Stefanella's Drive Thru

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Only the First Four Hurt: Part VI January 8, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — stefanella @ 7:36 am

This is Part VI in a series documenting my Uncle Irving’s account of his personal and family histories during and after the Holocaust.  Previous entries can be found on this site under the titles: Only the First Four Hurt Parts I, II, III, IV & V.

After the sanitorium, I think they offered us to go to Switzerland or Palestine or back to our homes.  I decided to go back to Hungary because I didn’t know who frommy family was alive or not.

While in the sanitorium, I don’t know how but a cousin from my mother’s side visited me and asked if I was Tibor Klein.  I said ‘yeah’ and he told me who he was.  He told me my brother Sandy and my sister Berjie were alive and that he had let them know I was alive.

There was no transportation to Hungary so we took cargo trains from one station to the next to get there.  I was with other people and I just followed them. When I got close to our hometown station – Matisakov – there were no more trains left to take.  So from there a local farmer who recognized me or heard about me or something took me by horse and wagon back to the town with the synagogue – Okorito.  That’s where my brother Sandy and sister Berjie were staying because in our town there was nothing left to go back to. It was very close by but the Hungarian government had taken over all the Jewish homes in our town.

I got to where Berjie and Sandy were.  They were alive – living with a Jewish family and with other young people from the area – there were about 5 people living in the same house. I remember being happy to see them and I remember the reunion being very happy.  But I found out that not all of my siblings or my parents or grandparents were there.  My sister Barbara was in Bergen Belsen – we didn’t know that at the time – but she wasn’t with the others.

One thing I noticed when I got there was that Berjie and Sandy and the young people who had come home from the camps were all living like there was no tomorrow.  Dancing, drinking, celebrating like….well I guess like any normal person would.

But it depressed me.

Irving pauses here and his face crumbles.  He is sobbing.

I couldn’t comprehend it all.  What was there to celebrate?  I came home and it was the end of 1945 and Sandy was already 21 years old and he was a business man supporting himself.  But I was 16, without education, without parents and I was very depressed.

So for a couple of months I stayed at home doing nothing.  The Russians were in power in Hungary and they forced all Hungarians to put in weekly work allotments for the Russian army.  Sandy sent me to do some of his days to keep me busy.   But after a couple of weeks when he saw there was no education, future, work or income for me, he sent me to a relative in Budapest.  The idea was for me to help out in the cousin’s vegetable store and support myself or learn something.

Sandy himself was in the trade business.  If someone needed money and wanted to sell, say, a ring, Sandy would buy and re-sell it for profit.  Later he bought land and a home there in Hungary. Bergie stayed at home doing nothing.

Sandy also decided to change our family name  during these years from Klein to Kutas because he thought Klein was too Jewish sounding.  The Russians were as bad as the Hungarians and there was still a lot of anti-Semitism so he was trying to stay safe.

I went to Budapest and worked in my uncle’s vegetable store for pay.  We got up at 4 a.m. to go to wholesale places & pick up cases of fruit & vegetables for the store and then he had big deliveries at a couple of Catholic institutions and at a home for children.

My uncle a beautiful wife and a small child but he and his wife didn’t get along.  He didn’t want me at home around his wife while he was out at work so he took me to eat at the Catholic Children’s home every day.  Their son, who was two or three back then in 1946, became a famous singer in Hungary when he got older.

I helped him a lot and he took care of me but there was no future in the work and he didn’t like taking me to the Catholic Institution every day.  He asked me if I wanted to join a Zionist Jewish children’s home; At the time, I didn’t know what ‘Zionist‘ meant.  He said I could try it and if I didn’t like it I could leave.

So I moved into the children’s home in Budapest – it was Shomer Ha’Tzaeer – and I got a very very warm welcome.  After a day or two I felt at home and I decided to stay.  From there I decided Hungary’s not for me anymore and that I would move to Israel.

The home was all young people my age –  15-20 years old.  There were girls and boys.  We studied & worked and whatever money we earned went back to the home.  Jewish people would come and ask for different handy people to come do jobs so we went out to different work places. I worked in a jewelry factory making metal items and jewelry for a long time.  I polished and crafted metal.

We basically went wherever they sent us; the money we earned went into buying our clothing and food.  The idea of the home was to convince us that Zionism is the future of the Jewish people.

