70 Hungarian postcards to the 70-year-old Israel
By Zsuzsa Shiri - 2018-02-21
Translated from the Hungarian original: Bea Sara Goll
The story of the wild cat of Széna tér, Gizella Einhorn, alias Liza Donkó, i.e., Erzsébet Donykó, that is Mrs. Károly Sáfrán, currently Tova Meir, is most unique; it is one of the most illuminating tales of the twentieth century.
At the age of fourteen, in 1942, Gizella Einhorn left Gánya in Transcarpathia for Budapest, to be close to her carpenter apprentice brother. She found a place to stay at the Israelite girls’ home in the Lónyai Street; from there she had to report to the forced labor plant of KISOK on a fatal day in the Fall of '44. At first she was put to work on the construction of the Ludovika garage, and there was a Swab – a fellow villager of hers from Transcarpathia – who supplied her with an ID card with a fake name, stamped by the Gestapo stamp, just in case she would have to go into hiding. He told her the name of his former Czech teacher, Elizabeta Donko, and told her that she was born in Kiev. She pocketed the card and forgot about it.
Later, she was taken to Kápolnásnyék Grófmajor to dig ditches as tank traps, where the young Jewish girls and the forced laborers who had also been brought there were at the mercy of the sadistic Volksbundist guards [members of the organization of German minorities in Hungary]. The
Front moved in and out of that area, and soon the Russians came. The guards forced the Jews to move on, but she hid in an attic in the hay with some of her companions. The Russians found them and a Soviet officer attempted to rape her. She desperately resisted, for she was most afraid that the officer would find out that she was not a virgin, since a guard had previously raped her. Her resistance infuriated the Russian so much that he shot her in the leg. The scar is still visible today. The Front continued to move; she was hiding and fleeing, this time alone, and the next time the Russians came for her, she had the sudden idea to take that fake identity card out of her pocket. She no longer wanted to be Jewish, especially after the aggressive Russian had threatened that after the Nazis it would be the Jews’ turn; to the last person, they would all be killed by the Soviet Army.
Thus, next time she said to the Russians that she was Elizabeta Donkova from Kiev. And from then on, she traveled with the Soviet soldiers to the front; she was their interpreter, because by the way, from Transcarpathia, her home, she also knew Ukrainian. She was taken to a military hospital in Pesterzsébet to work as an interpreter, where she talked a lot with the wounded soldiers and developed a perfect cover story. From the Kiev soldiers she learned which school she used to go to; she studied street names, invented everything she needed about Elizabeth - later calling herself Liza Donkó.
The wild cat of Széna tér
With a Russian soldier.
Unfortunately, a year or two after the war, the Soviets insisted that Liza return to Kiev and did not understand why she would want to stay in a strange place, Hungary. She became a daily guest at the KGB and at some point she just could not go on, she was given two days to pack.
She was afraid that everything about her would be found out in Kiev and that she would be sent to a Gulag. Her only escape route to stay in Budapest was getting married to a Hungarian. Despite the short time available, she successfully solved the problem and became Mrs. Károly Sáfrán the next day. Unfortunately, her husband she had met as a soldier at a dance hall took her to a village in Baranya, where he soon began to treat her abusively. She wanted a divorce, but this, too, was not so simple, she had to escape again. Finally, she could stand on her own feet in Pest, found a sublet and found a job at the city transit company Beszkart. She was a switch manager on Széna tér.
Photo from the 1950’s
October 23, 1956, she could tell that the Revolution broke out, judging from the general confusion of the trams’ arrivals, and shortly thereafter from a note found on her locker: “Dirty Ruski, go home.” She was very frightened that her runaround would resume and she turned to the revolutionary boss of the Széna tér, Uncle Szabó for protection. She offered her help, because if anybody, she really hated the Russians and the AVH guys [secret police after 1945]. They took her in. She enthusiastically organized guns, cooked lunch for the rebels; she fought as much as she could. The Wildcat name was given to her when she once spotted from far away that the AVHs were sitting in an ambulance and fired at them. They were indeed AVHs with weapons wrapped in bloody gauze, and Uncle Szabó said to her, "You’ve got eyes like a wildcat."
She finally felt at home and found comrades who accepted her even as a "Ruski." She had no inclination to leave Hungary, but after November 4 the mass emigration started, and her comrades eventually took her to Vienna and then to Brussels. In Belgium, Liza assisted a Hungarian Catholic priest in organizing the refugees of the Revolution and even found a serious boyfriend. In 1959, Liza was just getting settled when the priest somehow realized that something was off with her. She confessed to him that she was actually Jewish called Gizella Einhorn. With the help and advice of the priest, she began to search the Red Cross and the Sohnut for her relatives who may have survived and about whom she had not known anything since '44. And, to her greatest astonishment, her beloved carpenter apprentice brother had somehow survived and lived in Haifa.
She wrote to him as Liza Donkó to make sure he was indeed the Géza Einhorn. Then, leaving everything behind, she boarded a ship and did not stop until Haifa. She planned to stay for two weeks only, but after a couple of days she did not want to go back and so she stayed in Israel. It was not easy to prove her identity simply with witnesses, since she hadn’t had any papers. Fortunately, she and Géza looked very much alike and some other villagers living in Israel remembered her as well. They were subpoenaed to the court, where they recognized her and testified on her behalf, so that she could eventually become herself again.
Then she changed her name again because she married a music teacher from the kibbutz: Tova Meir became her name, and she became a kibbutznik. For decades she worked in the kibbutz hotel, because she knew a lot of languages being a native Transcarpathian, and she got along with all the tourists, whatever their nationality or religion.
With her husband they adopted and raised a baby boy, and her granddaughters are now listening to her fantastic stories. She remained silent about the roughest details until recently; she was ashamed of what had happened and also wanted to spare her audience. She only likes to remember the good stuff. Today, she still lives in the Ayelet HaSahar kibbutz near the Lebanese border, and she views the wonderful days of the '56 Revolution as the highlight of her life when she could fight for her beloved Hungary with her weapon; even today her eyes are tearing up when she recalls the favorite Hungarian songs of her youth.
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