Love on the Wings of a Paper Airplane

A timeless love story cut short by the horrors of the Holocaust. 

A photo from the wedding of Imre and Ilona Kinszki in 1925.

The following story was collected by Centropa in an interview with Judit Kinszki, the daughter of Ilona and Imre Kinszki. Judit’s full oral history interview can be read here.

Ilona Gardonyi was born in 1899 in Budapest, Hungary.  She came from a large Jewish and religiously observant family that was determined to secure good careers for their children. Though the family came from a modest economic background, two of Ilona’s brothers went on to become doctors.

Ilona graduated from middle school, then a one-year commercial trade school, before getting a job working as a shorthand typist in an office. She worked very hard, taking on overtime and extra projects. Working in the same office was a very skinny, shy young man named Imre Kinszki.

Imre was a highly educated young man who spoke five different languages.  Ilona caught Imre’s eye and he began teasing her, throwing little paper airplanes onto her desk. Ilona, who was a very serious worker, found this to be frustrating and told him off, calling Imre “a stupid little kid.”

Ilona Gardonyi in 1922.
Ilona Gardonyi in 1922. Image courtesy of Centropa.

For Imre, not only did this not deter him, it only encouraged him to continue. Being too shy to ask her face to face, he wrote a note, folded it into another paper airplane and flew it over to her desk. The note read, “Would you like to meet after work?”

The coworkers met outside of office hours in the Farkasret Cemetery. Imre, still working to overcome his shy nature, sat down on a bench and put his hat down next to him, so that Ilona couldn’t sit too close. The couple spent hours together, chatting about science. When he got home that night, Imre announced proudly to his family that he was going to marry Ilona Gardonyi.

Not everyone was pleased. The Kinszkis were upper-middle-class, highly educated, and did not observe many Jewish traditions – if at all. When Imre Kinszki announced that he wanted to marry Ilona, the family expressed their horror – how could their son marry a girl so far beneath his class?

Imre Kinszki. Image courtesy of Centropa.

The Kinszki family gathered together to decide how to handle this new scandal. They determined that their best course of action was to use their connections and have Ilona fired from her job.

Ilona did not let this bring her down. As a talented typist, she was able to quickly find a new position. When Imre found out what his family had done, he went over to Ilona’s new place of employment and proposed marriage on the spot. After a bit of encouragement from her family, Ilona and Imre were married in 1925.

They had nearly 20 years together. In that time Imre and Ilona had two children–Gabor was born in 1926, Judit in 1934. Imre showed a true talent for photography and was quickly becoming one of Hungary’s great modern photographers.

Gabor and Imre Kinszki, 1930. Image courtesy of Centropa.

But history got in the way. Imre never came back from the war.

Like all Jewish families in Hungary at the time, the family suffered tremendously in the Holocaust. Imre was taken for forced labor, first in Hungary and then in Germany. Gabor, who had just turned 18, was deported to Buchenwald. Ilona and little Judit survived the horrors of the Budapest ghetto. Judit, who was just 10 years old, held on to her father’s photographs, keeping them safe for when he would return.

Judit Kinszki. Image courtesy of Centropa.

The Budapest ghetto was liberated on January 17, 1945. Immediately after the violence subsided, Ilona and Judit began visiting the train station every day where they would watch the trains come through, hoping and desperately waiting for the train that would bring Imre and Gabor back to them and dreaming of a reunion that would never come.

There was no news of Gabor for a long time until one day, Ilona found a young man who had known and worked with him. The friend reported that, when the group arrived in Buchenwald, they were was forced off the train and were asked what skills they had. Gabor answered honestly and said he was a student. The young man explained to the women that the Germans immediately tied him up, and, in the cold December morning, hosed him down with water just to watch him freeze to death along with all the unfortunate souls who did not have a practical trade.

A man who had known Imre found Ilona and gave her what little information he could about her husband’s fate.  He said that the train car he and Imre had been traveling in had been unhooked and that the train then left and continued on towards Germany without them. The group then got off the train car and was taken by their Nazi guards on foot towards Sachsenhausen. Imre’s acquaintance explained that the men were taken to spend the night in a barn. He had hidden by burying himself in the hay, unable to continue on due to the severity of his injuries. The Nazis didn’t find him and he managed to survive. The rest of the group, including Imre, marched on to what is now known to have been a death march – but the acquaintance was not aware of this and Ilona held on to her faith that her husband would return.

Ilona Kinszki passed away in 1983. Image courtesy of Centropa.

Even with the later revelation of the facts of what happened on those marches, and despite everything showing otherwise, Ilona refused to declare Imre’s death and waited anxiously for his return, until the day she died in 1983.

Imre Kinszki’s pictures are now considered modernist masterpieces. His daughter, Judit, is an active member of the Cafe Centropa programs and she regularly meets student groups to talk to them about her experiences.

