The couple, who met following World War II, shared with a packed crowded stories about their childhoods in Hungary, hiding during World War II and their lives after the war.
Every seat in McKinnon Hall was occupied, and only standing room remained Thursday night as Elon students, faculty, staff and community members gathered to hear the stories of local Holocaust survivors Agnes and Robert Heller. During their evening presentation, titled “Bittersweet Memories of Survival,” the couple shared numerous stories from their childhoods in Hungary, the worsening conditions during World War II, the time they spent hiding during occupation, and their eventual meeting in 1952.
Robert and Agnes presented individually and worked chronologically through their lives, specifically detailing their experiences in hiding from the Nazis in World War II. Robert told many stories, sharing about how he lost his entire, and how he was taken to a Swedish safe house operated by Raoul Wallenberg, known for saving tens of thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary. At this house, 16-year-old Robert was eventually tasked with caring for 100 Jewish children as the couple operating the home left in fear.
Agnes shared stories of being in hiding, with vivid memories of what she experienced in March 1944. Agnes was just 10 years old when Hungary was invaded and she remembers being in a beauty parlor when she heard planes swarming overhead.
“All of the sudden, there was a roaring of airplanes,” Agnes Heller said. “Germany had just then invaded Hungary and Budapest was held hostage.”
From that point, Agnes was pulled from school and her family moved into a safe house where her parents hid in a small pantry by day, only coming out at night for fresh air and to move. Eventually, they had to relocate and Agnes was taken under the care of Gyula Halmi and his wife, Lujzi, who would receive the “Righteous Among the Nations “ honor from Yad Vashem in 2002.
Among the harrowing stories the Hellers shared of the struggles they experienced where memories of levity and tenderness. The couple shared how they met in 1952 at a dance, paired up by their families. Just two years later, the Hellers got married and their new collection of stories from their lives together began.
This event was sponsored by Elon Hillel, Jewish Studies. Religious Studies, The Department of History and Geography, The Deon of Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences, the Center for the Study of Religion, Culture and Society, the Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life, and Chabad Elon.