WESTON, Conn. -- For a long time, Agnes Vertes, who lived as a hidden child in Budapest from 1944 to 1945, did not consider herself a survivor.
She hadn't been in a Concentration Camp and had a hard time shaking the guilt of wondering why she survived when so many children – a million and a half -- were murdered.
"One of them could have been an Einstein or something," Vertes said. "Or someone else really significant, and I am a nobody."
That thought sparked a seed many years ago that made Vertes realize she survived to be the voice of those who cannot speak. She is now a member of the Speaker's Bureau of the White Plains-based Holocaust & Human Rights Education Center, president of the Holocaust Child Survivors of Connecticut, and a longtime Shoah Foundation interviewer, and has told her story countless times to various organizations.
Vertes has also made two documentaries about the Holocaust and is working on a third on Stamford survivor 90-year-old Judy Altmann. (She is looking for funding, should anyone be interested.)
But Vertes' story begins when she was 3 and her father, a Zionist who had heard rumblings about what was happening to the Jewish population in Europe, got his false papers for his family members.
"He was well-connected and paid a lot of money to get us those documents," said Vertes. She and her younger sister, then just 1 year old, went to live with a village woman deep in the countryside.
Her "hovel of a home," as Vertes called it, was bombed. Then her mother, who was in hiding on the Pest side of Budapest (Vertes and her sister were in Buda), made arrangements to put the girls into another home. (Vertes' parents lived in separate hiding places).
"Most of the kids we were living with were Jewish," said Vertes. "But the adults taking care of us didn't know as we all had false papers."
That made the fear of being discovered -- "some of our papers were better than others," said Vertes -- very real, especially as the Hungarian Nazis regularly came to search out Jewish children.
One day, her sister, who was just learning how to talk, asked a Hungarian Nazi officer -- just as he was about to review everyone's papers -- if she could try on his hat.
"The Nazi guy melted," said Vertes. "And said to his fellow officer, 'Can anyone but an Aryan be as cute as that?' And that is how my little sister saved 100 Jewish children that day."
When that home was destroyed, Vertes, who was then 4, and her sister, almost 2, lived on the street, eating snow and whatever else they could find to survive.
"I was like her mother ... at age 4," said Vertes.
Mercifully, the war ended soon after and -- Vertes still has no idea how -- her mother found them and nursed them back to health. "We were both very, very sick," she said.
The family stayed in Hungary, hoping for relatives to return (only a small number did). Because because Hungary had closed its borders, it took 12 years before they eventually made it to New York to live with a cousin.
Vertes met her husband while studying at Hunter College and moved in 1973 to Weston, where they raised two children.
Despite the pain of the past, she is adamant that she share her story so the world doesn't forget. She will be speak at Temple Shalom at 300 E. Putnam Ave., Greenwich, at 7 p.m. April 15, following the movie, "Numbered."
Go to www.amvdocumentaries.com for more information.
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