The Elimination of Jewish Attorneys in Hungary During the Holocaust

Dr. Mark Pfeifer


Peter Tarjan, Mark Pfeifer’s nephew, provided the following reminiscences. Here we have a colorful account of one family's experiences as seen through the eyes of a young boy.

Dr. Mark Pfeifer, or Miska, as we called him in the family, was born in 1889. After receiving his law degree, he opened his law office in his apartment at Deak Street 15 in Pecs. In 1916 he married my father’s sister, born Erzsebet Friedman, but the Friedmans “magyarized” to Tarjan in 1910. Boske was 18 when she married the still young and fun-loving attorney who was nine years her senior.

I don’t know much about Miska’s clients, except that many were farmers with small parcels of land, and he attended to their various and sundry affairs with the government. A few of his clients from the countryside were willing to hide some of the Pfeifer couple’s valuables in 1944, which they returned honorably to Boske upon her return from her deportation to Pecs. Some of Miska’s former clients quite often brought to her hard-to-obtain food items during the late 1940s, when there were food shortages in town.

As I was orphaned, Boske had raised me from 1947 to 1954, the year of my high school graduation. Prior to the war my parents lived in Budapest, but my mother’s parents and relatives, as well as my father’s sisters, Aranka and Boske, were all living in Pecs. For this reason, we spent a lot of time with my grandparents, especially during summers. As Boske and Miska were childless, they often “borrowed” me from my grandparents. I often had lunch with them and stayed for the afternoon. On doctor's orders Miska had to rest a bit after lunch as he had heart problems. As I was a little boy, I had to join him in his siesta, but instead of a nap, we played some pretty wild games fantasizing about far-away places.

I have no idea what Miska’s income was, but they lived comfortably. They were regulars at the elegant cafe next to the theater, where Miska played “ulti” with his friends and Boske played bridge and rummy with the ladies.

They traveled as often as they could. Boske often reminisced about a long tour in Switzerland and they frequented Zagreb, in Yugoslavia, where her brother, my Uncle Kornel, was living with his family. Those trips usually took them to the resorts on the Adriatic Sea.

Miska was a great soccer fan. Both the local tanning factory and the railroad workers had teams. In his younger days Miska served as a referee, but on account of his heart troubles, he had to stop running around, though he remained a devoted fan at all the soccer games in town. They often came to Pest as well and I recall that Miska liked to go to the race-track, sometimes with my father. They took me along once in a while and we usually stopped at some joint for some wurst with horseradish and a glass of beer. Both his doctor and his wife would have objected to that, but who cared about their opinion at the track?

Once, Miska took me to the courthouse in Pecs, where everyone greeted my uncle with great respect.

Meals were always delicious at their house, as Ilonka, their maid, was a superb cook. Ilonka Berliner was born into a poor Jewish family in a nearby village. At 14, they sent her to Pecs to find work. She was born in 1908, so she probably went to work for the Pfeifers around 1922. They treated her as a member of the family. After her marriage to Jozsef Toth, a gentile mailman, Ilonka converted and attended church with enthusiasm. Joska Toth was called up for military service during the war and was sent to the Ukraine, where he was captured and served a long time in a POW camp in Siberia. Before his capture, the officers of his unit summoned him to headquarters to talk him into an easy divorce from his Jewish-born wife, as a soldier of the great Regent Horthy should not be married to a Jewish woman. With proper respect, Joska politely refused the offer. This saved Ilonka from deportation, and let her faithfully await the return of Joska, Miska and Boske from their various destinations.

In July 1945, Boske returned back in Pecs, as thin as a skeleton and nearly bald. There was no one left for her in Pecs but Ilonka, who took her into her one-room-kitchen apartment and nursed her back to health as if she were her own sister. Following Miska’s example, who had been an active member of the social-democratic party, Boske joined that same party, but was kicked out as an “alien to the working class” after that party merged with the communists in 1948. She worried a lot about losing her job as an accountant.

All I know about Miska’s final year is that he was looking forward to the future with a certain degree of optimism. What he was thinking when the Hungarians, not the Germans, forced them to move into a ghetto near the railway station, or while they were transported for three days in a crowded, airless cattle car to a death camp, I don’t know… His ailing heart must have made the trip even more difficult and when they arrived at the infamous platform at Birkenau, Dr. Mengele sent him directly to the gas chamber. Boske was walking toward the muster arm-in-arm with Aranka, her older sister, who was also directed toward the gas chamber, when a worker in prison uniform tugged at her and said in Yiddish, “Don’t go that way, that’s death!” The two sisters were thus separated; Boske was the only one in the family to return as a witness.

Boske never stopped mourning Miska. She was 47 when she returned alone to Pecs and remained a widow and safeguarded the memory of her beloved husband until her own death in 1985.

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