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Interview with Dr. George Balas [10/27/2004]

Grier Goldsmith:

When you graduated from high school, did you know that you wanted to join the anti-Nazi movement yet?

Dr. George Balas:

At that point, I didn't know what...you mean, after the War, or..? No, I'll go back, I'm sorry. When I graduated from high school, this was 1942, at that time Hungary was officially on Germany's side in the War, but there was no... they didn't have much of an effort in it. And I had started medical school at the University at that time, because I wanted to go to the medical university in Europe, and Hungary of course is in Europe. The four years of elementary followed by eight years of Gymnasium, then University. And medical university is five years. So I started medical school in 1942.. I had two years in Budapest at the Hungarian University of Medicine. And then in 1944, when Hungary was occupied by German forces, and they started the real rounding up of Jews and Gypsies and whoever they considered inhuman, not belonging to the "super-race," and then also the Red Army and air force was really bombing, and from the west of course, the western forces, there was no more schools, everything was closed down. That's when a friend of mine, who was in contact with me, helped me join an underground unit, which I imagine it was run by the the OSS at that time, the CIA's precursor.

I remember the name of our boss, Alex Haraszty, we were all in an abandoned school building, and Alex was the one financing. He had money and references and everything, and we were being trained to do various things. The main thing was when the Nazis were evacuating, because the Red Army was really moving into North Hungary, and they were were planning to blow up, the 7 bridges on the Danube, and they were going to blow up all the bridges. We were going to try to kill them before they could blow up the bridges. So, and also at the same, whoever to be taken to concentration camps, mostly Jewish people, we had a printing shop to give them fake ID cards, passports; and one of our successes, the biggest success was that when the Germans started evacuating, there was a train, ammunition train, which of course, was also manned by German and SS troops, our outfit blew up this German ammunition train. That is, our unit, and it was one night, as it was headed toward Austria, next day they were sitting, actually late, not quite morning but late at night, sitting in a beer joint, four of us, and the radio was interrupted and they said what a terrible thing has happened to our dear friends, the train was blown up by some miserable Jews and Communists because if they really wanted to use insulting terms, that was what it was, Jews and Communists. And at least 200 of our dear friends who perished, who died in that fiery explosion. And everybody there was looking outraged. Except four of us sitting at this table. We were kicking each other under the table, "We did it. We did it."

The biggest bridges were blown up, unfortunately, when the plan came forward, they didn't succeed in those plans because by that time you had to be so.. .the Nazis had discovered that we were an underground unit housed in this building. And we were all on our own, scattered. And I had a little apartment rented somewhere in the city, and one day I was late, after the Battle of the Bulge time, when I don't know if either one of you ever saw that movie, "The Last Days." It was a Spielberg movie, the Last Days, it was in Hungary, I have a video of that. When the Germans were already evacuating and the Hungarian Nazis Arrow Cross, as they recalled, there were Aero Crosses on the soldiers, instead of the Swastika. Whatever Jews they found they were taking them down to the Danube, and whole families that they killed, and just shot them and kicked them in the water. So they.. .it was so called "the Last Days.

"And I was walking on the street at night, going somewhere, there was practically nobody on the streets at that time, because every once in a while the airplanes would come in, machine gunning, and so on. And there was this lady and daughter, they were walking. Crying. So I walked up to them and said, "Why are you crying. What's the matter." "Oh, my Poppa. He was taken to concentration camp, and somehow they were not, and I fixed them up in my apartment in this room. There was just one bed, the Mother and the daughter, and I told somebody the story and emphasized that she was not a girlfriend, but really just an acquaintance that I met on the street.

That hurt, and later and another night, I was going somewhere and there was one of these Arrow Cross idiots, like 18 years old, maybe, and had these two woman, their hands tied up, two of us walking, and had an idea why they were, so I walk up there into the dark square, bushes, on one side there was the Danube and the Parliament building was on the other side, and the US Consulate was the other side. "Where are you taking these two, brother?" That's how they called each other. Brother. "Oh, down to the river." "Can I help you?" I asked. "Sure, come on along. That way I can save some ammunition." So I went along with them, on the way toward to Danube, and the way I tell this story always is the next morning there was found only one dead body in those bushes there, and that was that son of a bitch. And this is a picture of her. The main one is showing in the picture, the other two, she sends me quite regularly. In fact, later in one of my address books out there, they have pictures.. .she sent me a Christmas card in 1946, when I was in Austria at that time, just on the back of a "thank you" for the horrible and beautiful times we experienced. I had no idea what happened to her, the only thing I remembered about this girl that Tucci was her nickname. "Tucci" That's how I called her. Her first name actually was Marta, and in Hungarian the nickname for Marta was Martucci, so I called her Tucci, that's all I know, what her last name, and I heard from somebody to marry the I guess a Russian officer. But just look at this, I mean why.....the bestiality of humanity. And I ask why anybody would do that, it was her and her Mother they accompanied to the river. They were planning to kill them, (emotional pause)

In fact in that arrangement of all of that, maybe I can find it....And we had a truck, which twice a week, there was a driver and another one along with it. Used to drive to a depot, a supply depot, which belonged to the Hungarian "Arrow Cross, " and they were Hungarians, uh Nazis. There was something like 100,000 refugees from Poland, since Poland was taken by Nazis earlier, who were hidden by Hungarian families. But the minority of these Nazis, these Autocrats, of course, because of the power of the SS, the German Nazis who occupied the country, the others, they were mostly just hiding, or underground.

