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Holocaust survivor offers message of hope, forgiveness

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

When Anna Rado was just 13 years old, she, along with her family, were transported from their native Rajka, Hungary, to Auschwitz, an infamous Nazi “work camp” in Poland. There, little Anna was separated from her parents. She never saw them again. However, through the grace of God, the kindness of strangers and her own naïve intuition, she survived. Rado now lives in San Antonio.
As one of only four remaining Holocaust survivors in the area, Rado speaks to group and organizations about her experiences. On Monday, May 23, the 85 year old spoke to Medina students in grades seven through 12. The presentation broke two of her tenets – never to address groups of less than 200 to 300 people and never to leave San Antonio. “I am telling my story to you so that you will understand and so it may never happen again,” Rado explained.
Never the same again
Beginning her narrative, Rado indicated that on Feb. 13, 1944, life changed irrevocably for a once-privileged girl in the 300-strong Jewish community. On that date, the German Army invaded Hungary and dictated that all Jews must wear a yellow star on their clothing.
“Four weeks later, I was no longer allowed to go to school,” Rado said. “I thought everything would go back to being the same, but it didn’t.”
Her older sister and brother were transported to a labor camp. Shortly thereafter, Rado and her parents were sent to a designated ghetto located about 10 miles from Rajka. They were allowed to take four suitcases. A month later, the family was relocated to another ghetto, this time with two suitcases. The world as they had known it was narrowing.
In June 1944, the family reported to a railroad station to begin their journey to Auschwitz, stuffed in a boxcar with 90 other people. “We had two buckets to use as a bathroom,” Rado recalled. She also remembered one person donating a small can of tomato paste secreted in a suitcase to feed a hungry baby.
Auschwitz, a concentration-death camp, had been created in an area of occupied Poland incorporated into the Third Reich.
Auschwitz & Mengele
After several days, the train arrived at the death camp and Rado’s mother and father were directed to lines for men and woman. “I never saw them again,” Rado said. “I don’t even have a picture of them.” Selection processes perfected by war criminal Dr. Josef Mengele – “The Angel of Death” – had begun. Rado recalled a fence surrounding the camp, as well as a “funny smell in the air” – that from Auschwitz’s infamous from the crematorium, where bodies of gassed Jews were incinerated.
Before the members remaining from the train transport were taken to a barracks, “We were undressed and our hair was shaved,” Rado said. Too soon, she learned about another selection process.
Younger children who had been barracked in Building C, were told by camp personnel, “Come with us. We will take you back to your parents.” Camp personnel included not only Nazis and members of the SS, but also capos or kapos, Jews who collaborated with the Nazis. Unwilling to go, Rado hung back.
“I was told, ‘You’re parents are no longer alive’,” Rado said. That night, after going to the bathroom, she left C barracks and made her way to a “safer” adult barracks. “Something told me I must leave that barracks. From then on, I told everyone I was 16,” Rado said. Children were destined for extermination at Auschwitz.
Surviving selection
Rado also realized it was imperative to volunteer for jobs and prove her usefulness. “My cousin and I carried rocks for no real purpose,” Rado said. “If you were not strong enough to do the necessary work, it would be the end of you.”
By dint of her tenacity, Rado survived one final Mengele “selection.”
“He lined up the girls and indicated for us to go to one line or the other. I was supposed to go to one line, but instead pushed myself to the back and entered the line again,” Rado said. The second time around, she was directed to the “safe” line and again survived that selection.
Shortly after, those remaining in the concentration camp were transported to the Czech Republic as a public relations tactic enabling “the world to see how the prisoners were being treated.” While working there in a machine shop, Rado, essentially a slave laborer, spoke German with a civilian employee. The woman told her, “If I had a pocket, I would bring you food everyday.”
“I sewed pockets for her uniform and she brought me food almost everyday,” Rado said, noting, “That German woman, how good she was. There are more good people than bad ones.”
Righteous Gentile
She referred to the woman who helped keep her alive with smuggled bits of food as a “Righteous Gentile.” This term refers to non-Jewish people who, during the Holocaust, risked their lives to save Jewish people from Nazi persecution. To commemorate their courage and compassion, a field of trees was planted in their honor at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, Israel.
In May 1945, the war in Eastern Europe was finally over with Rado being liberated by Soviet troops. She began her long trek home.
Rado’s first walked to Budapest, the capital of Hungary. There a Jewish organization put her in a hospital for three days. However, after being informed, “Your brother is home,” she ran the 120 miles from Budapest to her hometown. Of the 300 Jews deported from Rajka, only 15 survived the Nazi killing machines. “I lost 75 members of my family in the camps,” Rado said.
Post-war years
In the years after World War II, Communism trapped Hungary – and Rado – behind the Iron Curtain. Her sister, who had also survived the war, had been incarcerated in a concentration camp liberated by American forces. “She visited me in Hungary in 1957,” Rado said. “It was the first time we had seen each other in 13 years.”
Eventually, her sister emigrated to America and settled in San Antonio. After the Communists eased restrictions, Rado and her husband followed, also relocating to San Antonio – with $50 in their pockets.
Reflecting on the turns her life has taken, Rado remains forgiving and, incredibly, sanguine about her experiences. “I had a husband, brother and sister-in law. I still have my sister, a child, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I was lucky.” Still, she advised the students in the cafeteria, “Go home tonight and hug your parents and tell them you love them. I didn’t have a chance.
“God was good to me and I thank Him for my life.”