The Hidden Box
By Moshe Katz

June 2, 2013

Our cousin Klara (Klari) Klein passed away just recently, her husband Steve, (Zoltan) passed away about a year ago. They were both wonderful people who will surely be missed.

They were survivors of the Shoah (the catastrophe), the Churban, (the Destruction), the Holocaust.

How does one cope with such a tragedy? For each Witness (survivor) there is a different story, a different defense. Some survivors have retreated into the safe zone of their minds and have lived in "Insane Asylums" since the war. Others live on medication. Others denied their Jewishness so that their next generation would not suffer the fate they suffered for the crime of being born a Jew. And some just lived semi-normal lives.

I say semi-normal because no one emerged in tact. No one!

There is not a one who does not have the nightmares, the panic attacks, the fears that never go away.

A friend, a guest, a student from Germany told me that some of her German friends, young people born after the war, question why "Jews still receive reparations from the German government, when will it end?"

It will never end, not for those who walked out of the camps, the forest and the ghettos. It will never end.

I explained that there are no "normal" survivors.  All they receive is a small allowance to pay for their medications, to cover some few expenses, to live out their sad lives with a modicum of human dignity, something they did not have when they were the guests of the Third Reich.

I explained to my dear sweet friend; you can never pay for the loss of family, you can never compensate a Survivor for the loss of his parents and his eight siblings. He is not even asking for his family assets; their home or factory, or business that was "Aryrannized" and never returned. No, the reparations do not even begin to address those issues. All we ask for, demand, is a minor pension, to help ease the suffering.  

My German friend understood.

So Klara passed on, away from this harsh life and left two adult children, my cousins.

For years cousin Steve, Zoltan, insisted that nothing had survived from the war, no photographs, nothing from the family, all gone. But he had a little secret which he shared with no one, not even his own immediate family.

His daughters found his secret, a strong box, hidden in the garage. Sadly it was badly damaged during a fire a few years ago, but still, it contains a treasure.

What was in this strong box, hidden for so many many years? Even Klara did not know of its existence. My brother in LA sent me an e mail this morning. He had to talk. The box contained the memories of our family, our family that was murdered by the Nazis.

Steve came from Hungary, as did my grandfather Rabbi Isaac Klein. We knew that before the war Steve had been married to Piri. Piri was the older sister of cousin Elza whom we knew quite well. (Marriages between cousins was common in Europe). Elza lived in Israel and was never quite well. She suffered from paralyzing fear.This fear she has passed on to her children.

Elza's husband, Yaakov, him too a Witness/Survivor, was always prepared. He slept with a packed suitcase under his bed. He recalled that when the Nazis came they gave the Jews only a short time to pack for the "trip". Apparently he did not feel ready, so this time – he would be ready. For the rest of his life he slept with his suitcase under his bed so when the Nazis came again – he would be ready.

He died from a heart attack at the bus stop, waiting for the bus that took him to his job at a factory in Israel. He was wearing the same winter coat that he brought with him from Europe.

So Elza was the younger sister of Piri. Piri was a real beauty, so we were told, but she was murdered. After the war Zoltan married Klara, came to America, became Steve.

And the past lay buried…

Until now.

My brother said he must speak with me. He described the pain. They found photos, two little girls, two little Angels. But the pictures could not tell a lie, they looked just like so many of our family, the same faces, the same features. And these two little girls were in so many many photographs with Steve and Piri. To this day we have not been able to identify them. 

My brother kept saying, "Such beautiful girls, murdered, murdered! Murdered!!!!  We can never forgive and we can never forget.

There were so many family photos, and my brother kept saying, "everyone looked so happy, photos of Steve as a young man on a farm, family members drinking coffee and relaxing in Hungary."

But they are all gone.

The family features leave no doubt, these were our family members. But we do not know their names. Murdered!

Such happy times before the war, such a happy family.

And then, another great discovery, a letter from Fort Knox, 1951, from I. Klein.

Who was this? It was Isaac Klein, my grandfather, who served faithfully with the US Army, even after the war. And what did this envelope contain? Photos.

The photos were wedding pictures.  It was the wedding of Zoltan and Piri in Hungary. The photos were sent to my grandfather by his older brother, Uncle Bumi (Abraham).

Uncle Bumi was not able to leave Hungary on time with the part of the family that was heading to America. He stayed in Europe, he was murdered by the Nazis. May God avenge his death.

And those two little girls, we don't even know their names yet. They are smiling at us from the past, from their happy idyllic childhood. Murdered!

1.5 million Jewish children were murdered by the Nazis; the Germans, the Poles, the Ukrainians, the Lithuanians, Belorussians, the Latvians, and by so many many others. But 1.5 is a number, it is a very large number but it is still a number. But those faces…

I have not seen the photos yet. I hope and I pray that I can see them. I hope our cousins make them available to us to see. I want to see my family!

But I see them in my mind, I can see them, and I accuse! I point an accusing finger at the world and I accuse, how could you! How could you murder my cousins, how could you murder so many people, and we still use the term "The Civilized World".

Letters were found, sadly, badly burnt for the most part. The letters were very numerous, between Zoltan and his first wife. He kept these letters, he still loved her.

All this was kept in Steve's secret box, his strong box, hidden in the garage in California, far from the Nazis. And in this box they lived, in this boxed they still lived; the beautiful young girls, the loving wife, the happy family on the farm and at the café.

Maybe now they will know some peace, maybe…

Note: July 2017. After much research we have figured out who these two girls were. One was Piri, who was killed, the other was Elza who survived. But most of the extended family was wiped out and the pain is still real. In more than one case I have heard family stories about mothers who had the option of separating from their young children and being chosen to work. In all cases they chose to march into the gas chambers rather than abandon their young innocent children. Sometimes we have the details wrong but the picture is the same: unspeakable pain and horror that is passed on to the next generation. I have young cousins who are still suffering from this trauma. From many ...the war has never ended.