And so anyhow this truck used to go to the supply, to get food to bring to us. Because we had officially the name of the outfit was Pronai detachment. Pronai was a real, after WWI, anti-communist outfit, at the time there was no official name as Nazi, but this was a Fascist type outfit. That was the name of our outfit, a phony name, so if we should be suspected by the Nazi government. And so that was for supplies. And one time, one of the persons who was along with the driver, to help load the truck with the food supplies, he came from... he was Jewish Hungarian, and from Transylvania, which is now part of Romania, which is mostly 80% Hungarian populace. That's where he was from, which was at that time already occupied by the Red Army, the Russians. And that was quite common to have them check your birth certificate, they wanted to check, or your ID card, the Jewish origin people had their addresses quoted as being part of Transylvania, because they couldn't check it. Otherwise they could go to the City Hall or somewhere and check the origins.

So anyhow, at this supply depot, there was a Nazi Hungarian Arrow Cross, who recognized this guy on the truck, that he was from the same area, same town that he came from in Transylvania, and he was a Jew. So one day in a school building he had the building surrounded by tanks, machine gunners, etc. etc. and Alex I told them that they are coming to investigate because they suspect that there's one Nazi, No I mean Jew, and there could be more amongst them. Our boss told us, everybody comes down to Gymnasium, which is for soccer and basketball, everybody was lined up, and they came in and one guy gives a little talk and they're going to check everybody's ID certification, because there was one was a Jew, and who knows how many, who will, is probably a Jew hiding amongst you, who knows how many, probably more? So everybody had the idea can be...so everybody had the idea.

And there is one interesting experience, if I think about it. But some of these cold Nazis, as I recall, how smart they thought were. They were told if you have any question or any doubt about the identity of the person who is holding the ID or Passport you are checking, then just have them open their zipper and look at their penis because circumcision was only among Jews in Europe. In America I think every, or most boys are circumcised. Anyhow that's how you recognize them.

And anyhow next to me, I don't remember his name, he was standing next to me, a bit taller than I was, and this young guy looked across looks at his paper, looks at his photo and looks at his face and then says, "Pull off your pants." So he did, and says "There you are, help yourself," as he looks at this Nazi. Of course he was circumcised, he was Jewish, and this idiot, the only thing he knew was that if he had any doubt then ask him to open his zipper or pull off your pants, so he dropped his pants, and he said "There you are." And the Nazi said, "OK, thank you." And that's it! I never forgot how the man had the guts to be so funny about it, because afterwards the War, when I was in Austria working for the US Army I met him; he was on his way to Israel to immigrate.

So anyhow, in the World War II, experience of mine was with the Hungarian Underground. And as soon as VE Day and the War was over in Europe, then first chance I had I got out to the US Zone in Austria and went to a refugee camp, and looked for a job, so I could work, and I had no money of course, and the, to put in my application for a visa to the US. And I got a job in the 63rd Signal, in Austria where I was put in the US Zone. And every once in a while there is some German here in Memphis, she is married to a US Air Force guy, when I was telling her, we were talking to her about Lenz, she said "Oh, yes, some of the best Nazis were from Linz!" And I said "The best Nazis are six feet underground." "Oh, no!" So anyhow I got this job as runner, carrying mail from one office to another in US Army headquarters, and one day I was going to the basement of the 63rd Signal Battalion teletype office, teletype machines before computer type. I was sitting their teletype forum for GI's, and so on the desk I put down, "Here's some mints for you guys," and this tall sergeant, and I'm very bad with names, but some I do not forget - this one. Sergeant Giordian Engo, comes up to the desk, said "Oh, OK." And looks at the mint, I said "You are one of those damn Nazis who denies that he ever was a Nazi." I could feel my heart beat, the urge of getting ready to kill or be killed, so "What!! You call me a Nazi!!" You damn dago from Brooklyn!" And he jumped over the desk, and said "What did you call me??" and so he jumped here and grabbed me and I grabbed him, and neither one of us landed a punch because those four GI's they heard all of this and they left their machines and came two of them over and grabbed my arm and his arms and two of them go, (speaks German) and the door was open and there goes this Major, Major Bromberg, another name I'll never forget, "what happened here," he asked. "Come with me." He called, and I thought, after all, I lost my job. So, go into his office, sit down, he looks at me and paces back and forth, asked what languages do you speak, "I speak all but Greek," "Really, you speak Japanese?" "No, that's Greek to me!" (laughs)

