Where is mother? | Trude Silman 

Trude's father Adolf

Trude's mother Elsa

 

On the morning of the15th of March 1939, Nazi Germany marched into Czechoslovakia and the persecution of its Jews began.

My parents feared for the lives of their three children and did everything in their power to get them to England and save them from certain death. The first to leave was my sister, aged 14, who was going to stay with a family in London. Then it was my turn. On the morning of the 28th of March 1939, my parents bundled me (aged 9) into a taxi where my aunt and her daughter (aged 5) were already waiting. We three were to travel to Vienna to catch the train to London. My aunt was going into service and I was going to Wallsend on Tyne to an English family who were going to look after me till my family would once again be reunited.   I remember almost nothing of this heart-wrenching farewell. Did I cry? Did I hug my parents? I do not know as the deep hurt has stifled these memories. My brother was the last to leave home.  He was already 18 years old and to be granted an entry visa to the UK had to have a guaranteed job to go to. He left home at the end of May 1939 and came to London to work at a manufacturing furrier.  Now we three children were safe in England but apart. We never lived together again as a family.

War was declared in September 1939. The years rolled by and there was no news of or from my parents. After six dreadful years the war ended and Europe was in turmoil, but at least the conflict was over. Would our parents be alive?  Late in 1945 I learned that my father had been murdered in Auschwitz in early 1942, but there was no information about my mother's fate.

Since I left Bratislava in 1939, all I had of my mother were memories. The image that never leaves me is of a tall, slim woman fashionably dressed with short bobbed jet black hair, deep brown eyes and a faint sad smile. Mother was born on 11th February 1899 in Martin, a small town in the Austrian Hungarian Empire. She grew into an elegant and accomplished young woman and married my father in 1920. She spoke four languages, played the piano well, was an excellent cook, hostess, homemaker, wife and above all a wonderful and caring mother. But what had become of her?

I had evidence that she was still alive in 1942 from a couple of Red Cross letters she had written to us, but after that there was silence. All my enquiries drew blanks. Out of the blue, sixty years later, some information surfaced. I had given an interview, which was videoed and while it was being edited someone in the room thought that possibly she had been in hiding for two weeks with my mother in Slovakia in the autumn of 1944. After some research it proved to be a false trail.

My brother died in 2005. While we were going through his papers, three letters came to light: two written by my father in April 1942 just before he was deported and a third from a friend of my mother dated January 1947. I had never seen any of them. Why did my brother not show them to me? Was he protecting me? I shall never know.

Mother's friend wrote a most poignant letter, not only about my mother but also about the tragedies that had befallen her own family during the war years. It gave some details about mother's life till the spring of 1945 but again left the question in the air how, when and where did she die? Some of the information that came to light was that after we three children left home, our parents divorced in 1940 and mother went to live with her mother, our grandmother (who was deported and killed in Auschwitz in 1942). In 1942 mother was baptised into the Evangelical church with the erroneous belief that being baptised would protect her from persecution. Similarly it was thought safer to be married than single, as this could possibly delay deportation to the concentration camps. So after her mother's deportation she married her second husband (who was 23 years her senior) in 1942 and they went to live near her friend, whom she visited frequently.

In the autumn of 1944 the Slovak Uprising started and the Nazis reacted by mounting a large purge of the remaining 20,000 Jews (8000 legalIy and 12,000 in hiding) still in Slovakia. The period between October 1944 and the end of the war in Europe in May 1945 has been documented as being a time when the Germans and their allies carried out mass shootings of Jews in Slovakia and where it is now known that 200 mass graves are located.

Mother and her husband moved to another town they considered to be safer. After their move, mother's friend lost direct contact with her although some other friends had reported seeing her till early 1945. Then again nothing!

Sadly, I came to the conclusion that my mother and stepfather must be in one of these mass graves and I would never know what became of them. Without witnesses it is impossible to identify those who are buried in a mass grave.

Then, unexpectedly in 2008, I received copies of documents from the International Tracing Service in Arolsen, which showed that mother and my stepfather (Ludovit  Pasztor) were  taken to Sered, a camp near Bratislava, on 16th December 1944.  My stepfather was then transported to Sachsenhausen, where he died on 27th December 1944. About mother there were no further entries. I have tried to find her by looking at the records of Terezin, Sachsenhausen and Ravensbruck concentration camps but there was nothing.

So what became of my mother? However painful it would be to find out her terrible fate, it is even more painful not knowing her last resting place. 

Just before Christmas 2009, a friend of mine was searching the Yad Vashem database and saw a list of names of 39 women who had died on a Death March in 1945 and he thought that one name, Ilse Pasztor, could possibly be a misspelling of my mother's name. There were no details for identification and all the report stated that these women had been on a Women's Death March and that 39 women had been buried in the cemetery in Volary in Czechoslovakia. I shall now start researching this clue and hope that it will lead to my mother, and possibly give me the closure of her sad life.

I contacted the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington to help with my search and recently received details of six people who were survivors of that Death March and an American soldier who was involved in the finding of the mass grave (and reburial of these women in individual graves) and the women who were still alive when liberating that area of Czechoslovakia in 1945.  I know that it is like looking for "a needle in a haystack", but there is a slight chance that one of these six people may have come into contact with the person whose name is very similar to my mother's. If I am lucky someone may have the details to verify that Ilse Pasztor from the list could be mother. The search continues.

In September 2005 I visited Auschwitz and surrounded by reminders of the cruelty and brutality meted out to innocent people. I found myself alone, standing on the infamous railway track in brilliant sunshine, the only sound that of birds singing. I felt enveloped by a deep sense of quiet and peace, which at last let me face up to my father's cruel and untimely death. His ashes with those of millions were in the lake and soil of Auschwitz. My father and all the victims of the Holocaust will never be forgotten!

I have laid my father to rest in peace in my heart and still hope that in due course I will find my mother and put her to rest too.

Trude in 2010, copyright Paul Banks