamin Simon Rottenstein,  who was known for his kindness and benevolence.  He died in the flu epidemic in Komjat in 1918.

Shimon Rottenstein stone











Shimon (Benjamin Shimon) Rottenstein's stone in Komjat.

This landsleift sent money to Komjat to cover expenses. Her father was the secretary–treasurer of the Komjater society and she helped him with the mailings. She used to send post cards to Komjaters.  (See postcard that was sent by her father to Szender Berger in Komjat in 1941- in Holocaust section).
Shirley remembered that after the war, her family was asked to donate money for the restoration of the cemetery in Komjat. Her cousin Moishe Berger was the head of the society after Zalman Leib.

Shirley has a list of names, in Yiddish,  of members of the society and the donations that were made. (See Miscellaneous section) After the war the money was sent to landsman in Israel. Brooklyn has largest group of Komjaters.

Henia and Grandson Henya Rottenstein and grandson David Berger, son of Henya's daughter Gitel Berger, taken in Komjat before the holocaust.  (See article "Stowaway Killed…." 1937 in Miscellaneous section)

Shirley's  grandmother Henya Rottenstein, who was born in Magyar Komjat, died in 1938.


Henia Stone








Henya Rottenstein's stone in V. Komjaty cemetery, many years ago

Shirley's father passed away in 1946.

Her sister Dorothy married Rabbi Edward Schoenfeld, the rabbi at the Jewish Center of University Heights and later of the Actor's Temple.  Dorothy passed away and their cousin, Moishe Meyer Berger, who also lived in Komjat, died also. He came to America after the war, came to them after the Holocaust with 2 nephews. They lived with them, then Moishe remarried.

She thinks that about two years ago, there were three Jewish families still living in Komjat.  She said that the torahs from the synagogue are in Israel.

In the 30's many of the landsleit went back to visit Komjat.

She recalled that many Komjaters vacationed at a hotel in the Catskill mountain, the name might be New Mountain House.

The family name was Rottenstein in Komjat, but it was changed to Rothstein in America.

Aranka Siegal

(Families mentioned- Rosner, Davidovich, Siegal, Grossman) 

Notes taken by Roberta Solit during visits, conversations & e-mails with Aranka Siegal, December 1997, March 2012, February 2014 & May 2014


I had the great pleasure of speaking with Aranka Siegal several times and meeting her in March of 2012.  She has written several books describing her time with her maternal grandmother, Feiga "Babi" Rosner who lived in Komjat. 


Aranka's mother, Risa Rosner, and her parents Feiga and Noham Rosner, were all born in Komjat. When Risa was about 18, she moved to Beregszasz. She married Meyer Meizlik and on June 10th, 1930, Aranka was born. Sadly, when Aranka was only 9 months old, her father passed away. Her mother then married Ignatz Davidovich. One of her mother's sisters married a Mermelstein. Aranka and her parents remained in Beregszasz, though most holidays were celebrated at Babi's home in Komjat. 


Most summers Aranka lived with Babi in Komjat.  The times with Babi were precious to Aranka.  The stories and lessons that Babi told Aranka are described in the wonderful book, written by Aranka called Memories of Babi. At the beginning of World War II, while visiting Babi, the borders between Hungary and Ukraine were closed.  Aranka could not return to her mother in Beregszasz and she had to remain in Komjat for almost one year. She learned Ukrainian in Komjat though her Babi spoke to her in Yiddish. The last time Aranka saw Komjat was in 1941, when she was 11 years of age.  That is when the border opened and she could return home to Beregszasz. One of her sisters, Rosi, later went back to her grandmother's home in Komjat.  Tragically neither was ever seen again. Aranka was one of 7 children; only 3 survived the Holocaust, Aranka, a sister Etu, who lived in and raised a family in Israel, and another sister ,Violet.  Violet raised a family in Connecticut and now lives in Florida, near Aranka. 


Aranka spoke of two Komjats, one large and one small, one being closer to the woods (Little Komjat), and the other closer to the large Russian Orthodox church (Big Komjat.)  Most of the people in Komjat  were Russian Orthodox, and most were uneducated. 


