Ivan Newman at age 10.  (Courtesy Ivan Newman).

They are photos of two Hungarian boys from almost the end of the Second World War. Ivan Newman, aged 10, had a lively look in 1945 as he clutched a wooden toy that had just been given to him from a school-turned-hospital in Malmö, Sweden. At the age of 87, from California, United States, he explained to LA NACION that he keeps a blurry memory of that moment, and not because he has memory problems. At that time, and still today, he is overwhelmed by the stories that he had to live in the Nazi concentration camp of Ravensbrück, from where he had been rescued a few days before the photograph.

In the second photo, from 1944, Istvan Reiner At 4 years of age, his face is also illuminated by a smile, and behind that image there is another story that for him ended tragically in Auschwitz. His half brother seven years older, Janos Kovacs, now 89 years old, told LA NACION from Albany, New York, the horror that hides behind that other photograph, and that you still consider it necessary to remember so as not to forget what the boys suffered during the Nazi regime.

It is estimated that among the eleven million victims of the Holocaust, the Germans and their allies murdered about a million and a half boys, about a million of them Jews, and tens of thousands of gypsies, Germans with physical or mental disabilities, and others from Eastern Europe.

Ivan Newman at age 10. (Courtesy Ivan Newman).
Istvan Reiner, at the age of 4, shortly before his death in Auschwitz.  Courtesy Janos Kovacs
Istvan Reiner, at the age of 4, shortly before his death in Auschwitz. Courtesy Janos Kovacs

The younger the age, the greater the chances of being eliminated in the concentration camp, because the Nazis couldn’t take advantage of them as labor.

First integration, then harassment

Although he was born in the mainly Jewish neighborhood of Erzsébet, Budapest, Ivan Newman has no recollection of the question of religion was a topic of conversation and less of discrimination among the friends from all over the city that he met in his childhood when he went swimming on the shores of the Danube River or skated on ice when winter came.

A friend never asked me what religion I was from. The war was a distant thing for the boys until the Nazis arrived in Hungary. Then we began to see thousands of German troops on the streets day and night crossing through Budapest on their way to other Eastern European countries, and everything changed“, he pointed.

Ivan Newman, at age 87
Ivan Newman, at age 87

The first blow in life was his health. “With my friends we were looking for the warmest water sector in the Danube to swim, but it was just sewage, which is one of the contagion routes of polio. This is how I got sick at 8 years old ”. Nails on metal prostheses Ivan was able to walk again, albeit with difficulty.

“Suddenly, the Nazis closed synagogues and schools, which were part of the synagogues. The Jews could no longer have businesses or bank accounts, and on the street we had to wear the bracelet and the yellow Star of David. I remember walking around Budapest with my mom and being insulted and spat on by strangers. She had even gotten tickets for us to travel to the United States, where my dad was. But One day they attacked us in the street, and they stole all our documents, and we could no longer go out”.

When the Jews of Budapest were taken to the concentration camp, the mother asked Ivan to stop wearing the prosthetic legs because she had heard that sick people were directly executed by the Nazis. With great pain when walking, little Ivan then tried to hide his illness.

In the year and a half that they spent in different concentration camps with his mother and his sister Gladys, two years older, there were two tragic experiences that marked him, in addition to getting used to looking for food among the garbage and being treated at screaming and whipping by the nazi guards while working in the frozen field.

Women in the Ravensbrück barracks
Women in the Ravensbrück barracks

Ivan’s account of two events in the Ravensbrück camp, where he spent around seven months, is extremely crude.

When the Allies gained ground in Germany, in retaliation, the execution of prisoners began. In the middle of a very cold winter, in front of me and my sister, my mom was forced to kneel down facing Berlin. So a female Nazi guard first lashed her with a whip, and then threw buckets of ice water on her head as she bled profusely. My mother was still agonizing from the blows and injuries when the guard forced my sister and me to put her on a stretcher and take it to the crematorium oven. They burned her alive. I will never forget that moment or the terrible smell ”.

A few time later, another fact also marked him forever.

“Although Ravensbrück was a camp for women and young children, with female guards, the perimeter fence was manned by men. Once I went to talk to a soldier who I had become ‘friends with’, who was having lunch on the grass next to the electric fence, and that time he was totally drunk. I started talking to him and saw that his pistol was half out of its holster. In the middle of the conversation, I carelessly snatched the gun from him, shot him, and he died when he fell on the electric fence. When the power went out, I took advantage of a hole in the fence to escape”.

