Title: For Esther
Author: Alex Sage
Place of publication: Melbourne
Year of Publication: 2000
Location of Book: Sir Louis Matheson Library, Monash University Clayton Campus
Cities/town/camps: Novoselice, Chust, Budapest, Nagy-Kanizsa, Transylvania, Bruk an der Leite, Mauthausen
Note: those cities/towns/camps underlined are those which are most central to the narrative
Alex Sage relates his life story in For Esther , from his impoverished childhood until liberation in 1945. Sage spent twenty years trying to write this 280 page autobiography –despite being proficient in five languages, he did not have the required skills in English. Eventually, the book was completed in 1997 and then published in 2000. In order to make the autobiography easier to read and to stress the theme of the continuing strength of the Jewish people, the 24 chapters are interspersed with letters to and from his fictional granddaughter, Esther, living in Israel.
Alex Sage was born Alex Miller, into a large Chasidic family, in Novoselice, 60 kilometres east of Chust in Ruthenia (present day Czechoslovakia) in 1924. As his father was dedicated to Torah study, he never held down a job, and as such the family lived in immense poverty. Sage was forced to leave home at the age of eight, in 1932, as his parents could not provide for him. Prior to the beginning of World War Two, he travelled to Slovakia and Hungary, having many jobs, and even living on the streets at times.
In 1940 Sage was living in Budapest and was an active member of left-wing Zionist youth movement Hashomer Hatzair. Upon hearing of the atrocities inflicted on Jews in other parts of Europe, Sage decided to flee to Palestine, in the hope of joining the British army. He was captured trying to cross the Yugoslav border, however managed to escape and returned to Budapest. He was caught and proceeded to escape from the Nazis several more times before obtaining documents from a friend identifying him as Sandor Molnar, a gentile.
Once again, Sage became active in the Hashomer Hatzair. From his experience of living on the streets and on the strength of his documents he was able to move around fairly freely, and was highly influential in many underground activities. One of his main tasks was providing documents for Jews incarcerated in the ghettos to enable them access to Red Cross safe houses.
Eventually he was captured by the SS and taken to a concentration camp at Bruk an der Leite. He once again escaped but was recaptured crossing the border back into Hungary. According to his false documents he was a minor and consequently taken to a children’s jail in Vienna. After some time he was transferred to Mauthausen concentration camp, however as a political prisoner, not as a Jew. Sage was incredibly lucky to survive the camp – three times he was selected for the gas chambers, despite appearing somewhat less emaciated than some of the other inmates. Each time he was able to escape back to the camp. It was only several years after the war that he realised that the reason he was selected every time was that when naked he was easily identifiable as a Jew.
He was liberated from Mauthausen by the Americans on May 5th, 1945. He then returned to Budapest where he was reunited with his sister Leah whom he had not seen since childhood. The rest of his family was presumed dead. Sage then spent two years in a displaced persons camp in Austria before emigrating to Israel and eventually to Melbourne, where he currently resides.