This is
Yosef
Roksa.

At least that’s who his family thought he was for as long as they could remember.
But … was that his real name?

He was born in Budapest, Hungary, on May 10, 1928, as István Rokza. The youngest of two brothers.

István was a Jew.

Forced labor United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Amb. Andras Simonyi, 66092
During the Second World War, the government of Hungary was allied with Nazi Germany. It forced Jews out of public life, passed antisemitic laws, and deported thousands of Jewish men to do forced labor on the Eastern Front, where many of them died.

At the age of 16,
he was employed as an apprentice in a bicycle repair shop…

…until the Nazis arrested him in May 1944.

Deportation Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-680-8285A-16
When Germany occupied the country in March 1944, the systematic extermination of Jews began, facilitated by the collaboration of the Hungarian government. Deportations to Auschwitz-Birkenau started in May.

They put him in one of the Gestapo prisons in Budapest…

Hotel in Budapest/Svábhegy (Schwabenberg) Fortepan
The SS and the Gestapo had occupied various small hotels and villas in the Svábhegy district of Budapest, which they used as torture cellars and prisons.

…until he was deported to the Neuengamme concentration camp.

Concentration Camp Neuengamme KZ-Gedenkstätte Neuengamme, ANg F 1981-279
István was one of 880 Jews who were sent to the Neuengamme concentration camp near Hamburg from Budapest. However, the destination of most of the deportations from Hungary was the German extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. About 424,000 Jews were deported within just 56 days and most of them were murdered on arrival.

He only had two things with him when he was arrested. Some money and a pen. Both were taken away from him in the concentration camp.

Envelope Neungamme Istvan Roksa
Original envelope from the Neuengamme concentration camp with his prisoner number, his name, and a list of his possessions.

He had to do forced labor.

Someone pushed István into a saw. He lost the fingers on his right hand.

Shortly before the end of the war, the Nazis sent him on a death march

Death march Stadtarchiv Landsberg am Lech
As the Allied forces continued to advance, the SS had the concentration camps cleared. Hundreds of thousands of concentration camp prisoners perished on these death marches. They were driven across the country on foot or crammed into freight cars. The guards had orders to kill any prisoners who were too exhausted to continue.

…to the Sandbostel death camp.

He
survived.

Survivor in Stalag Sandbostel United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 76685, courtesy of Arnold Bauer Barach
A Hungarian Jew in the Sandbostel camp – one of the few who was still capable of walking when he was liberated by the British Army in April 1945.

It took 3 months before István was even strong enough to leave the Bergen-Belsen emergency hospital.

Befreiung Bergen Belsen 1945 IWM, BU 4844
The British army looked after the survivors from Bergen-Belsen and other camps in the Wehrmacht barracks close by – at the beginning, even outdoors.

Just 3 days after he was discharged, he traveled to Sweden by ship.

SchwedISH boat "Hospital Ship" Sjöhistoriska museet, Fo88706AB
The Swedish "hospital ship" Prins Carl was used to evacuate concentration camp survivors from 1945 on. The document from the Arolsen Archives shows that many of the people were still so weak that they could only travel lying down.

He stayed there for at least two years. After that, there are no more records of his whereabouts…

…until June 1949, when his trail picks up again in Salzburg.

Übergangslager Beth Bialik JDC Archives, 25288, Al Taylor
Beth Bialik is one of a number of transit camps in Salzburg, where international relief organizations looked after Jewish Displaced Persons from Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Czechoslovakia.

This is where he
met his brother György – he too had survived.

Both did an apprenticeship in agriculture there.

Übergangscamp Beth Bialik
This card from the Beth Bialik camp provides information about which profession István learned. Doing an apprenticeship increased the chances of being able to emigrate.

István left Europe in 1949. His destination was the young state of Israel.

From this point on, he called himself Yosef.

Did he want to leave the past behind him? He certainly wanted to start his new life with a new name. He set up a new existence as Yosef.

Foto aus dem Besitz der Familie Rokza

He worked as a farmer and a long-distance truck driver. Football, running, boxing – all of these were no problem. As a young man, he was even Israel’s table tennis champion. And in spite of his disability, he wrote with his right hand.

But he hardly ever spoke about his past.

He didn’t even speak of his own brother any more.

His children and his wife Sarah, a Romanian Holocaust survivor, only knew him as Yosef.

And he died as Yosef too – in 1996. He left his wife, 5 children, and, at the time of writing, 19 grandchildren, and 23 great-grandchildren.

Foto aus dem Besitz der Famlie Rokza

However, 22 years after his death, the Roksa family received a message from the past.

An envelope. It contained an ink pen that had once belonged to a young man: István Rokza, son of Hedwig Miriam Füllop and Anton Schlomo Rokza, brother of György Rokza.

István’s pen will go to his grandson Ravid.
It will always be a reminder of the two lives that István Yosef Rokza had to lead.

To Istváns belongings

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