Holocaust survivor’s diaries are discovered 80 years after she wrote them

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Holocaust survivor’s diaries are discovered 80 years after she wrote them

Agi Frankl's journal tells of post-war fun while stationed in Germany before returning to her bombed hometown in Hungary

In 1945, after being released from a forced labour camp in Germany, Agnes (Ági) Frankl started a journal. During a spring cleaning of our mother’s Budapest apartment, we unearthed her hand-written personal diaries, which we never knew existed.

Ági was born in Győr, Hungary, in 1930 – the only child of Jewish parents who ran a transport and logistics business. In June 1944, at the age of 14, she, together with her mother and father, was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. On arrival, all children 14 years of age or younger were sent to die but Ági’s mother declared her to be 15 so she escaped the gas chamber.

After just a few months Ági and her mother were selected for forced labour and sent to a different camp. They were trained to operate turning machines (lathes) and manufacture parts for aircraft for the Nazi air force. In secret Ági made a small ring for herself and engraved it with  “Dum spiro, spero” (I hope as long as I live). Although the engraving has long worn off, this unique piece continues to shine in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection.

On April 1, 1945, Ági, her mother and more than 600 other female prisoners were forced into trucks and driven westward. Then they continued on foot, and after days of marching, American soldiers liberated them. They  were temporarily housed by the Red Cross with local German families while they waited seven months for the Soviets to restore the railway lines leading back to the east. Charities provided them with clothes, shoes and some food, while American, British and Belgian soldiers stationed in the area started to organise social gatherings, specifically dance parties for the Jewish refugees. The American music, the dances, and the attention she felt from young men seemed to have had a strong liberating effect on Agi.

These first few months of freedom, returning home and then reintegrating into post-war life in Hungary are well documented in Ági’s diary, juxtaposing the euphoria of the dances with the struggles the family faced when finally retuning home. After the war she went to medical school and worked as a doctor for 50 years. She died in October 2023 aged 93.

Agi (right) and a friend in Gyor, Hungary, before the war, aged 12

30 April

Yesterday we celebrated the four-week anniversary of our liberation in an elegant Gasthaus in Verl. The whole thing was directed by Anna Schwester, from the bottom of her heart. There were three long tables set with white cloth, decorated with flowers and cards that said frohe Stunde. They served seven different gorgeous cakes and lots of cookies called khuhen, but the best was the coffee that was made from real beans, and from which everyone drank at least two cups, and which then kept everyone from sleeping. On my part, I burdened my belly with an additional four apples. Then, 8-10 Americans just dived into the group of 80 women who were yearning to dance. I immediately singled out a terribly nice one with dimples, 22 years old. It was striking that they refused to dance even to the music, and my chosen one withdrew at the first sight of a couple of dancing ladies. Later, it transpired that European dances were completely foreign to them.

So, I ate a lot, I had quite a lot of fun, and Schwester is someone we can be forever grateful to.

10 May

I’m terribly excited, as today I have a dance ticket for 8 ½ p.m. at a place called Zermelager. We will go by car. Oh, please God, let me have fun. Such thrills!

12 May

A beautifully decorated large hall, full of English guys. We waited for the dancers, but in vain. At the next dance, on hearing the music, a couple of guys got terribly excited, and as we were the closest, they asked us to dance. We were about 10 or 12 in a circle and my partner showed us the moves. First, we waved our hands, spun and jumped around, we had to swing our legs, and then poked with our hips, back and forth towards the centre of the circle. I danced with the same guy to the next tune, he was an excellent dancer. Then, I said farewell, but he just waited for me as it turned out that the custom was to dance with the same partner all night. So, I danced with only him that night, he was of medium height or rather short, dark brown hair, a bloke in his 30s. I had a splendid time even though we could not exchange a single word, and he had an outstanding feel for rhythm, a perfect dancer, and a total scream.

Agi aged 18

13 May

In the evening we went dancing again. The jolly was supposed to last until 10, but because “we had so much fun”, the police extended it until 12. Then, we looked to get a lift to go home, and in the meantime, we acquainted ourselves with two soldiers who were outside, wrapped in sadness, listening to the music. We managed to explain to them that we wanted a car to take us home. Immediately, they called their friend “Tony”, who eagerly presented himself along with a 4-seater rattletrap, which on top of everything else had an open roof. The two fellows laughed their heads off while considering how 7 ladies would fit in the car. Well, eventually we managed to squeeze in, at which point they fancied climbing in with us too. The whole time, one of them kept on leaning on me but when everything was considered, the lift home outweighed this. And on top of all that, we even got invited to the “soldiers’ ball”. After such flops, however, I don’t hold high hopes for dancing, my buddy from last time is now offended, and this other one doesn’t even recognize me, it was so dark. But I feel like dancing, just because. Oh, please God! Just let me have some fun!

End of November

I am here at Uncle Imre’s apartment. I spend my whole days queuing up for our home. It was without an outcome. There are complications concerning getting the business back. Our house received a few bombs, so it’s as smooth as the palm of my hand.

As soon as I stepped into the stables that my poor dear father visited, sometimes even 10 times a day, and for which he had worked tirelessly for 40 years through diligent and honest work, the house that’s crumbled to the ground, I immediately thought of him. The person that connects every dust particle in here. I have a lump in my throat, but I mustn’t cry because mom already cries enough, not to mention Uncle Imre, who really doesn’t have anyone at all. Outwardly I am content, but internally I grieve deeply.

Yesterday a naïve or ill-meaning man asked, “Where did you leave your father?” If only I’d had the chance not to leave him! But when I think that they took him away from me; I could kill, I could murder, I could strangle someone with my own two hands. If only he came back! But he will never return again, and they even took away the opportunity from us to at least mourn from the bottom of our hearts, withdrawn from the world, the chance for me to take flowers to his grave, to light a candle as per the Jewish tradition… There is a weight on my chest, my eyes are tearing up, they must not roll down my cheeks. Even so, I want to live joyfully and carefree!

8 December

I’m at Uncle Imre’s because we still don’t have firewood, our apartment is so cold that the snow I bring in with my feet doesn’t melt. I also must take an exam to rejoin my school year and there are no books (it’s lucky, because I don’t have the money anyway to buy them). As I consider the state of our finances, I acknowledge that we are struggling and we get by just about by getting meals from the Jewish soup kitchen, in a cold room, and now here in the warmth we receive as guests. I can’t even imagine how I’m going to go to school, learn English and play the violin?

Agi with her daughters in 2013





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