Sunday, September 13, 2009


Left to right
My father, Thomas Sebeok and cousins Leslie (Laci) P. and Marta (Marti) Boehm (undated, but
estimated at about 1928)

I have written a bit before about my mother and her side of the family and their interesting lives and my funny paternal grandfather but today is about my father’s first cousin, Marta.

Of all my living relations, the person I am closest to and love the best is another of my father’s first cousins, Leslie P. I call him by his nickname, Laci (pronounced LOT-sie). He’ll be 85 in November, and now that he knows I’m interested, he’s sharing his memories with me. Laci is a Holocaust survivor, but many relatives were not.

Today he called to tell me about Marta Spiegel, known affectionately as Marti. She was my father’s mother’s sister Aranka’s daughter. Laci is the son of another of my father’s mother’s sisters, Margit. Of Marta, Laci has written, “She was very beautiful and a great girl, my best friend.” Of her death, still today he says, “[it] hurts me a lot.”

Marta was born in Budapest sometime around 1920, and grew up to marry Miklos (Miki) Boehm. This is their wedding picture. Was she not happily beautiful indeed?

Laci has written, “Shortly after [her daughter] Veronica [mine is a name that appears often in my father’s tree] was born, her husband Miki was called up to Forced Labor service and his unit was one of those sent to Russia with the Hungarian army, where he died of typhus."

Today Laci expanded on Marta’s short biography. He says that after her first husband died, “Marti remained a young widow for a few years…” but she had a boyfriend, a nice guy whom she determined nonetheless to break up with for reasons Laci no longer remembers; in 2009, he recalls only that she asked him to deliver the message to the boyfriend.

Not long afterward, Laci says, Marti “decided to get married to her old friend Pista Reisinger. They went to Ujpest [a suburb of Budapest] to get married.”

Today he told me the most painful part of the story for him, that “her deportation could have been avoided.”

As he remembers it, unbeknownst to anyone, the Jewish citizens of Ujpest were at the top of the Nazi’s hit list, and the very day Marta and Pista married they were sent to camp to await deportation. Marta managed to convince the commander that she could get blankets and other supplies for the deportees. Though the commanders knew perfectly well the deportees would not need such amenities much longer, the Nazis (both German and Hungarian) were delighted to take her up on the offer as they themselves were interested in merchandise and supplies for their own purposes, as Marta well knew. She and Pista were escorted to Budapest by a member of the Hungarian police force. She led them to Laci’s father’s office. Laci’s father was in charge of 2,000 Jewish laborers whom he was allowed to shelter (in the old Jewish school) for performing the work of sorting, cleaning, restoring, and distributing clothing, shoes, and other supplies to keep themselves fit to perform forced labor. The best, of course, was culled for the Nazis themselves.

When Pista and Marta arrived, Laci’s father said to them, “I’m in a meeting. I’ll be with you shortly.” Nobody knows how long the delay really was, but by the time Laci’s father returned to the reception room, they were gone.

Laci says, “and they were put into a deportation train [in Ujpest]. She died in Auschwitz soon afterward and we know no details.”

Laci does not blame his father. What could his father have done? Easily bribed the police escort. But as it unfolded, painful guilt and sorrow prevail 65 years later.

Marta and Miklos’s daughter Anka (Veronica) Boehm, only 10 or 12 years old at the time, by some miracle was smuggled out of Hungary with other cousins’ children, and eventually emigrated to America. She also died young, of cancer.

Anka Boehm, daughter of Marta Spiegel Boehm and Miklos Boehm
Undated portrait


  1. A very sad story. And sad also for the 'what if' aspects that linger on to this day.

  2. Oh how so many suffered during that time. As I teach the holocaust, I have to think of the personal pain it caused parents and children. Thanks for the story.

  3. It is a sad real story. Glad you shared here.