My friend John Chillag | Trude Silman 

 

 

 Trude in 2010, copyright Paul Banks

John Chillag in 2008 

 

 

I knew John for about 15 years and very early on realised that he was a most exceptional man with great moral strength and determination.  The hardships that he had endured and survived had honed him and made him this gentle giant of a man.  

John had endured the greatest horrors of the 20th century, the Holocaust.  He suffered the brutality and indignity of slave labour, lost his entire family and had his education disrupted and curtailed. After the end of the war he returned to Hungary but found it impossible to restart his life under communist rule.  John then escaped via Slovakia to Austria, where he experienced the depressing situation of a displaced person and eventually obtaining his papers to go to Australia, where with courage and diligence he was able to start a new life, marry and have a family, two sons, a daughter and eventually grandchildren.

In 1996 John joined the HSFA and became one of its most active members and major fundraiser through the multitude of talks he gave in schools and many other institutions both in the UK and abroad. John worked tirelessly for the association as secretary, education advisor, speaker and latterly as an Honorary Life President.  He had a huge fund of knowledge of the Holocaust and its teaching.  Since his retirement he had spent his time and energy dedicated to education to combat injustice and the remembrance of Holocaust in the hope that learning from the past would create a better future. 

I want to continue on a more personal note and explain my very special relationship with John.

Many of us who were uprooted from the European mainland, lost our families due to Nazi persecution and settled in England, rarely if ever met another survivor and felt isolated to some extent as the indigenous population had not shared our experiences and found it hard to understand us and possibly even thought us strange.   

When the HSFA was formed in 1996 we found ourselves among a group of people with whom we could share our past and be understood.  This helped to ease our isolation and at long last we were able to tell our stories, which had been repressed for so long.  Most of the HSFA members are of German or Austrian origin and there were only three of us, namely John, Eugene Black and myself, who had close association with the Austro-Hungarian Empire, from which Czechoslovakia and Hungary were created after the First World War. This in itself created a bond, however John and I had much of our childhood in common.  My immediate and extended family lived in Bratislava, Vienna and Budapest.  John's father left Budapest as a political refugee in the 1920s to live in Vienna, returning to Gyor (which is half way between Bratislava and Budapest) in Hungary in 1934 to work as an accountant in the family builders merchant business.  John's mother came from Dunajska Streda (25 miles south of Bratislava, my home town) and John's uncle owned the ferries, which were used to cross the Danube in Bratislava. My maternal grandparents also had a builders merchants and ironmongers business. All these similarities brought us close together but his understanding of and empathy for the loss of my father, many other family members in Auschwitz and the disappearance of my mother were a great comfort to me. He gave me advice and help in trying to find out what had happened to my mother, for whom I am still searching.

The memory of John's kindness and understanding will remain with me for always. The John I knew and will always remember was a very private person, humble and compassionate with a droll sense of humour.  He was a man with an immense intellect, many skills and worked ceaselessly for what he believed to be right.  He took his responsibilities both for his beloved family and the greater family of man most seriously.

It was really important to us both that the HSFA should leave a legacy of Holocaust testimony and apply it for education and research of future generations. John had an enduring dream that at some time in the future there will be a world free from conflict and justice and peace will reign. I want to say how proud and grateful I am that I had the opportunity to have such a friend who has made a large impact for the propagation of peace and justice to all who knew and heard him.