“My parents came from a strictly orthodox family. In their generation, certain progress was already visible. One example for all: the Jews would close their shops on Saturday. But not my father. He was always telling his friends that he was not there, that only his employees were working in the shop on Saturdays. And the orthodox ones would come and look if it was true that he was not inside. One day my father found the shopping window dirtied with spit. He wiped it off, but the following days it happened as well. So he went to a police station to report that someone was spitting on his shop window and he had to clean it every morning. And the police caught one pious Jew, who had been spitting on my father’s shop because it was open on Saturdays. My father asked the police officer what fine that man had to pay. They told him what the amount demanded for bail was. My father paid it for him and the man was released.”
“The organization functioned by groups of three people, one was always in contact with three other persons. These small cells were supposed to prevent the disclosure of this illegal organization. We were posting antifascist pamphlets. I think it was the communists who were organizing it. A friend of mine talked me into it. I was then ordered to go to Hashomer Hacair, which was a leftist Zionist organization and my task was getting the young people to join these cells. But somehow the whole plan became divulged and my contact person got arrested. I came home and confessed everything to my parents. I told them I was involved in it and that all suspicious materials must go out of the house because he might disclose us. So my parents searched the house for all the documents they could find and they sent me away from home, but luckily that person did not reveal anything and nothing happened to me. But the whole organization ceased to exist and so I remained in Hashomer Hacair.”
“They brought a doctor, he put my broken leg in a plaster. But as I continued with my flight, the plaster softened and my leg was then supported only by two splinters. Since that time one of my legs is shorter. The following journey was a very long one. One farmer was hiding me and when the Germans came to the village, Gabi carried me on horseback to one cottage high in the mountains where the partisans lived. The Germans attacked us there at night and were shooting at us from cannons. They actually dispersed this partisan unit that night. With crutches I crossed the mountains to escape them. Afterwards, I was hidden in one village. One day the Germans came to the area looking for Jews. They found several of them and arrested them. At night, the man who was hiding me brought me to the mayor of the village and told him: ´Do whatever you like with him. I don’t want him anymore, it’s too dangerous.´ That night a Soviet espionage unit was passing through the village, spying behind the German lines. The group entered the house. Their commander looked at me and asked me whether I was a Jew. For he himself was a Jew. He took out everything he had, canned food, etc., and laid it in front of me. He asked me what I was doing there, so I told him everything. I also told him that the villagers were just deciding whether to denounce me or not. At this moment, he turned to them and warned them: ´We are leaving, but I am coming back here. If something happens to this boy here, you will see what I will do to you afterwards.´ So the villagers decided that they would hide me in a Gypsy community. My leg was still bad, so they lifted me on a horse and led me to a Gypsy settlement nearby. The next morning, the Gypsy to whom they brought me tells me that he needed to get me out of the village because the Germans were going to cut them. For the Germans would always cut the half of their head, and they also persecuted the Gypsies. So they carried me to another village and put me in some barn and left me there. I was discovered by a good-hearted Slovak girl, about seventeen years old, who started bringing me food and milk. My friends later found me in that barn when they descended from the mountains and began looking for me. They took me to the mountains again where we were hiding together with the other two Jewish families. It was high up in the mountains where nobody goes. From time to time one of us would go down to the village to bring supplies and this is how we survived.”
“The gates opened. Imagine thousands of people walking on the street and not knowing where. The Germans caught them, but some managed to hide. Thanks to his position in the camp, my father had some contacts for the supplies, etc. in the camp’s vicinity. He had been preparing a hideout beforehand. He hid with a farmers´ family. They found him a place in a barn; my mother and sister were also hiding there. It was still many months to go till the end of the war, and one day the farmer told my father that he was a great danger for them, and that he would have to ask for money for hiding them. My father had no money left, so he gave the farmer a letter addressed to one of his friends, telling him about the problem and the lack of money. This friend was a Czech citizen, who lived in Slovakia and had a shop right next to my father’s Stocking Palace. I believe his name was Páral, and he really did give my father the money. He paid it for him. Before the end of the war, this Páral committed suicide. We do not know why. It is possible that he had been plotting against the Germans, and he was afraid that someone would denounce him, so he took his life. But by all means, this act of a non-Jewish Czech has saved my father’s life.”
