During a Monday evening presentation at Congregation Shaarai Shomayim, Judy Stone showed a 2001 photo of her mother, Magdus, and Magdus’ sisters — Kati and Klara — talking around a table.
“One of my favorite pictures is of the sisters gossiping about (their other sister) Betty at my daughter’s bat mitzvah,” she said.
What’s remarkable isn’t that they were gossiping, it’s that they were alive. Three of the four sisters survived concentration camps in World War II. The fourth — Klara — managed to hide from the Nazis after being smuggled into Austria.
Stone is the author of “Resilience,” a book about her family’s strength and resilience. Not only did they survive Auschwitz and Dachau, they rebuilt their lives in the United States.
Stone is an infectious diseases physician and the daughter of Miki and Magdus Glattstein — Hungarian Jews. The book is based on years of research she collected about her family before, during and after the Holocaust.
What emerges is a rich history of family members who lived seminormal lives in eastern Hungary until March 1944, when the Nazis invaded and shipped thousands of Hungarian Jews to death camps.
Stone explained that while German Jews were rounded up in the early years of Adolf Hitler’s reign of terror, it wasn’t until Operation Margarethe — the Nazi occupation of Hungary in March 1944 — that Hungarian Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps. More than 500,000 Hungarian Jews — mostly from eastern Hungary — perished.
Sent to Auschwitz
Stone’s mother was sent to Auschwitz in 1944, only weeks after having given birth to a son. The 2-week-old child died before Magdus was transported to the concentration camp. Magdus’ sister, Kati, also was at Auschwitz. When told Magdus was in a different barracks, Kati asked to be placed with her sister. The transfer turned out to be a life-saver. The women housed in Kati’s former barracks were executed.
The Nazis put Betty in charge of welcoming Jews to Auschwitz. Her other job was to sort through their valuables after they had been sent to the gas chambers. That, Stone said, exacted a psychological toll on her aunt.
Stone’s father, Miki, and an uncle, Alex, were forced into heavy labor for the Nazis before being sent to Dachau.
Amid the horror, there were stories of grace and kindness —\!q an “Uncle Mike” who allowed Kati to hide under a bed, and a neighbor, Karoly, who risked his life by bringing food to the family.
After the war, the family reassembled, moved to this country and flourished. Their lives were not perfect — one aunt’s husband insisted that she never tell anyone she was Jewish — but they were able to build prosperous lives.
Among the success stories was that of her uncle, Alex. Denied the opportunity to become a mathematician as a youth because he was Jewish, he came to this country, earned his degree and became an engineer/senior analyst for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. His career was so renowned that the Los Angeles Times devoted a story to his life when he retired in 1990 at the age of 75.
Today, Stone and Kati, who recently turned 95, educate groups about the Holocaust. They warn that the events of today — hypernationalism, anti-Semitism and restrictions on legal immigration — are eerily similar to events that took place in Germany in the 1930s.
When asked if she is optimistic about America’s future as a tolerant, pluralistic society, she shook her head.
“No,” she said, “I’m very fearful.”