The land in Little Komjat was flat farmland.  There were fewer Jewish people living in Little Komjat than in Big Komjat. There were two synagogues in Komjat.  One was in Little Komjat, where her Babi lived.  There was a courtyard with the small synagogue along with some homes. The ceiling of the synagogue was very low.  People owned their own pews, made of wood, and the ark was "old fashioned".  There was a mikvah in Komjat. 


Aranka described the path she would take in traveling from her home  in Beregszasz to Babi's home in Komjat.  To get to Babi's home from Aranka's home, you would take the train in Beregszasz to the town of Komlos, today Khmil'nyk,  just northwest of Komjat.   You would then walk along a road that is next to the forest, west of Komjat. Following this road, you would come to Aranka's grandmother's home on the left hand side of this road, as you would walk towards the center of Komjat from Little Komjat.  Her grandmother had a large parcel of land.   


Many of the buildings in Komjat had roofs made of straw. The homes were white washed, the floors were dirt and the walls were thick. Shops were located inside the homes.   


She remembers' her grandmother's neighbors, their names and the first names of their children.  Martin Grossman, a cantor, was from Komjat and was very tall.  He had a sister Yolanda, and a brother. They lived in the Synagogue courtyard. Aranka knew the Grossman's very well.  She has recently, around March 2012, seen Yolanda Grossman at a survivors meeting.  


The Komjat Society met in Brooklyn in the home of one of its members. Donations by it's members raised money, and among it's many good deeds, it took care of the restoration of the cemetery in Komjat.  Aranka attended many of those meetings.  There are some people from Komjat now living in Florida.  Aranka did travel back to Beregszasz for a conference and saw that the homes appeared the same as they did 65 years ago.  She regretfully did not get to visit Komjat. 


Aranka has written about her life before, during and after the Holocaust in her 3 books written for young adults.  They are-  Upon The Head of the Goat, Grace in the Wilderness, and Memories of Babi.  She has received several awards for her writing including the Newbery Honor and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, both awarded to her in 1982. (See section – Books About Life in Komjat for more information about Aranka's books and awards). 


Today Aranka is busy traveling nationally and internationally, speaking about her books, her life, and her experiences during the Holocaust. Though she has never returned,  yet has thoughts about it, she still  cherishes her memories of her loving grandmother and her wonderful summers spent in Komjat .

Herman (Tzvi Elimelech Smilovitz) Smilow

(Families mentioned- Smilovitz, Hollander, Shomwell, Sonnenblick, Greenfield, Weiss, Merelstein and Grossman) 

Notes taken by Roberta Solit from several meetings and phone calls with Herman Smilow in 1997, 1998 and 2012

