7:21 | Bob Ratonyi was four years old when his father was sent to a labor camp. He was taken after Hungary became a de facto ally of Germany and, since he was Jewish, he was among the earliest victims of the forced labor system. No one told the him his father wasn't coming home until a year or two later, and his uncle divulged the details of his fate decades later.
Keywords : Bob Ratonyi Bob Reichmann Holocaust Hungary German Wannsee Conference Jew Jewish forced labor Germany concentration camp Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Bob Ratonyi was growing up in a large Jewish family in Budapest. He had lots of aunts, uncles and cousins but he was born in 1938, which was not a good year for a European Jew to be born. Two events in that year shook the continent. He recorded all of these stories and more in his book, "From Darkness into Light: My Journey Through Nazism, Fascism, and Communism to Freedom."
When his father was taken for forced labor by the Nazis, Bob Ratonyi's mother managed to support herself and the boy by working in a factory. The overwhelming poverty kindled a desire in the young Hungarian Jew to never be poor again.
His father was already in a concentration camp and when his mother was taken, Bob Ratonyi was cared for by his grandparents, who also took in other relatives. One uncle managed to get most of them Schutz-Passes which gave them some protection them from deportation.
It is difficult for Bob Ratonyi to talk about seeing his mother taken away at gunpoint when he was six. The Hungarian Holocaust had taken his father when he was four and now they were getting around to the women. He was very fortunate that a neighbor knew where his grandparents lived and took him there.
When Bob Ratonyi was a child in the Budapest Jewish ghetto, he had an older cousin who had a dangerous job. He went out without his yellow star to scavenge for something that could be traded for food. Decades later, that cousin would recollect some of those dire circumstances when Bob was writing his book.
As soon as Bob Ratonyi came into the care of his grandparents, they began a series of moves trying to stay ahead of the Hungarian fascists who were rounding up Jews. First they moved into the Jewish ghetto, then, after getting some coveted Schutz-Passes, they moved through several so-called protected houses. The final move was back into the ghetto because it was actually safer there.
How could a continent populated with Christians stand by as their Jewish neighbors were murdered? Hungarian Holocaust survivor Bob Ratonyi has given this a lot of thought. He survived the Nazis and their successors, the communists. He wrote of these experiences in his book, From Darkness into Light.
His family was not very religious, but they followed all the Jewish traditions and holy days. Bob Ratonyi had barely survived the Holocaust and then he was faced with more oppression of religion when Hungary became a Communist satellite of the USSR.
It was near anarchy in Budapest following the fall of the Nazis. Many were starving surrounded by rubble. Bob Ratonyi was overjoyed when his mother returned from a labor camp but then he watched as communists turned Hungary into a Stalinist dictatorship.
It was all propaganda, everything on the radio and in the newspapers. That was life in communist Hungary as Bob Ratonyi was coming of age. He urged his mother to take an offered post as the party representative at her factory so she could take advantage of it.
For Bob Ratonyi, living in communist Hungary meant only one inevitable outcome, moral decay. When you have to lie, cheat and steal, just to have a decent life, it begins to affect your soul. Still, there were true believers in the utopian fantasy.
It began as a simple student march in Budapest permitted by the communist government. Overnight, it became a bloody uprising. Bob Ratonyi was an eighteen year old freshman who was swept up in the moment. It began a course of events that would lead to a brutal crackdown and to his eventual escape to the West. Part 1 of 4.
The student led march to the parliament building had been exhilarating for Bob Ratonyi and he got up the next morning to go to his classes but there were no streetcars running. Then he saw two dead Russian soldiers in their vehicle. The peaceful march had turned into the bloody Hungarian Uprising. Part 2 of 4.
When Bob Ratonyi heard that a good friend had fled the country after the Hungarian Uprising, he decided to do the same. He recruited another friend and they began to plan their escape. Their group of two expanded to seven and they naively set out for the Austrian border. Part 3 of 4.