“In 1943 the conditions in the camp changed to that extent that they began a production of furniture in the camp; a goldsmith business was also opened. The Slovaks wanted to utilize the camp for cheap production; for instance, uniforms for the army were made there. During one period of time, the rules allowed you to leave the camp only with a permit. But then there were periods when the situation was not so good. We had to work a lot and stay only in the barracks. The guards were very rough. Part of them were essentially evil. There was one who always found some way to cause harm to the Jews. His name was Cingel. The name of the camp commander during the bad period was Vozár, he was wicked too. Then there was commander Vašina, who was bad at the beginning, but then he tried to make the life in the camp more bearable. But after the war he was also sentenced. He got a severe penalty for collaboration with the Germans. His being ´nice´ was only part of his tactics: ´Now they are going to work, so one has to create such conditions to enable them to work.”
“The young people in Hashomer Hacair formed a sort of high-level group. One of them is a doctor today, another an engineer, another worked in Vienna as an architect. We felt that we should study further. We created a group, in Hebrew called ´chuk.´ Each of us would take upon one subject, in which he thought he excelled, and he would give lectures to the others. Each of us used a textbook to prepare the lesson. One taught mathematics, another literary history, another history... We would meet every day for an hour or two. Each of us lectured on a certain topic and we felt very happy about it.”
“We spent a short time in a kibbutz, but we left it due to an ideological dispute. They asked me: ´How come you don’t believe in Stalin? Don’t you believe that communism will secure peace for the whole world?´ I replied that the future war will be between China and Russia. In kibbutz there was a principle ´a collective of opinions.´ Meaning the opinion should be uniform. There can be discussion, but the principal idea should be uniform. I told them that in my opinion the greatest value of all was freedom and that where there was no freedom, there was no progress.”
“We already knew. But I don’t remember whether we all already knew about it. I knew it because I had met the group from the Vilno ghetto. This group was a part of the ghetto resistance movement and during the ghetto’s liquidation they managed to hide in the sewage system and escape to Slovakia. They were also the members of Hashomer Hacair. We met near Liptovský Mikuláš, where thy spent the night. Benito Rosenberg, one of the Hashomer Hacair activists from Prešov, got with them illegally to Romania and from there to Palestine while the war was still going on. These people told us what was happening. Leaders in Terezín also knew it. Among them was one Beck, who survived and who now lives in Italy. They asked him why he had not told all this to the people when he already knew everything from Lederer. He answered that had he said it to them, it would have been even worse. It would only cause panic and it would not help anything. It is very difficult to judge it. But I think that if those who had died during the holocaust could speak, they would have spoken differently than those who were saved. For example, the Jewish leaders in Terezín were deciding who would or would not go to the transport. And it already began here: ´Why have you sent me and not your own relative?´ It is a terrible feeling to know that we who have stayed alive, have stayed alive in place of somebody who died. The Germans ordered: ´We want one thousand people, give them to us.´ The leaders said you were important, and so you stayed instead of somebody else who was sent. It is a difficult problem.”
“We dressed as workers and went to the village where there was an SS unit that was to fight the partisans. Their task was also to search for the Jews. So we decided to act. We found out where the SS commander resided. He lived across the street from a photo studio. So we went to the photographer’s, had our pictures taken and waited there. When the commander finally left the house, we shot him and started to run. We ran through a large garden and over a fence. As I jumped, I broke my leg. With the broken leg I kept running till the bone broke completely. I shouted: ´Gabi, I’m hurt!´ I thought I was shot in my leg. He stopped and he must have been struggling with his conscience: ´Should I run on and leave him here, or should I help him somehow?´ He really was a very strong man, he lifted me on his back and ran with me. When a car passed by, he pulled out a revolver and ordered the driver to turn around and so we escaped.”
