Hilde had happy memories of her childhood, growing up with her extended family including her mother, father, brother, grandparents, aunts and uncles. Hilde’s former life, recounted as if from a fairy tale, vanished as if at the drop of a hat, never to return. For the rest of her life, Hilde was left with deep and dark memories, some of which had their origins in your city, a topic which she preferred to avoid discussing with her children.
The truth is that Hilde and her family faced tremendous pressure and trauma long before she reached the gates of Geislingen. On March 25, 1938, her family fled her birth place of Vienna for her father’s home town of Nagykanizsa, Hungary, just 3 weeks after the Anschluss, leaving behind her grandparents Rosa and Pinkus. On the train ride to Hungary, the family was stopped at the Austro-Hungarian border when her brother responded to a question about whether the family was carrying any guns. When Hilde’s brother said “I have a water gun,” all four family members were taken and strip searched.
On March 4, 1941, while Hilde and her family were in Hungary, Pinkus and Rosa were deported from Vienna to Modliborzyce, Poland. The ghetto in Modliborzyce was liquidated on October 8, 1942. Older people were usually killed on the spot, and the rest were expelled to the Krasnik ghetto and from there to the Belzec death camp in November. Meanwhile, on March 14, 1941, Hilde’s mother Grete, died after a long bout of tuberculosis. Also during this period, Hilde’s Uncle Robert and his family were desperately trying to get passports out of Prague. Robert, his wife Annie, and daughter Renee were deported to Theresienstadt on April 28, 1942, only days after receiving the needed papers. Two days later, Robert and his family were transported to Zamosc, Poland where only 20 passengers on the transit would survive.
Meanwhile, Hilde, her father Ishtvan, and her brother Vicktor, lived an uneasy life in Hungary, facing more restrictions when the Germans entered on March 19, 1944. Nagykanizsa was one of the first places in Hungary to become judenrein, a place where Jews were now excluded or cleansed from the rest of society. Hilde, Ishtvan, Vicktor, her maternal aunt and paternal grandmother Fanny were deported together to Auschwitz by cattle car on May 17, 1944, arriving on May 24th. Her paternal Aunt Mariska and Uncle Dezo were transported a few days earlier. It was truly a stroke of luck that in July of 1944, Hilde was chosen to work in Germany and was taken with 700 other Hungarian Jewish women to an unknown destination. The rest of Hilde’s family were not so lucky. No one else from her family made it out of Auschwitz alive.
All of these events must have been on Hilde’s mind on her first midnight shift in the munitions factory in Geislingen, where her finger got caught up in a machine used to make weapons. What did Hilde know about making weapons? At the time she was only 15. As a young child, I was always curious about why my mother had a deformed finger. She only told me later as an adult, how a soldier doctor, or maybe someone that was not really a doctor, never really fixed her broken finger. For some reason, the “doctor” thought that it was best, or maybe easiest, to cut off the injured section, without the use of anesthesia. She was left in agonizing pain, which she later told me that she had to keep quiet for the fear of calling unnecessary attention to herself.
At the time of her hospitalization, that she could not stop thinking about her family and everything that she had gone through. After nearly one year of slave labor at the munitions factory in Geislingen, my mother was liberated by American troops on May 1, 1945. Hilde moved to America and met my father, Richard B. Simon, in 1952. After a short courtship, Hilde and Richard married. They had a happy marriage and she was a wonderful mother and proud member of our Jewish Community in Chicago, Illinois.
(Michael Simon, Hilde´s son)