It was a shakedown. Bob Ratonyi saw that he had to go off the trail and around the soldier collecting the money. Along with six others, he was making an attempt to escape communist Hungary after the brutal putdown of the Hungarian Uprising. He stumbled through the dark and found a group of peasants, but they were part of the operation, too. Part 4 of 4
He was free. Bob Ratonyi had made it out of communist Hungary into Austria. His first stop was a refugee camp, which was overcrowded. He made it to Vienna with the help of a Catholic charity and, once there, he made straight for the American embassy. Unfortunately, the quota for refugees had been met. He had three choices, Australia, Sweden and Canada.
On the spur of the moment, Bob Ratonyi sent a transcript to MIT. He'd never heard of it but one of his professors said it was one of the best engineering schools in the world. As a Hungarian refugee in Canada, he was unaware of it's reputation and he surely could not afford it. When he was accepted, he faced a hard choice. (Caution: coarse language.)
When he got to the interrogation center, he was placed in solitary confinement, interrupted only by repeated questioning. Downed B-17 pilot Clayton Nattier was determined not to reveal anything, not that he really knew much. After a week of this, he was taken to a train station where he was reunited with the surviving members of his crew.
When he had to bail out, Jim Wicker was literally sucked from the cockpit when he released the canopy because of his high rate of speed. He was just a hundred miles inland a few days after D-Day and the Germans caught him almost immediately. As he sat in solitary confinement waiting for interrogation, he was comforted by his faith.
Bill Adair was suffering from the effects of a concussion when the battle for the Philippines came to an end for him. Along with thousands of others, he was forced to surrender and was facing the prospect of joining what would become known as the Bataan Death March. Then fate intervened in the form of an ambulance without a driver. Part 1 of 2.
Clayton Nattier was headed for Stalag Luft I on Germany's Baltic coast. His first three weeks were spent in the camp hospital, where he was treated for burns received when his B-17 was brought down by flak. The original bandaging of his wounds, which was done by a German medic near the site of the crash, proved to be a first rate job.
Two engines were out, a third smoking, and they were were losing airspeed and altitude, but they were flying level and pointed home. Then time ran out for the B-17 and Don Scott had to slip down the hatch into the slipstream. Part 2 of 3.
Bill Garrison was standing in a chow line when a man up the line suddenly dropped, shot dead by a sniper. That was only one hazard at the air fields in China; the others being Japanese air raids and infiltrators. (This interview made possible with the support of COL ROBERT W. RUST, USMCR (ret.) in honor of LtGen Lawrence Snowden & LtGen George Christmas.)
Col Hubert A. Zemke was the senior Allied officer among the POW's at Stalag Luft I. When the Germans stopped delivering the Red Cross parcels that were keeping bellies full, he negotiated with the camp commandant until they were restored. Clayton Nattier remembers that, after three months with little food, he couldn't eat without getting sick.
He bunked with regular B-17 crew members, but Bill Livingstone was a gunnery instructor who was there to keep skills sharp. He was also there to substitute for any crew member who was not able to fly. His very first mission turned out to be a memorable one. Part 1 of 5.
Bill Adair may have been the luckiest man in the Bataan Death march. With a commandeered ambulance full of casualties, he threaded his way through the ordeal thanks to luck and guile. At the end, though, there was a camp waiting for him just like all the rest. Part 2 of 2.
The German guards had fled in the night. The next day, a Russian tank was at the gate of the POW camp and, soon, a Russian general to go with it. Downed pilot Clayton Nattier recalls that the Russians wanted to remove the men to Soviet territory, but the senior Allied officer wasn't having it.
Hannah Deutch was a teenager when the Kindertransport rescue effort became her means of escape from Germany. England was taking in thousands of Jewish children and she got her papers in order and left. Right away, as the oldest one in the large group, she became the leader on the journey.
It was their third mission over Berlin and they were heading home. Four German fighters pounced on the B-24 and it was engulfed in flame and going down. Clyde Burnette fought for consciousness as the other crew in the back of the plane bailed out. He woke in free fall with no idea how he had made it out, and soon he was in German custody. Everyone made it out of the plane except George "Danny" Daneau, the nose turret gunner, who went down with the aircraft.
It was the last test. Clayton Nattier's crew was aloft in a B-17 for their check ride, after which they would be assigned to a bomb group in England. The testing officer took them up to a higher altitude than they'd ever been and this contributed to an unfortunate situation which would separate pilot from crew.
