Students Nick F., Marionne S., and Byron Z. were matched with Holocaust survivor Lenci F. during this year’s Next Chapter program.
As part of the Next Chapter, students write biographies of their survivors, then create personal projects to reflect on the experience of meeting and getting to know a Holocaust survivor. For his personal project, Byron wrote an article for his high school newspaper. Read Byron’s article >
10th grader at Junipero Serra High School
Lenci grew up in a small town in Czechoslovakia with a population of around five-thousand people. She lived in quite a large family being one of nine children. The community within her village was very close knit with only about one-hundred and twenty Jewish families. While the Jewish people were a minority within her town, there was no prior antisemitism, everybody knew everybody and was friendly. The problems of the late 1930s and early 40s were delayed in her area until Czechoslovakia was broken up. Because she lived in the Hungarian half of the country, her land ultimately, went to Hungary, a member of the rising German empire. Until this time Lenci, and the other members of the Jewish community had coexisted with the gentiles in her city.
Soon after the Czech divide, antisemitic laws began to be put into place. The Jewish people were robbed of their basic liberties, they were no longer allowed to attend school, shop at certain places and, own businesses; they went from being equal to other people to second-class citizens with just a change of government. Everything took a turn for the worse when the Jewish people in her town were herded into the synagogue with little food, water, and no bathroom access. From the synagogue she was moved to a portion of the city that had been turned into a ghetto. Select men, the young and fit, from the ghetto were taken each day to work, while the elderly and the women stayed within the ghetto and did nothing. Following the ghetto in 1944, Lenci and her family along with the rest of the Jewish community were taken to the train station and herded into cattle wagons. This transport of Jewish people to an unspecified location, which ended up being a concentration camp, was one of the last that took place during WWII. In the cattle wagons, the people were pushed close together with little room to move and given a bucket of water. Once again they were deprived of access to a bathroom or any private place. Once the train ride was over and they had arrived at the concentration camp, the German presence was finally seen. Previously, it had been the police force of the area that was under the influence of the Hungarian/German government.
The men and non-workers and women were then separated, and then the women were separated again based on age. Being chosen as a younger person ultimately meant death, except for Lenci’s sister who cheated death when the doctor who sorted the women allowed for her to go to the side of the living. Those who were doomed as non-workers were generally the injured, elderly, and children. Once inside the camp they were forced into a larger room for a “shower” and then handed clothes to wear. Following this, they were moved into the barracks, which were huge rooms with uncomfortable bunks along both sides of the room. Each morning, rain or shine, they were forced out of the barracks and told to stand in a certain formation so that they could be counted and the Germans could make sure no one escaped. During the counting they were given “coffee” which looked like coffee, was warm, but didn’t taste anything like coffee. After they were counted, they did nothing, absolutely nothing. Each day repeated the last, being woken up early, counted, and then nothing. After a while, Lenci was chosen to be the head of one of the barracks, which meant that she got access to extra blankets, which they tore pieces off of and sold to women as a head cover in exchange for food, and something to do each day. With the extra blanket access, Lenci and her family got extra food by selling blankets to the other women in the barracks, making their situation just slightly more bearable. One day, Lenci received a potato from one of the working men, and decided to roast it and eat. As she roasted the potato a large crowd formed around her until a female S.S. Officer stopped Lenci and pulled her aside because she saw the smoke rising from the fire. This officer was known for her brutality, but was also extremely vain and conceited. Luckily for Lenci a simple compliment on the woman’s looks saved her life and she got away with cooking the potato.
Lenci later contracted Scarlet Fever, which meant that if she got caught being sick she would be put to death, so every morning her sisters and cousins would wedge Lenci in between themselves to help her stand up straight and not collapse. As the Scarlet Fever passed, it left a rash on her stomach which would be seen if inspected. Fortunately for Lenci once again, the doctor who inspected Lenci, before they moved camps in December of 1944, failed to see the marks left on her stomach and let her pass. At the new camp Lenci and her family dug ditches for the Russian tanks as the Russians were rapidly pushing West, drawing closer and closer to the Germans. Soon after being moved to the second camp Lenci and her family went on their death march, moving closer towards Germany and away from the approaching Russians. While on their death march, Lenci and her family made a critical decision that saved their lives. While walking around a bend in the road, they ran off the path and hid in an abandoned house for a few days until a farmer found them. The farmer allowed for them to work on his farm in exchange for food until the Germans relocated close to the farm. After this, Lenci moved into a school where they hid for only a single night until the Russians reached the village and liberated Lenci and her family. While they were liberated from the Germans, the Russians were far from kind. After working for the Russians until the war ended Lenci and her family decided to seek a new life in the US.
Lenci lived in a few parts of the US until she finally landed in the Bay Area where she now lives in a beautiful apartment. Lenci’s story is one about hope, perseverance, strength, and courage in a time where all of those identities were being destroyed by the Germans. Lenci rose up and emerged victorious over a seemingly unbeatable challenge.
9th grader at Burlingame High School
For her personal project, Marionne sang “Imagine” by John Lennon, a song which reminds her of the lessons she learned during her time with Lenci.
I decided to sing “Imagine” by John Lennon because I feel that the lyrics truly relate to what I have learned through the Next Chapter. During the program, I found that what the world needs a lot more of is peace and acceptance, regardless of religion, gender, race, and other factors, which is the message this song strives to send.
10th grader at Palo Alto High School
Many people started gaining knowledge about the Holocaust when they read the book, The Diary of Anne Frank, getting a deeper understanding of the tragic events rather than just knowing what it is. The book is influential because it tells the story of one Jewish girl in the Holocaust, connecting to teenagers in some ways. There are many stories of Holocaust survival, but not all of them are like Anne Frank’s. Lenci Farkas’s story of Holocaust survival was different.
