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A Passover to remember


Buttoning her coat tightly around her to keep out the unrelenting cold of her dingy boarding house room in Hungary, Eva Dukesz, 23, unwrapped the few groceries she had bought for dinner: a loaf of stale bread, a head of nearly spoiled cabbage, a turnip and a few limp carrots. She filled a pot with water, added the vegetables and put it on a contraband hot plate to boil. If the hot plate were discovered, she’d be evicted, but it didn’t matter. The landlady was asking too many questions, and Eva feared her identity as a Jew would be exposed soon. In the morning, she would leave for work and never return. 

» Read more of our Personal Journeys here 

Her eyes filled with tears. It was the first night of Passover and there would be no bountiful ritual meal this year. No family and friends sitting around a candlelit table reading from the Haggadah, the book that tells the biblical story of the Jews’ escape from Egypt. Nor would she even see her mother, who was also trying to stay one step ahead of the National Socialist Arrow Cross Party members, Nazi sympathizers who routed Jews from their homes and deported them to forced labor camps or gas chambers. 

There was no way for her to know that, thanks to her indomitable spirit and a gift for reinvention, she would go on to enjoy a successful life, rich in love and deeply rooted in Atlanta history. Or that she would enjoy many more Passovers to come, giving her ample opportunities to commemorate not only the Jews’ escape from Egypt but their escape from the Nazis and her own flight from a life of fear and persecution.

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Passover takes on special meaning for Holocaust survivor
Atlanta nonagenarian Eva Friedlander has led a remarkable life
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A Passover to remember

Religious ceremony takes on special meaning for Holocaust survivor Eva Friedlander

KickerThis is a kicker.

Buttoning her coat tightly around her to keep out the unrelenting cold of her dingy boarding house room in Hungary, Eva Dukesz, 23, unwrapped the few groceries she had bought for dinner: a loaf of stale bread, a head of nearly spoiled cabbage, a turnip and a few limp carrots. She filled a pot with water, added the vegetables and put it on a contraband hot plate to boil. If the hot plate were discovered, shed be evicted, but it didnt matter. The landlady was asking too many questions, and Eva feared her identity as a Jew would be exposed soon. In the morning, she would leave for work and never return. Her eyes filled with tears. It was the first night of Passover and there would be no bountiful ritual meal this year. No family and friends sitting around a candlelit table reading from the Haggadah, the book that tells the biblical story of the Jews escape from Egypt. Nor would she even see her mother, who was also trying to stay one step ahead of the National Socialist Arrow Cross Party members, Nazi sympathizers who routed Jews from their homes and deported them to forced labor camps or gas chambers. There was no way for her to know that, thanks to her indomitable spirit and a gift for reinvention, she would go on to enjoy a successful life, rich in love and deeply rooted in Atlanta history. Or that she would enjoy many more Passovers to come, giving her ample opportunities to commemorate not only the Jews escape from Egypt but their escape from the Nazis and her own flight from a life of fear and persecution.

**2**

**War on Jews** The Nazis took control of Germany in incremental stages so insidious that many Jews remained until it was too late to flee. In Hungary, the war came like a hungry giant gobbling up one chunk of normal life after another. First came the order for Jews to wear yellow stars on their clothing, then onerous curfews. Jewish children were expelled from schools and ostracized by former friends. Within weeks, bank accounts and businesses were seized. And then the deportations began. Night after night, Eva and her mother, Margit, peered between the blinds in their second\-story apartment window watching hoards of Jews men, women and children herded onto trucks like cattle. They heard the ominous sound of soldiers boots clomping on the wooden steps, followed by insistent pounding on apartment doors. Families had only a few minutes to grab a few items of clothing before being shoved down the stairs and onto trucks. She worried that her father, whod abandoned their family for his mistress, might be among them. Day after day, they lived in fear. When would the pounding come to their door? They were desperate to run away. But no place was safe for Jews. Without the proper identification papers, even the fair skin and blond hair that had allowed them to pass thus far wouldnt protect them. So they agonized. And they waited. One day, a lawyer in the law firm where Eva was office manager tipped her off that she and her mother were in imminent danger of deportation. He confided that he was a sliah, a Jew working with the Underground, and could provide them with false identity papers so they could escape from their home in Pest and walk to Buda on the opposite side of the Danube River that divided the city. Eva became Barbara Negy; her mother, Margit Kocsis. They had a glimmer of hope.

