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Surviving in Silence

A Deaf Boy in the Holocaust, The Harry I. Dunai Story

The Harry I. Dunai Story by Eleanor C. Dunai

Publication Year: 2002

Izrael Zachariah Deutsch was born on March 15, 1934, in Komjata, Czechoslovakia. The second youngest child, Izrael lived a bucolic existence with nine brothers and sisters on a farm, differing from them only in that he was deaf. When he was six, his mother took him to Budapest, Hungary, and enrolled him in a Jewish school for deaf children, where he thrived. Soon, however, the Nazi regime in Germany and the Arrow Cross fascists in Hungary destroyed Izrael’s world forever. Izrael realized that by being both Jewish and deaf, he faced a double threat of being exported to the gas chambers in Poland. But at every lethal junction, he found a way to survive, first by buying and reselling pastries for extra money that later saved his life in the Budapest ghetto. Still, Izrael was close to death from starvation when he was liberated by Russian soldiers on January 18, 1945. Izrael survived the war only to learn that his parents and two brothers had been murdered by the Nazis. The rest of his brothers and sisters scattered to distant parts of the world. Forced to remain in Budapest, Izrael finished school and became an accomplished machinist. He avoided any part in the Hungarian uprising in 1956 so that he could secure a visa to leave for Sweden. From Sweden he traveled throughout Europe and Israel, using an amazing network of Holocaust survivors, relatives, and deaf friends to ease his journey. He finally settled in Los Angeles, where he married a deaf Jewish woman he had met years before. Along the way, he changed his name from Izrael Deutsch to Harry Dunai.

Published by: Gallaudet University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vii

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pp. ix-xiii

IN BUDAPEST during the summer of 1997, I interviewed a dozen deaf Hungarian Jews who had survived the Holocaust. A couple of the interviewees mentioned that I should meet another Hungarian survivor who had emigrated to California. That survivor, Harry Dunai, and I met the next summer. Fluent in both Hungarian and American ...

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pp. xv

THREE YEARS ago, for the first time in my father's life, he told me about his childhood and his young adult life. And with this book, I have tried very hard to write all the facts of his memory while keeping his voice intact. Originally, I had written this biography in the third person as my father told me the events in his life from birth ...

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pp. xvii

I AM TREMENDOUSLY grateful to my father for his openness in sharing his life story with me, and allowing me to take his voice and feelings by putting them into words. Because of this I have a deeper understanding of who he is today. He has also provided me with a deeper and different level of understanding of humanity, hatred, ...

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1. (1934-1937) In the Beginning

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pp. 1-6

THE DATE was March 15, 1934, and I, Izráel Zachariah Deutsch, came into the world. I have no clue whether I was born in the morning, afternoon, or evening. I do know that I was born at our farm home, situated in the village of Velky Komjata, Czechoslovákia, located in the Carpathian Mountains region between the counties of Bereg and ...

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2. (1938-1940) Mischievous Childhood and Darkening Political Clouds

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pp. 7-12

BEFORE WORLD WAR I, Slovakia, the eastern region of Czechoslovákia where I grew up, had been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and gained its independence after that war. Politics began to take a dramatic shift in 1938. During that year, Germany took over Czechoslovákia. Also during this time, Hitler labeled all Slovaks and ...

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3. (1940-1941) The Institute

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pp. 13-24

A YEAR HAD passed and it was fall again, September 1940, to be exact. I was excited that I could visit Budapest again. However, I was still unaware of the real purpose of our trip. The communication between my family and me was still limited to body language.My voice conveyed only grunts, groans, moans, screeches, and laughter. My ...

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4. (1941-1943) Was God Watching?

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pp. 25-35

WINTER ARRIVED quickly, and I knew that I would have to remain at school with the other children. I envied those children who were able to go home and be with their families. For the first time, I understood the meaning of being poor. I realized that I was poor and that all the children knew I was poor, too. I swallowed my pride and ...

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5. (1943-1944) A Special Trip Home

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pp. 36-40

IN THE DEAD of winter, just before Hanukkah, my parents sent a letter to the institute, requesting that I return home immediately.My parents heard from the community grapevine that the Polish Jews had been sent to Auschwitz and that they may be forced to go, too. Poland wasn’t that far away. We were near the Polish border, ...