Judit Kinszki at a Cafe Centropa event. Image courtesy of Centropa. Photographer: Róbert Bácsi.

This post was written as part of Gesher L’Europa, the NLI’s initiative to connect with Europe and make our collections available to diverse audiences in Europe and beyond.


Before and After the Holocaust: The Life of a Jewish Doctor in Niš

Rare documents shed light on the life of Isak Albahari, who served as a military doctor during the war that claimed the lives of his wife and children.


Image of the Niš tram. From the City of Niš.

Isak Albahari was born on Jun 19th, 1904 in a small town called Smederevo, to loving parents, Danilo and Eliza Nee Levi. Isak graduated from Medical school in Zagreb in 1931 and, after finishing his residency at the General State Hospital in Belgrade, he married Berta Pinto. In 1935, their first son, Danilo, was born and one year later Isak Albahari was moved with his family to Niš, the third largest city in Serbia, to open his medical practice. It was there that their second son, Benjamin, was born 1938.

The Jewish population in Niš at the time included 350 citizens with permanent residence, 51 with temporary residence and 155 immigrants for a total of 556 Jews.

Personal data of Doctor Isak Albahari in the Medical Chambers Register
The personal data of Doctor Isak Albahari in the Medical Chambers Registry. Image courtesy of the Historical Archives of Belgrade.

With the start of World War II, life changed drastically for the Albahari family and for the entire Jewish population of Niš. The first Nazi concentration camp in the occupied Kingdom of Yugoslavia was set up in Niš. Most of the Jews in the city were killed in that camp or were transported to the Sajmište concentration camp that was intended specifically for Jewish women, children and old men.

In 1941, Isak was drafted into Yugoslav army as a military doctor and after Yugoslavia surrendered to the Axis forces, he was sent to a military camp in Germany. In early 1945 he returned to Belgrade to find that his wife and two sons had been killed in the Sajmište concentration camp in 1942. He appears in the records as having reported their deaths to the authorities.

ID residency card
Citizenship card indicating permanent residence for Isak Albahari. Image courtesy of the Historical Archives of Belgrade.

During his time in Belgrade after the war, Isak met a woman who shared a similar life story. Mara was from Zagreb, Croatia and had been married to an Ashkenazi Jew who was killed by the Nazis at the start of the war. She managed to survive along with her two sons by hiding in different Serbian villages for four years. With the conclusion of the war, she traveled to Belgrade together with her sons to start a new life. Unfortunately, along the way, both of her sons were killed in a train accident. It was soon after this horrible tragedy that she met Isak Albahari and began her healing process.

Dr Isak Albahari signed a form with details on the death of his son Benjamin Albahari, 3 ½ years old, killed in Sajmiste concen
The form signed by Dr. Isak Albahari with details on the death of his son Benjamin Albahari who was just 3 and a half years old when he was killed in the Sajmiste concentration camp.

In October 1945 they moved together to Peć, a small town in the South of Serbia, where Isak resumed his medical practice and together they started a family. They had two children, a son, and a daughter. Their son, David Albahari, was born in 1948 and grew up to become one of the best and most renowned Serbian writers alive today.

Doctor Isak Albahari died in 1981. He was buried in Sephardic cemetery in Belgrade.

The Newspaper That Put the Jews of Egypt on the World Stage

The story of the newspaper that was not afraid to take on anyone: "Let us destroy to rebuild - we are all suffocating in the dark atmosphere of a community dominated by greedy money-grubbers."


Celebrations of the fall of the Nazi regime in a synagogue in Alexandria, Egypt. Photo: Rudi Goldstein, the Bitmuna Collection

British control of Egypt, which began in 1882, is considered the golden age of Egypt for many reasons. Technological advances and modern modes of thought began to penetrate into the country. Another trend introduced in the wake of British control was an influx of immigrants, specifically Jews, to the country.

The end of the First World War brought about a golden age of Egyptian journalism as well, and saw the proliferation of the Jewish Egyptian press. Jews produced more periodicals than any other minority in Egypt. There were ninety periodicals overall, two-thirds of which targeted Jewish audiences. Most of these were written in French but others appeared in Judeo-Arabic, Yiddish and Ladino. A third of the Jewish-owned periodicals were marketed to the general Egyptian public.

Browse issues of the newspaper on the Historical Jewish Press website

One of the most important Jewish newspapers in Egypt was L’Aurore (The Dawn). Its owner and first editor was Lucien Sciuto (Thessaloniki, 1886 – Alexandria, 1947), a writer and educator, who originally founded the paper in Constantinople, Turkey. Conflicts with leaders of the local Jewish community led to its closure, and, in 1919, Sciuto immigrated to Egypt. L’Aurore was published in Cairo from 1924 to 1941.

The weekly newspaper, characterized by its Zionist and Jewish affiliation, covered many areas of interest – Religious affairs, local Jewish community leaders, relations with world Jewry including the Jewish community of Mandatory Palestine and relations with the Egyptian regime. In addition, the paper published translated articles from newspapers in Mandatory Palestine and starting in 1938, it even included a page written in Italian.