Herman Smilow, NY, 1998
Smilovitz, Hollander and Shomwell Families
Herman (Tzvi Elimelech Smilovics) was born on November 1, 1924 in Komjat. He was one of 10 children born to Mordechai (Marton) and Malvena (Malka) (Margit) Smilovitz. His siblings were Leib, Raizel, Eugene (Yankel), Dudi (David), Alex (Schmuel), Sheindel (Carla), Henche (Helen), Sura Hana (Sarina) and Chaya. All were born in Komjat. Two died in the Holocaust. One remained in Prague after the war and 7 emigrated to the US.
Herman's father, Mordechai (Marton) Smilovitz was born in Komjat to Leib (Yehuda) Smilovitz and Sora Sonnenblick. Martin's siblings were Heschel, Yossel, Shije, Chaya, Elke and Malka.
Herman's mother was Malvena (Malka) (Margit) Hollander. She was a twin. She was born in Felsö-Karaszlo as was her mother, Chana, who was a Shomwell. Her father, Salamon (Shlomo) Hollander, was born in Kriver, today Kryva, near Khust. Salamon finished his high yeshiva studies in the Pressberg-Bratislova Yeshiva. He was a landowner and businessman, highly respected. All of his sons were highly educated as were his 5 daughters. Herman's mother and father met in Kiralyhaza, today Korolevo. The Shomwell family was a very large family in Kiralyhaza. Martin Shomwell, Herman's uncle, had a large general store in Kiralyhaza that also sold feed for animals. From 1939 to 1942 Herman took over his uncle's business because his uncle was taken into the Hungarian army. One son-in-law had a lumber yard that served the whole vicinity. Herman's father was the chief of the Railroad Station in Kiralyhaza. It was a large station. Trains went in three directions from Kiralyhaza, to Satu-Mare, Sighet or Prague. One of his mother's uncles, a Greenfield, was the first person to open and run the archives in Bilke, before the first World War. Manyard Hollander was the president of the synagogue in Chust and one of the richest men there.
Herman related a story about his father, Mordechai (Martin) Smilovics. When Mordechai was 9 years old he told his father that he wanted to go to Yeshiva to study. His father, Yehuda Leib, told him that they didn't have any money to send him to Yeshiva. Mordechai walked away from Komjat, went west, towards the forest, followed the river and about 1 1/2 hours later he found himself near the railway station in Komlós, today Khmil'nyk, Ukraine. He went to the window and told the person that he wanted to go to the Yeshiva. With no money, he was unable to get a ticket. Mordechai saw a small train with cars loaded with lumber. He climbed onto one of the cars and the next morning it arrived in Beregszasz, the last stop on that train line. He left the train and came upon 2 religious Jews walking with Tallis. He followed them into the large Beis Midrash, where he sat down with the cheder children. They spent many hours studying with the Rabbi, all the time without food or water.
When the class was over the Rabbi, being curious about this new young man, asked him where he was from. Mordechai told him that he was from Komjat and wanted to attend the yeshiva. Each Thursday there was a large Market in Beregszasz and the Rabbi sent two people to the market to search for someone from Komjat. They were successful and asked this person to please inform the young man's parents that their son was in Beregszasz. Meanwhile, back in Komjat, Mordechai's father and grandfather were searching all over for Mordechai. The person, the messenger, returned from Beregszasz and told Mordechai's family that Mordechai was a student in the Yeshiva at Beregszasz and is being cared for by the Rabbi. His parents are very relieved. Mordechai remained in Bereszasz for several seasons, then went to Pressberg, today Bratislava, to a Yeshiva there, Then he attended the Mattersdorf Yeshiva in Sunzm near the border of Austria and Hungary. When WWI broke out Mordechai went into the army and was an officer. After the war he returned to Komjat. Mordechai did not speak Hungarian because he left home at an early age and spoke Yiddish in the Yeshiva's. He dovened at Onik for many years because the Smilovitz home was closer to Onik than the synagogue in Komjat. Mordechai qualified to be a rabbi but decided not to, and never picked up his certificate.
Childhood Memories of Komjat
In Komjat, the typical day of a school aged child involved getting up at 5a.m., dovening at the Cheder, having breakfast at home at 8am, attending the Czech school until about 1pm, going home for lunch, returning to the cheder until after dovening in the evening. No games were played, except during the rest period. The language between the Jewish people was Yiddish. In school they spoke Czech, outside with the non-Jews it was Reuthanian Russian.
Religious school was held in the homes of people who had enough room for all of the students. It rotated between different homes, different days, and for different amount of days. In the Smilovics home, there was a large room in the back of the home that was used for the classroom. There were about 25 children in the room and the Rabbi taught each group, at each level. The Rabbi and shochet, Avrum Chaim Weiss was from the town of Ilnytsya, about 75 km from Komjat. He was an uncle of the Satmar Rabbi, Rabbi Teitelbaum. There was only one shochet, and he served a few surrounding towns. He lived in Komjat during the school year and only left to go home for the holidays. He prepared the boys for their bar mitzvahs.
The building behind the synagogue was a bakery.
Herman described Komjat saying that it was very spread out, with 2 official synagogues and others in homes. There were 5 sections in Komjat:-

  1. Hadash was a road in Big Komjat where there were about 200 homes inhabited by both Jews and non-Jews. Hadash runs north to south off the main street that goes through Komjat. This is where his friend Joseph Grossman lived.
  2. The Road to the Forest- In the western area of Little Komjat, where Aranka's grandmother lived, near the forest.
  3. Big Komjat- From the Mill to near the cemetery. It includes the Government building, the church and shops. Opposite the big church, near the town office lived Moishe Meyer Berger. Big Komjat was the largest part of Komjat. The big Shul was in Big Komjat. The shochet lived on the property. The cheder was in the shochets home. Behind the Shul was a bakery.
  4. Little Komjat- West of the cemetery. A large area mostly inhabited by Jewish people.
  5. A central area of Big Komjat. North of Komjat were fields and hills, no roads, very spread out.

