B’nai B’rith World Center and JRJ Committee to Confer Jewish Rescuers Citation on Two Holocaust Rescuers from Hungary
The B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem and the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jews who Rescued Fellow Jews During the Holocaust (JRJ) have decided to confer their joint Jewish Rescuers Citation on Berta Davidovitz Rubinsztejn and Gyorgy (Yitzhak) Gyuri, rescuers who operated in German-occupied Hungary.
Rubinsztejn, 92, was born in Volove, Czechoslovakia, and fled with her family across the Carpathian Mountains into still unoccupied Hungary where Jews were not yet being rounded up. In 1942, Rubinsztejn made her way to Budapest where she joined the Zionist youth movement Habonim Dror, volunteering later to participate in its underground rescue activities. She, along with other Habonim Dror members, assumed a Gentile identity and wore a crucifix around her neck. The undercover members would then meet in a park to plan operations and weapons smuggling. As Rudolf Kastner—a leader of the Jewish Aid and Rescue Committee—negotiated in the summer of 1944 with SS officer and Holocaust mastermind Adolf Eichmann the departure of a trainload of Jews from German-occupied Hungary to neutral Switzerland, the goal of Habonim Dror became to put as many orphaned children onto the train after identifying them in the streets of Budapest. One of these children was eight-year-old Meir Brand.
Brand was smuggled with two young cousins into Hungary in August 1943 after his parents sensed that the liquidation of the ghetto they had lived in for two years was near, following the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. After a three-week hike to the Slovakian border, Brand arrived in Budapest and was abandoned. Posing as a Gentile, he lived on the streets for nine months, scrounging for food and sleeping in bombed-out buildings. When Rubinsztejn found him in his battered state in April 1944, she instinctively knew he was Jewish and took him home, nursing him back to health. In June 1944 Rubinsztejn put herself and about ten Jewish children—including Brand—on the Kastner train.
Rubinsztejn dedicated herself to Brand’s recovery throughout the trip—including a terrifying and life-threatening incarceration in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp—until they arrived in Switzerland. The two made Aliyah in 1945.
Rubinsztejn emigrated from Israel to the United States in 1960, where she currently resides with her family. She was very involved with many organizations including the Bronx Democratic Party, and counts former New York City mayors Abraham Beame, Ed Koch, David Dinkins and former New York Governor Mario Cuomo among her acquaintances. She was active in the Hebrew Home for the Aged at Riverdale, in Riverdale, N.Y., and still visits the Riverdale YM-YWHA every day where she organizes the monthly "Café Europa" gathering of Holocaust survivors. She also volunteered at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. B’nai B’rith will confer the citation upon her in New York City.
Gyuri, 90, was born in Budapest and grew up in northeast Hungary. Gyuri joined the Hashomer Hatzair movement while living in Nyíregyháza, and eventually moved back to Budapest in 1942 to publish short stories and articles in Hashomer Hatzair’s newspaper. He took part in underground activities and in the summer of 1944 was sent by the movement with three comrades to South Transylvania in order to open a new route for the “tiyul,” the Zionist underground’s clandestine operation to smuggle Jews from Poland and Slovakia into Hungary and then on to Romania. However, they were soon discovered, caught and deported to Auschwitz. Gyuri survived and returned to Budapest after the liberation.
Gyuri finished his university studies only in 1960 due to restrictions imposed on Jews in institutions of higher education at the time. He worked as a locksmith, librarian, teacher and journalist, writing mainly on pedagogical issues. He published several books in Hungarian, including his 2001 work “Survival: A long letter to my grandchild.”
Gyuri still resides in Budapest, where the citation will be presented to him by David Gur, chairman of the Society for the Research of the History of the Zionist Youth Movement in Hungary and a founding member of the JRJ Committee.
The Jewish Rescuers Citation was established in 2011 by the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jews who Rescued Fellow Jews During the Holocaust (JRJ) and B’nai B’rith World Center to set right the historic record—that thousands of Jews were active in rescue efforts throughout Europe, putting their own lives at risk in order to save other Jews from deportation, hunger and death at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators. To date nearly 100 citations have been presented to rescuers who operated in France, Germany, Holland, Greece and Hungary.
“We are proud to honor these two Jewish heroes and gratified that through our decade-long efforts there is growing acknowledgement that their recognition as models for Jewish and human solidarity is long overdue,” Director of the B'nai B'rith World Center and a founding member of the JRJ Committee Alan Schneider said.
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