Panni Koltai -- 3 Generations, 6 Weddings

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Panni Koltai was born in 1915 in the small town of Eger in Northern Hungary. Panni's father, Ferenc was a Neolog Jew, who did not observe traditions, her mother, Aranka came from an Orthodox family and she and her daughters kept a kosher household, celebrated all the holidays and did not work on Sabbath.
All four daughters married, and two of them, Piri and Bozsi, moved to Budapest. Anna's husband came from an Orthodox family from Slovakia. He had attended yeshivah, but he turned his back on religion as an adult.
Anna's parents and two of her sisters, Rozsi and Bozsi (with her little daughter), all if whom lived in Eger, were deported to Auschwitz - only Rozsi returned. Anna and her sister, Piri, were in Budapest, first in a yellow-star house, then in the ghetto. Anna's husband, Istvan survived forced labor.
After the war Panni and Istvan moved to Budapest with their son, Karoly. Istvan, who had joined the Communist party right after the war worked as departmental head in one of the ministries until his retirement. Anna worked as a trade union secretary.

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PREWAR

Panni’s and her family lived in a Hungarian town called Eger. Read about Eger’s history here.

Before 1918, Hungary had been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Empire was formed in 1867 under Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph, combining the power of Hapsburg-led Austria with that of Hungary. The Empire also included Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Slovakia, as well as part of what are now Serbia, Romania, Ukraine, Poland, and the Czech Republic. Read more about Franz-Joseph and the formation of the dual monarchy here.

The Empire was dissolved at the end of the First World War in 1918. This marked Hungary's independence after centuries of Hapsburg rule. This marked Hungary's independence after centuries of Hapsburg rule. After a revolution in 1919, a communist state was created known as the Hungarian Socialist Republic, first under Mihály Károlyi, and later Belá Kun. This, however, lasted only a very short time. The monarchy was restored following a counterrevolution, and from 1920-1946 the Kingdom of Hungary operated under regent Miklos Horthy.

For an overview of Hungary's involvement in the First World War, the subsequent peace negotiations, and political turbulence, read this article.

Following the massive economic downturn of the 1929 Great Depression, Hungary's enconomy gradually improved, largely through trade with Germany. Hungarian authorities fostered a positive relationship with Germany, feeling that the policies of its National Socialist government was in line with Hungary's own aims and values.

A result of this relationship was that in the 1938 Munich Agreement, negotiated between England, France, Italy, and Germany, Hungary received back some of the territories it had lost in the Treaty of Trianon after World War One.

WWII

The Second World War began in September 1939, when the German army invaded and occupied Poland. France and Britain, Poland's allies, responded by declaring war on Germany.

Allied to the Axis powers, anti-Semitic legislation began to appear in Hungary in 1938. Despite having been the one to initiate these restrictions, president Miklos Horthy later resisted German pressure to deport the Jewish population of Hungary to concentration camps in Poland. While a large portion of Jewish communities from rural Hungary were deported (either to concentration camps or to the capital city), many Jews were able to survive the war in Budapest. This essay discusses the growth of anti-Semitism in Hungary before the war, while this page for an overview of the restrictions placed against Hungarian Jews, and life in Hungary before the German occupation of 1944.

Hungary officially joined the Axis Alliance in 1941, declaring war on the Soviet Union. Hungarian forces took part in the invasion of Russia, however after heavy losses and a terrible defeat at Stalingrad, Horthy attempted to leave the alliance, arranging armistices first with the Western powers, then the Soviet Union. These armistices were made void when the German army invaded and occupied Hungary, toppling Horthy's government. Read more about Hungary's involvement in the war here. In October 1944, seven months after the invasion, German powers installed Ferenc Szalasi as president. Szalasi was the head of the Arrow Cross Party, Hungary's fascist and brutally anti-Semitic political faction. The Arrow Cross operated a reign of terror between Szalasi's October appointment and the Soviet liberation in April 1945.

Panni's parents, her sister Bözsi, and Bözsi's children were killed in Auschwitz, where much of the Jewish population of Eger was taken.

The situation in wartime Budapest had not been good for its Jewish population. However following the German invasion, conditions worstened significantly. June 1944 saw the creation of yellow-star houses in Budapest. These were crowded and poorly supplied living quarters for Jews, marked with a yellow star over the doorway. Prior to the formation of the Budapest Ghetto, it was believed that scattering Jewish residency throughout the city would deter Allied bombing attacks, whereas condensing the Jewish population to one area would leave the rest of the city open to destruction. When this strategy proved ineffective, the Budapest Ghetto was established in the city centre in November 1944.

Panni's brothers in law, Gyula and Sándor, died in forced labour. This scheme, from 1944, required healthy Jewish men to undertake physically demanding tasks, often construction or strategic fortification near front lines. Conditions were harsh and supervisors could be brutal, with many labourers dying. However those who performed forced labour were not taken to concentration camps, and many people survived the war this way. Learn more about the Hungarian forced labour scheme here.

More information on life in Hungary after the 1944 invasion can be found here.