“The German SS officers came to liquidate the camp. They gathered all the people and Hanslian walked through them and moved some of them to the left side and some to the right side. Those on the right side went to Auschwitz. Those on the left stayed in the camp. These were either some professionals or good workers and the SS men thought they might find some use of them or send them later. I was placed on the side which was to go to Auschwitz. My daddy, being the head of the Jewish council, stood there with those SS men. He could not intervene, but he knew this Hanslian well. When he passed by him, father told him: ´Herr Hanslian, um Gottes willen, mein Sohn! - For God’s sake, my son!´ Hanslian already knew me, so he walked between the rows of people once again, pointed to me and said: ´Du Idiot, ich habe dir gesagt dort!´ – and this has saved my life.”
“The Slovak management did not organize the work in factories or supplies of food. This was all managed by the Jewish council. The Slovaks´ task was not to run the camp but to issue orders, what is allowed and what is not, to restrict and to permit. Shopping for groceries, running the canteen, for instance, things like this were organized by the Jewish council. The Slovak guards´ task was to announce, for instance, that there will be no meals tomorrow or that the work starts at six. A great deal of Jewish initiative was evident in business and enterprise. There was a huge furniture factory; they were producing furniture for ministers and even for the president. They even went to the presidential palace to assemble that furniture there.”
“We were on board the ship and as we were about to disembark, police officers came to check our passports. One of them looks into my passport and says in German: ´Pressburger, was machst du da? – What on earth are you doing here? This passport is still valid. Don’t stay here. Go back, don’t you know what’s happening here?! It’s awful. And have you heard about the chamsín? Stay on board!´ We believed that we would be fine here, but we arrived towards the end of the year. Everything was yellow, no natural beauty around. The towns neglected, houses ugly. You had the impression as if you arrived somewhere in Africa. We could not say oh, this is so beautiful here. There was nothing like that. Indeed, we came from Czechoslovakia. From a country of beautiful landscapes – forests, mountains and rivers. And here, everything was parched, no rivers, nothing. For someone coming from Czechoslovakia, this was a shock, it was hard to imagine that we would now live there. When we arrived, we thought there would be an ideal Jewish state and nation. We thought that the Jewish nation was what it had been in Czechoslovakia before the war. And suddenly we saw that Jewish nation means also Jews from north Africa, from Ethiopia, America, and that what we had imagined before was just a small fraction of it. The portion represented by German Jewry had a strong influence in Israel then, but now it is diminishing. We understood clearly that what was ahead of us would be a difficult life, but we were not afraid of it. We were willing to go for it.”
“Whenever possible, people would not think that it would be so terrible. Most of the people who stayed were saying: ´Ok, so they will persecute us, so what? This war cannot last that long anyway.´ Such was their hope. I remember one talk with my father. He said he thought the war would not go on for more than a year, that Germany was not capable of withstanding the pressure from such great powers as France and Britain. It had to be over within a year. I told him at that time that I believed it would take four years. I was not too mistaken. My father would always recall it afterwards: ´You had told me that it would last for so long!”
“The Jewish leadership felt that when they would do what the Germans demanded, like giving them lists of all citizens´ names, delivering transport orders, partly coordinating the transports to ensure everything would go smoothly, etc., that then the Germans would agree to some concessions that would mitigate the overall harm. In the opinion of Rudof Vrba and Hannah Arendt, such collaboration was not correct. Every Jewish community had data about each of its members. If they had not given them out to the Germans, the tragedy perhaps would not have been so terrible. Vrba fled in 1944, at the same time when the elimination of Hungarian Jewry was being planned. He was the one to bring the news about it and he believed people should be told that they were being transported to their deaths. On the contrary, Kastner's people believed they should not be informed, that it would cause panic. Vrba blamed them for that for the rest of his life. Now in Israel they revere him as a hero who had escaped and brought the warning to the Jews, but at the time when he was being critical of the other claim, they repudiated him. A vast majority of Jewish leadership during the war were the Zionist activist. The Germans liked to cooperate with the Zionists because they were better organized and had a greater sense of some administrative order. After the war they were celebrating these activists as heroes here. Of course, many of them lost their lives, too, because the Germans had deceived them. Like for example, the leader of the Terezín camp Edelstein. Edelstein, what a figure he was... He was a partner to the Germans during the talks. They invited him to Holland, for instance, to explain to Jewish institutions there how to cooperate with the Germans. They even allowed him to go to Switzerland to some congress and he came back. He believed that he had managed to run the Terezín camp in such a way that Jews could live there and create values for the Germans. He became convinced of this. He was given a flat there, his child got a piano teacher and a private tutor to catch upon what was missed during the absence in school, and one day they sent him to Auschwitz when they shot him and murdered the whole family. The Germans were deceiving the Jews and lying to them. Their entire system was based on creating illusions for the Jews.”