The market was across the street from the Mill and was held once per month during the summers. It probably took about an hour to walk from Magyarkomjat (Little Komjat) on the western end, to the Mill, all the way east. The market was just past the Gelb home. One of the Gelb brothers owned a restaurant and home near the Mill on the north side of the main road. Yoseph Arye Gelb, another brother, hid in Komjat when the German's were rounding them up. Someone (not Jewish) in Komjat told the gendarmerie and, the young man was caught. He was brutally murdered. All of the people that were in hiding were caught because their hiding places were uncovered by townspeople aiding the Germans.
All the houses had numbers. The numbers went in order, beginning in the area where the large church and town hall was. The Smilovics lived at number 450. Next to their home was the home of Joseph Grossman's paternal grandfather. Another Grossman, son of the grandfather lived on Hadash, near the Mermelsteins. Each house had a small amount of property called 1/2 day or a day, depending on how long it took for a couple of horses to tend it. They had fruit trees and a vegetable garden. Most of the people owned the fields, but the pasture fields belonged to the town. His father leased fields from the township. In 1933 a big rain soaked out the fields, it cost them a fortune. They had beautiful cattle but had to sell them to pay the workers. They sold the young cattle and were left with one cow that would provide milk. A week before Pesach the cow died. This was the first time he ever saw his mother cry.
Two times a year his family hired a horse and wagon to take them to grandmother's town to visit for the holidays of Pesach and Succoth.
Everything grew in the fields of Komjat. Very few Jews actually worked in the fields. The Smilovcs home had a grocery store that was connected to the home. Szollos had wholesale houses where products for the grocery were purchased. If a family was poor and didn't have money to buy the products, Herman's father would give them credit. Then, when Herman's family needed chickens, geese or other items, his father would trade his credit for those products. Yitzak Leibowitz was the tishler, the wood craftsman of Komjat. (Tish means table).
In 1940 there were no houses around the cemetery, just fields. There is a cement wall around the whole cemetery which Mr. Mermelstein, and a distant cousin of Mr. Smilow's plus some members of the Kimyater Society in NY paid for after the war, perhaps in the 1970's. He confirmed the location of the cemetery being "on a hill, on the right side of the town, running down a hill is the cemetery." The large stone in the center of the cemetery is the grave of Isadore Mermelstein's fathers'. On the left side of the cemetery is a little street.
Herman needed shoes. There were two leather stores, one in Vinogradov (Szollus) and one in Irshava. He rode his bicycle to Szollus to buy some leather. In order to make a purchase, you needed to have a certain card. But Jews were not permitted to have cards. Therefore you had to buy one on the black market. While returning home to Komjat, he was stopped by the police. They asked him where he purchased the leather. He said that he bought it from someone on the street. He did not want to tell the truth, that he really bought it from a Jewish merchant in Szollus. That was illegal and the merchant would lose his shop if they found out. The police questioned him and beat him for 9 hours. They tried to get a confession out of him. But, he wouldn't tell the truth. It took him two days to wake up from the beatings he took.
Returning to Komjat After the Holocaust
In Oct 1994, Herman went back to Magya Komjat. He was there for two hours during which time it was pouring down rain and very grey, just as miserable as he felt. He hardly recognized his home. It had been rebuilt to the taste of the people living there. Komjat was not crowded when he lived there. Today there are many homes. He noted that people in Komjat die at an earlier age than in America. When he went looking for some of his contemporaries, he found that they were no longer living. This was true for even people that were younger than him. His nextdoor neighbors, 2 sisters, were still alive. The people he met were children of people who were not married when he was living there. For example- he met a woman, Margeta Vasilove (her father was Vasil), who was a young girl of 9 when he lived there. While they were speaking he mentioned his name and that of his family members. Margeta's mother was a wet-nurse. Margeta recalled that her mother speaking of a women, Herman's mother, who had a boy baby that she nursed when the mother had to leave for a while. To find her home, go straight from the cemetery, about the same distance from the beginning of the town to the cemetery. She lives there, across from the where the Beit Midrasch is, near Joseph Grossmans' grandfather's home. There was a beautiful mill that was driven by water. When Herman visited, the river was dry and the mill was abandoned. He visited the courtyard in Big Komjat that contained the Shul, the Beit Midrash and the foundation of the shochet's home. The doors to both were locked. He was told that no one ever goes in these doors. It was late already, too late to find keys. Both are standing, as they were.
When he visitied the cemetery that day in 1994 there was only one recognizable stone, that of the father of Mr. Mermelstein. The others were lying down on the earth, toppled. It was difficult to read the stones, they were worn and chipped and the writing was in Yiddish-Hebrew. He could not find his grandparents stones. It was raining very hard. He went down the hill in the cemetery and said his prayers.

