March 12, 2021
Survivor Portraits – Vera Kertesz
This month we tell the story of the late Holocaust survivor Vera Kertesz. Vera was born in 1933 in Kosice, Czechoslovakia.
She was the only child in a happy family. She had many cousins to play with, lived in a beautiful house, and encountered no antisemitism. Vera was 6 years old when the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia. From then on, she had to wear the yellow Star of David, and was mocked by other schoolchildren. It was all particularly traumatic for her, because they had been her daily playmates before the war.
As a safety measure, Vera’s parents converted to Greek Orthodox and put her in a Greek Orthodox orphanage. Though safe, she feared that she would never see her parents again. Many of her family members were deported to concentration camps.
When she was ten, Vera’s mother took her to Budapest. Still hiding from the Nazis, they moved frequently to avoid the gaze of suspicious neighbours.
Vera’s mother put a patch on Vera’s eye and pretended that her child could not speak. She kept up this ruse until Vera had learned Hungarian sufficiently to begin communicating.
Vera explained, “My name and ‘relationship’ to my parents changed often, depending on what papers we could obtain. Once, my father walked in the door and I said, ‘Father, father, you’re back!’ and my mother interjected loudly, saying, ‘No! It’s uncle, uncle!'”
After liberation, Vera and her parents went back to Slovakia in search of surviving relatives. They soon learned that there were none remaining. Many Slovaks were still pro-Fascist and antisemitic, and Vera remembered a ‘mini-pogrom’ organised by the locals. The year 1948 witnessed the closing of borders — no one was allowed to leave. Vera attended a Russian high school, and afterwards studied medicine at the university in Prague.
In 1957, she married. Vera moved to Australia with her husband and two children in 1969. It was only in Australia that she started talking about her experiences during the war. She said, “I want my children, and their children, to know what we went through, and how fragile freedom is.”
In this photograph, Vera holds a framed photo of her parents in 1948/49 when she was 16 years old. If her parents had had more children, Vera believes that the family would not have survived.
Read more of Vera’s story of survival and resilience on our blog.
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.