Survivor Portraits – Peter Gyenes

This month we introduce Holocaust survivor, Peter Gyenes. Peter was born in 1941 in Budapest, Hungary. His story highlights the power of kindness and compassion.

In April 1942, when Peter was 11 months old, his father was taken to a forced labour camp. That was the last time that Peter saw him. At the time, Peter and his mother still had hope.

Peter’s father’s Labour battalion was sent to help the Hungarian army fighting alongside the Germans on the Russian front, sometime during the second half of 1942. His father was killed in February 1943 while clearing minefields in Russia. He was 35 years old.

Although there were many restrictions placed on Hungarian Jews, until German troops occupied Hungary in March 1944, Peter and his mother were able to live a relatively quiet and peaceful life. Their situation rapidly changed for the worse after the German invasion.

In the middle of June 1944, the apartment block where Peter’s grandparents were living was defined by the authorities as a “Yellow Star” house. At the end of June 1944, Peter and his mother had to move in with his grandparents and aunt. At this time, all Budapest Jews had to live within a Yellow Star house.

Like many middle-class families at the time, Peter’s grandparents had a housekeeper; a Christian lady, Aunty Ann. Aunty Ann hid Peter and his family on a small property on the outskirts of Budapest, which belonged to her husband’s parents.

One night in late September 1944, the family escaped from their apartment with the help of Peter’s grandfather’s old office contacts. They were moved into the washhouse, behind the house of their housekeeper’s relatives. They were not allowed to leave this washhouse and were fed and helped in many other ways by their housekeeper’s relatives.

When the Soviet Army liberated the eastern side of Budapest in January 1945, including the area where Peter and his family were hiding, they were allowed to move into one of the rooms in the main house. They stayed here until March 1945, when they were able to return to Peter’s grandparent’s apartment.

Photograph of Holocaust survivor Peter Gyenes

Peter recounts:

“Our housekeeper, her family and even people we hardly knew helped us to survive. I have a feeling that somehow, they all thought what they did was their duty and they simply didn’t comprehend the sheer enormity of their deed. Today I realise the extreme bravery of it. They saved the whole family of ours from awful suffering or worse.”

In 1972 Peter immigrated to New Zealand and then moved to Australia in 1978.

To read more from our Survivor Portraits blog series, click here.

To explore the personal stories and anecdotes of Holocaust survivors, click here for our first online exhibition.

Photograph by Katherine Griffiths.

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