B-24 flight engineer Bill Toombs was over Germany when bad went to worse. One engine was shot out. Then an 88 round went right through the number four wing tank. It didn't blow up the plane, but they lost all the fuel for that engine, so now they had two engines out. They made a desperate run for Brussels, which had been liberated.
After a nerve-wracking mission to bomb Tokyo and a typhoon, B.E. Vaughan and the destroyer O'Brien suffered a second kamikaze attack which killed all three of his hometown pals who served with him on board. Then, began the grim task of collecting the personal belongings of the dead and preparing them for burial at sea.
He picked up a new B-17 loaded with freight for some bomb group in England, then Clayton Nattier flew the first leg of the trip up to New Hampshire. That's where the weather got nasty and he and his crew had to wait out several delays.
Rufus Dalton was at the Maginot Line bouncing mortar shells off an old citadel. His unit was suddenly pulled and sent to take Patton's place in the line after the general was summoned to the Bulge. Once they got there, a fierce ten day battle ensued due to the last major German offensive, Operation Nordwind. Part 1 of 2.
It was his sixteenth mission and, once again, it was Merseburg, site of a synthetic fuel plant. Clayton Nattier's plane had a mechanical failure so a substitute B-17 was brought to the flight line. Everything was fine until, as the flight neared the target, an engine went out. This was only the beginning of a disaster. Part 1 of 3.
Near the end of the war, the food supply in Holland had been disrupted and there was widespread hunger. Henk Duinhoven was lucky to be in the countryside, where gardens had been harvested. When he heard the sound of Canadian tanks, he knew that liberation was finally at hand.
Robert James was in the shower aboard ship when the alarm went off. He scrambled to his gun mount to man the 20 mm gun and then the threat became apparent. Kamikazes had broken through the air cover and were headed for the convoy. He heard some firing from another gun and turned around just in time to see a horrifying sight. Part 1 of 2.
It was a fierce week long battle for the city of Heilbronn. Even though they were only delaying the inevitable, the Germans weren't beat, yet. Forward Observer Rufus Dalton went into the demolished city looking for a rifle company he was instructed to find. It was an eerie setting with the city in flames all around him. Part 2 of 2.
Robert James was propped up against a bulkhead, going in and out of consciousness. The kamikaze had destroyed the starboard gun mounts and there were many dead and wounded. He was grateful when someone gave him some morphine to ease the pain from multiple shrapnel wounds. This was the beginning of a painful journey to healing. Part 2 of 2.
The men of the 92nd Infantry Division had to fight on three fronts. They had to fight the Germans. They had to fight the racial animosity of their fellow soldiers and commanders. And they had to fight Congress, which wanted to maintain segregation in the Army. Lyle Gittens made it through all that with an undampened spirit.
On his first raid in North Africa, reconnaissance platoon leader John Souther captured a hundred Germans with no losses to his own unit. His job in the 1st Armored Division was to be out in front with his eyes open, and he was doing just that when a huge amount of enemy was spotted. Rommel's big push had begun.
Wes Ruth was eating breakfast when he saw the planes coming in. He thought they were ours until the bombs started falling. As he drove frantically to his hangar on Ford Island, he saw the USS Arizona hit. The Japanese had made their move. As a photo-recon pilot, he was dispatched as soon as the attacks ended to search for the enemy fleet.
John Souther was on reconnaissance patrol when he nosed his halftrack up over the edge of the gully in the Tunisian desert. A round from a German 88 immediately tore through the engine compartment, but left him unhurt. They paid mightily for that shot. With his radio, he began spotting artillery on their position, under fire the entire time. He was awarded the Silver Star for this action.
The first operation for the 4th Division was the landing on Roi-Namur. Lawrence Snowden remembers that, though it was an easy victory, valuable combat experience and important lessons were imparted on the Marines.
His first semester at Kansas State University was going fine. Then came Dec. 7, 1941. Clayton Nattier knew that, if he had to go into the military, he wanted to fly airplanes, so he went to the airfield where Kansans could take the tests for cadet training.