Paul Lusztig, the last son of Moritz and Gizella Lusztig, was born in Gyalu (today Gilău, Romania) in 1912. The story of Paul inspired one of the audio guides at Muzeon. His father, Moritz, was a merchant and producer of alcoholic beverages, and his mother, Gizella, was a housewife. Paul started primary school in Kolozsvár (today Cluj, Romania) in 1917.
Until the end of WWI, Transylvania was part of Hungary and, in 1918, was united with Romania. The Hungarian Jewish people were partially able to integrate into Romanian political, social and economic life, but were met by fascist currents and movements in Greater Romania. Furthermore, the Transylvanian Jews were caught in the conflict between the Hungarian and Romanian cultures. Romanians despised them because of their inclination towards Hungarian culture, and Hungarians blamed them for their inclination towards Left-wing politics. Meanwhile, in Romania, in the 1920s, antisemitic student groups attacked Jewish people on the streets, destroyed Jewish stores and set synagogues on fire. These violent actions occurred repeatedly, and in Cluj these illegal student groups were shut down by the University of Cluj. However, the guilty students were never held accountable.
In this difficult context, Paul still managed to continue his studies, which he finished in 1930. Following that, he did three years of practice under the supervision of Dr. Tüköri Ármin, in order to become a dentist. After that, he worked as a dental technician for one year, studied for eight months in Czechoslovakia, and after returning home, between 1932-1934, he continued working as a dental technician. During this time, the antisemitic student attacks continued, and now weapons and explosives were being used.
Dentist certificate of Paul Lusztig, in Hungarian.
Dentist certificate of Paul Lusztig, in Romanian.
Letter of recommendation for Paul Lusztig from Czechoslovakia.
In 1934, at the age of 22, Paul had to leave his job as a dental technician for one year and eight months to join the army. That same year, antisemitism became state policy. The government gradually adopted various laws to exclude and limit the rights of Jewish people in society, economy, and other areas.
Between the wars, several countries in Europe established labour services for economic, sociopolitical, and ideological reasons. Initially, the labour for national interest in Romania did not include discrimination against Jews and was initiated by patriotic organisations. However discrimination crept in over time when the Romanian state took the responsability of organising the obligatory labour service. This resulted in Jewish men being excluded from joining the army and only being summoned for military labour, as unarmed soldiers.
In 1936, Paul returned from the army, started a relationship with his future wife, Erzsébet Mann, and continued working as a dental technician until 1938. Then, he was recruited for two years of obligatory labour in the Romanian army, in an unarmed and non-combatant unit in the towns of Ilba and Cicârlău. The letters Paul had sent home reveal how he felt there, what he went through, and his continuous hope to return home. The labour camp where Paul was interned was not very strict. He could send and receive letters weekly or even more often. The letters he received from Erzsébet offered him great moral support.
In 1940, Northern Transylvania was ceded to Hungary, which was then led by Miklós Horthy. In the same year, Paul Lusztig was released from the Romanian forced labour camp, and returned to Kolozsvár (today Cluj-Napoca), where he continued to work as a dental technician. After Hungary entered WWII, young Jewish men and Christians were recruited in labour camps and distributed in nine army units. Forced labour in Hungary was initially established for communist citizens who were opposing the conservative Christian culture, and were deemed untrustworthy to carry weapons. Due to the fact that the Hungarian government considered Jews to be communist sympathisers, Jewish men were also deemed to be unsuitable to carry weapons. So, they worked for the army in unarmed labour camps along with Hungarians over the age of 21 who were also classified as ineligible for military services. However, Jewish labourers were separated from the Christians, and wore their own civil clothes with special armbands to distinguish them from the rest of the prisoners; they were not given uniforms.
Vilmos Nagy, the new Minister of Defence of Hungary, tried to improve living conditions for the Jews in labour camps. He issued a secret decree according to which Jews between the ages of 24 and 33 needed to be recruited to replace Jews above the age of 42, who were put to very hard labour.
So, once again, Paul was recruited for forced labour, this time for the Hungarian army. It was December 1942, shortly after his mother passed away. He was assigned to battalion X, unit 110/7, which was based in Nagybánya (today Baia Mare), and he laboured in Nagybánya, Felsőbánya (today Baia Sprie), and Borsa (today Borșa). According to a certificate issued by the administration of the labour service, Paul worked an entire summer without shoes, regardless of the weather, and was finally granted a pair of boot soles in October. During the cold season, a lack of adequate equipment often resulted in deaths.
Request for a pair of boot soles.
The Jewish labourers also had certain liberties in the work camps. For example, they could communicate with their families or receive packages with the permission of the leadership of the labour camp, they had the right to a rabbi, and from 1943, the families of the workers began receiving financial help from the government. When Imre Reviczky became commanding officer of the camp, he ended the abuse toward the Jewish labourers, and insisted on listening personally to their demands, treating them with the same respect as he did the soldiers.
Postal card from the Hungarian Szentkirályszabadja labour camp.
The forced labour unit 110/7, where Paul was interned, was relocated in November 1943 to Szentkirályszabadja, Hungary. The construction of the camp was started in 1942 and was finished in 1944. Initially, the workers lived in huts built from shrub branches. Then, they were moved to earth bunkers which were built by themselves, although those bunkers could not protect them from aerial bombardment. The purpose of establishing the camp in Szentkirályszabadja was to construct an airport that would serve Veszprém, Hungary. There were also children in the camp, such as a 15-year-old boy who worked on the construction of the water and electricity canal. The working and living conditions in Szentkirályszabadja were worse than in Nagybánya. The camp was patrolled by armed guards and guard dogs, and security measures were increased beginning in the summer of 1944, making it difficult for workers to receive messages and packages. Families could only send packages to Jews through unofficial means, with no guarantee that the packages would reach their destination. We learn from a letter sent by Andor Lusztig to his brother Paul, that he sent him food and money, but that he was not convinced that they would get to him.