Lenci was born in an Orthodox family, on May 18th, 1923 in Kiralyhaza, Czechoslovakia. Lenci had nine siblings. Unlike some Holocaust survivors, Lenci’s childhood was peaceful. Lenci remembers that one of the most memorable and fun experiences was to play with the steam that comes out of locomotives. “We had a good president and we also had a constitution like America,” Lenci said. However, when Hitler ruled Germany, he divided Czechs and the Hungarians, and slowly, the Jewish minorities became targets, although there was no violence.
The Holocaust did not spread to Czechoslovakia until May 1944, when the German soldiers gave Lenci and her family no time to pack all their luggage and move out. According to Lenci’s description, the soldier just said “Get out”, that was the only thing they said. Lenci among with her family and other Jewish families gathered at the synagogue in town, and they were locked in there, without toilets and food. Then, they were transported by a train to Auschwitz. On the way, they stayed at Ghettos with ten families in a living-room sized bedroom. A lot of the Jewish elders were physically abused and tortured to give their valuables to the Nazi officers. Lenci spent her birthday in the ghetto. “Even half of a loaf of bread was precious,” said Lenci. “It was the best birthday gift ever.”
When the train arrived at Auschwitz, the families and children were separated into men and women. Lenci never saw her father and her brothers after she got off the train. In the line of women, there was a person who Lenci called “Dr. Mengele, the angel of death”. He chose people’s destination, deciding who lives and who gets killed. Lenci’s mother was moved into the death lane and killed.
The remaining were then moved into a barrack. They were forced to take off all their clothes and jewelery, shaved all hair on the body, then put into different shower lanes. In one lane, water comes out of the faucet; in the other, it was gas.
Fortunately, Lenci survived through all the lanes, and she was put into a barrack. At first, everyone in the barrack laughed because they were all naked. Then, an elder Jewish woman who looked like she had worked at Auschwitz for a long time came and said, “Can you see the smoke burning over there? That’s where your parents are.”
Life at Auschwitz was fatiguing. Every morning, the women had to line up in lines of five at “appelles”, or roll-calls. Lenci’s job was selecting quilts for the soldiers, picking out the bad ones. After doing the job for a long time, she found out ways to make money, by selling the bad quilts to others, or making headbands to cover up bald heads, in exchange for bread. One time, she got a potato from a trade offer. However, Lenci wanted to roast the potato. Consider the situation of hunger back then, a roasted potato attracted everybody’s attention. Therefore, Lenci was caught, because a woman officer noticed the crowd. Lenci remembered that this officer was “really beautiful”, and she took her away into a room. The officer was going to execute Lenci, her last words were “You’re so beautiful, you couldn’t do that to me,” which saved her from being killed.
Another near-death experience for Lenci is when she got a disease called scarlet fever. All of the sick people needed to be executed immediately in the concentration camp. One day, the Nazi officers decided to check on the health of all women in the camp, so they called an appelle, then asked them to take their clothes off and walk in front of two officers. Fortunately again, neither officer noticed that Lenci had a red rash, and skin was peeling off on her stomach.
Finally, by January 1945, after being really lucky and surviving in concentration camps, the Nazis were handling some difficult situations, so they decided to take all the Jews on a “Death March”, in which the Jews had to walk in snow with minimal clothes and food. If someone was too tired to walk, the Nazis will shoot that person dead. Lenci saw an opportunity of escaping when they were making a turn, so she, her sisters and two other girls, a total of seven people ran out of the crowd, and the guards did not notice them.
They ran into an empty town, most people probably fled due to war. They were able to get into a house and have a blanket to huddle, and eat the leftover food. When they ran out of food, they would break into the next house. One day, the girls all got scared by a farmer passing by. However, the farmer only asked for aid, and in return, he will provide food and shelter. They stayed at the farm until February 8th, when the Jews finally got liberated.
After liberation, they were taken by the Russians. They did not face life-threatening situations, but their lives were still hard. The girls started to work at a hospital as nurses for soldiers, having to wash clothes with blood and pus. Even when they worked hard, they found out that in order to stay, they had to have a sexual relationship with the soldiers. One night, a girl who flirted a lot with the soldiers named Dorka almost got raped. The soldiers broke into their dorm, then tried to take advantage of her. When she struggled, the soldier held a gun next to her head. That was the time when they realize that staying at the hospital is dangerous. They went to another farm to work for a while, then they were assigned to move to Prague, then came to Romania, a communist country, to meet her sister.
On the night of December 28, 1945, Lenci, Morris, their infant son, Morris’ brother, and Morris’ sister-in-law, smuggled themselves out of Romania. They walked to the Hungarian border in the snow with the baby wrapped in a sheepskin sleeping bag, which broke and caused the boy to wail and scream. Despite this setback, the group of five were still able to make it to Hungary. The following day, the group was taken by horse and cart to take a train to Budapest to stay with Lenci’s sister. On January 1, 1948, the family made it to the border of Austria and Hungary. In Austria, a room was assigned to them as displaced persons (DPs) and they were safe under the American regime. Thanks to the Truman Directive, a statement announcing that visas would be granted to DPs (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum). After nine months of waiting for a visa, the family went to Milwaukee, Wisconsin sponsored by the city’s Jewish community.
 According to Farkas, the woman’s name was Irma Grese, she was hung after WWII. During her trial, she was given the name “Beauty and the Beast”, for her beautiful appearance and cruelness.
 Scarlet Fever’s symptoms include a bright red rash that covers most of the body, a sore throat, and a high fever.