We came to England in 1948 and my father said, “We don’t know what the British people’s attitude is towards Jews, so it might be best not to talk about it,”

-John Dobai

John Dobai was born in 1934 in Budapest, Hungary. John’s father was banker with a particular affinity for sports, even securing an Olympic trial for the Hungarian Athletics team in the 1920s. His mother was also talented working with textiles, and John remembers her weaving loom in their flat in Budapest. John was an only child and had a happy childhood, enjoying plenty of outdoor activities with his parents.

While John’s grandparents were Jewish, his parents did not observe the faith and the family didn’t consider themselves Jewish. Anticipating the introduction of anti-Jewish laws in Hungary, John’s parents decided to Christen him, and he was raised as a Roman-Catholic. In 1940 the war had started in Hungary and John’s father was conscripted into the army; however, he was sent home as the Hungarian army did not accept Jewish men into their ranks at this time. Instead, he was sent to a labour camp to build airfields and roads. John’s father spent two years here and during this time did not see his family.

John remembers the increasing anti-Jewish thought in Hungary, and even children at school discriminating against Jews. One day, when John was eight years old, a boy at his school stated that his father had told him John was Jewish and he would not be coming back to school. When he returned home that day his mother told John of his Jewish heritage.

When Germany invaded Hungary in 1944, the Nazis brought with them many of the anti-Jewish laws they had implemented across Europe. John remembers the humiliation, wearing a yellow star and having to step into the gutter if a non-Jewish person was walking on the same pavement as you.

When the Nazis started to round up all of the Jews in Hungary, John was ten years old and remembers he and his mother being told to gather their possessions and line up outside their house. As they stood in the street, anti-Jewish Hungarians would steal possessions from them, and John remembers being terrified as one of them shouted anti-Jewish slurs in his face.

During this time John’s father had left the labour camp and went to the Swedish Embassy in Budapest where he secured special Swedish passports for his family. These passports were issued by a diplomat named Raoul Wallenberg who had come to Hungary to help those being persecuted by the Nazis. Raoul Wallenberg, at huge risk to himself, issued thousands of protective documents and helped Jews to escape from deportation trains and death marches. He even established the International Ghetto of protective houses. His tireless and brave actions helped to save many Jewish people, it is arguable that without him, John and his family may not have survived.

John, his mother, and father then started a perilous journey across the Danube River, under the threat of gunfire, bombs and checkpoints where they may have been discovered. John remembers being terrified and was told by his parents not to say a word. Their passports were accepted, and the family made their way to a Swedish safe house. The house was cold, with no windows, heating, and little food, but the Swedish status of the house meant the family were safe. They stayed in the house while the war raged outside, hoping that the first soldiers to reach them would be Russian.

On the 13th of January 1945 a Russian soldier came to the house and the family knew that they had survived. They moved to England in 1948, and John’s father said it was best not to talk of their faith.

John has been a long-standing friend and supporter of the National Holocaust Centre and Museum. He continues to give his testimony and teach children and adults about the importance of human rights and helping each other.