World War II was a horrifying time for Jews in Eastern Europe and Eva Heyman is a representative figure of that tragedy. The Jewish population throughout the region suffered as the Nazi regime and its allies worked to implement the Final Solution. Northwestern Transylvania, which had been detached from Romania and occupied by Hungary as a result of the Diktat of Vienna in the fall of 1940, was one of the areas where Jews suffered immensely. Innocent men, women, and children were senselessly slaughtered. Among them, a young 13 year old girl, Eva Heyman, who, like many girls her age, began keeping a diary in February, 1944.
Born on February 13, 1931, Eva’s parent divorced when she was quite young. Her mother remarried and moved to Budapest. Eva grew up with her grandparents, a middle class Jewish family who owned a small pharmacy in Oradea (Nagyvárad). She started penning her diary in February 1944 and continued writing until May 1944, the day she was deported to Auschwitz where, like so many other innocent victims, she became a victim of Nazi atrocities against the Jews.
Eva Heyman is considered by many to be the East European version of Anne Frank. A remarkably intelligent and beautiful young girl, Eva’s diary is an important and insightful testament of life in Oradea during the fateful days in 1944 when the Nazis occupied her city. She wrote of the common repression of Jews and Romanians in northern Transylvania under Hungarian occupation from 1940 to 1944. The accusation of being “an unreliable Romanian-lover and a Jew” was used to exclude Jews from the economy and many were drafted into Hungarian labor battalions which frequently meant their death. Jewish elders advised that “all try and get false documents and go to Romania.”
With the adoption of the Final Solution in Hungary in 1944, the Jewish population in occupied northern Transylvania were among the first targeted. The Chief Rabbi of Transylvania in Romania, Dr. Moise Carmilly-Weinberger, organized a massive rescue effort and, with the aid of Romanian military officers and peasants and the support of Romanian central authorities through former minister Emil Hațeganu, Raoul Șorban, and Bishop Iuliu Hossu, he worked with Hungarian Bishop Martin Aron to smuggle over 15,000 Jews into Romanian-held territory and safety, including the leadership of the Hungarian Jewish Rescue Committee. Aron was eventually forced to flee Hungary and seek refuge in Romania as well. Despite their efforts, 90,000 Jews, including Eva Heyman, were deported to Auschwitz and murdered during the summer and fall of 1944.
Her diary is a remarkable document of the Holocaust that should be read by anyone seeking to understand this tragic period of history. In her last entry in her diary, dated May 30, 1944, Eva poignantly expresses her fear as Jews in Oradea were being rounded up by the Nazis for deportation to Auschwitz. She pleaded for life: “Yet, my little Diary, I don’t want to die, I still want to live, even if it means that only I remain behind from this entire district. I would wait for the end of the war in a cellar, or in the attic, or any hole, I would, my little Diary, I would even allow that cross-eyed gendarme who took the flour from us to kiss me, only not to be killed, only to be left alive!”
According to the account of her mother, Agnes Zsolt, who learned the fate of her teenage daughter from family members, Eva bravely endured the horrors of Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz. She arrived there on June 6, 1944, the very day Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy. Eva’s mother recounted: “until October 17, Eva lived in Camp C of Auschwitz in the shadow of the heavy clouds of smoke issuing forth from the crematorium. But on that day Mengele carried out his last and largest ‘selection,’ apparently in view of the progressing allied troops. If until then he directed his helpless victims toward the left or the right with a conductor’s elegant movements, now he was satisfied with the rows of victims lined up in front of theor executioners, but he himself searched for them in possible hiding places.And, in fact, a good-hearted female doctor was trying to hide my child, but Mengele found her without effort. Eva’s feet were full of sore wounds. ‘Now look at you’, Mengele shouted, ‘you frog, your feet are foul, reeking with pus! Up with you on the truck!’ He transported his human material to the crematorium on yellow-colored trucks. Eyewitnesses told me that he himself had pushed her on to the truck.” Horrifically, Eva died at the hands of the Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele in the gas chamber at Auschwitz on October 17, 1944.
Eva’s diary remains an important legacy and testament of the tragedy suffered by the Jewish people in Transylvania during World War II. In 2015, the Tikvah Association in Oradea unveiled a statue of Eva as a to symbolically represent all the children of Oradea who suffered or died during the tragic events of 1944. The statue was erected in Bălcescu Park, the location from which the deportations to Auschwitz, which included the young 13 year old girl, took place. Eva’s story serves as a reminder of the tragedy of the Holocaust and perils of totalitarianism.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has abundant materials on the tragedy of the Holocaust as well as an entry on Eva Heyman https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/id-card/eva-heyman
The Diary of Eva Heyman is essential reading for anyone interested in learning about the victims of the Holocaust https://www.amazon.com/Diary-Eva-Heyman/dp/0933503644
Information on the Eva Heyman memorial is Oradea can be found here: https://www.tikvah.ro/en/eva-heyman/memorial-for-eva.html
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