Leslie and Judy after the war. Debre­cen, Hun­gary, cir­ca 1947Cour­tesy of The Azrieli Foun­da­tion.”

The below text is excerpt­ed and con­densed from the intro­duc­tion and edi­to­r­i­al note of In Dreams Togeth­er. The let­ters are excerpt­ed from Leslie Fazekas’s In Dreams Togeth­er.

The destruc­tion of the Hun­gar­i­an Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ties in the last phase of World War II was one of the most effi­cient geno­ci­dal cam­paigns in his­to­ry. In March 1944, some 750,000 Jews liv­ing in Hun­gary rep­re­sent­ed by far the largest sur­viv­ing com­mu­ni­ty in Hitler’s Europe. With the immi­nent defeat of the Nazis approach­ing, they had good rea­son to believe their suf­fer­ings would be over soon. How­ev­er, fol­low­ing the Ger­man occu­pa­tion of Hun­gary that very month, the Nazis and their local accom­plices com­plet­ed the dis­en­fran­chise­ment, plun­der and iso­la­tion of the Jews in a peri­od of a mere eight weeks. Then, most­ly between mid-May and ear­ly July 1944, the Nazi and Hun­gar­i­an author­i­ties deport­ed about 450,000 peo­ple from the Hun­gar­i­an provinces. Their des­ti­na­tion was the Auschwitz-Birke­nau camp com­plex, where three-fourths of them were gassed upon arrival, killing more than 300,000 peo­ple: main­ly women, chil­dren and the elder­ly. It was due to the Hun­gar­i­an cam­paign — Ungar­nak­tion, as the Nazi jar­gon put it — that Auschwitz ulti­mate­ly became the uni­ver­sal­ly known sym­bol of human geno­cide. In the words of the tow­er­ing Holo­caust schol­ar Raul Hilberg, Hun­gary was going to lift Auschwitz to the top” among oth­er Nazi camps.[1]

It is a less well-known fact, how­ev­er, that some 3 per­cent of the deport­ed Hun­gar­i­an Jews actu­al­ly escaped being sent to Birke­nau. At the end of June 1944, more than 15,000 peo­ple were trans­port­ed to the Vien­na region (Gau Groß-Wien), in Nazi-annexed Aus­tria, rather than to the death camp. More­over, they were indeed tak­en there pri­mar­i­ly for work pur­pos­es. Arriv­ing at the dis­tri­b­u­tion camp (Durch­gangslager) in Strasshof, the Jews were trans­ferred to var­i­ous dis­tricts of Vien­na and set­tle­ments in the vicin­i­ty, where they worked in dif­fer­ent branch­es of war indus­try and in agri­cul­ture, as well as at rub­ble clean-up and con­struc­tion sites. Those unable to work were not mur­dered, and fam­i­lies were most­ly allowed to stay togeth­er. Liv­ing con­di­tions, work­load and treat­ment var­ied, but at large, the sit­u­a­tion of Hun­gar­i­an Jew­ish slave labour­ers in and around Vien­na was rel­a­tive­ly bear­able, if com­pared to the extreme suf­fer­ings in oth­er cor­ners in the web of Nazi con­cen­tra­tion and labour camps. Many of the depor­tees in Aus­tria fell vic­tim to bomb raids, acci­dents, ill­ness­es, hard­ships and arbi­trary exe­cu­tions, but even­tu­al­ly the major­i­ty of this group, an esti­mat­ed ten to twelve thou­sand peo­ple, sur­vived the war. The author of these out­stand­ing wartime diaries and post­war mem­oir, Lás­zló Frenkel, today Leslie Fazekas, was among them


While in cap­tiv­i­ty as a forced labour­er in Aus­tria dur­ing World War II, Leslie Fazekas (then Lás­zló Frenkel, also referred to as Laci) wrote a diary in Hun­gar­i­an from August 1944 to April 1945. He addressed almost all of his diary entries to his girl­friend, Judit Fel­ber­mann (also known as Judith, or Judy, Fel­ber­man), whom he was sep­a­rat­ed from. By Sep­tem­ber 1944, Leslie and Judy had found a way to write let­ters and post­cards to each oth­er. Leslie was able to hold onto his diary through­out the war years and after, and when he and Judy reunit­ed, and lat­er mar­ried, they held dear all the let­ters they had been able to keep as well.

Leslie and Judy, cir­ca 1948Cour­tesy of The Azrieli Foun­da­tion.”

Sun­day, Jan­u­ary 14, 1945, at 16:00 [4:00 p.m.]

My dear Judit,

We are well into the new year now as I revis­it my diary for the first time. Not much has hap­pened here in the mean­time, but I believe all the more with you over there. I hear you have been trans­ferred to Florids­dorf [Dis­trict xxi of Vien­na] but noth­ing fur­ther about the nature of your work or cir­cum­stances. I don’t even know your exact address. In any event, I was elat­ed to learn you stayed in Vien­na. I haven’t giv­en up the hope that, God will­ing, we may meet while both of us are still in the city. Oh, if only you could come and see me once, my Judit! Peo­ple from oth­er Lagers are allowed to go on a leave. Last Sun­day we had 6 vis­i­tors from oth­er Lagers, among them a viva­cious, ani­mat­ed girl of 18 by the name of Éva Krausz. (When she was told I was court­ing you, she com­pli­ment­ed me on my good taste. I was ter­ri­bly proud!) They came around 10:00 in the morn­ing and left around 3:00. We spent a very nice time with them.

