“Béla’s Letters” is a historical fiction novel spanning eight decades. It revolves around the remarkable life story of Béla Ingber, who was born before the onset of WWI in Munkács, a small city nestled in the Carpathian Mountains. The book tells of the struggles of Béla and his extended family to comprehend and prepare for the Holocaust, the implausible circumstances that the survivors endure before reuniting in the New World, and the crushing impact on them of their wartime experiences together with the feelings of guilt, hatred, fear, and abandonment that haunt them. At the core of the novel are the poignant letters and postcards that family members wrote to Béla, undeterred by the feasibility of delivery, which were his lifeline, even decades after the war ended.
I imagine Mama, Papa, Ilona, Libu, Miki, Feri, Marcel, and András huddled together and whispering comforts to each other. They and any of my friends and classmates who survived the trip would have disembarked on a platform covered in white ash, only a few hundred yards from the gas chambers. Most of these arrivals, particularly the elderly and children, were gassed and cremated within the day. If the chambers could not accommodate the volume, Jews would be shot and burned in fire pits. Those who did not go quietly, such as sobbing children, were thrown alive into the hungry flames. The rest were enslaved.
This was the fate thrust upon my beloveds in the spring of 1944. I offer these facts antiseptically—who am I to provide commentary? When those I cherished were subjected to merciless blows, I was not there to shield them. When they wept, I was not there to kiss away the tears. When their hunger or thirst grew unbearable, I was not there to relieve it. When the children screamed, I was not there to comfort them and assure them that they were loved. And when those who had given me life were being led to their death, I was not there to walk with them. I did not help. I did not know. I was not there.
About the Author
Jeff is a financial industry consultant, who previously held senior positions at Citibank, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and The Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation. His latest book is “Bela’s Letters,” a family memoir based on his parents, who were survivors of the Hungarian Holocaust. Jeff also has written a screenplay entitled “The Bank Examiners.” He lives with his wife in Jersey City, NJ.