Birthdate: 5 Dec 1923

Place: Budapest, Hungary

Clare (born Klara) was about five years old when she moved with her family from Budapest to rural Szombathely. Her father, a successful businessman, had served in the First World War with the Austro-Hungarian Army and the family considered themselves to be “patriotic” Hungarians. Clare’s mother was studying to be a doctor when she met Clare’s father and “fell in love at first sight”. Clare had one younger brother, Mihaly.

When the Nazis invaded Hungary in 1944 they immediately started arresting the country’s Jewish population. Clare too was arrested. Clare too was arrested. Together with hundreds of others she arrived in Auschwitz on 4th July 1944 where the mass arrivals found the Nazi administration not able to keep up with tattooing the new arrivals. It was not until six weeks later that prisoner numbers instead were attached to their clothing. In Clare’s case, her only two items of clothing, a dress and her wooden clogs, had numbers attached to them.

Clare was sent as a slave labourer to the munitions factory at Allendorf, a factory that manufactured bombs, depth charges, and the infamous V2 jet rockets used against England. The prisoners often carried out acts of sabotage, knowing they would have been summarily executed if caught. For instance, instead of the charges they used bits of paper with such words as “a present from the Hungarian Jews”. 

Clare was liberated while on a death march to Bergen-Belsen on 31st March 1945. Of the 4,800 Jewish residents of her home town only 100 survived the war. Apart from her Aunt Rosie Brill no one else in her family survived. Back in Szombathely she found that her home and possessions were all gone: destroyed or stolen. One of her first acquisitions was a violin that a US army general was able to procure for her.

She had to apply for new identification papers and was eventually allocated two rooms in her old house. She moved in there with her aunt Rosie but they had to share the place with two other families. Initially they had no furniture or cooking utensils, so they went to one of the soup kitchens provided by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee for their meals.

After three years Clare and Rosie were able to get immigration visas for New Zealand where they had distant relatives who were prepared to act as guarantors for them. In New Zealand Clare became a prominent violinist in the national orchestra and was actively involved in music and holocaust education.

Sarah Gaitanos wrote up Clare’s remarkable story and published it in the book ‘The Violinist’ in 2011 (Victoria Universty Press). It is widely available in bookshops as well as from the Wellington Holocaust Resource & Education Centre.

[Video with kind permission of Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation. 38367-40. Interviewer: Jason Walker. Date: 13 December 1997. © Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation. Text assistance from the Wellington Holocaust Resource & Education Centre.]

Allendorf Camp