**3**

**Disappearing act** Once escape was possible, the question was how. Carrying suitcases was out of the question, so they put on layers of clothes, topped by coats, tucked an extra pair of shoes and a few changes of underwear into large shopping bags, and left all their possessions behind. Once in Buda, they separated. Margit found a job as a nanny in the home of a wealthy Christian family. Eva, displaying the secretarial skills that had put her at the top of her class, was able to land office jobs. But as soon as co\-workers began asking questions about her background, shed simply fail to show up for work the following day. For a while, she worked at a hospital as a nurses aide; later, during the intense urban warfare, she was on the assembly line at an automobile parts factory. The only bright spot was when she rendezvoused with her mother every Thursday. Margit Kocsis would bring sandwiches from the house where she worked and the two would sit on a park bench, share stories and relish their brief hours together. Eva told of her narrow escapes. There was the time she evaded German soldiers by fleeing into a building that in a stroke of good luck led to the alley on the opposite street. Another day a young Jewish friend dressed in a stolen Hungarian officers uniform asked her to pose as his wife. It seemed like a good option, she recalled. At least Id have a roof over my head. For a time, they fooled the landlady, who threw the newlyweds an impromptu party, but instead of the platonic relationship he had promised, her friend tried to consummate their fake marriage. Eva quickly departed.

**4**

**Joyful liberation** Eva and her mother had been in hiding for almost a year when the tide of the war turned. News of the impending arrival of the Allies announced over crackly radios sent their hearts soaring. With the Allies would come more bombings, but also hope. One Thursday when the two met, screaming sirens sent them scurrying toward the basement of a damaged house designated as an air raid shelter. They were greeted by a dozen pair of eyes peering at them through the gloom of the dank, dark space. Eva and Margit found space on a bench near the center of the room and, like everyone else, waited for the bombing to stop. None ever imagined that it would become their home for the next 10 days. The small band of disparate people formed a kinship and shared the few cans of food they found in the upstairs pantry. When the supply was exhausted, two men raided empty homes and looted stores under the cover of night. One day a large horse was killed just outside their hiding place. The group was so starved for protein, they descended on the poor creature en masse and dissected him. Someone found a small Sterno stove, a large pot and a few spices in the damaged kitchen. As the meat simmered, their mouths watered. It was better than any filet mignon Id ever eaten, Eva said. The group celebrated noisily on Feb. 13, 1945, when news came via radio that the Russian, British and American allies had liberated Hungary. But jubilation turned to fear when they heard that the city had been divided into sectors. The Russians, who were known to loot homes and rape women in areas under their control, were their liberators. That night, most slept fitfully, flinching at every noise. In the morning, their worst fears were realized when three Russian soldiers burst through the door. They approached each occupant and snatched watches and rings. When the tallest of the trio reached Eva, he spotted a small gold necklace around her neck. With surprising care, he unhooked the clasp and pocketed the one remnant of the life she had left behind, then he grabbed her wrist and dragged her screaming across the room toward the stairway. She had no doubt she was about to be raped. The only person who came to her aide was her mother, who held tightly onto Evas opposite arm in a tug of war with the soldier. The trio had just reached ground level when a truck loaded with Russian soldiers careened into the driveway. The driver bellowed an order and the soldier dropped Evas hand so abruptly that mother and daughter nearly tumbled down the stairs. Few words were spoken for the remainder of the day. Everyone stayed in the cellar for a few more days until it seemed safe to head back to their homes. But with the end of the war came a new uncertainty: What would they find when they returned? Eva and her mother headed toward the Danube intending to walk back across one of the seven bridges connecting Buda and Pest. To their dismay, all within sight had been destroyed. In desperation, they hailed a river barge captain and begged him to take them across. Once back in Pest, they trudged along the riverbank heading in the general direction of their home. Bombed out buildings, rubble\-filled streets and the stench of death assaulted their senses. With each faltering step, their optimism waned. While a few buildings were unscathed, most were piles of wood and stone. How could their old apartment have survived when 80 percent of the citys buildings had been destroyed or damaged during the intense bombings? Their pulses quickened as they rounded the corner near their former apartment. Miraculously, it appeared much as they had left it. Eva bounded up the steps and knocked on the door, then gently pushed it open. Relief flooded over them when they found it empty. Though only a few pieces of furniture remained, there was running water, a little heat and two beds. It looked like heaven. After they enjoyed the first real baths theyd had in weeks, hunger kicked in. The cupboards were bare except for two cans of beans. We called them liberation beans, raised our chipped water glasses, and toasted to our good fortune, Eva recalled. Their lumpy mattresses felt luxurious after sleeping on the hard benches in the cellar, but reality hit the next morning. With the city in ruins, there would be few jobs. They had to find a way to make money and fast.