Jack (Zelmanovitz) Zelman

(Families mentioned- Zelmanovitz, Engerman, Weiss, Leibowich, Steinberg, Teitlebaum) 

From conversation between Jack Zelman and Roberta Solit, February 22,1998

Jack Zelman (nee Zelmanovitz) was born in Komjat in 1924. "My parents were first cousins, my mother was Florence Zelmanovitz and my father was an Engerman. Because they were first cousins, they were only recognized by Jewish law, not the other (Czeck). The children all have my mother's maiden name, Zelmanovitz. I've never told this to anyone, my son might not even know this. Joseph Gossman is a cousin of mine. My mother Florence and Joseph's mother Malvine, were sisters. Komyat had so much mud, and no electricity. We were very poor. I had no shoes. We did anything to make money. I used to bring dead people to the place where they prepared the bodies. I dug graves for pennies. We did anything we could. A meal was a piece of rye bread and salt. We stole food from other families.

One day I brought a chicken to the shoychet. The chicken ran away, I ran to get it and was late to class. This made the teacher, Rabbi Weiss, the shoychet, very upset and he hit me. We called him rabbi, but he probably wasn't really a rabbi. My father wanted me to cut the grass. My father was very strict and so was the Rabbi. Every year a new teacher came to Komjat. So, I was 9 years old, and I ran away from Komjat "to a big city". That city was Kiralyhaza, where 4 of my Zelmanovitz uncles lived. Moishe Zelmanovitz was a furniture and carpet maker who made a poor living. The other three, Shama, Elaizer and Shumlach were all bakers.

4 Zelmanvitz Brothers
Top - left to right- Smuel (Shumlach), Moishe
Bottom - left to right- Shammai (Shama), Laizer (Elaizer)
In Kiralyhaza I learned how to be a baker. I only returned to Komjat for Pesach and the other holidays, and I traveled there by bike. I was a very strong boy, I lifted 500 pounds. I had a friend in Komjat who was not Jewish, Dominick. I used to send him money and packages but I lost touch with him. His parents still live in Komjat. The rabbi in Kiralyhaza was Teitlebaum. He was a very rich man who left a lot of money. He was good to me, a very good friend. He died about 10 years ago (about 1988). The rabbi's wife was still alive (1998) and was about 12-15 years older than me.
In 1944 I ran away and was caught. I went to prison camp. He received no money for this, but he's not bitter.
I had many brothers and sisters in Komjat who died in the Holocaust, I do not even recall their names. My parents lived in Komjat until the Germans came. In 1944 I ran away but was caught and sent to prison camp. In 1945 I returned to Komjat, stayed a short time then in 1946 immigrated to the United States. I got married and was a baker. Now I can't work, my feet bother me. I changed my name from Zelmanowitch to Zelman after I came to America.
I told Jack that I visited Komjat recently. Jack said: My grandfather, grandmother, father, mother, and several brothers and sisters all died in Aushwitz, so there are no graves for me to look for in Komjat. The Germans destroyed the records and turned over the graves, so I never went back to Komjat again.
One of Jacks brother's and two sisters survived and live in America. Some Komjater's live in Israel, many are in Brooklyn.
My sister Zelda Leibovitz, she was the baby, lost her husband 2 years ago (1996). My sister Freida Steinberg is younger than me. Her husband is still living (1998). I had more siblings that were in the concentration camp with me but I don't remember.
My wife, Hannah Kirshner, was born in the U.S. We were married for 42 years. We have a son who's married, a daughter-in-law who is a good wife to my son and a good mother to my 3 grandchildren, one who is named after my wife. Hannah died 8 years ago (1990). I'm looking to move into a co-op.
"At 9 years old I ran away to Kiralyhaza because I didn't want to cut the grass. My parents had so many children they didn't worry when one ran away. In Europe the parents hit you and you never had time for a nervous breakdown."
I am a satisfied guy!

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