“In Nováky, the camp which also became opened, there was a Jewish partisan group. They participated in fighting in one German village and many of the former Nováky internees died there. We continued to Liptovský Svätý Mikuláš, where we intended to join a partisan unit. There were four of us. The partisan group dominated a certain area. We walked from one village to another. We attacked a smaller airfield and German barracks. But altogether, there was no so much action. I had a friend there, who was very courageous and enterprising, and we all felt more should be done. He took the initiative and he caught one SS man and brought him to the mountains as a captive. That soldier had an SS membership card with him, he had also served in the Dachau concentration camp. They sentenced him to death. After this event Gabi and I decided there was time for one more enterprise.”
“There were about seven of us young people. We maintained contact with the members of Hashomer Hacair who were outside the camp. We knew that the period of calm in the camp would end one day and that they will start sending transports to Auschwitz again. And it really was this way. After the Slovak National Uprising, Sereď changed into a camp of terror, where murders, shooting, and transports to Terezín were a common occurrence. During the time when the situation was not so difficult, we planned to do two things: to make a bunker or something similar in the mountains where we could hide afterwards, or, if possible, to take part in military action. Three people escaped from the camp and started preparing places where we could later flee. One of them was Liptovský Mikuláš. I remember that when the friends escaped I got imprisoned. I did not run away, I did not want to do it because of my daddy.”
“In 1942, the preparation of transports in Slovakia already began. Three concentration camps similar to Terezín were set up: Sereď, Nováky and Vyhne. At the beginning there was also one in Bratislava for the local Jews. The Jewish council asked my father to run the Sereď camp. Father accepted. He was even allowed to bring our furniture there. They allotted him one room so that he could have what he needed. He enjoyed a special position there.“
“The evangelic Christians and the Jewish kids had their religion class after lunch. The Catholics, who formed a majority, had religion at nine, so we had a one-hour break. We would always go to a nearby playground, and we would play football there, Jews against the evangelics, or Sparta versus Slavia. When we came back to class, we held fervent discussions about the game, who gave a good pass, and why did you not pass the ball to me and so on. The teachers were really fine. We had Czech teachers. When this time of hardships began, we joined the Zionist youth movement. This was a natural reaction. When someone curses you for being a Jew, the best thing to do is to be proud that you are a Jew, instead of being scared. So we followed this principle and wore the star, the symbol of this youth movement, on our lapels when we walked to school. One teacher asked us when he noticed it: ´Boys, and you are not afraid to walk with it around here?´ There have been already some cases when German youths attacked Jewish children on the street. They were already spiteful against the Jews. There was a large German minority living in Bratislava then. And the German children were really violent. When we had to move out of our flat, we went to live to the Mountain Park area in Bratislava for some time; there are small houses there and the Germans were also living there. We had a little dog and they poisoned it, and at nights, they would throw stones at our windows.”