**5**

**Art of reinvention** Eva and her mother struck out the next morning, each looking for work. By days end, they were exhausted, discouraged and hungry. The only solution, Eva decided, was to open a business. Mother and daughter made a list of their qualifications. Eva typed more than 100 words a minute and took shorthand. Both spoke four languages and had experience as translators. The solution was right under their noses. There would be thousands of people returning to Budapest in need of clerical and translation services to locate lost birth certificates, marriage licenses and property deeds. They would open a secretarial service. Energized, Eva rose early the next morning and began walking the old financial district. Banks were slowly re\-opening, but there were a number of unoccupied storefronts. One was particularly appealing. Much smaller than the others, it had a large window that faced the busiest street and was empty. Peering through the gritty window, she saw someone moving about inside and rapped on the door. The owner, an elderly gentleman, was swayed by Evas winning smile and her assurance that the business would be profitable. He took a leap of faith and agreed to defray the rent for 60 days until they got on their feet. She scurried back to the apartment to tell her mother the good news, and they went from flea market to flea market bartering secretarial services for the barest of essentials: a typewriter, copy machine and one desk. Within a week, Eva opened the doors to one of Budapests first woman\-owned businesses, breaking the gender barrier decades before it became the norm. Almost immediately, customers walked in seeking their services. Among them was George Friedlander, a dashing young Hungarian who had returned to Budapest as an attach representing the Italian consulate. His job was to help repatriate the thousands of Italian soldiers trapped in Hungary and to repossess Italian\-owned vehicles. There were few cars in the war\-torn city, so customers arrived on foot. George, on the other hand, drove a sleek white Italian Aero two\-seater convertible that seemed incongruous in a city where so many citizens still lacked shelter and food. The car created such a splash that customers inside the shop and people on the street gathered to gape at the expensive vehicle and the handsome young man behind the wheel. Seemingly oblivious to the adoration, he explained his mission to Eva: He needed her help setting up his mini\-consulate. Eva not only procured furnishings and organized his office, she interviewed prospective employees and referred the best to George. Her biggest fear was that once his office was complete, he would ignore her. It was just the opposite. He continually found a reason to see her. I fell for him immediately, she says. George was not only handsome with a shock of dark wavy hair and smiling blue eyes, he and Eva had much in common. Both loved music, particularly American jazz, as well as art, theater, ballet, opera and fine food. Though he had no formal musical training, George could sit down at a piano and play any tune one of his friends named. In addition to speaking six languages, he was well versed in literature, history and politics. Before long, the two were inseparable. He shared with her stories about the happy years he spent in Italy earning a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Bologna, as well as the ordeals of his internment in three forced labor camps. Several months after his return to Budapest, he was arrested on trumped up charges by the Hungarian equivalent of the Russian KGB and held in a cell for weeks. Intervention by a British consul freed him, but the time in prison brought back nightmares of his years in forced labor, and he decided to return to Italy. Before he left, George proposed. A starry\-eyed Eva accepted without hesitation. It took her almost a year to procure the necessary exit documents and join him in Italy where the two were married. Three happy years later, they received their visas to emigrate to the United States. It was a dream come true for both.

