Jewish Families on the Brink of War

Suddenly the Skies Darkened

Hebrew Postcard from Munkács

"New winds are blowing in our city. About six mixed marriages are taking place now. Some of the Jewish women that got married converted to Christianity and wear large crosses around their necks. Still today, there are Jews who look to assimilation as a solution."

Pnina Salzberger wrote these words  on 27 December 1939, on a postcard that she sent to her brother Josef, a student at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.  Josef had immigrated to Eretz Israel (Mandatory Palestine) earlier that year.  Pnina was murdered in the Holocaust.
Pesia née Ferenblum and Eliezer Salzberger lived in Munkács, eastern Czechoslovakia (today Munkachevo in Ukraine).  They both came from wealthy, established families.  Eliezer owned a textile business in the city center.  Their son Menachem-Meni was born in 1907, followed by Etel, Tzila-Tzvia, Josef, Pnina-Bezhi, Mordechai-Poti and Yitzhak-Itzo.  Menachem was groomed to take over the family business.  The children studied with private tutors, and the family maintained a traditional Jewish lifestyle. 

The economic crisis of the 1920s did not spare Munkács.  The business interests of the Salzberger and Ferenblum families were badly hit.  Etel and Tzila, both talented seamstresses, helped support the family.  The family embraced Zionism, and the four younger children conversed in Hebrew.  Despite the financial hardship, Pesia and Eliezer were determined that their children would be educated, and sent them to high school. 
In 1933, Josef moved to Prague to study economics, trade and industry at university.  Pnina went to the Hebrew Gymnasium in Munkács (a private school with minimal government support), was active in the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement, went to Prague to study, and after graduating, returned to Munkács. 

On 10 November 1938, the Hungarian Army entered Munkács.  The Jews hailed the return of Hungarian rule, but their optimism was shortlived.  Jews became the victims of physical violence, abuse and robbery.  The authorities sabotaged Zionist activity, curtailed the Jews' financial freedom, and recruited many men for forced labor in the Hungarian Army.

In 1939, Josef married Leah Sud in Prague.  He immigrated to Eretz Israel alone on a student permit, and started studying at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.  He quickly joined the Haganah.  Mordechai, who was recruitment age, was encouraged by his family to leave Munkács and went to Prague.  In 1940, he immigrated illegally to Eretz Israel and was reunited with his brother Josef.  Leah immigrated in 1941.  In 1942 Josef enlisted in the British Army and was posted in Tripoli, Libya.  Leah and Josef had a baby girl, Yehudit, in 1943.

In the spring of 1940, Etel married Moshe-Monzi Sobel, and in summer 1941 they had a son, Mikhael-Mickey.  Menachem married Moni Shimshowitz in Munkács.  Shortly after his wedding, Menachem and his brother-in-law Monzi were recruited to the Hungarian Army labor battalions, and were sent to forced labor in the mining camp of Bor in Yugoslavia (today Serbia).  In October 1942, the youngest son Itzo was also recruited, leaving only the parents, daughters and little Mikhael at home, with no incomings and in financial trouble.  Pnina had an immigration permit for Eretz Israel but she refused to leave her parents.

On 19 March 1944, the German Army invaded Hungary, and four weeks later, the rounding up of the Jews began.  The Jews of Munkács were confined in two ghettos.  The deportations to Auschwitz began on 11 May, and the last train left Munkács on 23 May.  The Salzberger family members still in the city were all deported.

In winter 1944-45, Menachem was sent from the camp in Bor to camps in Germany, and was liberated at Bergen-Belsen. Barely alive at the time of liberation, he succumbed to typhus.  His wife Moni survived.  In October 1944, Itzo deserted and was liberated by the Red Army in November.  He returned to Munkács to find his home abandoned, looted and in ruins.  Not one member of his family returned.  In 1949, Itzo immigrated to Israel and was reunited with his brothers Josef and Mordechai.

In 2004, Josef  Ami-Salzberger submitted Pages of Testimony to Yad Vashem in memory of his parents Pesia and Eliezer, his brother Menachem, his sisters Etel, Tzila and Pnina, his brother-in-law Monzi and his little nephew Mikhael.  In 2011 Josef's daughter Yehudit Salzman donated Pnina's postcard to Yad Vashem as part of the "Gathering the Fragments" project.