The Odyssey of John Chillag, a Hungarian Jew Born in Vienna
From Györ in Hungary to Australia and England via Auschwitz and Buchenwald
John Chillag interviewed in Bochum, Germany, by Hubert Schneider
John Chillag died in St Gemma's Hospice Leeds on 21st March 2009
John was born in 1927 in Vienna, Austria. In 1934, shortly after a failed attempt by the Nazis to overthrow the government in Austria, John and his family moved to Gyor in Hungary. He was just 17 years old when on 19th March 1944 the Germans occupied Hungary. Immediately after the occupation, the anti-Jewish Nuernberg Laws were fully implemented. For John this meant, amongst other things, he could no longer attend school. In April 1944 a ghetto was established in one district of Gyor and 5,000 Jews (10 percent of the city’s population) were evacuated there. John had to move into one house with his 35 other family members. Although it was very crowded, at least they were happy because they could all stay together.
One day in May, the whole family was brutally driven to the central square of the ghetto where they were strip-searched, everything was taken away from them and they were moved to an other ghetto on the outskirts of Gyor. Just a few days after D-Day, on 11 June 1944 they were forced to the local railway marshalling yards where a train of cattle wagons was waiting. Their destination Auschwitz-Birkenau. John, his father and one uncle survived the selection by Dr. Mengele. The other (over 30) members of the family were said to be moved to the "family camp".
By the time John arrived at the barracks, he learnt from other prisoners that his family had not gone to some "family camp", but had been taken to the gas chambers. After 3-4 weeks in the camp, John was chosen to be a slave labourer in war production plants in Germany . John and his father were amongst 270 slave labourers who were sent to work in the steel and armament plant of the Bochumer Verein in Westphalia.
John had to work 12 hour shifts under very harsh conditions (e.g.: working with red hot steel ingots of 1000º centigrade with no protective clothing). Even though they were fed better than in Auschwitz , it was barely enough. As a result of these circumstances, John’s father became very weak and died in December 1944. When in March 1945 the Allied forces reached and crossed the Rhine, John was evacuated by the Nazis to Buchenwald concentration camp. By this time he was extremely weak and his survival was doubtful. The American forces liberated Buchenwald on 11 April 1945. John was unable to move from his bunk – he weighed just 25 kg (56 lbs) After numerous blood transfusions and treatment with sulpha drugs, by some miracle(as he says himself) he survived.
After the Second World War, John went back to Hungary in the hope that someone from his family might have survived the Holocaust – alas, no one had. Later he escaped from the by then communist regime in Hungary, became a refugee in Austria and was accepted as an immigrant in Australia. There he got married and later came to England with his wife and children. In the last few years John has given many talks in schools and other groups about his experiences during the Holocaust, "in the hope that younger generations may learn from the events and work for a better future."
John Chillag writes in his book "The Odyssey of John Chillag":
"Dedicated to my wife, children and grandchildren; and in memory of my parents and the 60 members of my extended family who perished in Auschwitz, Bochum and other camps, in labour battalions and on death marches"
"That the generations to come might know..."(Psalms, 78:6)
English version: The Holocaust Centre Beth Shalom and J. P. Chillag, 2004 Second Edition, April 2006. ISBN 0954300122 - ISBN-13 9780954300128 Deutsche Version, Kontakt: "Erinnern für die Zukunft e.V." c/o Dr. Hubert Schneider, Auf dem Aspei 63, 44801 Bochum