Vital History in Palisadian’s ‘1944’

By Barbara Gould
Special to the Palisades News

In her memoir, 1944: A Year Without Goodbyes, Palisadian Marianna D. Birnbaum provides a heartfelt account about how the Holocaust devastated her family. Originally published in Hungarian, her book was translated into English and published by Corvina Books Ltd. in October 2016, and is available on Amazon.

1944 describes life in Hungary before and after the Germans invaded that spring, through the eyes of 10-year-old Daisy. Thousands of Jewish adults living in Budapest were initially sent to forced labor camps, where most did not survive (and eventually, nearly a half-million people were sent to the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau). Children over the age of six were required to wear a yellow star on their clothing. Whether you survived or became a casualty of this horrific time in history was almost random.

Marianna D. Birnbaum
Marianna D. Birnbaum

After Daisy’s parents had been taken away to different labor camps, she stayed alone in the cellar of a pillow factory, surrounded by rats. When her uncle’s family did not join her there as promised, she got scared and ventured out on her own. She came across a large group of the Arrow Cross Party conducting a roundup. She saw an officer by himself, but bravely walked up to him and asked if she could walk with him as she was scared of the air raids. He casually walked her past the large group, avoiding her being captured.

Another time she was wandering alone, stealing sauerkraut or pickles from large barrels outside grocery stores. She headed to her home in hopes her parents might have been released or had escaped and would be waiting for her.

She found herself in a park and was thrown in with a group that was walking with the Arrow Cross holding guns on them. As they approached a small underpass, she just quietly turned away from the group and escaped. After the liberation, she heard that this group was part of some several thousand Jews who had been marched down to the banks of the Danube and shot dead, into the icy water.

Daisy lost 67 members of her family during World War II. The book ends with recollections of some of her friends, all touched by this horrific period of history.

Birnbaum came to the United States in 1956 during the Hungarian Revolution, but still visits her home country. She is a professor emeritus at UCLA, where she taught Hungarian and Central European literature and culture. She is also a recurring visiting professor in the Medieval Department at the Central European University in Budapest.

As a survivor, Daisy is among those who must tell their stories. She has succeeded beautifully in this endeavor.

During one trip to Israel, members of an Hungarian tour group were getting to know each other. One of the women mentioned where she had lived in Budapest during the war and mentioned having had a cousin who also lived there. They discovered the cousin was Birnbaum.

Birnbaum moved to Pacific Palisades in 1965 with her late husband, Professor Henrik Birnbaum. She is remarried to Dr. Csaba Gaal.

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