I guess he must have liked the way I was cussing, Yankee style, so she asked how would you like to work for me? That's how I got to work. He was in charge of the War Crimes Investigation, I speak Hungarian, English, German, and Italian. So I learned Italian after one year I was in an Italian High School, and the German we had over eight years of Gymnasium, which is a form of High School in Hungary, and we had German all through the eight years. Now German I just, I don't know, it must be reincarnation, since I don't know why I was to come to America, I had no relatives, no friends here, I didn't know anybody, but I bought all the books I could get in the store, and learned English, but it was for four years only, after the second one, like, you know, the graduation, all through the eight years it was German and Latin, and German I just studied just enough in fact I have those books I kept the grades, of course, what they called it, for failure grades. Excellent, good, fair, passing, and failing. So in German I just had passing always, in most of the others I had excellent or the good. And anyhow, Italian I learned in one year I as in an Italian high school, my Father had a job with the manager of a furniture store in another city where there.

Grier Goldsmith:

Anyhow, what else do you have?

Dr. George Balas:

Anyhow for two years that I was working for the War Crimes Investigation as interpreter, and our job was they drove me in several refugee camps around this city of Linz and they dropped me off at these refugee camps. Most of the populace was in some of them were Holocaust survivors who were liberated from camps. But there were also some where when the War was over were Nazis who were fleeing from Russians occupiers; Hungary was occupied by the Red Army. There were just fleeing toward Germany, and they were in these refugee camps. And so I would just be socializing with them, having lunch, and now I think I know what they were doing; they were trying to smell, sniff out who was a Nazi. And every once in a while they found some, and the US Army troops would accompany them and taking them back towards Budapest, where they were imprisoned and tried later, so I was going along with them as an interpreter with them. And there is this one picture with a GI, and the apartment where my parents lived there, we were up there.

So two years I worked with this War Crimes Investigation and then my application.. . I had no idea how long it would take to get a visa, because you have to have somebody to vouch for you so you would not be a public charge, and I had no relatives and no friends, and felt absolutely hopeless. And by this time the Nuremberg trials were coming and the job I had there was pretty much done, no more refugee camps, they were pretty much emptied, and I thanked Major Bromberg for the job and hoping I would like to go back to Vienna and not back to Hungary because it was in Russian zone, and so passed the exam to be accepted for the third year and then went two years at the University. In Vienna in medical school, and I had one more year to graduate. And all of the sudden I got a letter from the Consulate. It was in Salzburg, Austria. That I had my, get my visa and go to God's country. I have go out there for the visa, and so I quit the medical school and I had a choice of either one more year and get my M.D. or take the visa. That's what I wanted, the visa. And I had to travel, go out to the American zone, and there I had phony papers again, but different than the one during the underground. This was Austrian classmate of mine, who later turned out he was a Nazi sympathizer, he loaned me a passport of his brother, who turned out to look pretty much like me, the photo there, and so I got on a bus, and had to go through the Russian zone to this bridge on the Northern side of the 8 Danube the Russian zone, where on the other side was the American zone. And the Russian, couple of Russian MPs, and Austrians, come up and check the IDs and OK, and they get back on the bus and cross the bridge to the Americans Zone, and the American MPs, and Austrian again, police, come aboard and check ID cards. And I show my I.D. to this MP, American, and I look at him and "Oh, I tell you my friend, I am sick and tired of living this life of lies and phony papers, this was loaned to me by a friend, it's not me but here I have my letter to go to the US, the Consulate, to go to God's country." I thought "Oh my god, what am I doing??" So this MP, I'll never forget, looks at this, looks at me and hands me back the phony paper, and says "Good luck, buddy." "Thank you."

So I was in the US zone and had the, then I got on a train, and had to go to Salzburg, where the visa was at the American Consulate, then back on a train to go all the way to Bremen, and I had my visa and got shipped over, and landed in New York harbor on August 9, 1949 I went to Philadelphia, there were some people with whom I was corresponding. That's how I got the visa - there was a family, I don't recall how we contacted, they had three daughters, they put me up in a room, and my God how do I get of here? I really didn't want to marry any of them just blind, and so I was working at all kinds of jobs and went to various medical schools to apply and had to start all over again from the first year. I had four years, with one more year to go, but anyhow, it had nothing to do with the WWII experience, this is my experience. So anyhow, I had to start all over again. Every once in a while the joke that they asked me, "You mean you had four years of medical school and you're going through it all over?" Oh, I enjoyed it so much that I did it over again," I would tell them.

