Survivor's story: 'I cried when I could not return to school'


Budapest-born John Dobai, 78, was raised as a Catholic after his Jewish parents converted following the rise of the Nazis. In 1941, his father was summoned for army service when Hungary allied with Germany but was sent for slave labour because of his Jewish origins. The family later managed to move into a Budapest “safe house” marked as Swedish territory until they were liberated by the Russian army in 1945. He moved to England at the age of 14, studied chemistry at university and worked in research and development for a multinational chemical company

“My parents did not practise any religion,” he recalls. “What they did was out of convenience because it would decrease the risk of persecution. In the end, that wasn’t true — all four of my grandparents were Jewish and so we were considered the same under the Nuremberg Laws. Before the Nazis came to power, living in Hungary was marvellous. The dark times came when my father was called for slave labour and we didn’t see him for two-and-a-half years. One incident marked the break from happy to unhappy times. In March 1934, I met a classmate during half-term and asked him if he was looking forward to going back to school. He told me I wouldn’t return to school because his father said I was a ‘dirty stinking Jew’. My mother told me it was true and I wouldn’t return, so I cried for an hour or two.”

Two aunts and a cousin died at Auschwitz. “More than 10 years ago, another cousin and I promised each other that we would talk about our experiences for as long as we can. I have an obligation to do so. What happened must not be forgotten. “

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