Judita Sendrei

Judita Sendrei holding a baby

Judita Sendrei
Subotica
Serbia
Interviewer: Klara Azulaj

My family background
Growing up
During the war
Post-war

My family background

My name is Judita Sendrei (maiden name - Bruck). I was born on March
4, 1927 in Subotica. Our family lived in my paternal grandmother Janka
Bruck's (maiden name - Kantor) house. There we had a big yard with a small
greenery. In the building there were two separate housing units. I lived
with my parents in one section made up of four rooms and washrooms and
toilets. My grandmother Janka lived in the other part. My grandfather,
Lipot Bruck, was employed on a homestead that he managed. Unfortunate
events led him to fall off a horse and die in Subotica on May 27, 1920. We
had a permanent cook and housekeeper who lived with us in the house.

My grandmother Janka kept a kosher home. My grandparents were not
Orthodox but they celebrated all the holidays. My father, Matija Bruck,
read the Hagaddah at every Seder. Our Hagaddah was in Hebrew and Hungarian.
We lit candles on Shabbat, made challah and prepared a festive meal. My
father, grandmother and mother each had their own seat in the Neolog
synagogue. We fasted on Yom Kippur, and I remember that our cantor sang so
well that there was not enough room in the synagogue when he sang Kol
Nidre. Rabbi Gersan led the service. We lit Hanukkah candles.

My father, Matija Bruck, was born in Bacsalmas, Hungary on December
21, 1890 and died on January 11, 1961 in Subotica. My father came from a
very poor family. He used to tell us how he went to another Jewish family's
house for lunch every day. It was known exactly which family he would go to
on which day. He suffered a great deal during his education. After
graduation, he went to Berlin where he enrolled in medical school. However,
during the first anatomy class, even before dissecting the corpse, he
fainted. He quickly realized that medicine was not for him and he
transferred to chemistry. During the days he attended classes and tutored
children and in the evenings he studied.

After graduating from the university, he found work. In the meantime,
he noticed that the grapevines on his father's small parcel of land
produced very weak grapes. Experimenting in the different laboratories
where he worked part-time to gain experience, he invented a material for
protecting grapevines. He did not have enough money to pay for registering
the patent, which was called "COSAN," so he went into partnership with a
friend who paid the money for him and with whom he later shared the
dividends equally. He received the dividends continuously until 1934. With
the arrival of Hitler, the dividends were discontinued. They still use his
patent all around the world under different names, and today they are still
producing it in the "Zorka" factory in Sapac, Yugoslavia.

From the proceeds of the dividends he bought a 30-hectare vineyard in
the Backa vineyards, a house in Belgrade on Sava Kovacevic Street (with 14
apartments) and a villa in Palic, where we spent our vacations. My father
was a great lover of Palestine and he traveled there for the first time in
1934. He was a socialist at heart. Upon his return from Palestine, with
great animation, he told us of his impressions, especially about kibbutzim
which he liked very much.

My mother, Magda Bruck (maiden name - Nemenyi) was born in Pancevo on
August 18, 1905 and died in Subotica on February 1, 1977. She came from a
rather well off family. She met her future husband when she was very young.
My father was already a student, and there was a 15 year age difference
between them. After primary school and four years of secondary school, she
was sent by her parents to a boarding school in Vienna for future
housewives, with the hope that this would distance her from Matija. But
this did not prevent the sweethearts from seeing one another. Whenever
Matija was passing through he would visit her at the dormitory presenting
himself as her uncle. Their love was culminated by their marriage in 1926
in the Subotica synagogue.

My maternal grandfather and grandmother, Miksa and Ilona Nemenyi,
owned a store in the center of the city that offered a selection of goods
for sale. Their son Djordje, who was 4 years younger than my mother, owned
a fabric store. He worked there until 1942 when the Hungarians took it from
him. Djordje married Hedi Rozenfeld in Backa Topolo in 1940 and they had a
daughter named Agica.

My grandfather, Miksa Nemenyi, died in his own home in July 1927. The
stress of his death caused my mother Magda to develop Kushing's disease, an
illness affecting the pituitary gland. In the course of six months Magda,
who until then was distinctly thin, became very fat. One of the
consequences of this illness was frequent fainting. My father took Mother
to Vienna and Berlin looking for a cure, but in vain. During that time, I
stayed with my grandmother.

Growing up

When I was six years old I went to a preparatory grade in school,
because I did not know Serbian, since we only spoke Hungarian and German at
home. The school I attended was the Queen Marija Elementary School,
formerly a Jewish school. Many Jewish teachers worked there. When I
graduated from primary school, I went to gymnasium for three years. In 1941
when the Hungarians came, my father, through some connections, succeeded in
enabling me to stay in school even though a recently enacted law only
allowed a small percent of Jews to continue going to school. In the school
there were teachers who came from Hungary, and in most cases they were anti-
Semites. They noticeably lowered the Jewish children's grades. Our friends
in our grade would make fun of us. The Catholic priest, Ciprus, treated the
Jewish children the best. During religion lessons, Jewish children were
forced to go outside regardless of the weather conditions. But Priest
Ciprus allowed us to remain in the classroom if it was cold outside.
Private Jewish religion classes were taught well and in detail by Professor
Vadnaj. In addition to Jewish history, he also taught us to write and read
Hebrew.

