Furst Brothers BRATIA FÜRST
Childhood in war
In the fall of 1938, when Shmuel attended second grade, the Germans marched into Vienna. That was the turning point in our lives. Persecution fell upon us children unexpectedly and suddenly.
The area we lived in was about to be annexed to Austria. All those who wished to remain in Czechoslovakia, had to cross the new line. They were given two weeks for packing and taking along whatever they could and wished to carry. At that crucial time, dad was not home. He was called up into the Czechoslovak army. The whole burden of transferring the house and the warehouse, as well as the entire family, fell upon our mom. In fact, there was no place to go to. Our family’s ordeal had begun.
Upon his return from the army, dad managed to find a new location for his plant. Heavily loaded convoys of farm carts and platforms, supplied by our parents’ friends, crossed the bridge and carried the timber and equipment to the city’s other end.
We moved to a relatively big house in Biely Kríž, a district of villas in the outskirts of the town called Dynamitka, whose name was derived from the “Dynamit Nobel” factory, one of many plants in the area, some of which carried German names like Siemens, Stollwerk, and more.
Dad and uncle Laci went on with their business in Bratislava. We entered elementary school in that district. While Shmuel continued second grade, I started first grade. Except of the transfer from our home, we have not yet sensed any extreme changes in our lives.
The year of 1940 did not seem to be extraordinary. Except of the necessity to adapt to a new neighborhood, new school and new friends, we did not face any special problems or phenomena of anti-Semitism. That state of affairs prevailed until the beginning of 1941.
The first indication of trouble was the wearing of the yellow star badge forced upon Jews. For some reason, we children were exempted from it. Going to school, we never wore the yellow badge, and knew nothing about the growing hostility to Jews. At that time, Slovakia still continued the pre-1938 democratic tradition of Czechoslovakia. Although Slovakia’s Jews kept going on vacation to various spas, and there was no sense of imminent disaster for Jews, we were already refugees.
The first shocking news for us children was the pronouncement that Jewish children can no longer attend public school. From that time and on, we had to take two trams in order to get to the Jewish school where children from all over the city came together. That meant that we had to bear the yellow badge. Within the Jewish school too, we felt that something bad and unusual was happening around us.
That was the aftermath of the collapse of Czechoslovakia, following the occupation of Bohemia and Moravia by Germany, and the declaration of Slovakia as an “independent” state, with a fascist regime that collaborated with Nazi Germany. The next step taken by the Slovaks was the confiscation of jewelry and other valuables fro Jews, who were also banned from owning radios. We have no idea how dad solved the problem of valuables, but we do remember that he handed the radio over to us and told us to play with it, take it apart and even put it on fire. That was fun, as we were fascinated by the radio’s interiors.
Bad news from Vienna on the fate of Jews began to reach us. According to rumors, “streams of Jewish blood flow in the streets of Vienna”, they were being humiliated and beaten, and forced to sweep the streets in town. However, Jews in Bratislava refused to acknowledge those rumors. They were convinced that such deeds of horror could not happen in their town, because “over there is Germany, and here is independent Slovakia”.
Within our household, we did not suffer from any scarcity. However, a new law was enforced: all Jewish businesses and properties must be turned over to gentiles. All of a sudden, a non-Jewish “Arizator”, Štefanovič, turned up. He said to my father: “From now on, I run the business, and you work for me.” For dad, that was like a thunder on a clear day. He was hit by a stroke, and part of his body was paralyzed. His illness caused serious concern in the family. Luckily, it was a light stroke, and except of harm in one of his eyes dad recovered from it completely.