And for me, that’s what happened.

I ask him about God.  Did he believe in some sort of God?  Did he feel God had a hand in the Holocaust or in his fate specifically?

When I got out of the camp I had a lot of questions in my mind about God.  Like how could it have happened – all of it.

I have no question that God saw to it that I made it through and that I got out or that hundreds and hundreds of times I was saved and that I managed to stay alive.  After the camps when I came home and saw that my grandparents and none of my relatives had come back, I questioned how all of this could have happened if a God exists.  And I spent time questioning.  But after a while it (my belief) came back; I always believe.


2010 in review January 2, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — stefanella @ 8:43 am

The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

The average container ship can carry about 4,500 containers. This blog was viewed about 20,000 times in 2010. If each view were a shipping container, your blog would have filled about 4 fully loaded ships.


In 2010, there were 13 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 541 posts. There were 25 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 11mb. That’s about 2 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was October 4th with 239 views. The most popular post that day was Only The First Four Hurt: Part V.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were,,,, and

Some visitors came searching, mostly for auschwitz, catamaran, gogos, heroin chic, and oh the places you’ll go.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


Only The First Four Hurt: Part V October 2010


The Aging Woman and the Sea October 2005


Boys’ Toys February 2010


Heroin (NOT) Chic August 2009


Fun with Science July 2007


Only the First Four Hurt: Part IV August 20, 2010

This is the fourth part in a series documenting my Uncle Irving’s account of his personal and family history during and after the Holocaust.  Previous entries include Only the First Four Hurt , Only the First Four Hurt: Part II and Only the First Four Hurt: Part III...slf

My Uncle Irving has a habit.  When he tells a story he sometimes breaks into a wide grin. And a slight chuckle.  His narration continues but within seconds his face goes distorted, his voice cracks and he breaks down into sobs while delivering some sordid twist to the tale he is telling.  At this point, the narration stops and he hangs his head, shoulders heaving with sobs.  This is a habit I witnessed numerous times while documenting his story…slf


After Mauthausen I was taken to another camp – Gusen II.  This was a real work camp.  A camp where people were sent to different kinds of factories and were given jobs.  It was very serious.  First they took me to – I have no idea what the factory was but it was underground and there were real big pieces of wood – trees – that we had to move from one place to another.  They brought them in with trucks and we had to move them.

One time a big piece of lumber fell off the truck and I got hit by it, I think in the head, and fell over.  After that they decided I was too weak to do that work anymore.  So they took me to a place where we had to fill up small wagons the size of cars with broken stones.  The wagons sat on train tracks.  Somebody would push the cars away and when they brought back the empties we’d fill them again.  What they did with it I have no idea.

Between all these things, something happened every day.  People got killed, people got close to the fence and were shot or electrocuted, people committed suicide by throwing themselves onto the electric fence.

Something, indeed, happened every day at the Gusen Camps.  Gusen I, II and III, three of 49 Mauthausen, Austria sub-Camps, came to be recognized as particularly tortuous.  “Compared to Gusen,” one historian commented “the other camps were paradise.” Scores of children in Gusen were “euthanized” by lethal injection to the heart and the elderly and ill were put to painful, slow death by being forced underneath pummeling, freezing cold shower water in freezing cold temperaturesThe main focus of Gusen labor centered around mining stone quarries.

The inmates’ nickname for Gusen II:  “The Hell of hells”

I remember it was very snowy and cold.  That was winter.  We would stand out there for hours in our pajamas  and wait for them to count us. And people got beaten up for all kinds of reasons.

I had no friends. No people I talked with or anything like that. It didn’t work that way.  We were all trapped in our own private worlds. Everybody was out to save his own life and to survive.  There are a lot of things I didn’t tell you because I wanted to block them out.  There are so many stories that I could tell you….

In Guzen II they had a latrine for the whole camp.  For everyone.  It was a long toilet where you sit on a wooden plank that has holes.  You sit there to do what you need to do.  It was walking distance from the barracks – a 5-10-minute walk.

One night in middle of night – I didn’t know it but they knew it.  I guess I was sort of sleep walking .. I went to make pee pee and I couldn’t make it.  So I must have made in my pants.

