Surviving the Darkness: Istvan Csillag's Journey Through the Holocaust

Surviving the Darkness: Istvan Csillag's Journey Through the Holocaust
Noga Kohavi, 8th Grade Student at Hausner

Yom Hashoah 2024: Istvan Csillag's Story, shared by his granddaughter, Noga Kohavi, 8th Grade Student at Hausner


On April 1, 1939, my grandfather, Ishtvan Csillag, or Pista for short, was born in Budapest, Hungary, to Malvin and Zoltan Csillag, and he had two older siblings whom he loved very much; a sister named Klara and a brother named Gyuri. Growing up, the Csillag family was very poor, and they lived in a small rented apartment with only a kitchen and a bedroom, forcing the three children to sleep on a giant iron stove in the kitchen. And while the entire world was engaging in a brutal war, the families in Budapest were completely unaware of what was going on. 

However, everything started changing for them in 1944 when the Hungarians took their father, Zoltan, to work in the army as a cobbler. Later in the war, as the Hungarian army moved to Graz, Austria to fight off the Soviets, Zoltan was caught trying to escape with a few other people and was executed. 

In March of 1944, the Germans invaded Hungary and everyone’s lives were changed. Pista and his family were forcibly removed from their apartment and put in an all-Jewish house, crowded with 4 or 5 families living together in one small apartment, many of their actions restricted. They lived at the lowest level of society. The three kids, Gyuri at 13, Klara at 11, and Pista at 5 years old, lived in this cramped apartment from April to October of 1944 with their mother, who took care of them. 

In October of 1944, Jews began to be sent to Camps including Auschwitz or Bergen Belsen. Malvin, their mother, knew about protected houses for Jewish children scattered throughout Budapest, places where her children would be safe, safe from being sent to the camps. On November 7th, she took Gyuri, Klara, and Pista, to one of those houses, hugged them, and told them that she would come back soon. Little did they know, this would be the last time they would see their mother. Malvin was taken to the train station and sent to Bergen Belsen, where she died of Typhoid due to contaminated water. 

The three children lived in a very crowded basement with about 300 other Jewish kids, hungry, sick, and afraid of the Arrow Cross party, a radical Hungarian group that killed tens of thousands of Jews in Budapest. However, there were a few brave young Zionist Israelis in the safe house who guarded the children and managed to stop the Hungarians from breaking in. 

Everybody in the basement was suffering from starvation, lice, and other diseases, including Typhus, which Pista grew ill with. He had a high fever and struggled greatly, relying on his older siblings to take care of him. With such little food provided, the kids often had to resort to eating snow. 

Gyuri, who was 13 then, would go into the streets to look for food, often in garbage cans. He would also go over to the family’s old apartment to meet up with Hermin, their mother’s sister, who was in hiding. While walking toward the train station, Hermin broke out of line and realized that the soldiers didn’t notice, so she escaped, saving herself from death. Gyuri and Hermin had a secret knock when he came to visit her; the first notes of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. 

Thankfully, the Holocaust in Hungary was very short. The trio of children only had to endure a few months of the brutal, subhuman conditions they faced. On the 15th of January, 1945, the Soviets liberated Budapest, saving my grandfather and his siblings from death. When asked about how long they could have survived in the basement, my grandfather said that if the Russians had come even a few weeks later, they might not have survived. He said that it was all a matter of luck and time. 

The three children lived for some time with their aunt Hermin, before all of them eventually immigrated to Israel by 1948. At Aliya, all three siblings changed their names; Gyuri became Meir, light, Klara became Yaffa, beauty, and my grandfather, Pista, became Yitzhak, laughter. 

Even though my grandfather was only 5 years old during the time of the war, he said that the atrocities of the Holocaust still follow him and are always with him. My grandfather, Yitzhak, now lives a good life at 84 surrounded by his family in Israel and the United States. Meir and Yaffa also got married and had children and grandchildren, but sadly, both of them passed away a couple of years ago. My grandfather has done multiple interviews about his experience in the Holocaust, all to make sure that the Holocaust, and all that he and so many other people went through, will never be forgotten. I feel proud to be able to share my grandfather’s story today to make sure that we never forget. 


Istvan Csillag's Story, shared by his granddaughter, Noga Kohavi


Istvan Csillag's Story, shared by his granddaughter, Noga Kohavi


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