At 87 years old, Ivan cannot overcome either of the two experiences, the death of his mother or having killed a person. “I still have nightmares about Ravensbrück. I was too young to be able to elaborate what I was living”.

The escape was not very long because he was caught days later.

When, towards the end of the war, white buses from the Swedish government arrived to rescue women and children from Ravensbrück, it had been several weeks since Ivan, with very weak health and long periods of unconsciousness, had been hidden by his sister Gladys under a barracks so that the Nazi guards would not see him fainting. There he brought him food. Because, Ivan does not have a very clear memory of the transfer to Sweden or the time spent in the hospital.

Thanks to the research of the author suena Lena Millinger, in 1998 he managed to be identified as the unnamed boy whose image had been published by photographer KW Gullers in the now-defunct magazine I know, and was reunited with the family that had welcomed him and his sister in Sweden until they migrated to the United States. This year Millinger just published a book on this story.

The anonymous photo of Ivan Newman in the 1945 issue of the Swedish magazine Se
The anonymous photo of Ivan Newman in the 1945 issue of the Swedish magazine Se

Ivan currently resides in California and is still active, is the owner of an electrical machine business, father of a daughter, two grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren.

“I have days when I’m fine, and others when memories torture me. It is not easy to survive having seen so much hatred and so much death being so small ”, he concludes.

“My brother, the loud one”

At 89, Janos Kovacs still has a smile that terribly resembles his little stepbrother -child of his mother’s second marriage- Istvan Reiner, that died at the age of 4 in the Auschwitz extermination camp, when Janos was 11 years old.

Janos Kovacs, at 89 years old.  Courtesy Janos Kovacs
Janos Kovacs, at 89 years old. Courtesy Janos Kovacs

It is not difficult to associate the image of Istvan in his last photograph at the age of 4, with the description of his personality that Janos made to LA NACION.

“With my family we lived very happily in Miskolc, about 180 km northeast of Budapest, in a very beautiful brick house with a garden. In 1944, when the Nazis occupied Hungary, my brother Istvan was 4 years old and I was 11. He was small but very smart and talkative. He always said that when he grew up he was going to destroy the NazisJanos recalled.

Janos, with his little brother Istvan, in 1940. Courtesy Janos Kovacs
Janos, with his little brother Istvan, in 1940. Courtesy Janos Kovacs

“After the Nazis entered Hungary, to protect Istvan my dad sent him to the house of a Christian aunt in Budapest, and we stayed in Miskolc. At that time it was mandatory to put a sign on the door when a Jew lived in the house, and my aunt did not have that sign. But Istvan spoke a lot and very loudly, so the aunt began to fear that the neighbors would hear him and give her away. My father then made the fatal mistake of bringing Istvan back to Miskolc ”.

When the little boy was taken back to his city, the Nazis had locked all the Jews in a ghetto, an old abandoned brick factory, without toilets or food. Meanwhile, the young men and boys were transferred to a labor camp in Jolsva. This is how Janos and his father were separated from the rest of the family and were able to survive until the end of the War.

The last photograph of Istvan was taken in the Miskolc ghettoThat’s why he has the clothes of the concentration camps. Days later, my mother, my grandmother and Istvan were taken to Auschwitz. According to what they told me, shortly after arriving, as my mother was 34 years old, she was transferred to work in a field. My grandmother and Istvan were cruelly murdered in the gas chamber”.

Livia, Istvan’s mother, outlived her young son for many years and then emigrated with Janos to the United States, where died in 2000 at age 89. “My mother loved little Istvan very much and missed him all her life. I was thanking God that even though I was only 11 years old, I was able to survive the Holocaust. “

Janos Kovacs, with his mother, Livia Reiner, before the Nazi horror.  (Courtesy Janos Kovacs).
Janos Kovacs, with his mother, Livia Reiner, before the Nazi horror. (Courtesy Janos Kovacs).

In the United States, Janos had a successful career. After graduating with an MBA from New York University, he worked in various countries for General Motors. He has two children and continues to be an active contributor to the Michigan Holocaust Memorial Center. From that mission, he reflected: “My message remains: respect all religions, try to keep the peace, and never start a war because nothing good can come out of it.”

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