But anyhow I was accepted to the University of Pennsylvania, and this Austrian classmate of mine, he went... became an orthopedic surgeon, and we were corresponding. I thanked him of course, I sent him back, his brother's passport, and I was already in the Navy, after I graduated from University of Pennsylvania. And one time, I was married, my wife Evelyn, this visited him in Germany someplace where he worked, and all of us sort of argued and talked about World War II. We were sitting at an outdoor restaurant in Heidelberg, German and there was some girls from a girl school crossing the street and he told me, this friend of mine, Now Gyuri, George we called him, I think it from the way you talk, is so much hate and that.. .you know those concentration camps, they had criminals only in there. No, the Criminals are the rest of you outside, not the ones inside! Do you hate those little children? He pointed at them, No, but they are Jew, and the Nazis hate those children, all the little children, only because they were Jews.

Ohhh, so anyhow we never got in touch anymore with the ex-friend of mine. I just wrote him one letter when I got back home. At that time we lived in San Francisco, I in was in the Navy. Thank you for everything and all I can say is when I came back I felt just like getting on my knees and kiss the ground and I'm here in God's country and I've never been to Germany again, I am prejudiced against them. I just hated it in Germany. Any questions you would have maybe? I'm just going off, talking.

Grier Goldsmith:

What was it like for you living in an occupied country?

Dr. George Balas:

You mean like in Hungary? It was really no life; it was just a battle to survive. And try to help anybody else to survive. It's a... .one time, I mean, I wish I would have kept some of those papers, those old IDs that I have. But when I got my visa and got ready to come here I decided to just destroy them, I didn't want to remember, and also some of the folding papers, how would I explain it to.. .if somebody in America would think that maybe I was a Nazi, and I had phony papers, I just decided to.....uh, trash them.

It was like one time, I was walking in the street and, that was when I was after, no more medical school in 1944, because the War was already coming to a peak, and whenever, wherever you'd just go walk on the streets there quite frequently there were groups of four Hungarian policemen and Arrow Cross, these Hungarian Nazis, and German military and secret police, the four, they would stop you and check you ID cards. Because I was born in 1924 and this was 1944 so I was twenty years old. What are you doing, they'd ask. You're supposed to be in the military or the concentration camp.

So I remember one time I stopped in the street, and Ausweis, which means "passport" in German. In German, ID Card, so I...my, Hungarian the Arrow Cross, he was the one who stopped me, and there was my photograph, my name, and my city of birth, was from Transylvania, because again they couldn't check this. You see on my father's side he was Jewish, Mother was Catholic, very religious Catholic, she passed away here in Memphis 1996 at age 95. So anyhow, name, birthplace, and date, and on the bottom it says on the "secret mission for the German SS' So this guy looks at me and says "What was your assignment?" No, I was here on a "special" mission for the SS. So he asked, "What was your mission?" So I looked at him, "It's none of your damn business, brother." So he handed the paper back. "My special mission? Part of it, is survival. And help others survive." Actually it was the underground.

So life, I mean, some place, most businesses and stores were closed now and let's say you needed bread, you have to go to a bakery or a market which would open the next morning, and there were some places where all night people were just lined up on the street, and napping there on the pavement, waiting for the stores to open to go get their bread, or whatever. Uh, there was some market, same thing; people were just crowded there, trying to get some food. There were no real, no more businesses really, it was all sort of on your own. Of course this is in the city, Budapest. Hungary is a small country, about 11 or 12 million people, the capitol is 1 million.

But most, I don't even remember having seen any private homes anywhere. They all were big apartment houses. And the basements of the houses had separate sections, enclosed with locked doors, where you could store things in the basement. So non-perishable foods, or if you had some storage there, and my Father had this little steel or whatever type box, and he dug a hole, the ground was soil or earth, not pavement in those basements. And he put it in there, and after everything was over, they were able.... the house was not destroyed by bombing we found the box, and he stored gold coins there. So at that time that was the best thing to survive was to have some gold and sell it, because there was no such thing as stock market or businesses just to earn money. If you didn't have stored money, gold or water, then you just sort of starved for that. And of course it was mostly the problem of surviving Nazi occupation, unless you were a sympathizer with them, an Arrow Cross.

Of course, Victory, D-Day was in 1944, and then I don't remember exactly when V-E Day was, in 1945, I think in May, somewhere in May. And soon there was American military in Budapest.. .there was no consulate open yet, but there were military, Americans, British, French, and the Russians. So I would just trying to, whenever I saw some American soldiers, just trying to meet them and have friendly discussions and as soon as I could I got out of there to go to the US Zone in Austria. (long pause- inaudible)

[Dr. Balas gets up and shows a few artifacts. This remaining part was not recorded.]

[END OF INTERVIEW]

 
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