“In translation, Hashomer Hacair means ´Young guard.´ Its ideological foundation was Zionism plus socialism. After the war it was a very nice movement, brimming with ideals, with hope in good future. The idea that we should not live in the place where they were able to treat us so terribly as they had done was very attractive, particularly to young people. People rushed to Israel, because they truly wanted to leave Europe. We were preparing the youth, and not only for life in Israel, an unknown country, but also for the so-called ideal life in a kibbutz. Kibbutz was the ideal. There were principles, which of course were not fulfilled. ´Everyone gives according to his possibility and receives according to his needs.´ These are noble principles. It educated people for communal life, in opposition to the ideal of money. The purpose of man’s life is satisfaction of his mental needs, his having a positive attitude towards life. This greatly enthused young people. So-called ´homes,´ Hachshara in Hebrew, were set up, for the age group 14-18, so-called preparation, and for young people over eighteen, who already lived the real communal life. They even had all the clothing in common. Shirts, underwear, etc., were washed all together because it did not matter whether it belonged to you before or not. During the day they worked in agriculture and in the evenings they studied. There was one ideologist of Hashomer Hacair, his name was Borochov. He claimed that a healthy nation can be symbolized by a pyramid: the agricultural workers at the bottom, the second group are city workers, the third intellectuals, and the top one are capitalists and those who hold power. With the Jewish nation, the pyramid is turned the other way round, it stands on its tip. There are few agricultural workers, a little bit more of workers, and the largest group is represented by intellectuals and people who do nothing. The kibbutz’s ideal was that by living his life man should contribute to turning the pyramid to its correct position, and at the same time remain intellectually at the highest level. When the Jewish state was established, also backed strongly by Czechoslovakia at that time, there was a celebration in Bratislava’s Reduta. The chairman Husák had a speech there, and me, on behalf of the Jewish youth, as well.”
“Rudolf Vrba was my classmate at the grammar school and my best friend at the same time. When he fled to Hungary, he came afterwards to the Sereď camp, which was possible at that time. He suggested that we run away together. My father was strongly opposed to it. He also considered it danger for him. But he gave Vrba a letter for his brother in Galanta, asking him to support him. It was in 1942, when the Jews in Galanta could lead relatively normal lives. The money from my father’s brother helped Rudolf, but he was arrested in Budapest. When he later escaped from Auschwitz and got to Slovakia, he telephoned me to the Sereď camp. He somehow sent me a message that he would call to my father’s office, which was equipped with a telephone. We agreed on a meeting. I got a permit to leave the camp and Rudolf told me what was happening.”
“When the uprising broke out, I joined it together with two other friends. Their names were Rosenblum and Berci Klug. We had such a clique in the camp. We were staying together, thinking together and making plans together. The uprising manifested itself by the Slovak army joining the insurgents in many places. We joined the garrison in Nové Město nad Váhom. They received us in the barracks in Novoměstská. They showed us our room and started preparing the gear for us. Suddenly, one Slovak comes to us and tells us: ´Boys, you need to run away! Our commander decided to join the Germans, and he decided to turn you in.´ So we jumped over the barracks´ fence and ran away. We spent the night hidden in a forest and the other day we left for Liptovský Svätý Mikuláš by train.“
“The fact that I was a member of Hashomer Hacair had a significant impact on my fate. We were more or less organized during the war as well. We were preparing ourselves to join the partisans when the opportunity arises. We were even smuggling weapons into Sereď. We revelled in fantasies that if something happened, we would defend ourselves. But these really were just fantasies. It would not have been possible with just a few revolvers. But we had a plan that armed with these revolvers we would go to a place where Hlinka´s army kept the weapons, that we would storm in, take the firearms and give them to people. We even found a way to get through the fence. A Polish immigrant who came to the camp knew to make a false stamp and a permit to leave the camp. If we had got out through the fence and the police had caught us in Bratislava without a permit, it would have been bad, but when we showed them the pass, they were satisfied.”
“When Bratislava became liberated, I left my studies and decided to find out what happened with my parents. The Jews in Prešov respected me quite a lot and they called me a ´partisan.´
I was such a special case in Prešov. All were already going to work and I was still a student going to school, and what’s more, in terrible clothing. One of the locals, who already owned a car, told me he was going to Bratislava. I asked him if he could give me a lift and he answered: ´I got about twenty people now who want to ride with me, but for you, partisan, there is always a seat available.´ I got out of the car in Sereď, where I hoped to find out more. ´Oh, Mr. Pressburger, he was here yesterday and then left for Trnava.´ So I went to Trnava. In Trnava they told me: ´He was here yesterday and then went to Bratislava.´ So I went to Bratislava, to the JOINT office. There they told me: ´He was here just a moment ago! If you run down quickly, you can still meet him.´ So I ran down the stairs and there I saw my father. I tapped on his shoulder, and this was how we met again.”
