Navigating Childhood Away From Home
Born in Romania, Rosie Polkenfeld was one of six children to her Polish father, Jacob Polkenfeld, and Romanian mother, Chava Yenta. She lived in an urban area known as Petrova — an area she described as a “big city” — with her parents and siblings until she was about 14, when her mother's cousin fell ill.
Rosie was sent to care for the woman, who lived in Hungary at a time when that country was beginning to feel the increasingly, all-consuming pressure of a Hitler-led Germany.
"She treated me so great, like a princess," Rosie said of her mother's cousin, who never had children of her own.
In Hungary, she attended a good school and never wanted for a thing. But her life was completely upended in the late 1930s when she was ushered into a concentration camp as all male Jews in the country were relegated to brutal, forced labor.
"I lived a youth nobody in the world should have,” Rosie Guttman, who before the war was being groomed to become a seamstress, said. “I had a very, very, very ugly youth, in the prime of my teens."
Rosie wasn't more than 16 years old.
At the conclusion of WWI, Hungary formed its own kingdom, navigated a series of leadership philosophies and expanded its territory — with the help of Germany, a favor it would need to repay once Hitler pressured the country to fall in line with his policies on Jews.
By 1939, the country's political majority supported its own equivalent of Germany's Nazi party. When Germany invaded Romania in the fall of 1940, Hungary allowed German soldiers safe passage. And later that year, Hungary's prime minister signed an agreement that aligned the country with Germany, Italy and Japan, serving as the country's entrance to WWII. Hungarian Jews were sent to labor camps or concentration camps, based on their gender. At least 27,000 of those laborers died before the German occupation began in 1944.
— Rosie Guttman
Hungarian Democratic Republic forms
Treaty of Versailles signed, recognizing end to WWI
Adolf Hitler becomes Chancellor of Germany
Hitler declares himself Fuhrer of Germany, becoming a dictator
Romania's government declares short-lived neutrality in WWII
Notorious Auschwitz concentration camp established in Poland.
Romania joins Axis powers and provides support for Nazi Regime.
Anti-jewish riots in Romania lead to the murders of hundreds of Jews.
Germany occupies Hungary.