Ukraine: Russian chief exposed in astonishing BBC interview
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The images of tanks rolling across the border on February 24 shocked the world. To most people living today, military occupation by a powerful aggressor is unthinkable. But for Agnes Kaposi, MBE, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine stirs up painful memories.
Agnes was born in the large Hungarian city of Debrecen in October 1932 to a Jewish-socialist family.
During World War 2 and the years that followed, Agnes bore witness to the tyranny of both fascism and communism, as Stalinism filled the vacuum left by Nazism.
It was during the final days of the Second World War where Agnes got a foretaste of Soviet aggression.
The German army had transported Agnes and her family to a forced labour camp in Strasshof, near Vienna.
Once back at the camp, daily trainloads of Jewish prisoners were sent to Theresienstadt concentration camp in northern Bohemia (now in the Czech Republic), where they were “death marched” from there.
Agnes and her family were on a train about to depart when an allied bombing destroyed the railway line so they walked back to the camp.
The Germans fled and people were dying of hunger, but soon thereafter, the Soviet army arrived. The Russians were kind to the children by day, but relentlessly abused the women by night.
Agnes and her family set off on a month-long journey for Hungary in the hope of being reunited with the men of their family. However, upon return, they found their home confiscated and the locals were extremely hostile to Jews.
Hungary then found itself in the grip of the repressive Stalinist regime.
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The war in Ukraine has brought these memories into sharp relief for Agnes.
“As I read what happened to them [the Ukrainian people], things came back. You don’t even know you have memories until something triggers things which come back.
“People are killing each other a few hundred yards from here.”
At the time of the interview, we were in Plac Bohaterów Getta, a large public square in Krakow that was formerly the site of a purpose-built Jewish wartime ghetto.
What does the war in Ukraine say about the ark of human progress? “We haven’t learned,” Agnes said pithily.
However, she refuses to give up on humanity nor succumb to the vicious cycle of victimhood.
“I am not willing to be a victim. I am not willing to give in.”
Agnes continued: “One has to have hope. One must not allow victimhood to dominate. You must move yourself beyond feelings of self-pity.”
She used a striking analogy: if you have a toothache and then hit your nail with a hammer, you find the toothache is suddenly gone.
“Look around yourself and you will find someone who is to be pitied even more than you.”
Indeed, the 89-year-old’s distinguished career is a lesson in resilience.
After graduating with top honours in Electrical/Electronic Engineering from the prestigious Technical University of Budapest, Agnes gained a PhD in Computer Aided Design and worked as a lecturer, researcher and consultant in academic institutions and in the telecommunication and computer industries in Britain and several other countries.
Agnes is also the author of several books and publications. For her latest book, Yellow Star – Red Star: With Contributions from historian László Csősz, Agnes enlisted the help of historian László Csősz to piece together the extraordinary details of her life.
Why a historian? “Memory is to be doubted. No one doubts my memory more vigorously than I do because I am a researcher. It’s a painful business. And nowadays I work with historians.”
Yellow Star – Red Star: With Contributions from historian László Csősz, is available to buy on Amazon.
I spoke to Agnes as part of this year’s March of the Living – a five day educational event about the Holocaust.
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