Lea Malek

I was born in the small provincial town of Janoshalma, Hungary in 1939. When I was a child, I wasn't allowed to play with my non-Jewish friend, because Jews were segregated. My grandfather was imprisoned for a month, and when he returned, he was blind in one eye. By 1942, the Nazis had taken my father away to a labor camp in Russia. I never saw him again. Those who came back told my mother they had seen my father and that he had died while building a road to Stalingrad. The men were forced to pick up mines to make the road safe for the Germans.

In 1944, the Nazis took me, my sister, mother, aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins to a ghetto in Hungary. Because my aunt was pregnant, we tried to keep her hidden from the Nazis, afraid that they would kill her. The Nazis moved us to a camp on the border of Austria and Czechoslovakia. I remember traveling by train in a cattle car.

There was only one tiny window with a bar across it. We were packed like herring in a jar. When we arrived at our destination, it was pouring rain, and the mud was up to our nose. Sometime later, we were packed again in the cattle cars, destination Auschwitz. Everyone was made to undress. I had never seen grown-ups naked before. Several kilometers from Auschwitz, a lord from Lichtenstein randomly bought a number of cattle cars for slave labor for his farm. My family tried to stay together, but somehow we became separated into different cars. All of the people in my car were taken to work, but the rest went to a car that was not bought, and they went to their deaths. I never saw them again.

The Russians liberated us in 1945. I lived in Hungary until 1956. But because of the chaos during the Hungarian Revolution, my sister and I ran away to Austria. From there, we went to Israel. I met my husband in Israel, and we came to the United States. We lived in Nebraska for seven years before moving to Rochester, New York. I worked at Varden Studios and later opened Malek's Bakery on Monroe Avenue, so we could afford to send our three children to college. As my grandmother taught me, "What you learn through education, no one can take away from you."

Biography from the Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights Project, Monroe Community College
Photograph by Louis Ouzer