John’s father had served in the Hungarian army during WW1 but despite this was sent by the pro-Nazi Hungarian government to a forced labour camp. John himself, despite having converted to Roman Catholicism along with his parents, experienced considerable anti-Semitism. He ended up being sent with his mother to an apartment block specifically designated for Jews. Conditions were appalling, and John recalled the harrowing tale of what happened to one of his classmates when he left the confines of what were effectively Jewish ghettos.
The deportation of Hungarian Jews, including John’s aunts and cousins, to Auschwitz-Birkenau took place in May 1944. The operation in Hungary was carried out one region at a time, with Budapest intended to be the final location ‘cleansed’ of Jews. Luckily, through a combination of luck, tenacity and perseverance, John and his family survived.
John and his mother were moved to a different are of confinement in the capital city, and this time John’s father was able to join them as he had left the labour camp as the Russian invasion over-ran it. Having heard of Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who was handing out papers to protect Jews, John’s father successfully got a hold of some of the documents which effectively gave them protection as Swedish citizens. This meant that John and his family could move into a house protected by the Swedish government, which effectively saved their lives.
The talk was fascinating, and really opened our eyes to what life was like in Nazi-dominated Europe for a person of Jewish descent. The experience of John Dobai brought to light the harshness of life thousands of Jews had to lead throughout the war. His story was so inspiring, full of hardship and loss, and it was hard to comprehend how a young boy of 11 managed to come out of it alive.
We would like to give a big thank you to Nik Sharma and Ellie Dunning for organising the lecture as part of the Academic Excellence series of events, and of course, to Mr Dobai for coming and talking to us about his experiences.
Year 12 students