Al Marks recalled that when Germany invaded Hungary in March 1944, Hungarian Jews greeted their fates with surprise and disbelief. “We never heard of Theresienstadt. We never heard of Auschwitz, which at that time was already in full force. We never heard of Majdanek. We never heard of any of those places,” said Marks. Al was born in Rákoscsaba, Hungary, about ten miles east of Budapest, in 1931. Until 1944, he and his family had lived peacefully in a mostly-Jewish, working class neighborhood. His father worked for the railroad.
Germany moved with stunning efficiency to isolate and eliminate Hungary’s Jewish population. Only three months after the invasion, Hungarian collaborators arrested Al and his family. Together with other Jews from Rákoscsaba, they were packed tightly into freight cars—without water or food—and sent to Auschwitz. Most of the passengers who survived the harrowing journey were murdered as soon as they arrived in the camp. Al never saw his parents again.
After several days at Auschwitz, Al was sent to Mauthausen, and from there to a sub-camp called Melk, where he was forced to build weapons for the German war effort. The prisoners wore wooden shoes with no socks and thin uniforms that provided little protection from the frigid temperatures. Many died of illness and exposure. Escape was unthinkable. When one prisoner attempted it, the guards dragged him back and forced his fellow inmates to beat him to death. Al speculated that he survived only because he was in Melk for a relatively short time. At the beginning of April 1945, Melk’s inmates were marched to Ebensee, another sub-camp of Mauthausen. For two weeks, Al subsisted on nothing but potato peels.
One morning in early May, he discovered that civilian guards had replaced the SS (Nazi security police) in the watchtowers “and that was really the first ray of hope in a year.” When American troops from the 80th Infantry Division arrived in Ebensee on May 4, they discovered 16,000 prisoners, many of whom were so weak that they died within the next several days. After he had regained his strength, Al returned to Budapest and then headed to a displaced persons camp near Munich.
In 1947 he was able to come to America. On the advice of a cousin, he settled in Houston, where he completed high school and attended the Houston Conservatory of Music. During the Korean War, Al served as an artillery surveyor with the U.S. Army. When he returned from duty, he married Sarah Dvoretsky. They raised two daughters and a son. After retiring from a long and successful career as an orchestra leader, Al began leading music tours abroad, taking music lovers to concerts and operas throughout Europe. Al often spoke to groups at Holocaust Museum Houston about his experiences during World War II.
Alex Markovits, d. Auschwitz, 1944
Margaret Ungar Markovits, d. Auschwitz, 1944