TUALATIN, Ore. (KOIN) — Eva and Les Aigner have been married for more than 60 years. They met and married in Budapest and immigrated to the United States shortly after. Ever since then, they’ve lived in the US and currently live in Tualatin.
But it was the years before they married that are seared into their memories and the memories of millions of others.
Eva and Les survived the Holocaust and have spent years sharing those experiences to make sure the lessons learned from those days are not forgotten.
On Monday, they — along with 13 veterans — are part of a Journey of Heroes trip to Washington, DC to visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
One of those veterans, 94-year-old Jack Bell, served in the Army. “Well, I think it’s real satisfying to know that we did something good.”
Leslie Aigner was born in 1929 in Czechoslovakia. In the early 1940s, his family moved to Budapest to avoid the Nazis. But they couldn’t. His father and teenage sister were taken for slave labor in 1943, and a year later he, his mom and his sister were sent to Auschwitz.
His mom and sister were killed in the gas chambers once they arrived, but Les was forced to work and sent to labor camps. He was later sent on the “death train” to Dachau — so called because there were more dead people on the train than alive — but was liberated on April 29, 1945, a date he now considers his second birthday.
“Without their efforts and sacrifice, I wouldn’t be here because when I was liberated in Dachau, I was a 75-pound walking skeleton,” Les said.
Eva was also born in Czechoslovakia in 1937. Her dad’s business was taken away in 1939, and in 1943 they moved to Budapest. Eva’s dad was put into a forced labor camp and died in July 1944.
She and her family were forced to live in a housing unit marked for Jews, then moved to the Budapest Ghetto. That December, they were marched to the Danube River, where 800 people were shot in one night.
Eva was just 7 years old but remembers that night distinctly.
“The way they eliminated the children and the sick, they lined us up on the riverfront. They told us to remove the shoes and they were shot into the river.”
“Well, you know, my mom is my hero,” she said. “She pulled (off her wedding ring) and bribed the guard (with it) to let us out of the line.”
They were taken back to the Budapest Ghetto and were liberated 3 weeks later.
“By the time of the liberation, we were very ill from malnutrition, dysentery, we were lice infested and I couldn’t even walk anymore. We went back to our home, and we found that all our belongings were stolen and pilfered away by the Nazis,” Eva said.
The Russians occupied Hungary after the war in a communist regime.
She and Les married in 1956 and immigrated to the US shortly after.
During their time in the US, Eva helped establish a Holocaust Memorial in Washington Park in Portland.
The trip to DC
The Vital Life Foundation organized the trip along with Wish of a Lifetime to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. Both Eva, 81, and Les, 89, are looking forward to the trip to once again express their gratitude.
“Because of the bravery and sacrifice of the American troops, I was given another chance for life,” Les said in a statement. “They deserve all the thank yous, and blessings for saving so many lives. This trip will give me great satisfaction and peace of mind.”
“To this day you can see why I’m so grateful,” she said. “I’m also grateful for the Marquis Community and also the Wish of a Lifetime and the Vital Life Foundation to make this possible for us to travel with the veterans. Maybe this will help us to make a little closure.”