The Children's Home in Deszk, Hungary
Bnei-Akiva's Youth Village

In the summer of 1945, the leadership of the Bnei Akiva youth movement in Hungary established a "youth village" for children from religious homes in Deszk, in south-eastern Hungary.

The estate, surrounded by woodland and spread out over some 15 acres, had a main building with dozens of rooms, a swimming pool and an artificial lake with an island.  Nineteen-year-old Yirmi-Yirmiyahu Lavi (Loebel), an activist in the Zionist youth movement underground in Hungary during the war, was sent to run the place.  Lavi recalls:

David Asael (Auslander) was 21-22 when he ran the Bnei Akiva pioneer movement. … in the midst of the chaos in Budapest, where the battlefield, fires, smoke and hunger still raged.  Ausi [Asael] decided that I should run an institution for children who needed support and a home.  I quickly became an older brother – to needy children and Holocaust survivors.  Even though their age in terms of both years and suffering was greater than mine, I became their brother. … a counsellor responsible for their day-to-day life.
(Yirmi Lavi, Roots, p. 41

Another underground activist, Eliezer-Latzi Weiss, was involved in setting up the children's home. Weiss came to Szeged, where he heard about a derelict site in the neighboring village of Deszk.  In Deszk he found a neglected rehabilitation center, unfit for occupation.  He saw the untapped potential of the place, obtained a permit to use the estate, and turned it into a thriving children's home.

In early May 1945, the first group of 20 children arrived in Deszk with Lavi.  These children had lived in the Bnei Akiva nursery on Kisdiofa Street in Budapest that had been running since February, and where Lavi was director.  Over 200 children aged 6-17 passed through Deszk, some of whom had been brought up in religious Jewish homes, while others had grown up in secular homes.  In Deszk, they were provided with emotional support, and a Zionist Jewish education in preparation for immigration to Eretz Israel (Mandatory Palestine).  Among them were children who had survived in Hungary but lost their entire families, children who had survived the concentration camps, children who had endured the infamous medical experiments at Auschwitz, and children who had survived thanks to the kindness and courage of Christians. 

The children's primary care consisted of delousing them, and tending to wounds caused by lack of vitamins and by infection due to scratching. They needed clean clothes and food, and craved warmth, love and a sense of belonging. The counsellors were young Holocaust survivors themselves, sometimes barely older or the same age as the children. After a time, professional teachers joined the staff, and a school opened, with a focus on teaching Hebrew. The smaller children went to the local village school.

Chaim Genizi was eleven when he came to Deszk from Budapest together with his brother and sister:

Deszk was the antithesis of the Holocaust.  Orphans and semi-orphans came to live there, and found a warm home, with a feeling of family.  Outdoor group activities, competitions, singing and dancing, all these things made us happy.  They restored the lost beauty of childhood to the children and their counsellors.  The classes at school, and especially the informal education in the afternoons and evenings. … laid the groundwork for a world of values such as religious observance, Zionism, a love of Eretz Israel and the Hebrew language, and the importance of kibbutz life.  The education in Deszk focused on immigration to Eretz Israel. … the many songs about Eretz Israel, and even the games, all steered us in that direction. (Chaim Genizi, My Family History, p. 15)

Special emphasis was placed on Jewish tradition, Sabbath and festival observance, and holding Bar Mitzvah ceremonies for the boys.  Rabbi Dr. Yosef Schwarzbart, one of the first teachers in Deszk, organized "Oneg Shabbat" parties and wrote the Deszk anthem:

Deszk, our little home Deszk, where we played, happy as children without any worries.
How beautiful were the Sabbath days here, and how beautiful the "Oneg"s.
We danced the "Hora" from morning till night, until we made "Havdalah"                      
(Chaim Genizi, Rehabilitation of Child Holocaust Survivors in Hungary, 1998, p. 20)

In the spring of 1946, Aryeh Ehrenfeld replaced Lavi as director.  Ehrenfeld too lacked training in management and was sent by the leadership of Bnei Akiva to be the administrative director of the children's home.  The home received financial assistance from the AJJDC but still experienced periods of shortage.

The children started leaving Deszk in December 1945.  The pioneer youth movements allotted a specific number of places to Bnei Akiva for each "Aliyah", and In this way, groups of youngsters departed for Eretz Israel via Yugoslavia and the DP camps in the American Zone in Germany.  Sometimes, they were caught by the British and sent to detention camps in Cyprus.  There too, the togetherness that they had created in Deszk continued.

The youth village in Deszk finally closed in August 1948, and the remaining children were transferred to another home in Ujszeged.

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