Survivor STORY

Eva Dukesz Friedlander was born in Budapest in 1921 to Margaret and Geza Duksz. Eva’s mother was a celebrated actress and her father was a civil engineer. Eva remembers her parents as both highly educated and sophisticated people. Eva’s parents separated when she was a teenager, before Germany invaded Hungary, and Eva did a year’s study in a secretarial school so that she could get a secretarial job to help keep her mother and herself afloat financially. Even though Eva had to drop out of high school to start working, she was able to at least continue her education in the areas of art and literature when her mother arranged to have her spend occasional afternoons with the wife of one of the prominent journalists in Hungary, who took her under her wing.

After Nazi sympathizers and the Germans and came to power in Hungary, Eva and her mother went into hiding with false papers from friends who were working with the Underground. Eva’s mother, Margaret, became a live-in nanny with a family and Eva dyed her blonde hair brown and moved from Buda across the river to Pest. At first, she and a friend pretended to be newlyweds (he as a Hungarian officer), but when neighbors started asking questions, they separated and Eva found work as a secretary in a small office.

Near the end of the war, Eva and her mother reunited and hid with a small group of people in an the basement of an abandoned villa on the Buda side. They were liberated by Russian troops, who proceeded to loot, plunder and rape throughout Budapest.

Eva and her mother returned to their apartment, which had also been looted, but they were able to reclaim it and clean it up. Eva and her mother opened a small secretarial office. Eva’s father had been deported and did not return. Despite all the years of trying to discover his fate, even with the recent opening of archives in Eastern Europe, Eva has not been able to determine where and when he died.

In 1947, Eva met her future husband, George Friedlander, a survivor of two forced labor camps. Eva describes him as “a very good-looking, into-life individual. Lots of fun, lots of unexpected pranks and sense of humor and, a little bit of a playboy, but at the same time a very serious man and very intelligent, extremely resourceful.” George had been educated in Italy and after the war received the assignment from the Italian government to help repatriate Italian prisoners of war and citizens who were stuck in Hungary. George put announcements in the papers offering to help Italian citizens return home, which caught the attention of the Secret Police, and he was arrested and detained for several weeks, until his father was able to have him released due to a hefty bribe. George decided to return to Italy after his release, and Eva went with him.

In Italy, George became an assistant to a Nobel-prize winning professor who was conducting research for the Italian government on penicillin production, and Eva was offered a position with the American Joint Distribution Committee, which was trying to resettle survivors who were in refugee camps in Italy.

In 1950, the couple decided to emigrate to America, to Atlanta, where George became part of a research team in the Biochemistry Department at Emory, and he later started his own chemical company. Eva was immediately hired at Rich’s Department Store in the antiques and connoisseur gallery as an assistant buyer, and she remains actively involved in an antiques dealership. Eva’s mother eventually joined them in Atlanta, where she spent her remaining years. The Friedlanders have two children, Lewis and Lynne.

Liberation

Well, when we were staying in this cellar with these other people who were trying to hide and stick it out there, there was a person with a radio, and it sounded like things were coming down and it was safe to come out. But during that week, you know, there were, you know, numerous bombardments and houses crumbled all around us. We were running out of food, and on one occasion, myself and my mother and a couple of those other people that we were hiding with decided that we were going to venture out to see if we could find some food. And we were roaming around, and there was a store that was already broken into long ago. But they had some leftover little cans and supplies that we just took. And somebody had a little, what you call, cistern or something in that basement so we could heat up a couple cans of something. There was a dead horse; it was very cold because it was still wintertime when all of this was going on. And there was a dead horse in a neighboring street, and one of the men in this group said we’re going to try to cut up some meat and take it back and try to cook it, which we did. So that helped a little bit. Those were the final days before the liberation. But we experienced the liberation, of course, by the Russians, who unfortunately were not very merciful about the first few days where they were allowed to loot. In fact, the first group that came in that cellar, that looked around, they asked for watches. And they already had a bunch of watches on their arms because that’s what they were looking for, alcohol, they were taking people’s cologne and drinking it, and looking for wine and whiskey or whatever. And, they were also looking for girls. And this one Russian, with the bushy hair and that fur cap, grabbed my hand and started taking me out toward the steps to go up from the basement, up to the street. And my mother, who was sitting next me, knew immediately what was going to happen. So she ran after me and this soldier, who was dragging me. And my mother started screaming and carrying on in Hungarian – she didn’t speak any Russian – and, for some strange reason, after 50, 20 steps, he let me go. And we never found out whether he got scared that it caused too much commotion or, or he decided that he didn’t want any of this thing. But my mother was very brave and just followed and yelled and screamed, “Let my daughter go! Let my daughter go!” And he let me go. So we went back. And a day or two after that, things were clearing and everybody dispersed and everybody went their own way. But that was a very close call and a very threatening one, and my mother acted so bravely.

Atlanta

Well, since we traveled so much in Europe, and George was educated in Italy, and we had friends in Spain and France – my uncle on my mother’s side lived in France - when we first came to Atlanta, it was quite a surprise. We knew about Atlanta through magazines and books, Gone With The Wind and all of that. But it was a little bit of a letdown because I expected a huge, busy metropolis, and in those days Atlanta was a big country town, more or less. In fact, this is an old story that goes in my family that, when we boarded a train in New Orleans – when they shipped us off to Atlanta, we came by train – and at the train station, we hired a cab because they told us to stay in a hotel which the Jewish Federation used. Frequently they had cheap rates for people who were newcomers to try and stay a few days over. And this hotel was on Ponce de Leon, and pretty much a rundown place but it was heavenly for us because we didn’t have much rest and sleep, so we slept 12 hours. But on the way to this hotel with this cab driver, I kept looking out to see how the city looked. And I said to the driver, “When do we get to the city?” And he turned around and looked at me, “You are in the city!” And I said, “Oh, OK.”

Explore themes found in this biography:

Eva Dukesz Friedlander