It would be easy to begin Beatrice Sarkany’s life story as one of devastation and immeasurable loss. But that would not dignify the last 62 years of a life lived with dignity, self-sacrifice, and tremendous love. Beatrice Sarkany considers herself unbelievably blessed; she is blessed with a wonderful son; two bright, talented, and devoted grandchildren; a cadre of loving and doting friends; and a marriage to the love of her life, Nicholas Sarkany, that lasted for 52 blissful years until his death in 1997.
Most people dream of finding a person whom they love and who loves them back. Beatrice found her love in the darkest time of life, when havoc and disarray ruled and survival was the ultimate goal. Two people found each other, and their love prevailed in a time when death and destruction were uppermost in every Holocaust survivor’s mind. God had other plans for these two survivors, and their lives came together like a fictional storybook romance. Yet their story is not fiction. It is an unbelievable testimony to the age-old adage that kindness and altruism can indeed triumph over barbarism and hatred.
Beatrice Solomon was born in Sibiu, Transylvania, in Romania on July 24, 1922. In 1939, the Hungarians came into Transylvania and occupied the city, changing its name to Nagyvarad. This was the beginning of the Hungarian collaboration with the Nazis and of the transformation of a bustling, intellectual, and cultured Jewish community into a poor, segregated Jewish community ridiculed and hated by its neighbors. Beatrice’s family consisted of her parents, Elena and Aaron Solomon, and her sister, Mady, who was two years younger. At the age of 22, Beatrice married her first husband, Laci Schwartz. The two bought a house and were embarking on a married life together when the Hungarians took over their town and their lives.
Unfortunately, the Hungarians and the Nazis would not permit the Jews to live their lives freely. Along with all of the other Jews in Romania, Beatrice and Laci were forced to leave their homes and possessions and relocate to the Jewish ghettos. They were forced to wear the emblematic star to identify themselves as Jews. Anyone who wore the star was subject to being spat upon and debased by others. Food was scarce, and Jews were only allowed on the streets for two hours a day. Thus, all free time was spent waiting in the food line, which would often yield only a piece of bread for two people to share. In 1944, only four weeks after having arrived in the ghetto, Beatrice and Laci were awakened at 4:00 am by the gendarme, a Hungarian policeman, who shouted, “You dirty Jews, get up and take what you can carry in your hands. You are being transported to a working camp.”
Jews in the ghetto were taken to a train and pushed into cattle cars without light or adequate air ventilation. They were given one bucket of water and one bucket into which they could defecate. Hundreds of people died in the cattle cars because of dehydration and lack of air. To add to the prisoners’ humiliation, the guards switched the buckets so that the Jews had to drink out of the bucket into which they had defecated. Beatrice was separated from her parents and sister, and she never had the opportunity to see them again. Her family had volunteered at the hospital in their hometown. When they were transported, they were taken with the sick patients in the hospital cattle car—and directly to the crematorium upon arrival at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
When Beatrice and Laci arrived at the “work camp,” they were separated: men on one side, older people and children clumped together, and women on another side. The soldiers took the children out of the hands of their crying mothers. Some mothers wouldn’t permit their children to be taken from them. These women and children were sent directly to the crematorium. Beatrice can remember the screams of the mothers attempting to hold onto their children. She tried to give Laci a kiss as they were being separated, but a soldier put something around Laci’s neck and pulled him away. This was the last time Beatrice would ever see Laci. He later died in the concentration camp.
Beatrice was sent to different concentration camps during her time in captivity, but she never gave up hope that she would survive. There were many instances when she might have been killed, but she was spared, and she continued to fight for her life to stay alive. In May 1945, the German guards told her that she could stay at the camp and wait for the Russians to come or she could leave with her German captors. She chose to stay and wait for help from the Russians. Beatrice feared that the Russians wanted to take the prisoners back with them and force them to rebuild their dilapidated country, which had been ravaged by war. The prisoners believed that they were going to be made slaves by the very people who were to be their liberators. They didn’t want to be enslaved any longer. Beatrice and four other women escaped in the middle of the night. They walked for hours until they found an empty house in which to stay. At night, the women scavenged for food. During the day, they tried to figure out how they could get back to what was left of their homes and families.
As if a gift from God, Nick Sarkany arrived at the women’s door. Nick had heard rumors that there were Jewish women hiding in a house, and he and two friends were on a mission to bring home any Jews who had survived the camps. Initially, Nick took on this mission to find his mother, but when he found out that his mother had not survived the camps, he decided to help as many other Jews as possible.
Nick and his two friends had survived the concentration camps. After liberation, they went back to their country, Romania, which had been turned back to the Romanians. Nick approached the president of Romania and told him about his plan to bring back the Romanian Jews who had survived the war. The president gave Nick a train filled with medical supplies, food, and clothing to dole out to the survivors. Nick brought Beatrice and the other four women to the train and told them he would get them back to their homes and what was left of their families. Sadly, the train could not stop along the way to get food or reload because each town that the train passed through would not allow any Jews to detrain. Consequently, the train would stop and the passengers would attempt to get off to get water and food, but there were always groups of people at the train stations waiting to throw rocks
and threaten to kill the Jews if they debarked. Eventually, Nick succeeded in transporting his group of Jewish survivors back to their home country, Romania.
During the journey, Nick knew that he was falling love with Beatrice. She felt the same way about him. But Beatrice would not betray Laci. She continued to search for him. Beatrice had married Laci as an arranged marriage. She was young and beautiful; he was a businessman with a clear future. Beatrice had no understanding that a person could truly love another person’s soul. Sadly, Beatrice was informed that Laci had not survived. Now, Beatrice could allow her emotions for Nick to evolve. For the first time in years, Beatrice felt hope for her future. She fell in love with the goodness in Nick’s heart and his deep compassion for people.
Beatrice and Nick’s love was pure, based on an emotional connection between one another, not on money or aesthetics. Beatrice found in Nick what she had yearned for all her life: a person who loved her for being herself. Nick was a monetarily poor man, but he was a man of his word and a man who loved Beatrice. He asked Beatrice to marry him, even though he had nothing after the war. All he had were his integrity and his vow to love Beatrice for the duration of his life. Nick never let Beatrice down; he has loved her for eternity. What more can any person ask for in life?
Beatrice has been afforded the key to happiness, and her story of love and devotion does not end with Nick’s death. She continues to honor her husband and his love for her. Their story is one of survival and what every picturesque romance is based on: true love and devotion. May their love live on forever.