The next day, they called me – the Kapo to the Schreiber’s office at the end of the barracks. I didn’t understand the language. But they had decided I would get 24 lashes with a stick.  I asked: “For what?  What did I do?”  It was because I made in my pants in the middle of the night. And I didn’t even know I had done it.

In case you ever have to get 24 lashes with a stick….

my Uncle looked me straight in the eye and then grinned and chuckled.  It was his habit.

Only the first four hurt.  After that you feel nothing.  I fainted.

His head bowed and shoulders heaving with sobs, he paused for a few minutes.  His sobs audible, he wiped at streaming tears with a table napkin.  A few minutes later, he resumed.

You lie naked and they hit you on your toochas.  They don’t hurry.  They take their time.  And you faint. And you can’t sit down for a week.

So many things happen in the camp that you black out.  Certain things I remember but I’ve blacked out a lot of things. I remember standing in line and every third or fourth person is getting shot and I happen to not be the third or fourth person.

I remember that people who couldn’t work or who got too weak were put into a room at the end of the barracks – it was a long barracks.  The room was closed and it was for people who couldn’t work or stand up anymore. Once a day they came with a wagon pushed by two people and they carried the people away to the crematorium while they were still alive.

Everybody knew that if you were put into this room, that’s the end.

One day I got an infection – I don’t remember exactly when this was – and it was on my inner ankle and it was very bad.  It was getting worse and worse.  It wasn’t painful but there was no way to treat it.  So you just ignored it.  Every time they talked or decided what to do with me I had no way of knowing what was going on because I didn’t know the language.

But they decided I couldn’t work anymore with my foot the way it was and they put me into that room.  It was a closed room with a wooden slide that went directly down to the wagon that takes you away.  I don’t know if they wanted to scare me or send me to the crematorium but I was there for half a day.  At the time you don’t even care.  That’s what they’re doing so you do what you have to do.

After half a day they took me out of there to a place where you get bandaged.

A long time later, after I got home I thought to myself: I was so close so many times. Why was it that so many times I got out at the last minute?  I can’t remember everything.


Israel Poppy Fields April 4, 2009

Spring Hath Sprung which means road trips are in order.

Today’s Jaunt:  Kibbutz Kfar Menahem to view breathtaking poppy fields, gaze at cows and stroke their calves’ noses and lunch with dear friends.

Ahh…Ain’t nature Purty?




Waterboarding February 18, 2009

I’ve heard about Waterboarding.  I’ve read about it.  But I never had a visual image in mind of what it entailed.

While surfing Vanity Fair I came across this video.  I like Christopher Hitchens – acerbic as he can be.  Kudos to him for trying it out.  Geeyad.  If the video doesn’t come up on this blog page,  follow this link.  It’s very uncomfortable viewing so I can’t even imagine what the real deal is like.


I Was Angry With NBC February 3, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — stefanella @ 10:51 pm

I had a really great chat with my mom the other night.

We’re separated by a few continents so we  make up for lacking physical closeness by burning up the telephone lines.  I have a primo long distance plan so we chat at least once a week.  Sometimes there’s not a whole lot to share.  And other times we gossip our toochases off – no small feat considering our kin-folk’s proneness to generous backsides.

The other night we somehow got around to discussing September 11th and Gulf War #1 and how the face of terrorism has changed our global reality.  

My mom got emotional when recalling the morning of the Twin Tower hits.  She told me where she was when she got the news and described the impact of seeing the initial footage on television.

I shared what my reaction had been that morning and how I immediately phoned my brother with whom I consult on matters of grand scale international developments.  He and I discussed the implications of the attack and who might be behind the carnage.

Then mom & I ventured backwards to Gulf War #1.   We reminisced how at the time my parents were  hand-picked to appear in a live interview on Cincinnati’s NBC affiliate immediately after the first Scud Missiles were fired into Israel.

It was my turn to get emotional.  Because that night 17 years ago both my above-mentioned brother and I were living in Tel Aviv and my sister was living in Haifa.  Missiles hit both cities simultaneously and initial network reports cited possible chemical or biological attacks in both locales.

My unfortunate parents, along with many other U.S. dwelling parents of children in Israel, were unable to get through the jammed phone lines to determine the fates or whereabouts of offspring in targeted cities.

