November 2, 2011
“We got married with a yellow star on his jacket and on my dress.”
Violet Raymond, then Ibolya Friedmann, and her new husband, George Singer, stood under a chuppah at Nagyfuvaros Synagogue in Budapest, Hungary, on May 27, 1944. She was 17, and he was 19. Three days later, George was ordered to report to Bethlen Ter 2, a labor camp housed in another of Budapest’s 22 synagogues.
Violet had grown up comfortably. Her parents operated linens and menswear kiosks in the Teleki Square marketplace. But after the anti-Jewish laws were enacted in 1938, things changed. Violet worked as an unpaid dressmaking apprentice, her dream of becoming a librarian quashed. Then, soon after the Nazis marched into Hungary on March 19, 1944, the family was forced to relocate to a smaller “yellow star” apartment. Later, her father was sent to a labor camp outside Budapest.
George was assigned a truck-driving job in the labor camp, allowing him to occasionally visit Violet. He persuaded the family to move to a large building adjoining the camp, which had been converted into a hospital and became a self-contained ghetto. He helped Violet’s mother secure a job as a cleaning lady there. That was August 1944.
Two weeks later, Violet awoke to discover that George, along with all the men at Bethlen Ter 2, had been taken to a forced labor camp in the Hungarian countryside. A few months later, she realized she was pregnant.
During the day, Violet volunteered as a nurse, attending to German and Hungarian soldiers and corralling the Jewish children to the basement when bombs fell. There was little to eat. At one point, the baby was not moving inside her. A doctor went person to person, his hat in his outstretched hand, requesting food.
After the war, Violet learned that George died in the camp. “He starved to death,” she was told.
After the Russians liberated Budapest in January 1945, Violet, her mother and brother returned to their “yellow star” apartment. On April 14, she gave birth to her daughter Judy. Weak and malnourished, Violet had no milk. Her mother found a Jewish woman whose baby had died and paid her to nurse Judy for three months.
That August, Violet’s father returned home from Mauthausen. “We saw a walking skeleton,” she said. He was too weak to hold his 4-month-old granddaughter.
Soon after that, Violet met a childhood friend, Tibor Radai. On June 17, 1946, they were married. But in 1948, their happiness was marred by the death of Violet’s mother. “My mother was the one who saved us, because she was with us all the time,” Violet said.
Danger erupted again in 1956, when Russian tanks rolled into Budapest on Nov. 4 to quell the anti-government uprising. Tibor was then a newspaper editor and had written several revolutionary commentaries. As tanks fired at their apartment building, they crawled to the staircase to escape the flames, eventually reaching the street. “Don’t cry,” Tibor told Violet. “I will take you to Miami,” reminding her of the sunny skies and palm trees they had seen in movies.
They managed a harrowing escape to Austria, meeting up with Violet’s father. Eventually they made their way to Montreal, where Violet gave birth to their son, George, in 1960. They lived there until 1969, later moving to Irvington, N.J., and finally, in 1976, to Los Angeles, where Violet’s brother, Robert, had settled. But in 1983, Tibor suffered his third heart attack and died. He was 56.
A few years later, Violet met Andrew Raymond. They married in 1985 and lived in Long Beach. But when Andrew died in 2008, their house was sold, forcing Violet to move to a one-bedroom apartment in Encino.
Now 84, Violet suffers from many health problems, including an open heart valve, a painful facial nerve condition and arthritis. She wears hearing aids, her ears having been damaged by the noise of exploding bombs.
She manages on little money, receiving about $1,400 a month in Social Security benefits and paying $1,200 in rent. She received a one-time reparations payment of $2,250 and has two applications pending for her ghetto work, which she filed with assistance from Bet Tzedek.
She receives food from Meals on Wheels daily. Jewish Family Service provides a caregiver eight hours a week.
During the day, she walks outside with her walker, watches television and uses the computer her son gave her. “I cannot socialize; I have no transportation,” she said. Her daughter, son and brother are local, but three of her four grandchildren and all seven great-grandchildren live far away.
Violet’s one wish is to reconnect with any surviving friends from the Jewish school she attended on Dugonics Street. They would know her as Ibolya Friedmann. She returned to Budapest once, to visit the graves of her first husband and mother.
“I never want to go back there,” she said. “I am an American girl.”
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