In memory of the days when he was a poor boy and went to strangers'
houses for lunch, every Sunday my father would invite two boys to come for
a meal. His house was open for every visitor. I remember one time when
members of a male choir, about thirty of them, fleeing from Germany to
Palestine, came for lunch. Frequently in 1942 forced laborers from
neighboring estates ate lunch with us. As a shnoder (Editor's note: Yiddish
for one who gives charity), he always paid in advance and anonymously.

During the (Austro-Hungarian) monarchy, there were many Zionist
organizations in my country (Subotica was then in the Empire). Especially
active was the Women's Society which held various meetings, and organized
games. B'nai Brith also functioned and young people participated in
Hashomer Hazair or as they called it the "Ken."

During the war

The moment the Hungarians entered Subotica in 1941, we could no longer
gather in the Ken (Jewish youth club). This was when the president of the
Jewish community was Dr. Zoltan Loran. My friend Alisa Francuska and I
suggested that we get some wool and that we knit winter things for those
people who had been taken into forced labor brigades, as many Jews had been
then. This knitting usually was arranged around a lecture on culture.

On March 19, 1944 the Germans arrived in our city and I had to start
going to school wearing a yellow star. My father convened a family assembly
and asked his closest relatives if they wanted to try and save their lives
by converting to Catholicism. I was the most vocal with my answer. I said
that it was not even a consideration: "Never! I will remain a Jew until the
end."

Very quickly after that my father was taken to a camp in Backa Topolo,
and they put the whole family in the ghetto. After a short time they were
loading us into wagons headed for Bacsalmas, Hungary. My grandmother was
put in a hospital, and my mother and I took shelter in a mill where we
slept on the bare ground and I contracted an inflammation of the lungs.

Through one young soldier, to whom I gave my ring, I managed to send a
letter to my father to tell him where the family was located. My father in
turn used the first opportunity to volunteer to register and to set out in
our direction, towards the first wagon. Quickly we were transported to
Szeged and later to the Strashov camp. In the meantime, my paternal
grandmother Janka died, and Ilona, Hedi and Agica were taken to Auschwitz.
According to the story of a witness, my maternal grandmother Ilona and
little Agica were immediately selected for execution, and my aunt Hedi was
on the side that was supposed to be taken to forced labor, but little Agica
cried and was searching for her mother, so that Hedi voluntarily signed up
and moved to the side that was taken to death. My uncle Djordje returned
from forced labor in October 1945. He married for a second time. In 1946 he
and his wife, Anika Hajduska, had a son named Beni. Uncle Djordje moved
with his wife and son to Israel in 1948, where they had a daughter named
Mirijam.

From the moment that my parents and I arrived in the Strashov camp we
were no longer separated. We went from there to the work camp in Austria,
where we awaited liberation. A little on foot, a little by horse drawn
carriage, and we managed to make our way to Bratislava. While filling out a
form at the repatriation office for registration, I came across the young
Pavel Sendrei. When he heard my last name, he asked me if we had relatives
in Pecuj, and it turned out that we were some sort of relatives, but not by
blood. I was always hungry, and Pavel took me for meals whenever he could,
sometimes even three times a day. So that he could in some way repay him,
my father would invite him to Subotica when time permitted. Pavel came to
visit my parents in 1946, and in May 1947 he and I married.

Post-war

Immediately after our marriage, I went with Pavel to Czechoslovakia.
On April 24, 1949 we had a daughter, whom we named Sonja. In 1956 the
Jewish community received an invitation to a reception with the Israeli
ambassador in Prague. Out of all of the members of the Jewish community in
all of Czechoslovakia, my husband Pavel and I were the only ones who
accepted the invitation. All the others were scared to reply. At the
reception we met the ambassador's secretary who had moved to Israel from
Czechoslovakia in 1938 and who my husband knew from before. He informed us
that the JOINT was helping, as much as possible, elderly Jews who had
survived the Holocaust, but that the money could not go through the Jewish
community, but rather was distributed through individual volunteers who
were ready to help. We accepted this work and did it until March 1957 when
the Czech government arrested us on spying charges, and later claimed that
Pavel and I undermined the Czechoslovak Republic, because we anonymously
sent money to Holocaust survivors.

Pavel was imprisoned from March 29, 1957 to March 29, 1959 and I was
imprisoned from March 29, 1957 to November 29, 1957. It was so terrible in
prison, that I prefer not to think about that period. I'm sorry not to
speak about it; I cannot. After serving our sentences, life was very hard
for us in Czechoslovakia. I very much wanted to return to Yugoslavia
because my mother Magda lived there. I spoke with Pavel and he accepted my
suggestion that we move to Yugoslavia, that is to Subotica, in December
1962.

After a year, I found work as the head of reception at the Palic
Hotel. Later on the hotel changed its name to the "Patrija." I worked in
that position until July 1980 when I became the acting director of the same
hotel, holding that position until my retirment in 1983. Between 1983 and
1993 I volunteered in the Subotica Jewish community doing administrative
work. When there are interesting cultural events, I very happily go to the
Jewish community.

Biography details