LUHYNA, Slovakia -- Here, amid the gentle foothills of the Carpathians and the serenity of the Slovak countryside, my father was born in 1925. Luhyna (or Legenye, as it was then called) is a tiny village of perhaps 65 homes, one of which -- No. 39 -- is occupied by the daughter and son-in-law of Andrej Pajkos. The house has been in their possession since 1944, when the previous owners abruptly disappeared and Pajkos (pronounced PIE-koosh) took it for himself.
The previous owners were David and Leah Jakubovic, my father's mother and father. They lived with five of their children in that tiny house, which had two rooms, earthen floors, and an outdoor privy. The day they suddenly left was April 16, 1944: the day the Nazis rounded up the Jews of Luhyna. Within weeks, the family was sent to Auschwitz. Only my father survived. When he returned to his village after the war, the Pajkos family was in his house.
Rounding up Jews and sending them off to die was nothing new by the time the Nazis got to Luhyna. The SS had been doing it for nearly six years: In Berlin and Warsaw and Paris and Kiev, in the numberless shtetlach of Poland and Russia, in all the towns where Jews had clustered into communities. Already millions had already been stuffed into ghettoes, marched to the shooting pits, or sent to concentration camps.
But to see the Final Solution in all its naked fanaticism, you must come to a place like Luhyna.
For here there was no Jewish community. In the rural eastern reaches of Slovakia and Hungary, Jews didn't cluster together. They lived on the land, scattered, three or four here, a half-dozen there. Of Luhyna's 65 households, maybe five were Jewish.
This was not Warsaw, where Jews numbered in the hundreds of thousands, and the enemy merely had to build high walls and force the Jews behind them. In this sleepy corner of Europe, hunting down Jews was laborious and time-consuming, a painstaking business that the Germans surely found maddening. But not too maddening to complete. However few and far-flung the Jews here may have been, the Nazis intended to get them all.
On a visit here with my father -- his first since leaving Czechoslovakia in 1948 -- I sense how the Final Solution must have appeared to three different sets of eyes:
The victims. To my father's family, it could only have come as an incomprehensible shock. Jews in Luhyna were naive and unsuspecting, ignorant of world politics, innocent of big-city rumors. This was a place without radio, newspapers, or telephones; news of the war trickled in slowly and late; news of the Nazi slaughter not at all.
The bang on the Jakubovices' door at dawn on April 16 -- when the Germans, aided by Hungarian gendarmes, ordered them to pack and be ready to leave in 30 minutes -- came out of the blue. They had committed no offense. They had nothing anyone could envy. They posed a threat to nobody. Yet here was the mightiest power in Europe, pounding at their door, tearing them from their beds, shoving them into boxcars. Within six weeks, David and Leah Jakubovic, along with their two youngest children, would be dead in a gas chamber. Two more children would soon follow. The Germans went to such elaborate lengths to kill these humble Jews. And they never saw it coming.
The perpetrators. By 1944, the Nazis knew they were losing the war. They had neither time nor treasure to spare. Yet here they were in Luhyna, a speck on the map with no military value, no resources, nothing the Germans wanted -- except a few Jews. To see this little village is to be reminded that the Nazis were utterly serious. Their purpose wasn't to humiliate Jews, or segregate Jews, or extract money and property from Jews. Their purpose was to eliminate Jews. And not just where Jews were visible, but even where they were invisible. Even in the distant nowhere of eastern Slovakia.
The Nazis wanted every Jew in Europe gone. If that meant diverting troops to track down the poorest family in a village in the Carpathians, then that's what it meant. Germany hoped to win its war against the Allies. But its war against the Jews was a higher priority.
The bystanders. There are people here who still remember the Jakubovic family and the roundup of April 1944. "We tried to help," says Peter Nemeth, the village elder, "but the police pushed us away."
In his imagination. Bystanders in Luhyna, like bystanders nearly everywhere, did nothing as the Jews were taken away. They saw; they went about their business. They didn't fight to save their neighbors or mourn their disappearance. Some, like Andrej Pajkos, helped themselves to what the Jews left behind.
Pajkos's daughter, who still lives in my father's house, is friendly and welcoming. She invites us to look around, even prepares a tray of refreshments. But she offers no word of remorse or regret for what happened to my father and his family. No one does. If the murder of Luhyna's Jews left any mark on Luhyna's gentiles, it is impossible to tell.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe).
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