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6. (1944) The Yellow Star of David and the Red Cross

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pp. 41-51

SEVERAL WEEKS passed after the order that shut down all Jewish businesses, and on April 5, 1944, the Hungarian government made another order for all Jews.1 We were now required to identify ourselves as Jews by wearing a yellow Star of David placed on the left side of our chests. The government didn't provide the stars, so the girls ...

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7. (1944) Tears of Joy and Despair

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pp. 52-56

IN THE MEANTIME, Admiral Horthy became adamant about pulling Hungary out of the war. He sent a special envoy to Moscow to negotiate the terms of Hungary's surrender to the Russians. However, the Russian army had already arrived just south of Budapest, so Horthy's envoy had no bargaining power. He made an agreement ...

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8. (1944-1945) The Central Ghetto and the Christmas Nightmare

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pp. 57-62

WE ARRIVED at Klauzal Square, within an area known as Zone Seven, or the Central Ghetto—now a ghost town. None of us knew that thousands of Jews had been interned in this area. It was a fenced-in area, completely filled with abandoned apartment buildings. Some of the apartments were damaged from the bombing ...

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9. (1945) On Death Row

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pp. 63-72

THE NEXT DAY, January 18, I awoke just before five o'clock in the morning. I noticed that the approximately thirty to thirty-five Arrow Cross officers were nowhere to be found. They had left the ghetto, knowing that the Russians were on their heels. I went outside to join hundreds of other souls to sit and die. Everybody was quiet.We had ...

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10. (1945-1948) The Bar Mitzvah and Zionism

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pp. 73-84

IN THE FALL of 1945, the institute had to go through an overhaul. Many repairs were needed, and the filth was atrocious. The cleanup would take months. All of the institute's supplies had been depleted. Márkus Kohn, Hermann Zoldán, Ernö Rosenblüth, and I continued with our duties. The four of us were responsible for picking up ...

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11. (1948-1949) A Summer Vacation and a Kiss

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pp. 85-88

SUMMERTIME HAD come again, and József decided that Hermann, Ernö, and I would accompany him on a one-month vacation. Leaving Budapest by train, we traveled to the city of Eger, located between the Mátra and Bükk mountains in northeastern Hungary.We stayed at a deaf school in Eger where we were provided with a room ...

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12. (1949-1950) Found: A Government School, but No God

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pp. 89-96

BY THE FALL of 1949, Dr.Kanizsai had found me another deaf school, a government school with a dormitory. I entered the eighth grade. The communication among the deaf students at the government school was similar to the communication at the institute. Some signs were different, especially the numbers. For example, at my new ...

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13. (1950-1952) The Mechanical Trade School

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pp. 97-103

THE APPRENTICESHIP that I had been accepted to included a three-year program at a mechanical trade school called the United Izzo Tungsram Electric, Inc. The company was controlled by both American and western European firms. Because the Hungarian government did not have the rights to the wolfram (tungsten), they couldn't ...

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14. (1952-1956) The Deaf Club and the Comforts of Home

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pp. 104-113

I WILLINGLY accepted the job at the electric company. However, because I was now an employee and not a student, I could no longer live at the school. I was a little disappointed that I had to find my own place. Apartments were hard to come by and were very expensive. At the same time, I was fed up with living in a military atmosphere with ...

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15. (1956) A Visit Home to Komjata

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pp. 114-122

MY PASSPORT finally arrived. I had to go to the Soviet Embassy and show them my passport, my point of destination, and my planned length of stay.With that information, I got the visa stamp. I couldn't stop looking at it. I was getting nervous about seeing my homeland. The passport couldn't have come at a better time because the gas ...

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16. (1956) The Revolution

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pp. 123-125

THE DATE was October 23, 1956, and one of my girlfriends and I decided to go out to a movie. While we were at the theater, students at Szeged University in Budapest gathered outside to listen to students declaring the unfairness of lack of free speech under the communist government. They were fed up with the Russians ...