When­ev­er I find myself in a slight­ly bet­ter frame of mind, when for a moment I snap out of this sev­en-month delir­i­um, I am hor­ri­fied to think of dying, of being deprived of so many won­der­ful moments of life to come, if I were hit by a stray bomb. I may have lived long enough to expe­ri­ence a great deal, from joy to intense suf­fer­ing, from hard-won vic­to­ries to bit­ter defeat, per­haps more than many people’s share in a life­time, but I am still young with a life ahead of me — the real life, the great­est bat­tle of all. But all of this now seems so vague, so dis­tant, as nev­er before. I sel­dom fret about liv­ing or dying any­more. Let come what may. Com­pared to not hav­ing been born at all, my life so far is a pure gain. Dying is just a return to Nir­vana. Sim­ple as that, isn’t it? The war has devoured mil­lions of lives, why should I be the excep­tion? In any case, we haven’t had a sin­gle air raid this year. It would not be nice to have to rush to the cel­lar in this cold. It would be par­tic­u­lar­ly hard on poor Father, who is seri­ous­ly ill. He is suf­fer­ing all the time, moan­ing, or rather, wail­ing in pain, through the night. If only he could feel bet­ter! It is ter­ri­ble to see him so help­less in his tor­ment, with­out any med­ica­tion or diet, as if we were still cave­men! When is this all going to end?

Tues­day, Jan­u­ary 23 at 18:00 [6:00 p.m.]

My dear Judit,

The rea­son I am writ­ing on this unusu­al day of the week is that I received a let­ter from you in the after­noon [Judit’s let­ter dat­ed Decem­ber 30, 1944], and I want to record my impres­sions while they are still fresh. Final­ly, Father was admit­ted to the hos­pi­tal for tests and pos­si­bly in-patient care. Those who went in with him and came back brought your let­ter to me. I find it won­der­ful and very sad at the same time. I admit that I pos­i­tive­ly liked it. I thought there was not a sin­gle unnec­es­sary sen­tence in it. You are telling me of hav­ing lived in rel­a­tive free­dom (under the cir­cum­stances, that is), 21 of you in a well-heat­ed three-room apart­ment and with decent food, so over­all you had a good life in Aspern. Now that you have been trans­ferred, it is hard to get used to the strangers around you and the new cir­cum­stances, and you are strug­gling to over­come the ini­tial dif­fi­cul­ties. I know how you feel. When we first came here, I felt so for­lorn and bereft in this bar­rack for 120 that often I just want­ed to cry. The only con­so­la­tion and the only poi­son I had con­sist­ed of my mem­o­ries. And the most won­der­ful, most intense­ly burn­ing mem­o­ries of all were of the two of us who share them. I was still so ardent­ly in love with you that I almost died of it. I have been hard­ened and got­ten used to this life since then — to the soli­tude, the silence, the aban­don­ment. Even my mem­o­ries have stopped harass­ing me.

The machine I oper­ate at the fac­to­ry has taught me many things: how to bear it all and wait one’s time with­out stir­ring, how to shake off the slings of fate,[2] every­thing that hurts. What we have turned into dur­ing the past sev­en months is not ani­mals but machines, numb organ­isms. It is hard at first, isn’t it, my Judit? Man can be trans­formed into any­thing, as eas­i­ly to an ani­mal as to a mech­a­nism, but this meta­mor­pho­sis is dif­fi­cult and takes some time. Even­tu­al­ly, you will become jad­ed, too. As the ini­tial phys­i­cal dis­com­forts slow­ly recede and you man­age to get a bed and a warmer place to sleep, your feel­ings, dri­ves and desires will become less intense. Slow­ly, step by step — but before long, as we mea­sure time here — you will become like me, like the rub­ble you clear. And I do want you to be like me in this one thing: No mat­ter how desen­si­tized I am now, I have nev­er for­got­ten nor could ever for­get you. My love for you is just as per­se­ver­ing, per­haps a lot more per­se­ver­ing, if less ardent and painful, than when our tribu­la­tions began.

[1] Raul Hilberg, Auschwitz and the Final Solu­tion,’” in Anato­my of the Auschwitz Death Camp, eds. Yis­rael Gut­man and Michael Beren­baum (Bloom­ing­ton: Indi­ana Uni­ver­si­ty Press in asso­ci­a­tion with the ush­mm, 1998), 88.

[2] Although not a ver­ba­tim quote, this is most like­ly an allu­sion to the well-known solil­o­quy that starts with the phrase To be, or not to be,” from Act iii, Scene i of William Shakespeare’s Ham­let. The exact line is, The slings and arrows of out­ra­geous fortune.”

Leslie Fazekas was born in Debre­cen, Hun­gary, in 1925. In 1956, dur­ing the Hun­gar­i­an Rev­o­lu­tion, Leslie and his fam­i­ly fled Hun­gary and immi­grat­ed to Toron­to, Cana­da, where he still lives.