Eva Speigel Aigner (b. 1937)

Eva Erica Aigner (nee Speigel), one of two daughters, was born in 1937 in Košice, Czechoslovakia. Eva’s mother stayed at home with her and her younger sister while her father ran his own hat-making business until his business license was revoked in 1939 because he was Jewish. Soon the family moved to Budapest, Hungary, joining other family members in the hopes of escaping Nazi extremism. Eva was enrolled in school in Budapest, but by the end of 1943 she had to leave the first grade due to worsening antisemitism. Eva’s father was later taken to a slave labor camp where he was killed.

In Budapest, Eva, her mother, and her younger sister lived with several family members in Jewish housing that was marked with a yellow star. Eventually all residents were either selected for immediate deportation to concentration camps or forced into the Budapest Ghetto. Eva’s mother was among those selected for deportation, and in the aftermath, many children, including Eva and her sister, were taken to the Danube river front to be lined up and shot by the Nazis. Eva’s mother was able to escape the deportation train, find her way back to Budapest and the Danube river, bribe a guard, and save her daughters from being shot. Realizing there were no safe places outside of the Ghetto for a Jewish mother and her children, Eva’s mother snuck her and her children into the Budapest Ghetto where they remained until Russian troops liberated the Ghetto in January of 1945.

Eva eventually finished school and in 1956 she met and married her husband, Leslie. Five months later, the Hungarian Revolution broke out, and on Christmas Eve, Eva and Leslie, along with Leslie’s father and step-mother escaped over the Hungarian/Austrian border. They boarded an American troop carrier with numerous other refugees and came to settle in Portland, Oregon. Eva worked in cosmetology for many years and later operated her own salon.

After local Holocaust deniers became vocal in the late 1980s, Leslie and Eva began sharing their story with audiences far and wide. They have worked with the Holocaust Memorial Coalition since its inception in 1994, and Eva was the vice chair of the project to build the Oregon Holocaust Memorial.