Paul Lusztig's work permit from the labour camp.
Letter sent by Andor Lusztig to Paul Lusztig in Hungarian, in which Paul is informed that Andor sent him food and money, but that he was not convinced that they would get to him.
Jewish men in the labour camps were allowed a leave of absence periodically. So, from January to February 1944, Paul returned home for the first time after a year of forced labour, and resumed his work as a dental technician. After Paul returned to camp from his leave, in March 1944, his girlfriend Erzsébet tried to do something to ease his living conditions in the camp or even to arrange for him to return home due to health reasons, but her requests were rejected by the chief doctor of the camp. However, after four months, he was transferred to a lighter labour service division, where he was a reservist. For Paul, from the beginning, the main method of mental health during his time spent in the labour camp has been faith in divinity.
The letter rejecting the request of Erzsébet for trying to ease living conditions for Paul Lusztig in the labour camp due to health reasons.
The arrival of the German troops in Hungary had a serious impact on the Jews working in labour camps. In October 1944, the Hungarian Ministry of Defence issued a new order that had repercussions not only for the entire labour system, but also for the events of the Holocaust in Hungary, placing 70 forced labour camps at the disposal of German authorities in the form of a loan. This decision resulted in the deaths of many Jewish workers in labour camps, as they were exposed to dangerous situations and were brutally mistreated. Six units from the Szentkirályszabadja labour camp had been assigned to the German Army. The workers from the 110/7 unit were handed over to the lieutenant in Sopron, who was told to either transfer the workers to the German troops or to execute them, but he refused. He saved 360 Jewish labourers from the 110/16, 108/8, and 110/7 units by putting up typhoid warning signs on the unit gates, stopping SS and Hungarian soldiers from entering the camp, and saving the workers from being transferred to the German Army or even death.
At the end of the year 1944, Paul Lusztig (Pál) and two other workers were lucky enough to escape from the 110/7 unit and walked all the way home from Szentkirályszabadja to Cluj. They found some food in the fields, but they didn’t have access to clean water. However, one time, they found a watermelon rind in a field that was filled with rainwater, which they were able to drink. Being caught in the middle between the Hungarian and German troops who were fighting the Allies, and with no clear information about the political updates, Paul and the other escapees faced the risk of being caught by the Hungarian and German troops, as well as by the Romanian Army, which had already reached Hungary. Paul and his colleagues, however, managed to escape alive and eventually arrived in Cluj. Unfortunately, he discovered that only half of his family was still alive.
The return of the Jewish workers from labour camps was difficult, and they were to become victims of the newly established Romanian communist regime, which was not prepared for the social reinsertion of the Jewish people. Their situation did not improve under the new regime, as throughout the communist period antisemitic reactions continued. Because the Romanian state blamed the old regime from the war period for what happened during the war, compensation for deported Jews and financial, material, and professional help came only from international community solidarity associations. However, most of these funds were diverted for the benefit of the regime.
After he returned home, Paul managed to open his own dental clinic in Gilău, Romania. The clinic operated until 1959, when the authorities forced him to close it and work in the public sector. The employment procedure at the state clinic has proved to be challenging since the public health administration was in no rush to hire him after he closed his clinic.
Paul, however, did not give up, and even though he lost his patience after a series of letters exchanged with the local administration that began in 1957, he stood up for himself and exposed his situation in a letter written to the authorities, declaring: ”On the 3rd of May, I received a notification that I can’t be hired. When I asked why I couldn’t be hired, I was not given any explanation. If the reason for the rejection was that I had a private clinic, I would like to remind you of the following: since 1957 I have been looking for a dental technician position and I have not found one. And because in the meantime I also had to earn my existence, I kept my clinic until now. […] I consider that if I was forced to close my clinic, I also have the right to earn a piece of bread like everyone else who owned a clinic before.” Paul had to fight with the bureaucratic system for almost 5 years before he was finally employed in the public health service.
Letter sent by Paul Lusztig to the authorities.
In the winter of 1945, Paul married Erzsébet Mann, and the following winter the two of them had a daughter, Ágnes, their only child. Unfortunately, Paul started to have health issues in 1958, needing periodic balneological and physiotherapeutic treatments, and he was hospitalised with diabetes during the summer of 1960. Yet, he finally managed, after being employed as a dental technician at a public hospital for adults in Cluj, to work there until his retirement in 1973. The time spent in the forced labour camps did not go unnoticed for Paul, as on June 17, 1970, at the age of 58, Paul Lusztig was issued a medical certificate stating that he suffers from posttraumatic proliferative vitreoretinopathy, a trauma he suffered during forced labour in 1941, greatly reducing his working capacity. In spite of all of these, he was a positive, brave and hardworking man, and after the war he tried to rebuild his life, to ensure a better future for his family. Paul Lusztig passed away in 1983.
Medical certificate about Paul Lusztig's illness.
The Archive of the Lusztig Family © Muzeon.
Randolph L. Braham, The Politics of Genocide: The Holocaust in Hungary.
Randolph Braham, Genocide and Retribution: The Holocaust in Hungarian-Ruled Northern Transylvania.
Martin Gilbert, The Holocaust: A History of the Jews of Europe During the Second World War.
Walter Laqueur, The Holocaust Encyclopedia.
Randolph L. Braham, The Hungarian Labor Service System (1939-1945), coll. East European Monographs.
László Csősz, Attila Gidó, Excluși și exploatați: Munca obligatorie a evreilor din România și Ungaria în timpul celui de-al Doilea Război Mondial, coll. Studii de atelier. Cercetarea minorităților naționale din România.