**6**

**American dream** During a fierce winter storm in 1950, Eva and George crossed the Atlantic aboard the SS General Harry Taylor bound for New Orleans. The journey took two stormy weeks, and once they landed on American soil, they boarded a train for Atlanta, their assigned city. With them came all their worldly possessions: five beat\-up suitcases full of clothing and $200 in cash tucked inside Evas bra. Volunteers from the Atlanta Jewish Federation helped them find a tiny apartment on Boulevard, brought them donated furniture and household items, and arranged job interviews. With his doctorate in chemistry, George landed a job in the Emory University biochemistry department. Eva found a position as a secretary with the Puritan Chemical Company, then moved on to a more challenging job with the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds. The office was located across the street from the Atlanta Public Library where she pored over antique and art books in preparation for her dream job as a dealer and appraiser. Six years after their arrival, Eva and George became American citizens and bought a house off Howell Mill Road. Celebrating their first Passover in their new home was a joyful occasion. Tears of happiness filled Evas eyes as she looked around the table. They were surrounded by friends, many also Holocaust survivors. Just as they commemorated the Israelites exodus from slavery in Egypt on the annual holiday, they also observed their own escapes from the oppression of the Nazi regime. Everyone followed along as George read from the Haggadah and they passed the Seder plate filled with traditional items: a lamb shank to represent a symbolic offering to the temple; an egg, the symbol of rebirth; horseradish to signify the bitterness of enslavement; parsley dipped in salt water to symbolize tears; and haroset, a mixture of apple, nuts and wine that represents the mortar and bricks used to enslave the Jews. They drank the specified four cups of wine and rejoiced at being free to celebrate together. As the years passed, George left academia to work for a large industrial chemical company. Eva stopped working a few months before giving birth to their son, Lewis. Baby Lynne arrived two years later. In 1965, Eva got the chance she had been waiting for when the Federal Restitution Law ordered the Germans to give $5,000 to each Holocaust survivor. It provided seed money for her dream company, and she began importing European art and antiques. After many years working for others, George decided to start his own business, Custom Chemicals. To give it time to take root, the couple decided Eva should find a full\-time job and conduct her antiques business on the side. A friend mentioned an opening in Richs department store. Eva met with Lila Campbell, the buyer of the Connoisseur Gallery who had been hired by Dick Rich, the founder of the store, and the two women hit it off immediately. Both were self\-taught, had a passion for antiques and art and wanted Richs antiques department to rival the best New York had to offer. Lila offered her a job on the spot. Working at Richs offered Eva opportunities she never imagined. She and Lila traveled the world and negotiated with the owners of firms such as Sothebys and Christies. Later, Dick Rich tapped Eva as buyer and manager for Richs Connoisseur Gallery at the new Lenox Mall store. Eventually Eva left Richs and partnered with two women in their own showroom at the Atlanta Decorative Arts Center, where Eva specialized in paintings and Oriental carpets.

**7**

**Honoring the past** But all was not perfect in Evas life. She and George struggled with marital problems, and then, in October 1973, tragedy struck. George was shot in the head by two armed robbers at a pharmacy. Amazingly, he recovered but after that he suffered a series of health challenges over the years until he died in 2004 at age 89. Eva, now 95 and nearly blind, lives alone in her Buckhead condominium surrounded by exquisite antique furnishings and paintings, including a 17th century painting that hangs over her fireplace and several Herend porcelain animals and Rosenthal figures. Her most treasured item is a large mahogany credenza that was handmade for her Hungarian sister\-in\-law and shipped to the U.S. after her death. Her son, Lewis, a plastic surgeon, calls at least twice a day to check on her and visits frequently. Her daughter, Lynne, a veterinarian, lives with her family in Denver and travels to Atlanta often. Jewish Family Services provides Eva with help paying her bills, answering emails and cleaning her house. Ironically, the services are paid for by the German government under a provision requiring them to assist Holocaust survivors. In recent years, Eva has become a much sought\-after speaker at the William Breman Jewish Heritage and Holocaust Museum, where she talks about her experiences. Recently, high school students from Rome listened intently to her story. Afterward, every young boy shook her hand, and one even planted a kiss on her cheek. It means a great deal to me to share my story, particularly with children who may have never heard of the Holocaust, she says. Its the best way I know to bring this terrible event to life so it can never happen again. This Passover Eva will commemorate the day at her son Lewis house in Marietta surrounded by her family, including two of her four grandchildren. Theyll read from the worn family Haggadah, share items from the Seder plate and enjoy traditional foods matzo ball soup, beef brisket, vegetables and a flourless cake. Even more important, the adults will pass on the tradition to their children, in the hopes that when they read the Haggadah in future years, theyll remember the hardships of previous generations.

Behind the story

[Click above to read more of our Personal Journeys.](http://www.myajc.com/personaljourneys)


**ABOUT THE STORY** I met Eva Friedlander in 2004 when I was assigned to write a story about her husband, George, for The Jewish Times. He was in a nursing home and the day I visited, he slipped in and out of sleep. I asked Eva if I could call her for more details about his life. When the story was printed just prior to his death, Eva called to tell me how much both had enjoyed it. Several years later, Eva asked me to help her write her memoir, Nine Lives of a Marriage A Curious Journey. While working on the book, we became good friends. She remains a constant source of inspiration to me and everyone who meets her. **Mickey Goodman** **personaljourneys@ajc.com**


**ABOUT THE WRITER** **Mickey Goodman** is an award\-winning journalist and columnist who has written for national and regional publications. She co\-authored three memoirs, including Eva Friedlanders, Nine Lives of a Marriage A Curious Journey. Mickey is president of the southeast chapter of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and is active in the Atlanta Press Club, Atlanta Writers Club and Georgia Writers Association.


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