L’Aurore was considered a critical and provocative newspaper. It was not afraid of criticize the heads of the local Rabbinate and Jewish community in Egypt. It was also the first Jewish Egyptian newspaper to send reporters into the field, rely on sources and carry out investigative journalism to expose the reader to deficiencies in the local Jewish leadership.

Several months after publication began in Egypt, the newspaper printed a bold claim:

“Community leadership should be managed by people who can give more of their time than their money. What is the point of a president who does not fulfill his duties and is absent for long periods of time? Before we decide on the identity of the president, we must ensure that the community council is composed of people who are active, respected and involved in the community, who will immediately dedicate themselves to the necessary reforms in the administrative apparatus, which is not functioning. “

(L’Aurore, Edition 14, May 23rd, 1924, page 2)


L’Aurore, Edition 14, May 23rd, 1924. For the full newspaper, click on the image.
L’Aurore, Edition 14, May 23rd, 1924. For the full newspaper, click on the image.

Sciuto began to vigorously advocate for the revival and national renewal of the Jewish public and the protection of its rights. Later that year he wrote the following in one of his headlines:

Let us destroy to rebuild – we are all suffocating in the dark atmosphere of a community dominated by greedy money-grubbers. Join us and we shall take control of this fortress and, stone by stone, destroy it to build a Jewish house with its windows wide open to progress.”

(L’Aurore, Edition 22, July 18th, 1924, page 1)


L’Aurore, Edition 22, July 18<sup>th</sup>, 1924. For the full newspaper, click on the image.
L’Aurore, Edition 22, July 18th, 1924. For the full newspaper, click on the image.


Sciuto frequently attacked the leaders of the Jewish community and drew fire from the community establishment, which boycotted the newspaper and attempted to characterize Sciuto as a “trouble-maker.”

In 1931, Sciuto decided to resign from his management position and pass it on to a more moderate and financially stable executive. He appointed Jacques Maleh, a well-educated, Cairo-born banker as editor. Maleh breathed new life into the periodical by improving its financial management and rehabilitating its public image. He managed to establish a proper relationship with the leaders of the Jewish community and enlisted the help of senior members of the B’nai B’rith organization.

With Hitler’s ascension to power in January 1933 and the beginning of Jewish persecution in Germany, Egyptian Jews mounted a public campaign against German anti-Semitism. They established an umbrella organization, “The League for the Struggle against Anti-Semitism”, led by another Turkish transplant to Egypt, Leon Castro (Izmir, 1883 – Cairo, 1948). Castro, a lawyer, journalist and public figure who was one of the heads of the Zionist Federation in Cairo, acquired part ownership of L’Aurore. He also took part in its editing and turned the newspaper into a mouthpiece for “The League”.

In an open letter to the Acting Prime Minister of Egypt, the newspaper declared:

“Hitlerism in Egypt: This revelation should serve as a warning that if the Jews of the world do not mobilize all their resources to suppress anti-Semitism while it is in this early, hostile stage, it will spread like an epidemic”

(L’Aurore, Edition 50, February 16th 1933, page 1)


L’Aurore, Edition 50, February 16<sup>th</sup>, 1933. For the full newspaper, click on the image.
L’Aurore, Edition 50, February 16th, 1933. For the full newspaper, click on the image.

The propaganda effort organized by the Egyptian Jews, combined with their absolute boycott of all German products, sparked a reaction: The Germans threatened to impose a counter-boycott on the import of Egyptian cotton. Nationalist groups in Egypt warned the Jews that if they continued to boycott Germany and its products, Egypt would begin to assist the Arabs of Palestine in their struggle against the Jewish community there.

Despite the obstacles and crises, L’Aurore managed to survive for many years. However, the economic fallout from the Second World War sealed the fate of the weekly periodical and led to its closure in 1941.

In December 2018, issues of the newspaper were uploaded to the Historical Jewish Press website, which is managed and maintained by the National Library and Tel Aviv University, with assistance from the Union des Juifs d’Égypte en Israel Association, des Juifs d’Égypte en Grande-Bretagne, ASPCJE en France



Bibliographical Sources

  1. L’Aurore, 1924-1941
  2. Hagar, Hillel / “Israel” in Cairo: A Zionist Newspaper in National Egypt 1920-1939, Tel Aviv: The Chaim Weizmann Institute for the Study of Zionism and Israel, Tel Aviv University, Am Oved Publishers.
  3. Egypt, Editor: Nahem, Ilan. From the series “Jewish Communities in the East in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries”, Jerusalem: Ben-Zvi Institute for the Study of Jewish Communities in the East, 5768.
  4. Kimche, Ruth / Zionism in the Shadow of the Pyramids: The Zionist Movement in Egypt 1918-1948, Am Oved Publishers, 2008.