Je hrozný pocit, že my, co jsme zůstali naživu, jsme tu místo někoho, kdo zahynul
Abraham (Jindřich) Pressburger se narodil 7. 5. 1924 v Bratislavě do židovské německy mluvící rodiny. Po absolvování obecné školy začal studovat na Masarykově gymnáziu v Bratislavě, kde byl jeho spolužákem a nejlepším přítelem Rudolf Vrba. Roku 1939 byl z gymnázia pro svůj židovský původ vyloučen; po zabrání rodinného majetku Pressburgerových začal A. Pressburger manuálně pracovat na dráze. V té době se jako šestnáctiletý připojil k odbojové komunistické organizaci. Ve stejné době, kdy byly na Slovensku zřizovány pracovní tábory (otec Abrahama, Alexandr Pressburger, se stal na popud Židovské rady předákem v táboře v Seredi) začaly i první transporty do Osvětimi. Vůbec prvním transportem z 25. 3. 1942, který byl vypraven ze Slovenska do Osvětimi, odjela i Any, starší sestra Abrahama Pressburgera. Ten byl poté se svou rodinou internován v sereďském pracovním táboře. Transporty pokračovaly až do konce roku 1942, kdy bylo jejich vypravování přerušeno. Do posledního transportu byli poprvé zařazeni i lidé internovaní v pracovních táborech. Mezi vybranými do Osvětimi se ocitl i Abraham Pressburger, který byl z transportu na poslední chvíli vyřazen díky postavení svého otce.
V roce 1942 se stal součástí organizace sionistického hnutí Hašomer Hacair, jehož aktivity se s narůstajícími represemi vůči Židům zaměřily na odboj proti nacismu, podílel se na organizování odboje včetně pašování zbraní do táborů. V roce 1944 se Pressburger setkal s Rudolfem Vrbou, kterému se podařilo utéci z Osvětimi. V době vypuknutí Slovenského národního povstání byl Abraham Pressburger zrovna na práci mimo tábor v Seredi, povstání se tak mohl aktivně zúčastnit jako člen partyzánských jednotek; se svým přítelem Gabi Eichlerem provedl atentát na velitele jednotky SS. Přestože se při útěku těžce zranil, podařilo se mu skrývat až do konce války.
Po válce pokračoval ve studiu na prešovském gymnáziu, po maturitě v roce 1946 se stal předsedou Hašomer Hacair v Československu. V roce 1948 odjel Pressburger na žádost mezinárodního vedení Hašomer Hacair do Francie vyučovat metodu výchovy mládeže. Do Francie jej doprovázela budoucí manželka, tehdy osmnáctiletá Eva Ginzová, sestra nadaného Petra Ginze, který zahynul v Osvětimi. Po ročním pobytu ve Francii se rozhodli odjet do Izraele. Koncem roku 1949 se v Marseille nalodili na loď Negba, která je zavezla do Haify. Brzy po příjezdu do Izraele však nastalo vystřízlivění z mnoha ideálů a představ o zemi, která se jim měla stát druhým domovem a zaručit jim důstojný život. Po několika měsících strávených v debatách o zásadních otázkách lidstva, oráním pole a bydlením ve stanu v kibucu Šomrat se Pressburgerovi rozhodli z kibucu odejít. Bez finančních prostředků se přestěhovali do Naharie. Abraham Pressburger se živil manuální prací nejprve na jako dělník na stavbě, dále ruční výrobou betonových cihel a později jako instalatér. Současně se přihlásil do dálkového inženýrského kurzu u British Council. Po několika letech získal vzdělání v inženýrském plánování a našel práci v technickém oddělení chemické továrny v Haifě. Koncem padesátých let se přestěhoval do Beerševy, kde nalezl nové uplatnění. Po letech praxe si Pressburger společně s kolegou otevřel soukromou společnost podnikající v oboru stavebního inženýrství. Zde pracoval až do roku 2005, kdy odešel do důchodu.
Abraham Pressburger žil se svoji manželkou Evou (Chavou) v izraelském městě Omer. Zemřel 24. července roku 2018.