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17. (1957) Farewell to Budapest

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pp. 126-129

SHORTLY AFTER the New Year, I received my passport. Again, my excitement was the same as when I had received my first passport to visit Komjata. However, this time, I decided not to share my excitement with anyone at the deaf club—only with a few chosen friends and the Kentners. Kálmán wouldn't be able to say good-bye to me because he was ...

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18. (1957) Sweden

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pp. 130-138

WHEN WE arrived at her home, Magda introduced me to her husband Meir and their son Jacob. Jacob was one-and-a-half years old. I gave them their gift of winter apples. Meir loved the apples and gobbled them up in no time. Meir and I had great difficulty communicating orally with each other.He was from Poland and spoke six languages, but not ...

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19. (1958) The London Chess Tournament

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pp. 139-142

MY JOB WAS going very well. I was a mover and a shaker and quickly ascended up the ladder of the factory. SKF was providing me with a fully paid two-week vacation, which was nearing. I had made plans to go to London because the World Deaf Chess Tournament was to be held there. If it weren't for the tournament, I wouldn't have ...

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20. (1958-1959) Making Plans for a New Life

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pp. 143-147

ON THE WAY back to Sweden, I made another stopover in Copenhagen, meeting Jenó again. Jenó commented on my appearance, saying my face looked thinner. I figured it could have been from sleeping less and running around more. We spoke for about forty-five minutes before I had to board the ferry for Malmö. From the ...

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21. (1959) Farewell to Sweden and Onward to Europe and Israel

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pp. 148-159

SOON, I WOULD be saying farewell to Sweden. Two weeks before I was to leave, I gave up my job and hotel and went to live in Stockholm. I wanted to spend quality time with Magda and her family before departing. Magda and Meir told me that the Austrian woman was pregnant. Meir suspected it was my child. Later though, when ...

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22. (1959) America and the Angel in the Sky

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pp. 160-168

AS WE LEFT the ship, everyone was required to go through customs. The process was extremely long, and it involved having to show all my documentation, including my medical records and X rays. First, customs reviewed all my possessions in a separate room. They told me I had to pay a fee for the silverware I had purchased in Israel. I ...

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23. (1960) The Comet and a Christmas Wedding

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pp. 169-173

DURING 1960, I continued working and writing letters to Jessica. In one letter, I told her that the United States was a beautiful, excellent country, a great place for young people, and a land of opportunity. I added, however, that, even though America was great, I was still considering traveling throughout Asia, hoping to land a job in Japan. ...

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24. (1960-1961) Jessica Gets a Job

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pp. 174-176

ABOUT A week or so after our honeymoon, on a Sunday, Jessica awoke abruptly from a nap. She had dreamed that she saw her father smiling at her from the ceiling, and it made her nervous. I told her not to worry so much. Later that afternoon, we received a telegram that Jessica's father, Jacob Rapaport, had died from a brain tumor. ...

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25. (1962-1963) January 18—Spiritual Fate

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pp. 177-180

TEN MONTHS later, we bought a house located at 8842 Horner Street, just off Robertson Boulevard in west Los Angeles. It was a Spanish-style home with two bedrooms, one bathroom, a large living room and kitchen, and a detached garage. It was a great starter home. We had no furniture, but I gave Jessica the go-ahead to ...

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pp. 181

MY LIFE has not been easy, but it has brought me rewards nonetheless. I went through powerful experiences as a boy. Being not only Jewish but also deaf often made them even harder.Yet all of the hardships I endured shaped me into who I am today—a family man who is open-minded, who understands the importance of freedom, and ...


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pp. 182-184

E-ISBN-13: 9781563681813
E-ISBN-10: 1563681811
Print-ISBN-13: 9781563681196
Print-ISBN-10: 1563681196

Page Count: 204
Illustrations: 20 photos
Publication Year: 2002

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Jews -- Hungary -- Biography.
  • Holocaust survivors -- Biography.
  • Dunai, Harry I., 1934-.
  • Jewish children in the Holocaust -- Biography.
  • Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945) -- Hungary -- Personal narratives.
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