In a state of fear and shock, however, my folks had agreed to be carted off to the local television station for an appearance as “Parents of three children living in Scudded cities who have yet to learn the fate of their kids…”

After the Gulf War ended, someone at the network sent me the tape.  And I’m pretty sorry I viewed it.  Because  my father, always with a joke up his sleeve and a story to tell, sat ashen faced and terrified.  He spoke softly and had difficulty concentrating.  My mother sat listless and silent at his side in the harshly lit studio.  She was clearly in a state of shock.  During the war, wrapped up in work and my own fear, I hadn’t realized the impact to my parents.

“All I could think,” my mother shared via phone this week  “was that I couldn’t lose three of my four children all at once.  I couldn’t.  And then later,” she confided, “when NBC sent flowers to the house to show gratitude for the fact that you were working for them despite the Scuds, I got really angry.  Like flowers would make everything okay.  It took me weeks to finally get past it and send them a thank-you note.”

Chuckle chuckle.  She sent a thank-you note.  But then, ma has always been fastidious when it comes to decorum.

Oh yeah.  Now I remember.  We got onto the subject by way of discussing Gaza.  And the loss of children to war.


Millionaire Mindset October 11, 2008

Filed under: cool,U.S.,Uncategorized — stefanella @ 6:04 pm

I have a millionaire friend.  In fact, I have a few.  It happens sometimes.  Big Whoop.  I’d be willing to bet that a whole lotta people out there have one or two tucked down into the ‘ol pocketbook between the day-planner and the tube of M.A.C. So Chaud.

With any luck, I’ll be the cash-surplused friend someone writes about one day.

In the here and now, however…

Earlier this week I was sitting with my millionaire friend at a mid-town Tel Aviv cafe sipping latte-hold-the-foam and telling her about my panicky day.  Because I was having a panicky day.

The kind of day where I look at my income, eyeball my finances & critique my list of future job assignments and then go off into tangential mode.

Oh My God I’m going to be homeless.  Oh My God I’m going to run out of money.  I won’t be able to buy groceries.  Oh My God I’m never going to be able to afford. . . (unfurl lengthy list of desired assets and goods).

In psychological terms, it’s what is loosely referred to as “downward spiral” thinking.  In Wall Street terms – and particularly after listening to several people express exactly the same panic during a group discussion that day – I’m sorta guessing I tapped into synchronicity .

Stephanie my wise-beyond-her-years Baku-born friend comforted even people who have lots and lots of money and lots & lots of assets wake up some days with those panicky feelings.  In fact, they probably have them more frequently than average income people and I’m guessing they hit harder.  There’s more at stake.

Really?  I had never thought of it that way.  But of course she was right.

The trick she continued is in talking yourself down out of that place.  Because if you allow yourself to go there, you can become entrenched and have a tough time getting out. You have to believe that there’s enough out there for you, too.

You mean the Trust that the Universe will Provide theory, I asserted.

Exactly, she replied.

Now I know that last bit about the universe may sound like a whole lotta airy fairy hoakie New Age drivel.  Oh there she goes on the San Francisco track again. But I believe in it.  I truly do.  I see it work all the time in my life. I just need reminding sometimes.

In any event, I felt a whole lot better after that talk.

Especially when we got around to discussing our respective families.

It turns out that my younger brother Josh’s habit at the ripe age of four of charging down the front stairs into our entrance hall on his Big Wheel was chump change compared to the affinity her two older brothers held for fire

My mother went out once – literally for 5 minutes – to buy a loaf of bread at the kiosk down the street.  When she rounded the corner to our street, flames were leaping from the 1st floor windows.  The boys had set the furniture on fire.  Again.

Are you kidding me?  I gasped.

Naw.  We were the kids other kids weren’t allowed to visit.  Especially after my brothers set my friend Yazeela’s hair on fire. . .

Yeah, she nodded gravely, noting my response.  My brother flicked a match at her and it stuck in her hair.  Within seconds all those red curls were on fire.  My brother was horrified – he hadn’t meant for it to happen.  Come to think of it, her parents actually allowed her to come back and play.

I was rendered speechless. In my parents’ house they’d have been grounded well into their late 40’s. Her mom didn’t bat an eyelash, as she tells it.

Today her brothers are successful businessmen back in Azerbaijan.  Who don’t set things ablaze.

Geeyad. . .