When Ladislav “Peter” Szanto was 11, the Nazis came to his hometown of Presov, the third-largest city in Slovakia. After spending the war in hiding, he returned to the city, where he has remained since, making a life for himself and his family.
But now recovering from joint replacement surgery, 81-year-old Peter depends on homecare services from Federation of Jewish Communities in Slovakia (UZZNO), which is funded by the Claims Conference.
Yad Vashem records indicate that between 60,000 and 70,000 Slovak Jews were sent to concentration camps during the Shoah. But in May 1944, Dominican nuns managing a nearby hospital disguised Peter and his family as patients in the psychiatric ward, shielding them from the Nazis for several months. Peter credits the Mother Superior, Dalma Kerteszova, with saving his life and those of his family. “She was an excellent person,” he said.
But after the Gestapo came to the ward that August with the intention to round up all the Jewish patients, Peter and his family soon fled into the forest. After almost 70 years, Peter still remembered the name of couple who kept them alive, sending food with a messenger. “We were saved by Mr. Jan Molnar and his wife,” he said. “We slept during the day, we ate at night.”
When the war was over, Peter went back to Presov, and has lived there since. He studied medicine, becoming an immunologist. Now retired, Peter’s health issues have rendered him partially immobile, making it difficult for him to get around. His wife, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, lives in a local nursing home, and Peter visits her every week. Their daughter lives nearby.
Peter has received homecare, rehabilitation therapy and transportation since 2009 from the Federation of Jewish Communities in Slovakia, which provides services to about 700 survivors throughout Slovakia. The transportation assistance is especially welcome, because he otherwise wouldn’t leave his apartment in the winter. “They are excellent services,” he said. “It is a huge help.”
A special transportation program created by UZZNO provides free taxi rides to survivors in Presov. Instead of paying for the ride, the survivor hands a special token to the driver for each trip, which the driver then redeems at the agency for payment. This is just one way that Claims Conference funding makes a difference in the quality of life of these elderly people.
Dr. Szanto is grateful for the help he receives from UZZNO and from the Claims Conference. “I’m glad I have the option of homecare services,” he said. “It gives me the ability to stay in my own home.”