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Editor's note: In June of 2002, on our 2nd mission to Oradea, several people in the Jewish Community suggested that we visit and interview an elderly gentile man living in what had been a Jewish neighborhood of the city. We were told that this humble man, once a well-known soccer player, had saved a number of Jews during the time of the ghettos in Oradea, in May, 1944, and should be recognized as a "righteous gentile." The following excerpts, translated from the Hungarian, are from a videotaped interview conducted in his home.

"A person had to help,
and he helped."

Testimony of Sanyi Papp

June 17, 2002

Oradea was a mixed community, with the Jews, the Romanians, the Hungarians. But there were no differences, it didn't matter if you were Jewish or Hungarian until the Iron Guard came and then the Arrow Cross, and then it was terrible. Between 1940 and 1944 when the Hungarians came in, it was a terrible time.

Then came the deportations, they pulled all Jews together, here at the end of this street they locked them into the wagons. It has a terrible effect, the memories of crippled people, small children, pregnant women.

About sixty or seventy people stayed behind, sick ones with typhus. Among them was a writer. His book tells about what I did. This is the writer whom I rescued and who was then able to write the book. The book is in Yad Vashem in English. Here he writes how I saved them, out of good will, how I saved him and the others, there were many others and the border was nearby, in Felix Furdo. And I took them [those I could save] out to there and then they went on into Romania.

These 60 or 70 people stayed here, they had typhus. I would go to the market -- he writes about this in the book -- to go shopping, and when I saw them there inside the ghetto guarded by the gendermes, they would throw notes to me, listing things they needed. I helped them with medicines, food, whatever I could, and I talked it over about this writer and it cost about a thousand pengos, I was in a good financial situation, they should let him leave one evening. And I took him out to the train station to Budapest, and he went with his wife.

I met him after the liberation at Janos Hospital in 1945, I was playing soccer [able to travel for that reason]. He was terribly distraught, like someone who had decided that he'd had enough of this life. He was very depressed. His daughter had gone with the grandparents, she hadn't stayed in the ghetto, but went [to Auschwitz, where she died]. And a few years later he also died.

Yes I think so, they put the Gypsies in [the ghetto, after it had been emptied of Jews]. The Gypsies enjoyed themselves, in the evenings they made fires and they danced and sang as though there was nothing wrong. They made them work here, I don't know if they deported them. This is what I saw with my own eyes, here at the end of the street. When they packed them up, it was in May, it was very hot, and they packed them up and took them away. But then who knew where they were going [to Auschwitz]? They didn't know it.

How should I say it? What did the people look like, who spent weeks crowded together like animals, I don't want to speak about myself or brag, don't misunderstand me -- what did they look like? They were terribly distraught, it was very very hot, these rooster-feather gendermes treated them like animals, and then they closed the doors of the wagons and took them. They looked terrible, the old, the pregnant, the children, they threw them in.

The thing I can't understand from a political standpoint -- there are those who deny the Holocaust. There are those, and mostly in my opinion, they are the ones who were responsible. If they ask us here, in Oradea, was there a Holocaust, then we can say that we saw it with our own eyes, here, how the Holocaust started and we don't need to say that we heard about it. We saw it with our own eyes, and how they were fenced in here in this big area, and how they took away their valuables.

The Jewish people are a talented people, a good people, this is what I say.


Editor's note: The book Mr. Papp refered to, Kilenc Kopfer, by Bela Zsolt, appeared in weekly installments in Hungary in 1946 and came out in book form in 1949. It was translated from the original Hungarian into English in 2004, under the title Nine Suitcases (published by Schoken Books). In it, Sanyi Papp is named as the person who indeed saved a number of Jews from the deportations to Auschwitz, among them the author. The book details Mr. Papp's actions and states that he accepted nothing in return for putting himself at considerable risk. In order to present Yad Vashem with additional evidence of his heroism and to try to make the case for his being recognized by the Museum as "Righteous Among the Nations," we interviewed Mr. Papp again in 2005. The following excerpts, translated from the Hungarian, are from that videotaped interview conducted at his home.


May 23, 2005

This was the truth, people were in trouble, they were being oppressed, a person would help as much as he could.

The area where I was a child was a Jewish area, I lived in this circle with my friends, and for this reason I was obliged to help, not because they were Jews, but because if a person falls down you have to help him get back up.

When they told me they needed medicine, I got it for them. Four or five minutes from where we are today there was a factory and a fence around it and there they had gathered those people who hadn't been deported yet. And I went there and there were people I knew there and they threw out notes saying they needed this or that. I went to where the fence ended, where there were the rooster feathers (gendermes) and I threw things over the fence.

There was an iron worker who would yell out: here comes the Jew-saver.

I went by bicycle and threw what they needed over the fence and they threw notes to me -- but now this belongs to the past.

The Jews came, they knew who I was, what I could do. They discussed it and then they came to me and I was there through the afternoon and the evening and then I took them out to the Baths in Felix and Puspok and brought them over the border.

And you said that you didn't accept money, but actually used your own money to save them?

I used -- of course, I had to use the money, I said to the rooster-feather, look over here, the money, and there are two people saved.

And how much money did it cost?

I don't remember exactly, it was two or three thousand pengos, not a big sum, and as I say, I was in a lucky position to have money. I was an active soldier and it was a serious problem for me if there was going to be any trouble. Because there were instances when there were people they caught, they shot them in the head and they put them in the streets as examples. There were many situations like these. And when I was doing these things, I didn't even count how much money I was giving.

What kind of danger did this put you in?

The kind of danger that at any moment, when they were yelling after me, that iron worker, for example, who yelled out here comes the Jew saver, if they catch me then they shoot me in the head. That's the kind of danger I was in. Because a human life wasn't a problem, it didn't matter if it was mine or someone else's.

Were there others who helped the Jews?

There was this mass psychology. The Jews, the thieves, the this, the that. The yellow stars. There was the mass psychology that made people hate, I sensed this. How should I say it, there was spontaneous anti-semitism.

Why do you think you did these good deeds?

I have to emphasize. It's not just because these were good people we're talking about, but doubly so, because people were in trouble. If I know someone is in trouble and I can help that person... that's who I am, this is what I can say about myself.

This happened, a person had to help, and he helped.

Posted: August 17, 2005

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