Cleavland, OH – Among those survivors who credit Rezso Kasztner with saving her life is Cleveland Heights resident Anna Halberstam Rubin.
Born and raised in Slovakia, not Hungary, the site of Kasztner’s most famous rescue, Rubin counts herself lucky to have found passage aboard a truck to Switzerland. Kasztner arranged that transport, and for parts of the journey, he accompanied his fellow Jews.
At the time of World War II, Slovakia separated itself from the Czechoslovak Republic and created its own fascist state, says Rubin. “Slovaks did the dirty work for the Nazis. Jews were stripped of property, their livelihood, their homes and their lives.”
In March 1942, to avoid the round-up of Jewish teens for deportation, Rubin’s parents sent her to a different community where they had relatives. Not registered in this other town, Rubin was thought to be safe from deportation.
After a short time, Rubin tried to return home but ended up in another community where her grandparents lived. There, she learned her parents had already been deported. So Rubin and her grandparents crossed the border illegally into Hungary, living in hiding between 1942 and 1944.
When the German army invaded Budapest, Rubin returned to Slovakia with a group of other people, thinking deportations had by then ended. For a while she was hidden by a Christian seamstress in Bratislava (now the capital of the Slovak Republic).
In April 1945, her grandfather (her grandmother had already been caught during a raid on the synagogue during Yom Kippur services) got word to her to join him in an orchard in Bratislava, where he was hiding.
The Christian farmer who owned the property protected the Jews, allowing them to stay in a little structure with a room and kitchen. At night they went into an underground bunker, dug beneath the small house. Dogs outside would alert them to any danger.
“Jews were reading the Megillah (Book of Esther) in that bunker,” Rubin recalls. “I had thought I was the only Jew left in the world.”