Fazekas, Leslie

Leslie Fazekas was born on September 28, 1925, in Debrecen, Hungary.  He grew up in a middle class family in the well-assimilated Jewish community, alongside his younger brother.   He did well in school, and was preparing to go to university, just as wartime anti-Semitic restrictions were beginning to be felt in Hungary.  But his high marks saw him accepted as a “guest” student, and at about this time he began to tutor a student named Judith; overall 1943-44 marked a dangerous turning point in the war for Hungary, as the German occupation began in March 1944 and the Arrow Cross was installed as the Hungarian regime in October 1944.  Leslie’s father was taken away to a labour camp, and then mysteriously returned to the family without explanation.  Leslie was also sent to a labour camp at this time, doing heavy forestry work, before being sent to the Debrecen ghetto.  At that point the deportations began, though no one knew where they were bound.  Leslie and his family made a random decision to board one of the cattle cars, and it happens that they headed to Strasshof, near Vienna.  At this point the family were forced labourers, and Leslie was working in a tank factory for close to one year, as the war entered its final phases.  All but a few of the other trains in the summer of 1944 headed to Auschwitz-Birkenau, and Leslie and his family were simply lucky not to have boarded one of those.  In Vienna, survival was at least possible, even though they endured the Allied bombing; it was also the time of Kastner’s attempts to save Jewish lives by negotiating with the Nazis.  That fell through though, and Leslie and his family witnessed the Soviet attack and occupation.  At this point Leslie began to wonder about what the end of the war might bring, thoughts that were accelerated when the factory owner brought the Jewish slave labourers “gifts” for their hard work:  he became convinced that something awful was on the way, and the family made the decision to escape.  It proved to be the correct decision: Leslie would later discover that many of the forced labourers from his camp did not survive.  He and his family members found shelter in Vienna, all the while navigating the difficulties of the Russian occupation, as they made their way back to Debrecen.  Communism came to Hungary during this time, and Leslie and Judith, now married, began their life together against that backdrop.  By the mid-50s the situation deteriorated, and when the Hungarian Revolution began they made the decision to escape to Vienna, and from there to Canada, where they fell into the rhythms of a new life.  Leslie and Judith have recently celebrated their 71st wedding anniversary together.  In the summer of 2020 they agreed to a zoom interview with Arielle Meyer and Scott Masters.